Monthly Archives: May 2011

A very brief historical summary of American forests

US Forestry trend data PowerPoint

In the above graphic, one can see the change in our total forest land calculated for the U.S., including AK and HI.  The black section of the bar chart has been calculated based on estimates of forest clearing proportional to known population growth.  The green portion of the bar chart is based on Census Bureau land-clearing statistics.  The red  is estimated and the blue is based on Forest Service’s FIA Field Reports.

The graphic comes from a Forest Service PowerPoint reviewing the trends from 1760 to 2000.  The sharpest decline is attributed to the settlers clearing the forests along the East Coast.  This makes sense.  Not only did the settlers clear land for agricultural purposes, they also did so with other justifications, such as certain psychological factors.  The forest was traditionally a scary place, the lair of outlaws in the Old World, the haunt of native tribes in the New World and dangerous beasts in both worlds.

On the heels of this phenomenon was the Industrial Revolution.  This created a greater commercial demand for wood fuel.  In response to that wanton taxing of the land, America reacted by creating public wilderness land and bestowed the responsibility for researching, inventorying and monitoring American forest lands on federal agencies.

At this point, there is a substantial area of forest that is privately owned for the purposes of industry–its stock is renewed based on demand.  Most of this is in the southern part of the country where wood-related industries are supported.  For this reason, outside of this region, trees tend to be older and have larger diameters.

For more from the Forest Service’s Forest Inventory and Analysis program, follow this link:

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Some great online reading for readers of this blog and more…

Call it writer’s block or writer’s fatigue, but I find it hard to motivate myself to write blog post.  Conveniently, others are not nearly so hampered as I am and I found some great stuff to read online–some of it I wish I had researched and wrote!   There is a little something for everyone, I think.  So, here goes!

Celebrating Linotype, 125 Years Since its Debut, The Atlantic, John Hendel

“Celebrating Linotype…” is a snazzy article about the history of a revolutionary machine, “Thomas Edison, it’s said, called the [Linotype machine] the Eighth Wonder of the World (no faint praise from the man who invented the light bulb).”  The Linotype is so-called because it was capable of printing a line of type.  It was no longer necessary for printers to place each individual letter or space into its place.  Included in the article is a really fine slide show, even with the unfortunate insertion of ads.  There is also a sweet little 2 and a half minute documentary.  Actually, I wish I had written and researched this, but my life isn’t that fun, right now.

How Overdue Books caused the Civil War, American Libraries, Robert Lopresti

“How Overdue Books…” is one of those reads that inspires incredulous amusement when read as history, but must have absolutely incensed contemporaries when the misdeed took place.  The title is clearly for the delight of librarians, indeed the article opens,

I admit that the title is a bit of an exaggeration. For one thing, most of the books were not actually overdue. Also, some people claim there were other causes for the Civil War: slavery, states’ rights, and stuff like that.

It is a pretty entertaining story recounting the attempt of several southern congressmen to attempt to loot the Library of Congress in order to found a competing library for the Confederacy.

Your Loebs!, Harvard University Press Blog

“Your Loebs!” doesn’t really have a whole lot of reading, but I love and heart Loeb Classics!  This is really an homage to the little bilingual editions of classical literature and to peoples’ love for them.  Greek-language editions are in green, Latin in red–visually, quite lovely!

Girl child no burden in this Bihar Village, Prabhakar Kumar, CNN-IBN

“Girl child…” is a great article to read when so much of the news about baby girls, and women in general, is depressing.  In this instance, the village plants 10 trees for every girl that is born.  Now, that’s a nice way to commemorate a girl’s birth!  (Take a lesson, China!)

The Charms of Eleanor, The New York Review of Books, Russell Baker

“The Charms…” while actually a review of a couple of Eleanor Roosevelt biographies this is a pretty good read in and of itself.  The subject matter considers the relationship of Eleanor and Franklin, concluding that, “Whatever its roots, it turned out to be an extraordinary marriage once it was purged of sex.”  It’s steamy in a soap opera sort of way, so if you miss those this is great!  Love’em or hate’em they are remarkably interesting (in article-length, anyway).

Graffiti’s Cozier, Feminine Side, The New York Times, Malia Wollan

“Graffiti’s…” adds a little whimsy, here!  The new(ish) artsy vandalism, which can be removed sans scrub pads, is “yarn bombing” and it can make quite a statement when it is, say, knitted over The Wall Street Bull in NYC.  The article is augmented by some video and a slide show.  Many thoughtful, esoteric conversations have taken place in coffee shops with artists and Bohemian literature over the past couple years as “yarn bombing” has risen in underground acclaim.  So many meanings!  Where is Foucault?

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Life’s transitions…

This week marks the first time in a few years where I have no immediate teaching plans in my future.  Instead I am taking a full time position on trial at my other job (Advantage Book Binding), where I will simultaneously be phone and mail (i.e. bills) person, marketing director, researcher and writer (in order of tasks that interest me least to greatest).

While I will be doing a lot of mundane market research, I will also have the opportunity to explore the history of the book and book production.  Hopefully, I will get to be as much a historian and a writer as anything else.  It does mean that my posts will probably tend more towards the “Historian’s Journal” category than either the education or academic.  Perhaps a new category will emerge!  (Regardless, I have to update all my profiles: here at the blog, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.!)

Assuming all goes well, this will put me in contact with some very cool research institutions where I will really get to dig into some interesting stuff!  For example, I look forward to collaborating with the Walter’s Gallery and its manuscript collection–a really fantastic collection.  Their interest naturally leads them to be experts on the book.  But, only time will reveal what lies ahead, and best laid plans be damned!

Speaking of the Walter’s Gallery, keep an eye out for my next post from the lecture about the Book of Kells!

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The Northwest Passage: It’s On! (Again…)

NASA image of the Northwest Passage

At that ambiguous turn in periods from the Late Medieval to the Early Modern, Europe was broadening its horizons in a way that only the Vikings had approached previously.  The Italians dominated the Mediterranean; the Spanish the central and southern Atlantic; the Portuguese the Indian Ocean.  In northern Europe, France, England and the Dutch wanted in on the game.  Once the whole global idea started to set in for the wider European set, it became clear to many in these northern countries that logically a northwest passage should exist to link northern Europe to the lucrative markets in the Far East.

Many tried.  All failed.  Some survived, but many did not.  Emerging from the medieval world’s Little Ice Age, ice blocked the route from the northern Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean through the Arctic north of modern-day Canada.  Those who ventured out were motivated by adventure, wealth, prestige and royal charters.  This failure led to the French demise in North America since they chose not to pursue colonization as fully as did the English (and the Spanish to the south).  Their leave-[little]-trace approach to colonization of their New World holdings, reinforced by the lack of a northern trade route enabled England, fresh off the colonization of Ireland, to overwhelm them.  Unlike the French, the English would build a formidable Navy unhindered by the obvious obstacles: a) its northerly position and b) its distance from the obvious trade routes to the East.

The need to get from North America’s east coast to the Pacific more efficiently remained relevant.  This is obvious by America’s interest in the Panama Canal.  In the first couple decades of the 20th century (1904-1914), America invested millions of dollars and (estimated) over 30,000 lives (lost) in building the Panama Canal.  (For more information on the Panama Canal visit the Canal de Panama website with English translation.)  Western Civilization may have advanced since the Age of Discovery, but shipping remains as essential now as it ever has been–and, likely more so than it ever was.

With the dual advents of the Cold War and the nuclear submarine, movement in Arctic waters–or, more accurately, under Arctic waters–actually turned the region into a pretty warm zone.  In fact, the Arctic was arguably the hottest point outside of actual war zones in Korea, Vietnam and Afghanistan–perhaps even hotter than outer space during the Space Race!  Of course, this was due to simple geographic proximity during the Cold War’s bipolar chess match.

Now, once again, nations are competing for the Northwest Passage.  Today, the major players are Canada and the U.S. with a few other competing claims.  There are also pressing concerns by Inuit cultures who have long lived in the region and are somewhat better recognized today than during the period of European “Discovery“.  Other than the nationalities represented and their existing establishment in the New World, the competition has changed very little in the intervening years since the Age of Discovery.  Is this evidence of that period ushering in the modern era?  Is it proof of the relevance history has in current affairs?  Is it yet another opening for social, economic and political discussions of trade or environment?  Yes.

Check out the links below for more on the development of the issue and the history of the fabled passage.

Map of the Northwest Passage from Princeton online exhibit (link below)

Of Maps and Men: In Pursuit of a Northwest Passage (Princeton online exhibit)

Arctic Passage (NOVA)

Canada boosts claim to Northwest Passage (Financial Times)

Arctic nations agree steps to boost cooperation (Reuters)

Northwest Passage (Forbes)

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What this generation of college students remembers about 9/11

Tuesday (May 3rd), I postponed a lecture on the 12th Century Renaissance and replaced it with a period devoted to reflection in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death.  This was at least partially selfish, or maybe it was just closure.  I was a junior in Washington DC, living on campus during 9/11.  When the first of the Twin Towers were hit I was actually in the Basilica on campus in Northeast DC.  By the time I had made it back to my place, the second tower was hit, and then the Pentagon.  Classes were cancelled.  The phone lines were swamped.  Planes were grounded.  First campus, and then the city shut down.  One of the strongest memories I have is of sitting alone on a picnic table in the courtyard and listening to . . . nothing!  All of the city’s normal background rumbles and grumbles were stilled.  There was no car noise.  Occasionally, you would hear the fighter jets soaring overhead, but you never saw them.

In classes, once they resumed, we naturally talked about the events.  In one class, we were discussing the argument against 1) a God, 2) a benevolent God or 3) an all-powerful God based on the existence of evil in the world.  He had assigned us Elie Wiesel’s Night, because in his experience, modern youth–at least, up to that point–had lost belief of evil in the world.  9/11 fit right in.  In another class, an introduction to archaeology, we tabled the day’s intended course material to talk about what happened and why.  While I was a fairly plugged in youth, I confess that I had never heard of Osama bin Laden before 9/11.  We had a lot of questions about why anyone would want to do this.  I find it interesting that many college students today have the same questions, today, as we did then.

Most of my students who are properly college-aged, 17, 18, 19, 20, recall having a difficult time processing all of it.  I asked them if they related to the images–if they even seemed real or like Hollywood reproductions.  The majority admitted they did not unless they had a personal connection to the catastrophe, such as a missing family member.  Even those on military bases could not really understand what others around them were feeling.  One student candidly confessed that she and her brother were pulled out of school, watched the images on TV at home, but mostly remember playing outside all day while all the grownups were occupied.

I next asked them when bin Laden and 9/11 became events that they understood as real catastrophes and not just global events.  Many could not relate until they were in high school and looked back on the events on their own.  For some, it is clear, they never really became anything more than a background tapestry of distant world events.  To be fair, this is pretty normal for young people.  Most children in tween and young teen years would be very upset if they were told that their parents had accidentally hit an animal with the family car, but relating to the tragic events in Haiti a couple years back, more recently in Japan and even the tornadoes here in the U.S. are too distant and wide to grasp by young minds that have not personally lost someone or something or witnessed the terror firsthand.

The result of this is that many were relatively unmoved by Osama bin Laden’s death, or at minimum less moved then people my age and older.  A student in a colleague’s class was angry about all the attention it was getting–my colleague incidentally was working in the financial district of New York City during the attack and has strong personal connections to the attacks.  That student was far more concerned about a local murder in Baltimore, which my colleague acknowledged was valid, but did not make bin Laden’s death any less relevant.  On the contrary, my colleague argued, bin Laden does matter.  Many of our students clearly felt he had ceased to be relevant by this point.

This is one of the magazines I purchased after the attacks.

What bin Laden’s death did for some in this younger generation was reawaken questions that had existed, perhaps all along, and not yet been answered for them.  Students who followed current events or who had personal attachments to the events, i.e. people in DC or NY, or serving in the military, were clearly more effected and interested.  Perhaps, this reveals a certain failure on everyone else’s part to explain current events.

For me, this class time was closure–almost more so then the actual news about bin Laden’s death.  Or, maybe it is better described as the conclusion of the story arc.  Granted, I was still pretty young then, but 9/11 left me off-balance.  It dominated my thinking for days and I was almost too stunned to be angry.  My memories of 9/11 are inextricably tied to those two classes and professors.  Perhaps it is because I have an academic turn of mind, more likely because it was simply the setting in which I experienced the attacks, but in discussing bin Laden and 9/11 memories with my class I personally put something profound in my life to rest.

It is also sobering to think about how quickly time moves on.  A handful of students saw the second plane hit live and remembered that, while others only remembered the replayed scenes and the pictures in every newspaper and magazine the days after.  Young minds cannot really cope with global events in the same way that they will when they experience similar events as they are older.  I wonder what it would have been like for my students to have written down a journal entry about 9/11 the week it had happened, and then to have sat down and read it this week.  I wonder how many people did exactly that this week.

FBI Top Ten Most Wanted usama-bin-laden

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Thinking about our troops

The author and her brother at the Baltimore-Washington Airport the night he deployed to Afghanistan.

In the wake Osama bin Laden’s demise in Pakistan, it is sobering to think that life is not going to get easier for our troops overseas–indeed, it may get worse.  I cannot prognosticate: I am not smart enough and I do not have enough facts, anyway.  With family and friends still committed abroad, it is easy to wonder and worry.

How America celebrated bin Laden’s death: A slideshow – The Week.

I am not sure how I should react.  Admittedly, this is likely due in large part to the fact that I went to bed early and woke up to get on Facebook and read everyone’s reactions to the news before I had actually “gotten the news”.  It has just been so long since 9/11…  It is not that I find bin Laden’s death problematic, but I do worry about what comes next.

So, in thinking about our troops I think it might be a good time to consider the little things we can do for them.  Don’t stop sending your care-packages!  There are lots of opportunities, but I am sharing a few from my walk of life.  Below are links to enable one to get books from our shores to foreign shores in theater (aka: war zones).  It is just a simple opportunity to ease the tedium or the chaos for our troops.

Signing off let me first wish all the troops a safe return and let me thank the Navy SEALs who bravely engaged the enemy and won.

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