History As Stories

Drugs, the Press, and Congress

If you pay much attention to U.S. politics, you have probably heard that some aspects of our current situation can be compared to the Gilded Age in the late 19th century. The most commonly noted similarities are social problems and increasing wealth disparity. Of course, those two issues are generally related. The end of the Gilded Age was concurrent with the beginning of the Progressive Era. This started about 1890 and continued a couple of decades into the 20th century. The Progressive Era was defined as a period of social activism and reform, attempting to solve the problems created by the Gilded Age. I was researching advertising, traveling medicine shows and the patent medicines of the late 19th century when I was reminded, again, how seemingly disparate things can be connected. Plenty of movies and TV shows about the U.S. during that period include scenes with traveling medicine shows. Wagons filled with bottles of tonics arrive in small towns or rural areas and the conman in charge gathers a read more…

Random Bits of History

Sometimes I start to research a topic and decide, for a variety of reasons, not to do a full post. But some of those bits are still interesting, so I’ll share some of them with you.

Hat Trick

A hat trick is a term used in sports to signify the completion of three scores in a game. I watch soccer and a hat trick is three goals by the same player in one match. Three goals in hockey by the same player in one game, also a hat trick.

The term was first used in 1858 in regards to a cricket match. A player took three wickets with three consecutive deliveries. Yeah, I don’t know what that means, either. But it was special enough that the fans took up a collection to celebrate this great thing and great player and used the read more…

Why a Cog Railway?

Today’s post is a special request from my dad, Jim Hanson. He was watching Jay Leno’s Garage and saw a segment about the train that takes visitors to the top of Mount Washington in New Hampshire.

Mount Washington from a few miles east of Lancaster, New Hampshire, USA. Photo by AlexiusHoratius via Wikimedia Commons

My dad’s last base before he retired from the U.S. Air Force, my senior year in high school, was the now defunct Pease Air Force Base in New Hampshire. One of the best things about growing up in the military, and with my parents, was that they always wanted to explore all the new places the Air Force sent us.

So while in New Hampshire, of course we checked out the tallest mountain (6,288 feet) in the state. Mount Washington is known for it’s unpredictable weather, and the day we were there it was crazy windy. Like blow-away-a-small-child windy. read more…

The Interconnectedness of Being (Yes, That Really is a Word)

I believe that diverse world events are more interconnected and complex than we realize on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes those interconnections are best seen through the lens of history.

I recently read an academic article, “Women at Work: Innkeeping in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland 1790-1840” by Theresa Mackay, published in the Journal of Scottish Historical Studies, 37.2, 2017. At the moment, you can access the article here for free. (Thanks, Journal of Scottish Historical Studies!) This article won the Women’s History Scotland Leah Leneman essay prize for 2016.

In this video, you can hear Mackay talk about why she decided on this research topic and how she found and used her sources. At the end of the video, she discusses a personal tie to historical innkeeping.

Here and here are BBC and The Scotsman stories about her article.

Mackay used a wide range of sources to show how important women were, not only to rural innkeeping, but to the wider economy. As a woman who dislikes most “domestic” tasks, I was struck by the fact that women were read more…

What’s Your Type?

I love to read about people who were a little (or even a lot) out of step with the norms of the era in which they lived. And I mean stepping forward, not backward.

Katharine Cook Briggs (1875-1968) was lucky enough to be born into a family with new-fangled ideas about women and education. Her father was a member of the faculty at Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State University) and he home-schooled Briggs until she left for college at the age of 14. Briggs attended Michigan Agricultural College, earned a degree in agriculture and then worked as a teacher.

Michigan Agricultural College, 1912. This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID pan.6a06628. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Briggs began researching personality and psychological typing in 1917 because she believed it would help her with raising her daughter, and with creating fictional characters for her writing. read more…

One of My Can’t-Skip Movies, Cry Freedom

I think most of us have movies that we simply cannot pass by when we see that they’re on TV. The Hunt for Red October and Remember the Titans can be just starting or in the last five minutes, and I will turn to that channel and watch them.

Another is Cry Freedom, based on the true story of South African journalist Donald Woods (1933-2001) and his friend Stephen Biko (1946-1977), a black leader in the fight against apartheid. The movie is based on two books written by Woods, and he and his wife were consultants on the film.

Steve Biko. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Starring Kevin Kline and Denzel Washington, Cry Freedom was released in 1987, four years before apartheid was abolished by legislation. At a time when most Americans relied on the daily 30-minute national news rather than emerging 24-hour news channels, Cry Freedom gave people outside of South Africa a glimpse into the realities of white-minority rule in South Africa. read more…

Always Learning: The Lych Gate

Historians specialize because that’s pretty much their only option. Thousands of years of history and a great big world of many cultures means that you can’t know everything about everything.

Even though my degree required that I choose two areas of specialization (18th and 19th century Great Britain and Latin America), I don’t actually work as a historian, so I can wander around and learn whatever I’m interested in right now. Just so you know, that very rarely includes classical history.

This week I learned something that I feel I should have already known. A little embarrassed, I did some research on lych gates.

This Lych-Gate is the entrance to High Beach Church. A simple wooden structure with carving. Photo: Lynda Poulter via Wikimedia Commons

read more…


For several days I’ve been researching lunatic asylums and the laws that governed them. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to discover the angle that I want to discuss in this blog.

So I will admit defeat, for the moment, and leave you with a couple of depictions of asylums instead.

The Madhouse by Francisco de Goya (1746-1828). Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Woodcut from Lee’s Pictorial Weekly Budget Police News – close up of “Horrors of Kew Asylum” 1876. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

French psychiatrist Philippe Pinel (1745-1826) releasing lunatics from their chains at the Salpêtrière asylum in Paris in 1795 by Tony Robert-Fleury (1837-1911). Photo via Wikimedia Commons

95 Years of History

I listen to about a dozen different podcasts, mostly about politics and history. Two of those podcasts recently had Norman Lear as their guest, and those interviews were a vivid reminder that people who have been alive for a really long time have lived through a whole lot of history.

Most of you will remember Lear for writing and producing a string of successful TV sitcoms. Political and cultural changes led him to create Archie Bunker and All In The Family in the 1970s. I am torn about wanting to watch this show again now, fearing it will be too eerily similar to our current culture. I prefer to believe that we have made progress. read more…

Candy With A Soundtrack

It’s Halloween today, and that evening is best spent handing out candy with music playing in the background. Alas, my new home is not situated for a parade of creatively dressed children, but I can still have the music.

What is your number one Halloween tune? Although many people would choose Michael Jackson’s Thriller, or even Ray Parker Jr.’s Ghostbusters, I’m going to go old school. My go-to Halloween song is Monster Mash, by Bobby Pickett. read more…

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