History As Stories

Birthday Music Break!

It’s time again for music that were born on this date, July 9. Click on the links and dance around as necessary to feel your stress fall away.

Bon Scott (1946-1980)

Scott was born in Scotland right after the end of World War II, and moved with his family to Australia when he was a child. In 1974 he joined the band AC/DC, and was their vocalist until his death in 1980.

Check him out here performing “Touch Too Much”.

Marc Almond (born 1957)

You may not know his name, but Almond was half of the duo Soft Cell. When this comes on the car radio, I’m betting that you do the car dance. Unless only people my age do that.

Here’s “Tainted Love”.

Jim Kerr (born 1959)

We’ve got another Scot in this edition of birthday music. Kerr was the vocalist for Simple Minds. Their most famous song, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” will immediately plunge you into the 1980s and the movie The Breakfast Club.

While that is a good song, I much prefer “Alive and Kicking”.

Hope you enjoyed these songs and this little birthday tribute.


How Did I Miss This Anniversary?

I don’t know how I missed this, but May 10 was the 150th anniversary of the completion of the first transcontinental railroad in the United States. It was celebrated in northern Utah, at Promontory Summit, which has been preserved as a national historical park.

This all started in 1862 with the Pacific Railway Act signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln, providing federal support of land and bonds to the creation of a transcontinental railway. Our country was a little busy right then with the Civil War, but some people were thinking ahead. For context, the Battle of Shiloh, the Battle of Antietam, and the capture of New Orleans by Union forces were also in 1862.

There were already a series of railroads throughout the eastern part of the United States, and the plan was to start building the railroad from Sacramento in California going east, and from Omaha in Nebraska going west. They would meet somewhere in the middle.


The ceremony for the driving of the golden spike at Promontory Summit, Utah on May 10, 1869; completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad. At center left, Samuel S. Montague, Central Pacific Railroad, shakes hands with Grenville M. Dodge, Union Pacific Railroad (center right). Yale Collection of Western Americana, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Promontory Summit in northern Utah is not exactly in the middle, but the workers on the west had to blast their way through the Sierra Nevada mountains, which undoubtedly slowed them down. Like in the 2007 version of the movie 3:10 to Yuma.

It took a little over six years to meet almost in the middle. By the time it was finished in May 1869, the Civil War was over. Life in the United States had changed, and this transcontinental railroad was the structure that would facilitate even more change. This was the piece of infrastructure that would build and support a robust economy.

The major change was a matter of money and time. A trip that used to take months by stagecoach or wagon train would now take about a week and would cost much less. And this applied to goods as well as people. It opened unpopulated regions of the country to exploration and settlement. Towns appeared along the railroad lines to provides services to those travelers and to be close to supplies.

How the railroad affected the bison. Via Wikimedia Commons.

It wasn’t all good, of course. The new people exploring and settling the newly available regions pushed out the native peoples and animals that had been there for centuries. The Chinese who had such a major role in creating the western tracks had to find different jobs in a country that welcomed them even less than they had before.

Some good, some bad, but ultimately one more example that you can’t go back to the way it used to be.

So how did I finally hear about this anniversary almost two months late? When I was gathering links to peer-reviewed articles for my weekly list at Historical Research Update, I saw the current issue of California History: The Journal of the California Historical Society. The Summer 2019 issue, 96:2, is a special thematic issue about the 150th anniversary of the transcontinental railroad.

What’s Your Favorite Time-Travel Story?

Today I was discussing time travel stories with some friends, and the topic always delights me. It reminds me of the chicken and the egg question: do I like history because I like the time-travel stories I’ve read, or do I like time-travel stories because I like history?

Anyway, between that discussion and a little bit of research, I have some thoughts and questions. I would love to get comments and opinions from anyone reading this.

What’s the attraction?

Writers get to create their own worlds and their own rules, and that is especially the case when you get to create the method of travel as well as the rules governing paradox when your characters get where ever the writer sends them.

Readers (or watchers) get a story about something they will not get to experience. You can also pretty much choose your genre and enjoy your time-travel wrapped up in a romance, thriller, comedy, or mystery.

For both writer and reader, traveling in time can be a commentary on our current moment, illuminating social or political issues. We may not be able to change the past, but we can learn and change our present.

How do they get there?

Surprisingly, this was my favorite part of our discussion. Writers have imagined many different ways that people might travel through time, and most of them have rules and structure.

Personally, I was surprised to find that I like when the method is based in science. Or at least sounds science-y to me. Like in Terminator and the other movies in that series, where there is an actual machine and rules to using it. Only human tissue can go through, and more importantly, you can’t go back.

It definitely raises the stakes of time-travel when you know that you have to stay where ever you end up. No weekend trips, no tourists.

Where and when? Past or future?

This is the question I like, but I’ve discovered that there is actually more to it. The where and when depends on how long the trip would be whether or not they could come back.

If this were truly a tourist kind of thing and I could go visit for a week and come back, and then go somewhere/somewhen else another time, my choice of where and when could vary.

Some people would choose to be involved with important events or important people. Some people want to spend time with members of their family.

If I had to choose one place and one time, and I couldn’t come back? I have no idea what I would choose. And I may even choose to stay right where I am.

One last thing…

Oh yeah, there’s the language thing. Even if you travel to the past and go to an English-speaking country, you still may not understand or be understood. I previously wrote this post about how far back you could travel in time and still understand English.


Museums Are For Everyone

Museums Are For Everyone

I am lucky enough to live near a city that has great museums. I’ve also been able to travel and see museums, large and small, in the United States and other countries.

If you don’t have that opportunity, for yourself or for your children, modern technology is here for you. Some museums have virtual tours available. I’m going to give you links to a couple of those to play with at your leisure, but if you are interested in a particular museum, you can check out their website. If you are interested in a particular subject, say fashion or military, you can use your search engine of choice to search “museum virtual tour” along with your subject of interest.

Claude Lévêque’s installation at the Louvre Pyramid by I.M. Pei. Photo by
Yann Caradec via Wikimedia Commons.

One of the most famous museums in the world is The Louvre in Paris, France. It’s so huge that there was too much to see within my three-hour attention span. Using this link, you can look around from the comfort of your home. In your pajamas.

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Plott Hound: The Dog That Trees Bears – Update

Plott Hound: The Dog That Trees Bears – Update

I originally posted this in August of 2015, and received some lovely comments and emails from people who had known Plott Hounds. I was reminded of this post last week when I got to meet a puppy that looked just like Felix, but was only two months old.

Felix is 16 years old now, but as you can see in the photo above, he can still get on the couch.

In 2006 my daughter adopted a 3 year-old dog from the Humane Society in Spokane, Washington. Don’t worry, this isn’t a eulogy. Felix is very much alive and spry enough to jump over the back of the couch when he hears his leash jingle.

IMG_2811 Felix

Felix in action indoors. Photo: Cathy Hanson

The Humane Society listed Felix as a pit bull/labrador retriever mix. We always assumed there were some other things mixed in there, especially because he has brindle coloring. But we never thought much about it because he was just Felix. His pedigree was unimportant.

Felix in action outdoors. No boars or bears in sight. Photo: Cathy Hanson

Felix in action outdoors. No boars or bears in sight. Photo: Cathy Hanson

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You Can Change the World

From 1981 until 2011 I lived in Spokane, Washington. Inside the city, there are various types of deciduous and evergreen trees lining the streets. But once you leave the city, you are in the land of pine trees.

When I moved to Southern California, I expected the palm trees and succulents, but was surprised by the general variety of trees and plants. I figured it was the climate difference, moving from an area with snowy winters and a distinct growing season to a more temperate climate. It’s not 70 degrees every day, but it’s close enough for me.

Kate Sessions, 1884. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

It turns out that the wide variety of trees and plants are not all native to the area. We can thank Kate Sessions, fondly known as the Mother of Balboa Park, for that. I’ve previously written about the famous San Diego park in The Military Takes Over Balboa Park and How Do You Feel About Zoos?.

Katherine Olivia “Kate” Sessions (1857-1940) was born in San Francisco and earned a degree in natural science from the University of California in Berkeley. In the early 1880s she moved to San Diego. The region was drier than the Bay Area, which was reflected in the landscaping. Soon after her arrival she partnered with some friends to purchase the San Diego Nursery and set about making some changes.

Sessions entered into an agreement with the City of San Diego in 1892. She would lease 30 acres in City Park (now Balboa Park) to grow plants for her nursery, and in return she agreed that for the next 10 years she would plant 100 trees per year in the barren park and supply an additional 300 trees per year to be planted throughout the city.

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What Happened When?

I sometimes get comments about how difficult it is to place different historical periods in time. Some people have not heard the various terms used by historians, and some have only a vague idea of when a historical period is or what it signifies. If you don’t spend your time immersed in history, it can be difficult to keep them all straight.

I’ve been keeping a running list of those terms and thought I’d go through them a little at a time. For more information on anything I mention here, use your favorite search engine and prepare to get lost in the links.

Interwar Period

There are other time periods in recorded history between wars, but this usually refers to the period between World War I (1914-1918) and World War II (1939-1945). These two decades are important not only because it is between two wars that both involved most of the globe, but because in many ways the results of the first war led to the second.

The Council of Four at the Paris Peace Conference. Left to right: Lloyd George of Great Britain, Orlando of Italy, Clemenceau of France, and President Wilson. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

During this period, many countries were recovering from the first war, both physically and economically. Partly because a war had just ended, and partly because stuff happens, there were changes socially, economically, and politically. One of the political changes was the growth of fascism.

After losing the first war, Germany was presented with (and agreed to) what they saw as humiliating peace terms. These included the loss of all colonies and other territory, a prohibition against raising and maintaining a real military, and the requirement that they pay war reparations to other countries.

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Kings and Quislings

I recently heard someone refer to a group of people as quislings, meaning traitors or collaborators. It’s not a word you hear often and if I had to guess, I would have said it was medieval in origin.

Turns out it only dates back to World War II Norway. As an American of Norwegian descent, I gotta say I much prefer Viking history to a history of Nazi collaborators.

In April 1940 the powerful German army invaded Norway.

Vidkun Quisling (1887-1945) was the leader of Norway’s fascist party. He had met with Hitler several times and admired his ideas and shared his hatreds. This is the man who was nominally in charge of the Norwegian government during the Nazi occupation of Norway. I say “nominally” because, of course, there was a German appointed by Hitler who was really in charge.

This post was going to be about Quisling, but I got stuck during the writing, not sure where I wanted to go with it. Honestly, fascists are bad people and I am not in the mood for that. So I changed course.


King Haakon VII of Norway (1872-1957). Source: Scanned from Norges historie, vol. VI-2, p. 312. Kristiania: Aschehoug, 1909. via Wikimedia Commons

Luckily for me, there was resistance to this invasion and occupation by the Nazis. The king of Norway, Haakon VII (1872-1957), who reigned from 1905 until his death in 1957, was a symbol of that resistance during the occupation, which ended in 1945. A man of honor and integrity beats a fascist any day, so we’ll talk about him.

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What’s Your Historical Catnip?

What’s Your Historical Catnip?

For the business that I just launched (www.HistoricalResearchUpdate.com), I spend a lot of time looking at titles and abstracts for scholarly journal articles about history.

Not all of them interest me, and the stuff that interests me may not interest others. As with music and movies, we don’t all like the same stuff.

In scouring thousands of articles, I’ve noticed several topics that are my catnip. I will always stop to check these out.

Alfred the Great

Alfred the Great (849-ish – 899) was the King of Wessex and then King of the Anglo-Saxons. He was a well-traveled scholarly warrior and I had a huge crush on him when I was young. We know more about Alfred than other

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Let’s Take Another Music Break

Let’s Take Another Music Break

There is a lot going on this week, so I’m doing a birthday music break.

Today in 1950, Lou Gramm, lead singer for Foriegner, was born. For me, their music hasn’t aged well since the 70s, but I still love “Juke Box Hero“.

Today in 1946, Lesley Gore was born. She recorded her first hit at the age of 16 in 1963, the year I was born. Her producer at the time was Quincy Jones. Check out that first hit, “It’s My Party“.

And today in 1936, Engelbert Humperdinck was born. Not his real name, but much more memorable than Arnold George Dorsey. This song, “After the Lovin’” is from 1976, when as a 13 year-old I believed I knew everything. More importantly, Engelbert and I support the same English football team.

If you learn nothing else from me, know that when you have a crazy week, you may simply need to find some music that speaks to you.


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