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A Mixtape on Theory & ‘Religion’ Dedicated to American Historians: Side A

Michael J. Altman

Last month, at the Biennial Conference on Religion and American Culture, I was hanging out with RiAH blogger Heath Carter and friend of the blog Tim Gloege when Heath leaned over the table and said to me, “So, Mike, tell me what historians don’t understand about ‘religion.’”

“Yea,” said Tim. “You should write a blog post on that. 10 books of theory that every historian should read.”

Little did I know that Heath’s question, posed to me the night of our arrival to Indianapolis, would be one of the major themes of the conference. The next morning opened with a panel on “what is religion?” and the second day saw more poking and prodding around how historians and religious studies scholars should think about the category religion. By the end of the conference I found myself defending genealogical critiques of categories like “religion” or “Hinduism.”

(Side note: That I’m typing this blog post on my laptop is proof enough that I still find use in the so-called “genealogical turn” and have not, indeed, taken a sledgehammer to my computer as recommended.)

So, I’m going to follow Tim’s advice. I offer this mixtape of theoretical essays and books to all my American historian friends who want to think about the category “religion” a little deeper, with a little more nuance, and with a little more theory. Like all mixtapes, this one carries with it my own tastes and is offered with affection in hopes that a track or two will inspire you to listen deeper in the artist’s catalog.

The first half of the mixtape is below and I’ll bring you the second half in August. Also, feel free to make more recommendations in the comments section. 

Jonathan Z. Smith, “Religion, Religions, Religious” (1998) and Imagining Religion: From Babylon to Jonestown (1982)

A good mixtape starts off hot and so I’m going to pair Smith’s now classic essay with his now classic book. “Religion, Religions, Religious” can be found in Mark C. Taylor’s Critical Terms for Religious Studies. Smith traces various definitions of “religion” beginning with the Latin root *leig and moving all the way through anthropologist Melford E. Spiro. Imagining Religion consists of a series of essays  wherein Smith tries to reposition the study of religion away from the essentialist approach that dominated the field. As opposed to the study of “the sacred” as popularized by Mircea Eliade, Smith argues that the study of religion must be historical and anthropological. The real genius of the book is Smith’s mastery of a variety of examples ranging from early Judaism to cargo cults to Jonestown.

Tomoko Masuzawa, The Invention of World Religions (2005)

This book is the Father John Misty of this mixtape. Some people think it’s original and interesting while others find it far too pleased with itself. You may have heard of this one, historians. You may even have read one of the reviews from Bob Orsi or Leigh Schmidt. But don’t judge a book by the fact that no one you know liked it. Masuzawa is not offering a history of the study of religion but a genealogy of “world religions” discourse. The book shows how (mostly) European scholars folded Christian supremacy and primacy into the pluralist discourse of world religions. The next step that no one has taken is to show how this world religions discourse flourished in the United States on the one hand and how it became an organizing principle in the study of American religion on the other.

David Chidester, Savage Systems: Colonialism and Comparative Religion (1996)

This is the part where the mixtape adds in some international flavor. Think of this as that world music track that gets thrown in. Like the world music track on a mixtape, this book provides some much needed comparison for American historians. If we want to think about how “religion” has been constructed in America, why not pay attention to how it was constructed elsewhere. Chidester unpacks the role of colonial officials, native informants, and missionaries in the construction of “religion” in colonial South Africa. It is a wonderful example of how a scholar can pay attention to the political, social, colonial, economic, and cultural forces that fabricate religion. If you’ve read Tisa Wenger’s We Have a Religion, this makes a very interesting comparison.

William Arnal and Russell T. McCutcheon, The Sacred is the Profane (2012)

Not including my colleague Russell McCutcheon on this mixtape would be like leaving the Descendents of that mixtape I gave my wife in college. It wouldn’t be right.  While most people would expect me to include McCutcheon’s earlier Manufacturing Religion (the equivalent to ‘Milo Goes to College’), I actually prefer his later work from the past few years (sort of like Everything Sucks’ and ‘Cool to Be You’). In this collection of essays written over a few years, Arnal and McCutcheon tackle theoretical issues such as the constant “what’s the definition of religion?” question, the politics and economics of religious studies, and “the secular.” In some ways, it’s the twenty-first century analog to Imagining Religion. 

Talal Asad, Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam (1993)

Let’s end this side of the tape with an oldie but a goodie. Talal Asad’s set of essays in this book brought a Foucaultian (yea, I said it) interest in power, knowledge, and discourse to the study of religion. Like other books on this mixtape, it moves between a number of different examples, times, and places. But the book is held together by Asad’s argument that “religion” is a category constructed by the West to make sense of non-Western people. Furthermore, Asad deftly analyzes how “religion” has arisen as modern concept. Come for the slobberknocker takedown of Clifford Geertz and stay for the smart take on Salman Rushdie and The Satanic Verses. 

Well, that’s side A. Check back here next month to see what’s on the B-side. Also, tell me what I missed or why I picked terrible books or why you hate mixtapes in the comments.

10 Wealthiest Presidents

I found this list of the 10 wealthiest US presidents. Most are not surprising (Washington was the wealthiest), but I will admit one surprised me:

4. Andrew Jackson
> Net worth: $119 million
> In office: 1829 to 1837
> 7th president
While he was considered to be in touch with the average middle-class American, Jackson quietly became one of the wealthiest presidents of the 1800s. “Old Hickory” married into wealth and made money in the military. His homestead, The Hermitage, included 1,050 acres of prime real estate. Over the course of his life, he owned as many as 300 slaves. Jackson entered considerable debt later in life.

National Maritime Day: Remembering The Forgotten

Memorial Day is traditionally a time to honor those who have not only served our nation, but who through their service made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Sailors, Soldiers, Marines, Airmen, and Coast Guardsmen bear arms and go in harm’s way because they are the warriors of our great nation. Each year in May, we remember and honor these warrior heroes. 

But there is another important group of men and women who do not wear the uniforms of our armed forces – yet still willingly go in harm’s way for our country, and they have done so since our nation was born.

They are the brave, self-sacrificing men and women of the U.S. Merchant Marine.

To learn more about the history of the merchant mariners during this Memorial Day Weekend, visit the Navy Live blog at: http://navylive.dodlive.mil/2013/05/20/national-maritime-day-remembering-the-forgotten/.

Merchant mariners stand alongside damage suffered by his ship, tanker SS Malay, when it was attacked by a German U-123 off North Carolina in January 1942

Merchant mariners stand alongside damage suffered by his ship, tanker SS Malay, when it was attacked by a German U-123 off North Carolina in January 1942

Little Rock, Arkansas and the National Guard

On September 24, 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower took control of the National Guard in order to force the state of Arkansas to allow nine African-Americans (the Little Rock Nine) to attend the ‘all-white’ Little Rock Central High School.  Early in September, 1957, Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus had the state’s National Guard prevent any of the Little Rock Nine from entering the school. His use of the National Guard in this fashion was soon struck down by a federal judge. When on September 23, 1957, the students were finally allowed to attend the school, a mob outside threatened violence. Eisenhower then stepped in, federalizing the Arkansas National Guard and using it to protect the students. They provided safe escort starting on September 25th.

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Republican National Conventions

Since the Republican National Convention is occurring right now in Tampa, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the first Republican convention.

The first Republican National Convention was held in Philadelphia in 1856. John C. Fremont was chosen as the candidate. His nickname was “The Trailblazer” due to fame gained for crossing the Rockies numerous times and helping to get California from Mexico. Since the convention occurred during the buildup to secession

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Yosemite National Park

Deep in the Sierra Nevada, California’s snow-capped mountains, is a special hidden treasure – not gold or silver, but America’s most spectacular hidden valley.

It is called Yosemite and it is the center of one of our most popular national parks.

Yosemite Valley is seven miles long and in some places less than half a mile wide.  Towering on both sides of the winding Merced River are sheer granite walls more than 2,000 feet high.  Ribbon-like waterfalls cascade down the sides.   To the north, Half Dome Mountain presents its flat, scarred face.   (The other half of Half Dome cracked off and slid down into the valley thousands of years ago.)

Stretching out from the famous valley Yosemite National Park takes in 1,200 square miles of soaring mountains.   Mariposa Grove, in the south, is the home of giant sequoia trees.  Some of them measure 34 feet through the middle and are 275 feet high.  

In the northwest are the Tuolumne Meadows, cold Alpine meadows which fill with flowers in summer.  Through the years the park has revealed the beauty of the Sierra Nevada to millions of visitors.

The first white men to see Yosemite Valley were probably U.S. soldiers who arrived in 1851.

They were searching for Indians who were raiding nearby  mining camps.  There were 22 Indian villages in Yosemite at that time.

WWII art from UK National Archives on Wikimedia

"It's up to You (Britannia)" by Tom PurvisMore than 350 original World War II artworks from the National Archives collection have been scanned and uploaded to Wikimedia. Wikimedia UK gave the National Archives a grant to take high resolution pictures of part of their 2000-piece collection of art created for Ministry of Information propaganda during the Second World War. The long-term goal is to scan the entire collection, but they’re starting off with 350 posters, drawings, oil paintings, portraits, and caricatures by well-known artists and talented artists who should be well-known, including famous images and slogans.

"Keep mum - she's not so dumb" by unknown artistThe National Archives is hoping the new visibility of their collection will garner additional attention from scholars and the public. They’re also hoping the crowdsourcing power of Wiki will help them identify some of the unknown artists and fill in other informational blanks. Wikimedia is excited to have a whole new source of images to accompany old and new Wikipedia entries. Many of the artists in the collection who already have a Wikipedia page haven’t had any representations of their work on the page until now.

Bombing scene with penciled correction by James GardnerSome of the artworks have been classics of the propaganda poster genre, like the “Careless talk costs lives” posters from the campaign against sharing sensitive information with civilians (especially dangerous blondes). Others are sketches that were submitted to the Ministry but never published. You can see notes penciled in on the borders, among them a pointed critique of artistic license: “Bomb racks open from centre and not from side as in your sketch.”

Portrait of Winston Churchill by William TimymThere is a series of flattering oil portraits of Allied leaders about two-thirds of the way down on the second page by Austrian artist William Timym who moved from Vienna to London in 1938 after the Anschluss. He was naturalized a British citizen in 1949 and would later become known as the creator of the Bleep and Booster series of animated shorts.

"Assassination of Heydrich" by Terence CuneoIt’s the more dramatic war scenes that most catch my eye. Terence Cuneo is widely collected today for his post-war paintings of railways and locomotives. He was also the official artist for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. During the war he served as a combat engineer in the British Army and as an artist for the War Artists Advisory Committee. In the Wikimedia collection you can see his paintings of an invasion in the Far East, tanks in production, tanks in battle and most striking of all in subject matter at least, the 1942 assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, one of the main architects of the Final Solution.

"Tower Bridge" by Eve KirkOne of my favorite pieces is an oil painting by Eve Kirk, a landscape painter and graphic designer whose wartime work showed at the Royal Academy in 1945. It depicts Tower Bridge and the Thames harbor protected by a sky full of barrage balloons. Barrage balloons were tethered balloons intended to collide with and damage low-flying, fast-moving aircraft like dive bombers. They were deployed in British cities starting in 1938. By 1940 there were almost 500 of them in the skies over London.

"Stand Firm!" by Tom PurvisThen there are the symbolic illustrations, like the proud Aslan-like lion representing England painted by Tom Purvis, the British pincer cracking the swastika by Frank Newbould, the squirrels lining up to get their ration of coal by Clive Uptton, the British and Soviet arms strangling the German eagle rising from a bombed-out city by an unknown artist, and also by an unknown artist, this sort of dark Pink Floyd vision of a sword impaling a bleeding Germany through to a rainbow and sun behind.

"Give us the tools and..." by Frank Newbould"Order your fuel now" by Clive UpttonSoviet and British unity strangling predatory Germany, by unknown artistSword piercing Germany by unknown artist


Boston National Historical Park’s New Location

This is a big week for Boston National Historical Park. Today the park is scheduled to close its visitor center at 15 State Street, across the cobblestones from the Old State House, and by the end of the week its new visitor center will open in Faneuil Hall.

Here’s how Faneuil Hall looked in the late 1700s (courtesy of Boston College).

In 1806 the architect Charles Bulfinch oversaw its expansion to its current dimensions. That produced more space for town meetings on the second floor, and more space for merchants on the ground level—where the visitor center will be.

TOMORROW: How did eighteenth-century Bostonians pronounce “Faneuil Hall”?

Amazing new Titanic pics in National Geographic

The April issue of National Geographic is marking the centennial month of the sinking of the Titanic with exceptional new pictures of the wreck composed from thousands of side-scan, sonar and high definition images taken by the 2010 expedition.

“This is a game-changer,” says National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) archaeologist James Delgado, the expedition’s chief scientist. “In the past, trying to understand Titanic was like trying to understand Manhattan at midnight in a rainstorm—with a flashlight. Now we have a site that can be understood and measured, with definite things to tell us. In years to come this historic map may give voice to those people who were silenced, seemingly forever, when the cold water closed over them.”

The composite pictures are beautiful and eerie and detailed almost beyond belief. Earlier high definition pictures and video from the site were narrowly focused, bounded by the limits of visibility 2 miles below the surface of the North Atlantic and by the camera lens. The composites put all those little keyhole shots together.

Pictures and captions courtesy of National Geographic.

COPYRIGHT© 2012 RMS TITANIC, INC; Produced by AIVL, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. The first complete views of the legendary wreck. Ethereal views of Titanic’s bow offer a comprehensiveness of detail never seen before. The optical mosaics each consist of 1,500 high-resolution images rectified using sonar data.

COPYRIGHT© 2012 RMS TITANIC, INC; Produced by AIVL, WHOI. As the starboard profile shows, the Titanic buckled as it plowed nose-first into the seabed, leaving the forward hull buried deep in mud—obscuring, possibly forever, the mortal wounds inflicted by the iceberg.

COPYRIGHT© 2012 RMS TITANIC, INC; Produced by AIVL, WHOI. Two of Titanic’s engines lie exposed in a gaping cross section of the stern. Draped in “rusticles”—orange stalactites created by iron-eating bacteria—these massive structures, four stories tall, once powered the largest moving man-made object on Earth.

You also see parts of the ship scattered over the debris field which have never been seen before since earlier images focused on the large parts, particularly the bow:

COPYRIGHT© 2012 RMS TITANIC, INC; Produced by AIVL, WHOI. Two sections of Titanic’s double-bottom hull ripped off the stern as it sank. Their hydrodynamic shape may account for their landing well to the east of the rest of the debris. How a collapsed pile of decking landed nearby remains a mystery.

The April issue of National Geographic also has a supersweet poster (aren’t all NG posters supersweet?) of Titanic’s demise, reconstructed based on the new data recovered from the ocean floor. The National Geographic website has an excellent companion layout with a featured article that in addition to covering the recent expedition also covers RMS Titanic, Inc.’s change in approach over the years from a salvage operation dedicated to collecting artifacts for display and sale to a curatorial emphasis on documenting and conserving the wreck.

There’s also a neat gallery comparing images of the wreck to pictures from Titanic’s twin RMS Olympic, an interactive wreck map with information on salient features, and zoomable images of the wreck. Don’t miss the zoomable pic of the stern in profile. It looks like it was torn apart and partially eaten by Krakens.


National Archives Titanic Exhibit

If you’ve read our article on the Titanic and want more information, Britain’s National Archives have launched an online exhibition. It has crew and passenger lists, stories about some of those on board, podcasts and more.

A First for the Louvre and an Omission in the National Gallery.

Georges de La Tour, Christ in the Carpenter’s Shop, 1645, oil on canvas, 137 x 101 cm.


Reading Art History News and the Tribune de l’Art posts about the Louvre’s acquisition of a painter, hitherto unrepresented in that museum, Jean Le Clerc, got me thinking about a glaring 17th century French omission in our own National Gallery. This is a painter who may have influenced Le Clerc, Georges de La Tour. Though the gallery has a good collection of the French school, Poussin, Claude, Mignard, Le Sueur, the Le Nain, Champaigne, Vouet, it doesn’t posses a La Tour, though it had the chance when one was offered to the gallery for a low price under Kenneth Clark’s directorship. However, Clark with typical patrician scorn dismissed La Tour’s wonderful Christ in the Carpenter’s Shop as too vulgar, even when Anthony Blunt and an influential aristocrat tried to sway Clark. It isn’t always the acquisition budget that counts in these matters.

If you’re wondering what museum now has possession of the rejected La Tour- given to it in 1948….Take a wild guess!

National Guard Presidents

I found this series that highlights presidents who served as national guardsmen. I had actually been looking up John Tyler’s service:
Like his father, John Tyler strongly supported America’s role in the war of 1812. As a young legislator in the Virginia House of Delegates, Tyler voted for every anti-British measure proposed during the 1812 session. In the summer of 1813, word reached Tyler that a British raiding party had plundered Hampton, Virginia, and appeared ready to march up the James River to Richmond. He immediately joined the Charles City Rifles, a local militia company formed to defend Richmond. A large part of the force consisted of farmers who were new to military discipline. Tyler, commissioned as a captain, organized the men through a simple drill system. The company was attached to the Fifty-second Regiment of the Virginia Militia and ordered to Williamsburg to resist the advancing British. Tyler’s company was later attached to the Second Elite Corps of Virginia under the command of General Moses Green. When the British withdrew from Hampton, Tyler and his men returned home triumphant. John Tyler became the 10th president of the United States in 1841.

Medicine Wheel/Medicine Mountain National Historic Landmark

In August, a ceremony was held to celebrate the creation of the Medicine Wheel/Medicine Mountain National Historic Landmark in the Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming.

Up to now, the Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark had been designated as a landmark only for its archeological value and encompassed a 110 acre area around the Medicine Wheel. But the new NHL (National Historic Landmark,) recognizes the Bighorn Medicine Wheel and Medicine Mountain as a nationally significant site because of its traditional cultural value to many tribes, and includes more than 4,000 acres.

The article announcing this action claims this is the first Native American traditional cultural property to have been approved as a National Historic Landmark since the 1980 amendments to the National Historic Preservation Act that gave explicit recognition to NHLs and the 1983 regulations that established criteria and a process for creating new NHLs. Medicine Wheel Dedication Gang.

(I think though that a mountain sacred to the Kumeyaay Nation is on the National Registry of Historical Places, check out, and another site important to Indian peoples in New Jersey(?) and a few other locations might be on the list.)

The Association on American Indian Affairs (AAIA) worked with tribes for more than 20 years to protect Medicine Wheel and Medicine Mountain. AAIA represented the Medicine Wheel Coalition in negotiating with the United States Forest Service to develop a landmark Historic Preservation Plan (HPP) to protect this sacred site and in a court case brought by a logging company which challenged the HPP.

The Medicine Wheel is located in the Bighorn National Forest on the western peak of Medicine Mountain in the Bighorn Range east of Lovell, Wyoming. The 75-foot diameter Medicine Wheel is a roughly circular alignment of rocks and associated cairns enclosing 28 radial rows of rock extending out from a central cairn. This feature is part of a much larger complex of interrelated archeological sites and traditional use areas that express 7000 years of Native American adaptation to and use of the alpine landscape that surrounds Medicine Mountain.

Contemporary American Indian traditional use areas and features, including ceremonial staging areas, medicinal and ceremonial plant gathering areas, sweat lodge sites, altars, offering locales and fasting (vision quest) enclosures, can be found nearby. Ethnohistoric, ethnographic, and archeological evidence demonstrates that the Medicine Wheel and the surrounding landscape constitute one of the most important and well preserved ancient Native American sacred site complexes in North America. Between 70 and 150 wheels have been identified in South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Alberta, and Saskatchewan

Read more.

National Park Service rule would allow tribes gathering rights in national parks

It is reported that the National Park Service has proposed a new rule that would allow American Indian tribes to remove plants and minerals from national parks for traditional uses.

The document, dated March 25, was stamped “confidential.” It states that NPS intends to authorize agreements with federally recognized Indian tribes to allow plants or minerals to be used for traditional purposes. The agreements would allow the continuation of cultural traditions on ancestral lands that are now part of the NPS estate. The rule would also provide opportunities for tribal youth, the agency and the public to learn about tribal traditions without compromising park values or management, it said.

NPS spokesman Jeffrey Olson confirmed that the agency is developing a new rule to address tribal use of park resources. He said the draft rule has changed since March and may continue to change as it is reviewed. The public will have 60 days to comment on the rule once it is published in the Federal Register.

Olson said the rule follows several consultation meetings with tribal leaders in past years, but that the proposal is in its early stages and has not been reviewed by the Interior Department or the White House.

“It began with [NPS Director] Jon [Jarvis] talking with tribal folks and making a commitment to listen and see if there can’t be a compromise reached.”

But the proposal has riled Park Service employees who maintain the agency is violating its founding 1916 Organic Act in the name of political correctness, said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

Ruch said the agency’s proposal raises an emotional issue, but that overturning the current rule should require the consent of Congress, which has expressly allowed tribal plant gathering in at least eight park units.

National Congress of American Indians ACTION ALERT

The National Congress of American Indians, a lobbying and organizational group for American Indian tribes, has issued an alert about a major threat to tribal sovereignty.

I will only quote a little of the alert here. To contact NCAI for more information: John Dossett, General Counsel jdossett@ncai.org NCAI Contact Information: Derrick Beetso, Legal Fellow dbeetso@ncai.org

To learn more go to the alliance of tribal sovereigns web site.

NCAI says:

“Tobacco Manufacturers and States Target Tribal Tobacco Revenues Through Master Settlement Agreement.

We urge all Indian tribes to begin immediate outreach to their State Attorney General and Governor to ask that the state not sign on the “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU)regarding adjustment of the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA). (The “Tribal” provisions of the model legislation begin at page 20-37 of the PDF).

Under this proposed agreement, states and tobacco manufacturers are attempting to impose a restrictive state “model statute” on sales of tobacco on tribal lands. Hundreds of millions of tobacco settlement payments would be withheld from states unless they pass and enforce a model statute that targets Indian tribes and attempts to apply state law to all tribal lands. Under the model statute:

[NCIA lists 7 bad outcomes from this proposed agreement.]

Background: The Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) is an agreement entered into in November 1998, originally between the four largest US tobacco companies and the attorney general of 46 states. The states settled their Medicaid lawsuits against the tobacco industry for recovery of tobacco-related health care costs and exempted the companies from liability regarding harm caused by tobacco use. . . .

In the MSA, the original participating manufacturers agreed to pay a mini-mum of $206 billion over the first twenty-five years of the agreement.

Indian tribes and the Indian Health Service have never been parties to the MSA, despite the enormous medical costs incurred for smoking-related illnesses on Indian reservations. In the early years of the Bush Administration, the Department of Justice decided not to pursue claims against tobacco manufacturers for costs incurred by the IHS and military hospitals for smoking related illnesses. As a result, Indian tribes do not share in the settlement funds from the MSA, and in addition, tobacco delivered to Indian reservations is not required to pay into the escrow settlement fund.

A great deal of the MSA is devoted to protecting the market share of the participating manufacturers (PM’s); the large manufacturers who control most of the market. . . .

In these two provisions of the MSA that have led to the proposed MOU that targets Indian tribes. Apparently, the large tobacco manufacturers have decided that Indian tribes threaten their market share, and want to destroy the entire tobacco economy in Indian country. (See, recent related article in the Wall Street Journal)

One of the least understandable provisions of this agreement seems to cut against the hundreds of tobacco tax agreements and compacts that have been reached in Indian country. In general, these agreements provide that the tribe will collect an equal or similar tax, sometimes with revenue sharing with the state. These agreements ensure the generation of critically important tax revenues for many tribes around the country.

NCAI urges tribes to contact their State Attorney General and Governors and urge them not to support this agreement. This is all of the information we have available, and we would encourage tribes to ask for consultation from their state governments.”

Native Alaska corporation wants land in Tongass National Forest

The Anchorage Daily News reports that the Sealaska land deal will be heard in Congress this week.

The newspaper states in part: “For decades, conservationists, the U.S. Forest Service, tribes, Native corporations and the people who live in the Tongass National Forest have warred over how to manage the vast temperate rain forest covering most of Southeast Alaska.

The fight resurfaces in Washington this week, as the Sealaska Native Corp. makes a case to a Senate committee that it should be able to pick as much as 85,000 acres outside of its original land grants in the forest.

The company’s picks are controversial, in part because they include valuable old growth timber that many would like to see off-limits to logging. Some local groups, including the Craig Tribal Association, also have concerns about how Sealaska plans to address important cultural locations in the acres the company wants, including places that are part of their ancestral history.

Read the full story.

National Gallery occupied 9/12/10





Nearly every museum and art school seems to be in occupation these days.  

This time it's the National Gallery's turn.  


Secret sealed room found in India’s National Library

Restorers working on the 18th century Belvedere House in Kolkata, home to the National Library of India, have found a large hidden room they had no idea was there. By found I mean they discovered that it existed, not that they’ve actually gone inside because there is no visible means of entrance or egress.

The house has suffered from neglect over the decades. Last year, all 2.2 million books were moved out of the old building into a new structure on the 30-acre estate so that the Belvedere House could be thoroughly restored.

The ministry of culture that owns the National Library decided to get the magnificent building restored by the Archaeological Survey of India since it is heavily damaged. Work has already started. It was while taking stock of the interior and exterior of the building that ASI [Archaeological Survey of India] conservation engineers stumbled upon a blind enclosure’ on the ground floor, about 1000 square feet in size.

A lot of effort has been made to locate an opening so that experts can find out exactly what it was built for or what it contains. But there is not a single crack to show.

“We’ve searched every inch of the first floor area that forms the ceiling of this enclosure for a possible trap door. But found nothing. Restoration of the building will remain incomplete if we are not able to assess what lies inside this enclosure,” said deputy superintending archaeologist of ASI, Tapan Bhattacharya. “We’ve come across an arch on one side of the enclosure that had been walled up. Naturally speculations are rife,” said another archaeologist.

Among the speculations are the classics: skeletons and hoarded treasure. Apparently prisoners were known to have been walled up and left to die in death chambers during the Raj, and secret treasure rooms aren’t unheard of either. Since the ASI can’t just go knocking down walls in 250-year-old historic buildings, they have to find a way to peek inside without damaging the structure. They’ve applied to the ministry of culture for permission to drill a small hole in the walled up arch through which they can shine a searchlight.

Belvedere House was built by Mir Jafar, the eighth Nawab of Bengal, in the 1760s and shortly thereafter he gave it to Lord Warren Hastings, the first Governor-General of India. It passed through various hands, private and public. Then in 1953, 3 years after Independence, the Imperial Library was renamed the National Library and the collection moved to Belvedere House.

It has long been rumored to be haunted, with lights mysteriously turning on in the ballroom and ghostly carriages seen driving up to the entrance. Certainly it has seen its fair share of intrigue. Hastings had a duel on the grounds with supreme council of Bengal member Sir Philip Francis in 1780. (Hastings had called him “void of truth and honor” in his private dealings, most likely referring to a number of affairs with ladies possibly including one Baroness Inhoff, a guest of Hastings’ at Belvedere House.)

Photo by Avrajyoti Mitra

Photo by Avrajyoti Mitra


National Museum of American Jewish History

Randall Stephens

David O’Reilly has an interesting piece on the opening exhibit at the National Museum of American Jewish History: “Chronicling Lives More than Religion,” Philadelphia Inquirer, November 14, 2010. (The new museum is open to the public on Nov 28.) O’Reilly interviews deputy curator Josh Perelman and describes some of the highlights ranging from the 17th to the 20th century.

. . . After entering on Market Street, visitors are invited to start their tour on the fourth floor, in the year 1654, and descend through time, floor by floor, to the present, inspecting more than a thousand artifacts along the way.

A great majority of the items are secular – immigration documents from Ellis Island, a sewing machine, the upright piano at which the Russian-born, agnostic, but ethnically Jewish Berlin penned such tunes as “White Christmas,” “Easter Parade,” and “God Bless America.”

But here, too, are examples of the Torah scrolls, bibles, prayer books, menus, candlesticks, kiddush cups, bat mitzvah dresses, and yarmulkes that have helped sustain Judaism in America for three and a half centuries.

“I think we did a pretty good job,” said Perelman.

The tour begins with artifacts of Jewish life in the colonies. Here, behind glass, is a 1737 Torah from Savannah, Georgia; a plain, bronze menorah, or liturgical candelabrum; a circumcision kit; the wooden top of a Torah ark from Lancaster County; the bible of the Gomez family – New York mill owners who had fled the Spanish Inquisition; and the handwritten “subscription list” of donors who, in 1728, created America’s first synagogue, Shearith Israel, in New York City.>>>

1969 — Black Panther National Anthem by Elaine Brown

Yes – He turned and be walked
Past the eyes of my life.
And, he nodded and sang without sound.
And his face had the look
Of a man who knew strife
And a feeling familiarly came around.

I said,
Man, where have you been for all these years
Man, where were you when I sought you
Man, do you know me as I know you
Man, am I coming through

And, he spoke in a voice
That was centuries old.
And, be smiled in a way that was strange.
And, his full lips of night
Spoke about our people’s plight
And a feeling familiarly came around.


And, we sat and we talked
About freedom and things.
And, he told me about what he dreamed.
But I knew of that dream
Long before he had spoke
And a feeling familiarly came around.


National History Day Needs Your Help

This message is from the National History Day Organization – it’s an organization that works with teachers and students in creating projects to present in a variety of formats to a panel of judges. Each year there is a theme where students choose and manage their own projects. It’s a good organization. It’s losing some funding – and this email below is a call to action to try and keep some of that money coming in to help continue the great things this organization does.

Please read below….

“To our supporters:

We are now at a critical juncture in our efforts for the 2011 congressional budget. We have until Wednesday, March 17th 2010 to contact members of the House. Please, please do what you can to have as many people as possible take those few minutes to call or email their Representative. Keep in mind that congressional funding will benefit every state, especially those state programs that have been suffering in this economy.


Please read this full email.

National History Day (NHD) is asking for your help to gain support from members of Congress for a $1 million National History Day appropriation that will help our state programs grow and improve.

Thanks to your efforts, NHD was included in the omnibus bill for FY 2009 & FY 2010 with an appropriation of $500,000! It’s important to note that to be included in a congressional budget for the first time is a major accomplishment. National History Day clearly has the attention of members of Congress, so let’s try and build on our success. Keep in mind that we have programs across the country that could use the extra help of an increased congressional appropriation.

Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) is circulating what is called a “Dear Colleague” letter. The letter is similar to a petition that members of Congress sign in support of funding a program (click here to view the Dear Colleague Letter).

The Dear Colleague asks all members of the House to sign their name to the letter supporting NHD. This letter is addressed to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations Subcommittee asking them to support funding NHD in the FY 2011 budget. It is very important to get support from as many members of Congress as soon as possible. This is a very common practice, which is implemented during the appropriations process. It is important that we get as many signatures as we can – as soon as we can (in the next two weeks). The appropriations committee will literally count every signature and the more signatures we have the better chance we will have of getting $1 million in support.

What to do?

Never called your Member of Congress before? Don’t worry, it’s easy! 
When you call your Representative, your call will be answered by a receptionist. Tell him or her that you want to leave a message for the Representative. The receptionist will take down your message.

We need your help. Congress must hear from you today!

NHD NEEDS YOUR HELP TODAY! We have two weeks and it is critical that you pick up the phone today to contact your members of Congress and ask them to sign the NHD Dear Colleague Letter. Our goal is get as many members of Congress to sign this letter in two weeks, which will demonstrate wide-spread support for funding for the NHD program.

When calling a Representative’s office, tell them:
• Your name and the city and state you live in.
• You’re calling today to urge the Representative to sign the Dear Colleague letter, in support of funding for National History Day in the FY 2010 budget. The letter is being circulated by Rep. Van Hollen.
• Why this money would be helpful to the NHD program in your state and district, how it would make an impact to increase the number of participants and improve overall programmatic efforts in the state.
• They can contact Sarah Schenning in Rep. Van Hollen’s office at (202) 225-5341 with questions or to sign the letter.

How to Contact a Member of Congress

To find your Member’s contact information, including phone and fax numbers, visit www.house.gov,www.senate.gov, or call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask for your Representative.

If you have any questions contact Kim Fortney at National History Day at (301) 314-9542.

Aja Julian
National History Day