Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Chesapeake Studies

Nat Archives Looking for all the world like a homeless refugee from the chilly Washington streets I wandered into the U.S. National Archives last Tuesday, was IDed multiple times, and thus began another week of research on the road. In search of more information for my book project, my visit to D.C. yielded nothing except the knowledge that if what I was seeking existed, it was not in the National Archives. That and this card, good for a year.

Fleeing the afternoon D.C. traffic I then took refuge at Gunston Hall, home of George Mason, one of our least known of the Founding Fathers. It was quite tranquil; save the occasional aircraft sounds, it was probably more quiet than in Mason's day when it would have been a busy household with children about, farm animals being tended, and slaves preparing for the end another plantation day. I was the only visitor by 4 o'clock, so I had what amounted to a private tour. The interior of the house does not reflect the relative modest exterior. If you are ever south of D.C. on highway 1, or nearby on I-95, it is worth a detour. You might enjoy it more than nearby Mount Vernon, which will certainly be more crowded.

The next day took me to the Northern Neck. First was to the awful subdivision that is what became of my mother's homeplace to assist in resolving a property line question. Then I visited the Northumberland County Historical Society to purchase a back issue of their Bulletin. Lunch found me across the Rappahannock at Lowery's for lunch, a tradition. Crab cakes. As the afternoon waned I was heading into the Western Shore of Maryland and the Holiday Inn at Solomons Island. It was there I was to spend the next three days attending a conference, The Early Chesapeake: Refections and Projections. ChesapeakeFor me it was like attending an induction ceremony at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, or the Champions Dinner at the Masters. Present were the pioneers of Chesapeake Studies, presenters of often ground-breaking papers, and the authors of many of the books on my bookshelves. In addition I was able to take guided tours of the Jefferson Patterson Park & State Museum of Archaeology, Historic St. Mary’s City and St. Mary’s College of Maryland. But what I will remember most were the conference goers I met and chatted with, and the ideas we exchanged. While this was a conference of mainly academic and otherwise professional historians and archaeologists, many made me feel as if I belonged. It was a timely, well-run, and well-attended conference. Thanks to the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture.

Sunday morning I drove down the neck of land that forms the Western Shore to Point Lookout, the Maryland side where the Potomac empties into the Bay. This sliver of land is among my oldest memories; it is directly across the water from my grandmother's house on the Northern Neck. I had never been there. On my trek north to the highway 301 bridge back to Virginia I stopped at St. Mary's City where I yet again played historical tourist. Finally, as the weather was turning colder and clouds were moving in, I returned to my car for the uneventful seven-hour drive home.

As I have spent most of November on the road, I am glad to be stationary for a while. Though tomorrow we will be in Charlotte for Thanksgiving at my daughter's, and Saturday we are hosting a dinner for other friends and family - including about a dozen Chinese scholars from UNC-P - I now need to consolidate my thoughts and research; I need to write.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Smoketown USA

Yesterday I returned from an almost two-week road trip, 2895 miles worth. It was close-to-perfect, the planned and the unexpected. Even the weather was great. It was a multi-purpose excursion centered around attending the 75th Annual Meeting of The Southern Historical Association in Louisville and doing some research for the book I am working on. But I used the trip to also visit with some friends of long standing, some I had not seen in decades. Visiting with them is what made this trip so very special to me.

So here is a big Thank You to Layla, Gregg, Leslie, Kyle and Ellis, Burt, Ellen, Barbara and Alison, and Phil and Rebecca. Also my thanks to the staff at the Frontier Culture Museum, The Filson Historical Society, Cave Hill Cemetery, Historic Old Louisville, the Third Avenue Cafe, Cahokia Mounds State Historical Site, the Kentucky Historical Society, and the numerous Starbucks who provided the caffeine.

Almost getting lost in my narrative is the SHA Annual Meeting. I attended first class, fascinating sessions with topics as diverse as School Desegregation in Norfork, 1960's British Blues, and Thomas Jefferson's favorite slave family, the Hemings. My goal was to meet and hang out for a few days with real historians, and to learn something. Mission accomplished. I am already looking forward to their meeting in Charlotte next year.

A more complete reminisce of the past two weeks would include harvest happy mid-western farmers, microfilm follies, and not one, but two landslide closed Tennessee roads that made for an interesting Friday. (I knew about the first, but not the second.) But I will spare you all the details. I really don't have the time as I am preparing for another road trip next week, this time to a place I have always wanted to visit in Maryland, and another gathering of historians.Smoketown USA

I will close with a promise fulfilled. A bright, happy volunteer named Mary I was chatting up at the Old Louisville Visitors Center asked if I liked Bar-B-Q. Before I could answer the expression on my face made her reach for a brochure. Wonderful food, nice people, "You must eat there before you leave," she said. So Gregg and I did just before I left The Real West Virginia (a.k.a Kentucky). Folks, it was as she said. Best Ribs I have ever had, best greens too. I told the owner I would blog about the food and the friendly people. So I have. Go to Louisville. Go to Smoketown USA. Order the ribs.