Sunday, December 5, 2010

Stories of Life & Labor: Oral Histories from Portsmouth, Ohio

     For our last assignment in Digital History we were to interview people who worked for the railroad around the late 70's here in Southern Ohio.  My assigned worker was a man by the name of Buck Flesher; Mr. Flesher lived in Chillicothe and worked for the B&O railroad from the late 1970's to the early 90's.

     On December 1st I drove out to Mr. Flesher's residence to conduct an interview with him about his time with the railroad.  He currently resides in Waverly, OH and in his home it is evident that he is a railroad man.  He showed me some of his collection of historical railroad items that he keeps in storage and it was very impressive.  Everything from tools, pictures, tickets, and the like; Mr. Flesher is very proud about the time he served in the railroad industry.  After viewing this memorabilia and filling out paper work it was time to do the interview.

     This is my first interview so it does have some faults with it; but all things considered I feel that the interview went very well.  Mr. Flesher and I had a discussion on a broad range of topics from everything about his job in the railroad, his personal life and views about the railroad.  Although it is probably not one of the most purely fact filled interviews done for this project, it does give the employees of the railroad a more personal touch, and I thank Mr. Flesher for sharing his views with me.

     I have attached a audio clip from our interview; it may seem like it jumps around from subject to subject a lot and that is because it does.  When compiling this clip I wanted to take something from the various things we spoke of in our interviews and the colorful montage that I have put together I feel best represents that.

    I hope everyone that listens enjoys; and this won't be my last interview, I enjoyed the interview process immensely.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Historical Home on Fourth Street in Portsmouth

      My next assignment in Digital History was to do an architectural and historical study of a property; the property that I selected was at 1623 Fourth St. in Portsmouth, OH. The reason this house stuck out to me was because of its architectural features and its location in the town.

     The houses history kind of surprised me when I started to research it. Jon Phillips and I lived a block north of this house a couple years ago and I figured as close as we were to the downtown area of Portsmouth, that this end of town was nearly as old as the City of Portsmouth itself; I soon found out I was wrong. This end of town is fairly young as compared to the downtown area. The house at 1623 Fourth street is in the modern east side of town and was only platted in 1923. It was platted in this year as the York Addition and the streets and alleys were transferred to the City of Portsmouth on May 17th, 1923. I am not exactly sure when construction was started on the home but it was built by the York family. Construction on the house was completed in 1924 making it one of the first houses in the York Addition.

     I met with the current owners of the home and they were very helpful and aware of the history of their home. They informed me that L. D. York was the original owner of the home, he was a very wealthy man and owned a lumber yard and mill. I see no reason why this wouldn’t be true because there was no mortgage taken out on the home until 1932, and the architecture of the home must have been very costly. After seeing pictures of the inside of the home, which has been kept as original as possible, you can see where the York family had their connections with lumber. The wood working inside this home is very impressive and must have been very costly. The owner of the home informed me that when he was in Graceland the molding in the Graceland Mansion was the exact same style that was in his house here in Portsmouth.

     The external architecture of the home is very impressive as well. In my opinion, it is very hard to look at the house as a whole and say it is one style of architecture. There a certain things about the home that make it unique and here are some of my observations:

Tudor Revival

Ornamental stucco and step but random roof line puts this house under this classification

 Craftsman / Bungalow

The front pouch and wing over drive way, the broad feel of the house.


In the back yard there is a place for reflection; used for spiritual or meditation purposes.

     This house is still in amazing shape compared to some of the other older houses here in Portsmouth.  There are a couple of cracks and minor deformities with the house but after nearly 100 years those tend to happen no matter what.  The current owners have did an amazing job of keeping up with these minor things that occur.  

      I want to thank the current owners of the house Jack and Sheri Spencer for giving me a tour of the grounds and sharing the information that they had collected on their home.  The information they have shared with me added a story to the mere dates and names that I found in the Recorder's office.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Native American Mounds

What they were viewed as in the past and present

When Euro-American’s first started settling and trading in the Ohio and Scioto River valley’s they saw many new things but one of which that puzzled them the most were the Native American burial mounds they discovered. 
At the time in question there were many ideas about what the mounds were and even who built them.  The most common belief was that they were some form of abandoned fortifications.  In the January 1775 issue of the Royal American it is stated that:  “Who the constructors of it were, the Indians that live in the neighborhood to it, have no tradition on which we may depend.”
The mounds that were examined by the author of this article were described as followed:  “This fort is situated at the head waters of the River Sciota (Portsmouth), which empties into the Ohio on the N.W.” 
The Euro-American’s also realized that the mounds found at the future city of Portsmouth where not an anomaly.  In the article it mentions that:  “There are a number of this kind of forts, that are to be seen in the country of the Ohio, though I saw none so large and complete as this.”  The Ohio region is not the only place that you can see mounds like these, there are known mounds in 11 states in the United States.      
As we turn to another article, we can see what some other explanations for the Indian mounds were.  The July 1, 1808 Medical Repository has an article on Indian mounds in the Scioto River Valley.  Although these are not the same group of mounds as discussed in the previous article (The Portsmouth Mounds) it will still give insight to what people believed these mounds where and also who built them.  “About three miles above Chillicothe, on the bank of the Scioto River, there are signs of an ancient fortification, so decayed that it is scarcely to be distinguished from the adjacent ground.”  Although the writer states that these are defensive structures he comes a little further to the previous writer in truly explain these mounds.  “On the inside there are twelve or fifteen mounds, supposed to have been the repositories of the dead.”   He also goes on to state that:  “I have been told that bones are seldom found in those (the mounds) with peaked tops;” He says that the mounds with flat tops are more likely to have bodies in them.  The writer of this article exhumed some of the mounds and said that the bodies were lying east to west with the heads pointed west. 
This writer was more accurate in his opinion of what these mounds where used for but had little respect for Native Americans and the following statement shows this:

“(In respect to the age of the mounds) could this be ascertained, we might form a conjecture as to the time of this country being settled by a civilized people; for it could not been the Indians, as they never buried their dead in this manner; and besides, it requires tools to raise the works, which they are not possessed of.”

In the third reading from American Antiquities I found from 1828 there is still the underlying racism toward Native Americans.  The author of this article states when describing the different types of mounds that: “those which seemed to have belonged to the ancestors of the actual natives, and those which seem to indicate the presence, at some remote period, of a people more civilized than the Indians.” 
The most comical thing that I found about this article was his explanation about who built the mounds:  “It is Mr. Assal’s opinion that who have left these remains came from Asia by crossing the Behring Straight.”  He per say is correct in that assumption, but I am assuming his time line was a bit off considering our ancestors from Asia crossed the Behring Straight during the ice age around 13 – 15,000 years ago, not a couple centuries ago as I am sure Mr. Assal believed.   
As time goes on we learn more about things.  Technology helps us to date and identify more accurately than ever in the past.  Where these people stupid for believing what they did?  In my opinion no, you can’t blame someone who is ignorant because of their lack of technology, if they had it and chose not to use it that would be a totally different thing.  As far as we know the mounds found in and around the Ohio River Valley area were used as burial structures, ceremonial sites, historical markers and possibly gathering places.  At this point in history, we believe that the mounds where built by the Adena, Hopewell, and other tribes of the time and they are their direct descendants became the Native American tribes of the 1700’s and today.  In the past there were all types of explanations for who built the mounds which varied from the Chinese to Aztec and including my favorite, they were from the ruins of Atlantis. 
Are we right in what we think we know today; who knows?  With all the data we have at this current moment I have no reason to believe I am wrong, but maybe 200 years from now a student may be doing a similar paper for a similar class and when he or she is doing their research they will stumble across this blog and think, wow, this guy was really dumb.  All that I can ask of you student from the future is to forgive me, we are using all the resources we have back here in 2010.   

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Review of American Historical Association Website

American Historical Association. http:// American Historical Association. Sept. 10th 2010.

     Today we will review the website for the American Historical Association. To start off, the American Historical Society is “a nonprofit membership organization founded in 1884 and incorporated by Congress in 1889 for the promotion of historical studies, the collection and preservation of historical documents and artifacts, and the dissemination of historical research.” After skimming around at some different historical websites and reading their mission statements, the American Historical Association’s website seemed like the perfect one to review for my Digital History class. Digital History, as defined by wikipedia, (which is NOT a accurate site but they did give a good definition in my opinion) “is the use of digital media and tools for historical practice, presentation, analysis, and research.” The American Historical Association dealt with digital history before history went digital so to speak; what better site would there be out there to judge on having a good historical website.

     Content is one of the major questions when reviewing a website, is their content sound and current? From what I could gather I would say yes to both of these questions. The content that I gathered was very straight forward and in my opinion had no obvious bias to it. On the home page there is a search bar where you can type a subject in and it will take you to related articles and sites. Unlike when you use google or some other search engine, when I looked for William H. Taft, I found things related to William H. Taft, not some random site that may mention the man once as the end of a joke of something of that nature.

     Is the website current; I would have to say yes again. Once you become a member of the website you can gain access to articles that from what I could tell, are as current as can be. The most recent post I saw on the site was from this month so there is activity going on with this site, and there has for several years so that is a good indication that the site is not some “fly by night” site that is here today and out of date tomorrow.

     The site is very easy for the average user to understand. Between the information bar at the top of the page and the search bar there really wasn’t anything I had trouble finding. Now keep in mind that this site isn’t like a online encyclopedia, it will direct you to articles on subjects. A lot of the problems people have with websites is not understanding what they are intended for.

     The intended audience I think is pretty obvious. The audience for this site is people in the field of historical study, the information on this site is geared for students and teachers. It was not intended for the average web surfer even though I guess if one wanted to they could.

     The final question I need to answer is the tough one for me, does it make effective use of new media? I am going to have to say that it does effectively use new media. Does it use new technology; this question is a little tougher. I didn’t see any videos or audio on the site, but then again I don’t feel it was set up for something like that. The site from my perspective is set up to be a digital copy of a magazine, and it does that perfectly well. Does it do something that can’t be done in other media; I will say no. The majority of the website is text and pictures, you can do that on paper.

     In retrospect though, most websites don’t have anything a newspaper or magazine doesn’t have; but there is one thing that the do excel in, efficiency. You can pull up an article from three years ago in seconds on this website, using a paper proxy version, who knows how much longer that would take. I liked the website and I will keep it mind in the future when writing papers.

W. R. Balzer

Friday, August 27, 2010

Instant Gratification

Side effects may include loss of attention span, nausea, and suicidal thoughts.  If you have any of these, revert back 50 years and stay there!!!
            In Nicholas Carr’s article for The Atlantic “Is Google Making Us Stupid,” that very question is asked, is Google making us stupid?  Well, is it?  Not just Google but the Internet as a whole; has it affected the way in which we gather information, the way in which we read, even our attention spans?  Nicholas Carr makes very good examples of how he believes that the Internet has changed our lives in the things we do and I feel he makes some very good points.  Despite of the points he makes I still disagree with him, I don’t feel that the Internet and Google is the root cause of all this evil.  We live in a society that constantly seeks instant gratification; Google and sites like it facilitate this need, not create it.
            Instant gratification; we live in a society that feeds off of it, yearns for it; we need everything quicker, faster, and more efficiently.  Let’s really sit back and think, think of all the things we do that save time.  We have 5 minute rice because fifteen minutes took too damn long, but guess what, now we have 90 second rice, really!  Waist sizes in this country have bloated because of fast food and vending machines.  We live a life eternally on the go; those of you reading this ask yourself how often you eat fast food, on the way to or from somewhere and why?  It's much cheaper to pack your lunch but why don’t you?  I can honestly say I eat a fair amount of fast food and the reason for that is because I value the time I save as opposed to making my lunch, easy overcomes price.  For me, as well as a lot of people, microwave beats oven every time, time is of the essence. 
Look at commercials and ads we see in magazines, on TV, on the radio, on the Internet.  Get your Internet connection through us; we are 15 times faster than our leading competitor, an example of wanting things faster.  On ESPN radio, all the radio jocks are telling me to take the P90X challenge.  It’s a workout regimen that, you guessed it, will show me results within a week.  Online universities are always putting ads in magazines telling me I can get a four year degree in only three years, and I can do it on my own schedule.          
Take for instance public opinion of President Obama in less than two years in the White House.  Two years ago he was a savior who would lead us out of our financial crisis, the capitalist white knight in shinning armor.  Now, our economy is looking a little better, but still ill, and the president’s approval ratings are in the 40’s, do we really think this can be solved over night?  Sadly, a lot of people do because we want results and we want them now, were American’s!  Look at how factory production was revolutionized by Henry Ford through the assembly line.  What did the assembly line do for production?  It increased production, goods were produced, SURVEY SAYS, quicker.
Nicholas Carr is not oblivious to all this and makes reference to this in his article:

The Net’s influence doesn’t end at the edges of a computer screen, either. As people’s minds become attuned to the crazy quilt of Internet media, traditional media have to adapt to the audience’s new expectations. Television programs add text crawls and pop-up ads, and magazines and newspapers shorten their articles, introduce capsule summaries, and crowd their pages with easy-to-browse info-snippets.

See we agree, societies needs have to be meet now, and I mean right now for us to be
happy; but I don’t feel that Google or the Internet is the great evil that started it, it is just a catalyst for this movement of instant gratification.  And as for decreased attention spans, that is one of the side affects of instant gratification.