A Look at 10/10/1877: Custer’s Last Stand and the Making of a Legend

On October 10th 1877, an entire year after his death, one of the most controversial figures of nineteenth-century American history was finally put to rest. Though today his story has become legend, in his own lifetime General Custer was something of an enigma. For the remainder of her life, Elizabeth Bacon Custer would adamantly defend her husband’s actions on and off the battlefield. His story was latched onto by the media and re-spun as a further incentive to perpetuate the violence against Native Americans. A hero was born, not out of his own actions, but the actions of others to memorialize his death.

Image from: Wikimedia

“The Custer Fight” by Charles Marion Russell. Image from: Wikimedia.

Custer rose to military prominence during the Civil War as an extraordinarily young and gifted officer. Yet it is not for these military escapades that he is remembered, but rather for his involvement in battles against the Sioux and Cheyenne in what is today the northwestern United States. Custer represents a picture of the West as conquest.

His Last Stand at the Battle of Little Big Horn is a highly romanticized image, a portrait of grown men playing at Cowboys-and-Indians that was once blown up into posters and hung around bars. When the actual conflict was long forgotten, what remained in place was the image. It took at least a year between his death and his funeral to plant the seeds that put the image in place.

Today is a reminder that the stories we tell ourselves have enormous power. We make our own heroes and decide their legacies long after they are gone and no longer have a say in how they are to be remembered—as tragic figures printed on the walls of bars or participants in a more complicated reality. Words are not passive reflections of the past, but rather active creators of our collective memory.


Custer’s Last Stand, a PBS Documentary (http://video.pbs.org/video/2186572157/)

Custer’s Funeral is Held at West Point (http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/custers-funeral-is-held-at-west-point)


A Look at 10/6/1889: On Moving Pictures and “Talkies”

Image from: Wikimedia

Original poster advertising the groundbreaking talkie. Image from: Wikimedia.

October 6th is a celebration for film buffs everywhere. The first motion picture and the heralding out of the silent movie era share an unlikely anniversary, thirty-eight years apart.

Wait a minute, wait a minute. You ain’t heard nothin’ yet. Wait a minute I tell ya, you ain’t heard nothin’. You want to hear ‘Toot, Toot, Tootsie’?” says actor Al Jolson from behind the movie screen, effectively ushering in a new age of “talkies” or films with sound. The 1927 film opens up with an orchestral sequence, much like the other silent films of the time. But Al Jolson’s words break the pattern, interrupt the music. No, the mainstream cinema “ain’t heard nothin’ yet,” nothing like this anyway.

Except, it sort of already had.

In 1889, Thomas Edison played a motion picture in his laboratory in New Jersey. He had invented the motion picture, experimenting with an idea that if you capture enough pictures and move them in sequence fast enough, the image effectively moves. The first time he tried this out, today so many years ago, he synchronized the moving picture with audio coming from a phonograph. The first moving picture spoke, but it would take another thirty some-odd years for the advent of sound in cinema to catch on.

The role of the film The Jazz Singer was to do just that. Boasting an award-winning cast, the film marks an almost tangible transition from the before-sound and after-sound era. Its opening and subsequent musical themes are a testament to the shift. A major theme in the plot is a shift in cultural values that was very much on the minds of people during the Roaring 20s. Where do old world values end and the values of a new world—a world that produces a whole new sort of music, a whole new sort of sound—begin? And what better way to illustrate that than through technological advancements that allow for expression of that sound? Unsurprisingly, the film was a huge success.

But being grounded in the present day, I find that there are moments when watching the film becomes difficult—not because our musical tastes have changed so drastically in the last century or because the father’s death scene is so heart-wrenching, but rather because of other expressions of themes that are deeply problematic in the present day. The titular jazz performer wears blackface, and Jewish traditions are arguably othered, first by the assimilating protagonist, and then by the gaze of an audience who consumes the spectacle. In watching the film today, we watch us watch ourselves struggle with basic ideas about unity and diversity and integration, ideas that are not irrelevant today and that will never be irrelevant.

Thomas Edison and The Jazz Singer gave us the tremendous power of sound in film. Now it is time for us to truly listen.


From the Library of Congress (http://goo.gl/G1Zpx9http://goo.gl/S8N6Py)

From the Charles Edison Fund (http://goo.gl/JvcNpU)

From the American Film Institute (http://goo.gl/qtUnbO)

A Look at 9/29/1789 and the Close of the First Session of the U.S. Congress

1789 was a very exciting time to be alive. The French Revolution famously began with the storming of the Bastille, the element uranium was accidentally discovered in Germany, and—let’s not forget—Thomas Jefferson returned home from overseas, the first macaroni machine to enter the U.S. in tow. 1789 was the end of the world as a lot of people knew it, but it also marked a very fundamental beginning.

As of today, two hundred and twenty-five years ago, the first session of the United States Congress officially came to a close. Haunting the hallways of the Senate building in those days were figures as legendary as the indelible John Adams and Robert Morris who left his signature on both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. In a period of six short months, legislation as monumental and fundamental as the creation of a system of courts and the establishment of the State Department, then dubbed the Department of Foreign Affairs, was passed, the one act followed shortly after by another.

Image from: Wikimedia.

Jefferson’s drawing of a macaroni machine from 1787. If you want to check out his pasta recipe click here. Image from: Wikimedia.

It is easy to forget when we look back at this incredibly idealized point in our history, at the semi-mythical lives of these important figures in our past that we perhaps associate so closely with one another, that these men were not, in fact, so inclined to see eye-to-eye in terms of politics. Thomas Jefferson’s vision of America’s future was almost diametrically opposed to Alexander Hamilton’s. And Alexander Hamilton’s life would be cut tragically short fifteen years later due to a political rivalry with Aaron Burr that escalated to the point where he died dueling Burr on the coast of New Jersey. From the onset, a great political fear was factionalism and disunity.

Yet despite individual- and larger party differences, the first session of the United States Congress was as productive as it was. And so was the second after that. And the third after that. And so on.

1789 was an exciting time to be alive because of the spirit of unity and progress that bound the young United States together despite moments of political tension. It drove forward real, tangible political momentum. 1789 was a moment of creation, the moment of defining the American identity, a definition that has not remained static but continues to change and to evolve with its history. It is not the straightest line from 1789 to 2014, but here we are again. In any case, I know I’ll be celebrating the 225th anniversary of pasta in the United States.


From the Library of Congress (http://goo.gl/D8zMb1http://goo.gl/6xd6Q3)

From Monticello (http://goo.gl/l4Ey6m)

Interactive: Seeking Abraham Lincoln at the Gettysburg Address | Smithsonian Magazine



A series of photographs captured in November 1863 give us a sense of what happened when Lincoln delivered his famous speech

A series of photographs captured in November 1863 give us a sense of what happened when Lincoln delivered his famous speech

Take a look at the interactive to see how Christopher Oakley, a former Disney animator, pored over photographs of the dedication ceremony at the Soldiers’ National Battlefield, where President Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. There are three images of note, two made by noted Civil War photographer Alexander Gardner and one by David Bacharach.

In which of the three pictures do you believe Lincoln appears?

(description from Smithsonian Institute website)

57th Presidential Inauguration Website | by Senate.gov


57th Presidential Inauguration

57th Presidential Inauguration

On January 21, Barack Obama will take the oath of President for the second time.  Find out more about the Inauguration Ceremony of the U.S. President, facts and firsts, traditions, unusual events, etc.

For more than two hundred years America’s citizens have witnessed the Inauguration ceremonies of the President and Vice President of the United States. From the first Inauguration of George Washington, in New York City, in 1789, to today, as we prepare for the 57th quadrennial Presidential Inauguration, the swearing-in ceremonies represents both national renewal and continuity of leadership. As each president has offered a vision for America’s future, we reflect on the heritage of Inaugurations past. The 2013 Inaugural Ceremonies theme, “Faith in America’s Future” commemorates the United States’ perseverance and marks the 150th anniversary of the placement of the Statue of Freedom atop the U.S. Capitol dome.

(part of description from inaugural.senate.gov website)

We Choose The Moon


We Choose The Moon

We Choose The Moon

An impressive website by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.  The whole Apollo 11 mission is recreated with the actual voiceovers of the astronauts and NASA personnel.  [2011] was the 40th anniversary of the first lunar landing. The site was set up to commemorate that historic event. […] You can change the views and also click on hotspots to view related media galleries. The site is divided into 11 sections where you can watch photos, videos, and other archival content. The site is an effort of the John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

(par of description from makeuseof website)

Below is a video about the website:

BIG Map Blog


Big Map Blog

Big Map Blog

The author, a big fan of maps, came across many of the maps you’ll see on the Big Map Blog while doing research for a film. While searching, he found thousands of old, beautiful maps sometimes on government ftp sites, and other times in archives with steep fees for research, and steeper fees for reproduction.  Since the author had the tools and expertise, and the archival access, he figured there’d be no excuse for me not to make these maps available online.

Maps are classified by category (historical, military, etc.) and geographical location.

(part of description from Big Map Blog website – found through Mary Laine’s Neat New Stuff website)

Thanksgiving Recipes

Thanksgiving Recipes [Image from Dipnote.gov blog]

Thanksgiving Recipes

Ok, so Thanksgiving was yesterday (Thursday, November 24, 2011) ….

“Thanksgiving in the United States is a time to gather with family and friends, share a traditional meal and express gratitude for the good things in life. It can also be a time of service to others in the community.”

Want to know more about the holiday, what we celebrate, its origins, traditions, and history?  Check out the IIP Digital article here: http://iipdigital.usembassy.gov/st/english/article/2011/11/20111115104529su0.6372949.html

Of course, the traditional food has a special place in this celebration. Rather than a single site, we have compiled a collection of different websites with recipes for Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving Recipes, Menus, Drinks, and How-to Videos … by epicurious.com

Thanksgiving Recipes – Allrecipes.com by allrecipes.com

Thanksgiving Food And Thanksgiving Recipes by food.com

Thanksgiving and Turkey Recipes: Stuffing, Side Dishes & Desserts by foodnetwork.com

Thanksgiving Recipes | Taste of Home Recipes by tasteofhome.com

The Ultimate Thanksgiving Recipes from the experts at Food & Wine … by foodandwine.com

Thanksgiving Recipes by momswhothink.com

Thanksgiving Recipes by myrecipes.com

Thanksgiving Recipes by betterrecipes.com

Thanksgiving Recipes – Thanksgiving Dinner Recipes for Families … by familyfun.com

(part of description from IIP Digital website – links from several websites)

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