J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Latest from Williamsburg

The new issue of the journal Colonial Williamsburg is out, trailing online versions of:

  • Mary Miley Theobald’s article “Lies My Docent Told Me,” about persistent myths in historical museums.
    [Susan] Smyer, who has led panel discussions at conferences on museum myths, says legends are also perpetuated by docents who “succumb to the lure of a really great story or a good laugh, even when they know it isn’t the truth,” who mistakenly transfer present-day thinking to the past, or who apply stories that are true in one time or area to another where they are not. Such myths, she says, “are harder to kill than vampires.”
  • Jack Lynch’s “Sold on Reasonable Terms,” about early American newspaper advertising, with lots of images and an additional slide show.
    What may be most revealing is usually left unspoken in the ads themselves. The language of marketing brings home, in a way statistics cannot, just how much slaves were viewed as commodities. Not only were enslaved people advertised alongside hairpins, teakettles, and candles; sometimes they appeared in the same ad.
  • A slide show titled “Ninety Delightful Days and More,” showing Williamsburg’s sites in resplendent seasonal colors.
  • Ed Crews’s interview in character with Scott Green, the interpreter who plays Benedict Arnold.
  • Andrew G. Gardner’s “Mumbo Jumbo Meets its Match,” on occult beliefs in the 1700s.
    [Cotton] Mather’s generation was the first to have to ask whether its world and its long-held beliefs were right. In 1719, the northern lights unexpectedly lit up New England’s night skies. Some were fearful for their future. A Harvard associate of Mather’s [Thomas Robie (1689-1729)] said, “No man should fright himself by supposing that dreadful things will follow, such as Famine, Sword or Sickness.” But Mather was not quite convinced, and pursued his investigation of the aurora borealis with a suggestion that it was not unreasonable to suppose that angels were responsible. Yet, by 1726, two years before his death, Mather was in print telling people to ignore “Superstitious Fancies about eclipses or comets.”
I’ll discuss the article on Thomas Jefferson’s hair tomorrow. Available only in the magazine’s print form are articles about smuggling, St. Eustatius’s role in the war over American independence, and an essay on “The Purposes of Historic Preservation.”

1 comment:

RFuller said...

Hi, JL,

check out this blog from The Two Nerdy History Girls (is there any other kind? ;) )http://historymyths.wordpress.com/

Great stuff!

It's a good companion to the "Lies My Docent Told Me" blog from CW.