Archival Gems

One of the elements that I miss from my doctoral work was the archival and historical research on the progressive era that I did on a regular basis. While I was usually searching for specific information, I regularly stumbled across little gems of information or research tracks that I never had the time to follow up. Lately I’ve found myself looking into some of the larger resources available online like the Library of Congress. I have a couple projects that are driving my work, but I’ve been coming up with enough intriguing snippets that I wanted to start collecting them here.  I hope that this will be the start of a new series of posts here. Sometimes I’ll include commentary. Other times I’ll just post the document, photo, or whatever it is I’ve stumbled across and let it speak for itself. I’ll always cite my sources in case any one else is interested.

First up is a sonnet by Katharine Warren from 1900. Originally published in The Atlantic, There’s a clear religious tone here. After reading so much radical literature during my doctoral work, it was intriguing and fitting to see this note struck in this particular poetic form.

A SONNET OF WORK.

WHERETO our labor and our bitter sweat?
The seed we sow we trample in the dark.
The flame we strike, our own tears quench the spark.
The white that we would purify we set
Our grimy print upon. And we forget
Thy ways and thoughts are not as ours, and hark
Toward what we take to be some heavenly mark,
And find we serve the devil to abet.
Then do Thou blind us, that we may not see
The measure of our own futility,
Lest, seeing, we should cease to work, and die.
Or give us sight, that we may know thereby
How through our labor, whatso end it meet,
We reach toward Thee who knowest no defeat.

Here’s the source and here are some other works by Warren.

Links 6/25/2013

For your consideration:

Verlyn Klinkenborg at the New York Times on the decline of the English major.

Lee Hutchinson at Ars Technica has the story of how NASA rebuilt the F-1 “moon rocket.”

Adam Johnson tells the story of Kim Jong-il’s sushi chef at GQ.

Finally, Atlas Obscura takes a tour of the “Ruins of Super Science.”

A Heavenwide Blast of Light

I’ve been taking in all the news and video about the meteor explosion over Russia this morning. Amazing stuff. It just goes to show just how vulnerable we are as a planet and as a species.

Neither of these videos are “new” or anything. I just wanted to post them here for posterity (and research).

And the tremendous shockwave:

 

More detailed information from the ever informative Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy.

[The title of this post is from the episode covering the 1908 Tunguska Event in Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day.]

Errant Reader: “The Small Rain” – Thomas Pynchon (1959)

This post marks the restart of an experiment I gave up on ages ago in the midst of graduate school. Back then any attempt at a regular series of posts about what I was reading was a bit of a wasted effort. It was, after all, a continuation of my “day job” and I didn’t see a lot of point in talking about books online when I could do it in real life with my fellow grad students every day. Given that I’m now a bit removed from my usual debating partners about literature, I thought it might be nice to revisit the idea. Oh, and give the series a better title (Textual Detritus…what the hell was I thinking?)

Given that I’m hitting the restart button I should point out some of the ground rules I’ve decided to use: first, I have some overarching goals, but there’s no set list of what I have to read for a given post. I want to keep this fun, spontaneous, and keeping with the “errant” title. I do want to do one post in the series every week. I guarantee that I will eventually miss this goal. So it goes.

What about those overarching goals? Well, this post is the start of goal number 1. For the last few years I’ve wanted to go back and read all of Pynchon’s work from start to finish. My dissertation work focused on his more recent novels and Gravity’s Rainbow. I read his work out of order though and I’ve been dying to go back and revisit everything in order of publication (or as near as I can manage). I’m starting out with the stories in Slow Learner (but crucially I’m not reading Pynchon’s Introduction to the book. I’ll get to that between Gravity’s Rainbow and Vineland.) I’ve always been drawn to Pynchon’s work, and I can’t think of a better way to start out this particular series. As they say: Go big or go home.

Continue reading “Errant Reader: “The Small Rain” – Thomas Pynchon (1959)”

More Responses to CNN’s Battle for Blair Mountain

I’m a bit late on this post, but I do have another chapter of the dissertation drafted. As excuses go, that one isn’t too shabby. I wanted to continue for a little longer on CNN’s “Battle for Blair Mountain” special. Specifically I found two compelling responses online that I wanted to share.

First, Matt Wasson at the Front Porch Blog from Appalachian Voices provides a succinct look at the facts that CNN missed in its special. Wasson’s figures hit on the the issue I was struggling with in my response about the argument CNN puts forward about environmentalism versus jobs in the special. Wasson also hits on a very important issue regarding Bill Raney’s correlation/causation claim:

While Raney is technically correct that these studies are based on “correlation and not causation,” it’s a meaningless distinction for nearly every public health study ever conducted. There is no way to ever prove causation in public health studies, which is why researchers have to use statistics to tease apart trends and find evidence for – but never prove – causation. The peer-review process in science is what protects against misuse and abuse of statistics.

What Wasson points to here was something that troubled me while watching the special, but which I don’t think I did as good a job as I could have articulating why. The quote here articulates what I was trying to get at a bit better.

Wasson’s entire post is well worth a read through for these interested in the special or more importantly the important numbers the special misses.

Second, Joe Atkins provides a compelling take on the special. What I’m particularly drawn to in Atkins’ discussion is his focus on the framing of the special. Atkins here articulates something that I was troubled by in the special’s focus on the Dials. I continue to stand by my original claim that the Dials are in the right for the wrong reasons, but Atkins teases out the problems associated with the reasoning the Dials put forward. Atkins’ call for more passionate reporting rather than “balance” is intriguing and, again, the whole post is well worth a read.

Briefly, some notes for my own work: Atkins also provides two facts that had been nagging me, but that I had not found the opportunity to double check. Arch Coal was the company focused on in “Battle for Blair Mountain” but Massey Energy was also interested in mtr at Blair. This was something that I had vaguely recalled being the case.

I was also pleased to see Atkins point to Diane Sawyer’s “A Hidden America: Children of the Mountains” as an example of another special that fails to focus on industrial influence in the region’s poverty. This plays into my own analysis of “A Hidden America” in my dissertation work.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that I came across both of these sources via Ken Ward Jr. at Coal Tatoo.

Says Joe

Every so often I talk back to the book I’m reading. It’s fairly similar to the movie goer who calls out to the next victim in a zombie movie. Obviously that door doesn’t lead to safety! It’s where your zombified neighbor happens to be waiting patiently (if a bit peckish). Usually my outbursts come due to glaring mistakes. The misattributed quote, the obvious attempts to convey familiarity with a geographic location the author’s never visited, the horribly misspelled name, and the incredibly wrong date (particularly when it’s an easy date to look up) have all triggered a muttered outburst of “Turn back you fool!” (More accurately a simple “Wait…what? That’s not right!”)

Everybody makes mistakes and I’m certainly no exception. This means that I hold myself to a high standard when it comes to my own work. In fact, when I do mess up I tend to feel like the zombie victim: not only am I embarrassed to be caught in the gnashing embrace of Fred T. Zombie, but I’m mortified to realize that the audience was probably rooting for the zombie since I was being dumb.

This is all a long way of getting to the real reason for my post. Today’s infraction was of the wrong date variety regarding the song “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night.” I’m sure the zombie victim in question considered it a throwaway comment. The song was originally written by Alfred Hayes in 1925 and turned into a song by Earl Robinson in 1936. It was not performed, as the author erroneously asserts, at Hill’s funeral in 1915. It is more romantic to think that it was 1915 though. Admittedly, the book I found it in is not likely to be the first, second, or to be honest, eighteenth source anyone wanting to find out about the song would ever look up. I may have declared vigorously that the author was wrong and went straight to some books and the internet to prove it to myself, but it certainly doesn’t count as a serious infraction.

Whatever the case, I’m grateful for the mistake in the end. Besides fodder for a post here it also prompted me to listen to the song again and gain a new appreciation for the numerous versions there are of it online.

Joan Baez at Woodstock

 

Luke Kelly

 

Pete Seeger’s banjo and accompanying singers are particularly powerful given the focus of solidarity in the song. I’m also fond of the way Seeger’s version picks up tempo in the middle.

 

Paul Robeson’s performance of the song is in some ways my favorite. Robeson’s voice is simply incredible and I have to say that I prefer the subdued piano accompaniment here. It seems more fitting for the mournful visit from a ghost.