Could the famed B&O Railroad be saved? In 1858, one man thought it could.

by krm | Friday, July 21, 2017 - 6:00 AM

A few blocks away from Baltimore’s lively Inner Harbor stands one of railroading’s most iconic buildings: the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Roundhouse, known as the “Birthplace of American Railroading” and now the home of the B&O Railroad Museum . Built in 1884, this historic building celebrates not only the country’s first railroad, but also the man who commissioned it: John W. Garrett, seventh president of the B&O from 1858-1884.

A full biography of Garrett was long overdue. After writing a biography of his daughter, Mary Elizabeth Garrett: Society and Philanthropy in the Gilded Age , I thought it was time to turn my attention to Garrett. Father and daughter had a very powerful, complex relationship; they greatly influenced and admired each other. But writing about the two proved very different. Mary came of age after the Civil War and, like many women of her generation and background, kept countless diaries and journals and left a copious paper trail of her innermost thoughts. Her father, also a product of his times — the male-oriented, show-no-weakness persona of Gilded Age industrialists — left few personal reflections. He was all business and what we know of...Read More

Achieving the “Greater Good”: Is Lack of Education Beyond High School the Culprit?

by krm | Monday, July 17, 2017 - 6:00 AM

The main cause and best permanent solution to the populist dissatisfaction that led to the 2016 electoral revolt in the US and in Europe lies in the issues discussed in this book. Colleges and universities do not produce students, they produce human capital skills that are used throughout life not just to increase earnings, savings, and income but also during times not at work to produce better health, children’s health, children’s achievement, greater longevity, and happiness. During time spent in the community, the human capital skills of graduates operate civic institutions, contribute to lower crime rates, increase tax revenues, and generally improve the quality of life and life’s chances. Beyond this, there is a race between new technology and education. Research universities produce both. This book addresses, and documents, how these processes occur.

The 64% of the US population that have a high school education or less have not enjoyed these benefits. Their plight is real. They have not benefitted from the economic growth generated by freer trade and advancing technology, but instead have been left behind with no increase in their real earnings since 1980. Many suffered reductions as they lost their manufacturing jobs and now lack the...Read More

The Erie Canal’s bicentennial: a reminder of what happens when wealth, politics, and science converge

by krm | Friday, July 14, 2017 - 6:00 AM

Two centuries ago, when the richest man in America ran for higher public office, he prioritized the public good above personal gain, and he cultivated American science and technology as key potential contributors to general prosperity. Stephen Van Rensselaer’s behavior certainly contrasts in interesting ways with the political realities of the early 21 st century in the United States. Readers of DeWitt Clinton and Amos Eaton: Geology and Power in Early New York learn about how the Erie Canal’s construction initially depended upon, and then, in turn, boosted, the growth and development of American geological theory and practice.

"Schenectady" (from The Water Ways of New York, in Harper's New Monthly Magazine , vol. 48, no. 283, Dec. 1873, p. 13).

DeWitt Clinton was the newly elected New York governor on July 4, 1817, when he thrust a shovel into the ground at Rome, New York to initiate the ambitious 350+ mile-long canal construction project. A Jeffersonian Democrat, Clinton shared very few things in common with the Federalist Rensselaer, but there were three key points on which these two men agreed.

Both shared an abiding personal fascination for the...Read More

“Perfectly Polite and Agreeable”: Anglo-American Encounters on the Far Side of Jane Austen’s World

by krm | Monday, July 10, 2017 - 6:00 AM

Rear Admiral Charles Austen (1779-1852) and Sir Francis Austen (1774-1865)

In June 1812, just after Jane Austen had completed her inaugural novel, Sense and Sensibility , the US Congress astonished Britons by declaring war on their nation. Through the War of 1812, Austen would continue to publish, producing some of her best-known works: Pride and Prejudice in 1813, Mansfield Park in 1814, and Emma in 1815, though she would write nothing about Americans.

As Lauren Gilbert observes, in an article entitled, appropriately, “Unrequited Love,” Jane Austen had little to say about America, and that little was not good.” A letter of September 2, 1814, noted, “I place my hope of better things on a claim to the protection of Heaven, as a Religious Nation, a Nation in spite of much Evil improving in Religion, which I cannot believe the Americans to possess.” Americans have since shown more love for Austen than she showed them. Yet, Austen’s readers may have thought that the atmosphere of gentility and politeness that she explored in her wonderful novels aptly conveyed the relationship between the two countries—encounters of “pride and prejudice,” but little “sense...Read More

Examining Jewish Life Through Objects

by bjs | Friday, July 7, 2017 - 6:00 AM

For a short time, Fisher Price made a set of Little People toys to help celebrate Hannukah. You can only find the set on the collectible market these days, but the figurines served as an easy starting point for Lauren Leibman's introduction to a recent special issue of American Jewish History on Jewish American material culture.

Leibman, a professor of English and Humanities at Reed College, said the toys exemplify "the variety of ways in which objects can embody what it means to be Jewish in American life." The special issue contains a diverse set of articles which dig deep into that concept. She joined us on our podcast to talk about the issue.

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