Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Oh, and...

I got my bike pants in the mail. So I will be taking to the roads soon. We've had quite a few storms in the last few days and that has removed the possibility of biking outside safely. And this time I will ride with minimal dorkness.

I should write a book

I am not sure what I would title this work of fiction that would be (loosely) based on my crazy life, but I am convinced it could sell. I used to say that my life could be made into a screenplay for a movie for the Lifetime network. Maybe I'll write that book and then have a major motion picture (loosely) based on the book that is (loosely) based on my life. Because of the nature of a blog, I don't post every aspect of my life's craziness. I am posting to the world wide web. But I have enough neutral craziness to share.

After a bout of tossing my cookies last Thursday, I busted a vein in my eyeball causing half of my eye to look like it is filled with blood (just the white part... it is subconjunctival hemorrhaging). I spent Friday recovering and went to work on Saturday, the day we greeted 843 boy and girl scouts at the battlefield to help put American flags out in the national cemetery. You know you look bad when the law enforcement ranger greets you with "whoa! what did you do! that's disgusting!" and you have another boss tell you that you look like you've stepped out of a horror film. Thanks, guys.

Not only did I play (and am still playing) the zombie ranger, I had to do it on television. I also supposed to be in a wedding on Friday. Yesterday, Jim and I drove to Nashville at some insane hour in the morning for a 2 minute and 34 second appearance on Nashville's Fox 17 "Tennessee Mornings." We were on the road before the sun even thought about piercing the sky. My family assures me that they couldn't really see my eye, so I try to take comfort in that. Now if I can only figure out how I can completely remove the red before my sister's wedding.

I bedazzled a pirate's eye patch to wear at the wedding. My sister thinks I kid about wearing it at the wedding. My watermelon pink bridesmaid's dress clashes with my blood red... blood- I had to do something. It's ok. At this point, I will be wearing my pirate patch along with my leopard-print, 4-inch heels to the reception so I can unsanctionedly dance in my dress that remains far too low for my figure that may be a little busty at a wedding where most of the groom's family are Church of Christ. And I'll do it all sober. My roommate assures me that I am helping my sister out by making her look very good to his family in comparison to me. I do what I can.

And next week, after the majority of the family leaves, I will be able to sit down and really start focusing on the nonsense that I have been told is necessary to graduate. Or maybe I'll just write my NYT bestselling work of fiction that is (loosely) based on my life.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Days Off(ish)

I use my days off from the battlefield to get stuff done. That's just how I roll. I accomplish a lot by trading in my days of rest. I've been getting to bed earlier, though, and am feeling like I am finally catching up on sleep. I went through about 700 photographs yesterday and found a few that I will be able to use. I also had my mom (a super research assistant!) go to the Southeast Regional Office of the National Archives in Atlanta to see if they had any CCC records. Alas, they did not. I did find out that there are a few of the records I need in Maryland, and am anxiously waiting for those copies to be shipped to the battlefield. I also got the documents I needed from Fisk via Interlibrary Loan, so that helped me a lot (and I didn't have to make a trip there today).

I think if researchers were to create bibliographies of the consulted works and resources that did NOT end up being helpful, they would create a document as long as their actual written work. I have lots of research bunny trails that I meander down that lead nowhere. I guess that is part of the research fun.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

I dodged the "dork" bullet today

But it won't be long before I have to take the "dork" bullet... right in the gut. A number of my bosses really want to see a presence of rangers on bikes at the battlefield. And by a number, I really mean one, but what am I going to do? The first thing I heard this morning when I came into work this morning: "Elizabeth. You are going to lead the caravan tour today. On a bike." Ah, maaan! I have no problem riding; I used to mountain bike like it was nobody's business. But the caravan tour? In my service uniform? On the bike? Additionally, I was going to have to wear the straps around my pants (so they wouldn't get stuck in the spokes), gloves (a given), helmet (even more a given), and plastic safety glasses. Nothing says "I'm I dork, look out" louder than those safety glasses (well, maybe pocket protectors...). I was ready to go, safety glasses and all, when I was informed that I could drive the park van instead because of the weather. Whew. But soon... I am in the process of ordering some bike pants (another level of dork-dom) so that I won't ruin my dress pants.

The caravan tour went well, though. The group responded and engaged accordingly; that always helps tours go smoothly. During the bike-led caravan tours, though, they will have to respond as I will have to ask questions so I can use the time that the audience takes to answer to catch my breath. "[gasp]The battle of Stones [gasp] River was fought [gasp] here in..."

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A Brief(ish) History of Stones River National Battlefield

I figure if I am going to keep mentioning parts of my thesis research, it might help to set up an idea of what my thesis will be about. I think I have already mentioned that I am writing a history of Stones River National Battlefield from the end of the battle until the present, focusing on the change in landscape. And by "landscape," I mean "cultural landscape." I will look at the change that the land had on the humans living on it, the effects that the humans had on the land, and how the humans used and viewed the landscape over the course of approximately 150 years. So, for the ease of future posts by not having to explain with each post why certain elements of research excite me, (and because wikipedia's entry is kind of lame) I thought I would briefly share the history of Stones River National Battlefield.

Part 1: An Introduction By Way of an End and a Beginning

81,000 men met and fought at the Battle of Stones River, December 31st, 1862 to January 2nd, 1863. The battle ended with Bragg's withdrawal of Confederate troops, giving the Union army the victory it needed to help boost the moral in the North. This victory also gave weight to the Emancipation Proclamation, issued on January 1st, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves in states of rebellion and allows for African Americans to join the ranks of soldiers in the Union army. In order to create a more solid Union presence after the battle, the Union army built Fortress Rosecrans, a forward supply base on the Northwest side of Murfreesboro. That Union presence also drew thousands of African Americans, mostly former slaves who have freed themselves, to the area. The Union troops called these African Americans "Contrabands," as they were formerly property belonging to somebody else (a hard concept to wrap our minds around). The Union army began pulling able-bodied men from the Contraband camps to help build Fortress Rosecrans. While the men selected don't have much choice in whether or not they get to work, they will be paid for their efforts; $10 a month will be the first paycheck many of these men have ever received in their lifetimes. Out of Fortress Rosecrans the Union army raised a regiment of African American soldiers, the 111th Regiment of the United States Colored Infantry (USCT).

The men of the 111th USCT would be assigned to build Stones River National Cemetery under the direction of Chaplain Cpt. William Earnshaw in 1865. We believe it is these men and their families who settle the devastated landscape to form the community called "Cemetery." This community will be just like any other, containing houses, schools, stores, and churches. What we (as historians) do not know is how these folks got the land. Was it distributed as part of the Abandoned Lands Act? Did the 111th get some sort of compensation for working for the Cemetery? Did the families just move in an claim the land? Research continues to reveal the early part of Cemetery's story in pieces. We do know that the community will thrive until "asked" to leave in the 1920s.

Part 2: Commemoration in Many Forms

We know that the 111th built the national cemetery. But why did the African Americans chose to stay on the battlefield remains a bit of a mystery. Arguably, few, if any, Murfreesboro citizens wanted the land that represented a loss. The land was also not very good for farming because of the abundance of limestone rocks. And for the African Americans, it is likely the battle land represented a victory for them. Not only was it a war that eradicated the institution of slavery, but it the battle was linked to the Emancipation Proclamation. As I continue to research, maybe I will be able to solidify some answers.

Commemoration efforts continued after the War. The first effort happens in the form of a monument that soldiers build to themselves. The Hazen Brigade Monument remains the oldest, intact Civil War monument to this day. Later, around the 1880s veterans returned to the battlefield to build the U.S. Regulars monument in the National Cemetery. Commemoration ceremonies continued throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century, as the country began to neglect to remember why the war was fought and started focusing on other things (like shared experiences of soldiers, the "Lost Cause" mythology, etc). Memorial services were very popular, as soldiers from both sides could just focus on their shared experiences in order to move forward. At the national cemetery, a train depot sat between the Hazen Brigade Monument and the cemetery to let folks get on and off at that site (a train station of which I ONLY just found apicture of the other day... woo!). An association formed in the 1890s to help preserve the battlefield as battlefield. Chattanooga had just been saved under the War Department; two battlefields in the state of Tennessee seemed like a little much and nothing came out of it until the 1920s.

In 1927, legislation finally passed allowing for the establishment of Stones River National Military Park. How the government tells the members of Cemetery to leave and how those members handle the news gets a little fuzzy. Were they just asked to leave and politely left? They had made their homes on that land for decades at that point. And it was the 1920s. Racism ran deep and wide during this time. I have conducted oral histories of African Americans who lived in Cemetery, but this time still is a little fuzzy. We know that the government paid for the land, but I can't imagine anybody being happy about leaving (you just don't put up a fuss if you are black during Jim Crow in the south). The battlefield won't open as Stone River NMP until 1932. In 1933, the national military parks will be signed over by Roosevelt to the National Park Service (and the name will change from Stones River NMP to Stones River National Battlefield). And in 1934 and 1935, the park gets New Deal monies under the CCC for road building and other maintenance projects. A number of people visit the battlefield, but the visitors were generally either visiting the land in commemoration (the last few veterans before they died out) or as a teaching/learning tool (it was a hands-on military training site). It wouldn't be until the post-World War II years that Stones River NB would get its influx of visitors.

Part 3: Change Remains the Only Constant

In 1956, The National Park Service began a ten-year initiative, called "Mission-66," in which they began a complete overhaul of their parks. These parks would get new visitor centers, roads, museums, and various other forms of interpretation. The idea behind the initiative: get Americans to connect to their parks. This came at a time when this new idea of traveling by car on the interstate started to become popular. And the federal government did not want that new interstate to go to waste. In 1962, Stones River NB began construction of a new visitor center. And in 1964 the visitor center officially opened, welcoming the public. The new museum featured a slideshow about the battle, but the focus of the museum remained strictly about the battle. No discussion about the causes of effects of the battle. No discussion on a soldier's life in the battle. And heaven forbid discussion about slavery or the roles women played filtered into the interpretation.

As different secretaries of the interior came and left, so did various visions of the NPS change. Sometimes the focus shifted from education to environmental issues to social issues. They shared the same basic principals, but the other agendas influenced how parks changed. Stones River went through a variety of changes in programs over the years after the new visitor center opened. The battle story remained the center focus, but the interpretation began to branch out. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a push came from the National Park Service for its Civil War sites to include discussions about slavery. The symposium, "Rally on the High Ground," became the doctrine for these sites to follow as they began to evaluate their interpretation and shift their focus from only the battle(s) to the bigger picture and look for ways to discussion the context of these battles in the War and the War within American history. While the discussion content changed, so did the relationship with the park with greater Murfreesboro. The connection of Murreesboro's Greenway system helped local citizens come out and appreciate their cultural and historical resource available in their own hometown. Different changes on the landscape help influence change of perception about the battlefield and even American history.

Stones River National Battlefield opened a new visitor center in 2004 with a new museum that talks about the causes and effects of the war. The battlefield also began giving programs helping to better place itself within the context of American history.

Because I am getting a slight headache from the bright screen of my computer in my dark room, and because I am tired (I won't lie), I will draw the brief(ish) history to a close. Obviously, this is not an extensive history of the battlefield (if you want that you can read my thesis come December!), but enough of a backstory to help support my future writings (maybe). On a final note, the most recent change on the battlefield's land occurred on April 13th, 2009, when the F4 tornado tore through the battlefield. Many hiking trails remain closed and the park has much work to do to clean up the "mess." That will play a role in my research as I want to investigate the active changes of people as they deal with changes on the landscape.

I get the news I need from the weather report

So far this year, every special program the battlefield has planned has been "adjusted" because of the rain. We've been able to flex enough to allow the programs to continue, but it is getting a little ridiculous. Seriously, soon someone will need to start considering purchasing plans for an ark. Today we had out dress rehearsal for our "Hallowed Ground" program. Right at two o'clock the clouds began rolling in and as soon as I stepped into the cemetery the thunder began to roll. So we had to do the rehearsal in the visitor center theater. Regardless of location, the volunteers make that program on of our best (and I strongly encourage everyone to make an effort to come and see it!).

In other news, I continue to have parts of my thesis research unfold right in front of me. I am rather excited about it. A few days ago, someone came into the battlefield knowing where all the CCC records at the National Archives are located for Stones River National Battlefield (then Stones River National Military Park) and will make the best copies he can and send those records to us. I could hardly refrain from dancing when I heard the news (actually, I may have danced a little...). In fact, my advisor had told me the day before that I needed to find a way to get those records but that CCC records are sometimes difficult to maneuver to and the easiest way is making a trip to Maryland and fetching the records personally. I won't have the time to do that, so I had an evening to ponder about the methods I could take to get those records. Then, ta-da! And with all of the photos that I found the other day, an entire section of my thesis has practically written itself. Woo. I will spend my first day off at the battlefield's archives, going through individual photos. I will probably spend my second day (in part) in Nashville at Fisk University's special collections. They have a number of slave narratives from former slaves of middle Tennessee that will help support my first chapter. Yay for research. No, seriously. I'm dork and am actually giddy about what I will find.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

positioning proverbial ducks

I am in the process of getting my ducks in a row. And life continues to throw things at me to keep me busy. It has been my intention to post an update, but work and school and outside projects catch up with me (and I have like four drafts of started posts, I just never posted them). First, I can announce that things keep falling into place and I cannot complain about that. Seriously. The day I decided to take a step back and stop attempting to control my life, my future brightened and things rolled along smoother than I could ever imagine.

I may have a job upon graduation. Which is awesome, but I don't want to jinx it so I won't go into details until I get more confirmation. I am planning on graduating in December. Which is awesome and I talked to my thesis advisor today and that is currently on track. I found a collection of photos at the battlefield today that both supports my thesis and some other research projects that I have been working on. Which is awesome, period. Actually, finding those photos really felt like discovering a gold mine. I believe I am still experiencing the adrenaline rush from the discovery...

Work keeps me insanely busy, which is good. It keeps me out of trouble. I currently am building new programs and talks for the summer (building a new Soldier's Story talk, a new Civilian's Story talk, and adding modifications to my Caravan tour because of the modifications made on the battlefield by the tornado). We are writing trail signs for the Civil War Trail signs that will run through Tennessee (we are writing three that will be posted along the greenway). The Junior Ranger program is almost complete and ready to be shipped to the printer. I will be going on the local Fox television news morning show in a few weeks to talk about programs at the battlefield. I am finishing up a traveling exhibit that should be on display in Murfreesboro by the end of June. And on top of all of this, we are expected to give bike tours and start roving on bikes. I don't know how I feel about that...

I am looking forward to summer. A lot will be accomplished. I may not sleep for the next three months, but a lot will be accomplished.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

crazy times

I love electric storms. I can hear the thunder rolling now and think it is awesome.

And for the record, my sister is getting married at the end of the month. So the next few weeks will start getting busy as we gear up for the wedding. But I am very excited to see all of my family coming in for that weekend. I am especially excited to see my awesome brother! And my aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, family friends, the lot... it will be a little insane, but I am entirely ok with that. I am looking forward to that day and am convinced it will be a good one. Which is weird for me to say, as wedding stuff usually makes me gag a little as I choke back the vomit taste in my mouth. This one does not trigger the same reflex like in the past; probably because I am genuinely happy for the bride and groom (and am just now reaching a point in my personal life where past emotional scars don't hurt nearly as bad as they used to). I am also a little sad, as my parents will be moving to Germany the weekend after the wedding.

Crazy times.

I am free (for the day)

Today was supposed to be a nothing day, as I did not have to work AND had no homework deadlines looming over my head. But I was up at 6am making pancakes and have been on the go since. Aw, man! Why do I do this to myself? I did take a short nap midday, though (first nap of the semester!). I got a lot accomplished today. I ran errands and cleaned house and even sent in some applications for some jobs; in all, I was productive.

Tomorrow has been officially designated a nothing day by my roommate and I. She will have turned in all of her assignments by then. The only thing we have to do tomorrow: NOTHING! What an exciting prospect... First, I am sleeping in. Then I may relocate to the couch (still remaining in that horizontal position and not changing out of my pajamas). We may go to dinner tomorrow evening in celebration, then join some of my comrades from the battlefield in a game of trivia at a local Mexican food place then call it a day (I work on Friday and we are scheduled to have close to 200 middle schoolers visit the battlefield so I will need a decent night's sleep). I will officially start school-related studies starting next week, but I am giving myself a minor mental break before I do.

A brief story from today: I stopped by the battlefield to sign some letters and pick up my most recent copy of my SF-50 (a government document that basically shows that I work for the man). I tried to keep it on the down-low that I wanted a copy, so I asked the admin assistant quietly if he knew where my copy was and if I could get another copy. Unfortunately, Gib(my boss) overheard the request. "What do you want? A job?" he heckled. I told him I was just putting in for a number of jobs overseas with the Air Force to at least put my name in the pool. He then told me of an opening in the SE regional office in Atlanta for a historian. I think he was trying to convince me to stay with the park service. He was actually very helpful, showing me the best way to apply for jobs (well, park service jobs). He also said if I applied for it, he knew the people hiring (and I might get somewhat a positive recommendation). It would be cool to live in downtown ATL... That made me feel a little better, while recreating the pulling sensation I feel when I think about what I want to do after graduation. I want to stay with the park service, but I also want to go overseas for a while. I guess it is all out of my control at this point and I just have to chill out about it.

I am looking forward to writing my thesis, if only because I see it as my key to my freedom. Once it is written, I am free to go where I want. Seriously. It will also be cool to not have school deadlines and the sort daunting me everyday. Even on my "nothing" day, I will be thinking about the people I need to email, the papers that need to be written, the works that need to be read, the bibliographies that need to be complied, the weddings that need to be coordinated (that was for you, Will), and so on. So I will mentally check out for a day (or at least try to).

Monday, May 4, 2009

Oh, I forgot...

I'll accept with poise and grace when they draw my name from the lottery

I believe the end of my semester is in sight. I am a little nervous to breathe a sigh of relief. Can this really be? Did I just submit my final assignment for the semester? I'll be entirely honest; that last assignment was not my finest piece of work. It also almost sucked me dry. I think I am burnt out from school. That is what happens when you give 110% of yourself consistently for almost a solid two years. I still have a few minor things to finish up for my assistantship; otherwise, I am done for the semester.

The good news is that I am actually looking forward to writing my thesis (make note of that for when I start complaining halfway through writing my thesis). I will be writing about the battlefield. Basically, I will write a history of the battlefield from the end of the war to the present, looking at the landscape as the main character, if you will. It will allow me to include past research and readings while playing with ideas about landscape use, memory, and commemoration. I have an outline and the verbal approval from advisors and a ton of sources (identified) to work with. My goal: finish writing the thing by the end of September to allow for last minute revisions before submission to the graduate college so I can GRADUATE in DECEMBER! Woo! Then I'm probably moving to Europe. Why not?

Now, as far as the Pacific goes, Dr. Frisby is building another class to travel to Peleliu, to both explore and possibly to do some preservation work. I want to absolutely say "no." It is time to see other things and travel to other places. But there is pulse that beats from the bottom of my heart that I am trying to ignore. Come back, come back, come back it throbs. I am still doing my basic sorting-through-the-footage-I-have-while-building-a-story-before-I-start-officially-editing-my-film work with my Pacific footage. I love being immersed in the footage. It is a combination of loves: film, history (especially WWII), story development, and reliving memories of my travels.

There is a Jewish proverb that says, "if you want to make God laugh, make plans." So I do. And He is probably cracking up now as I write this.