J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Mifflins’ Marriage

Yesterday, when we looked in on the Brattle House in Cambridge in August 1775, Continental Army quartermaster general Thomas Mifflin had taken it as his home and office during the siege of Boston.

Three women were already living there: the widow Katherine Wendell, daughter of the house’s Loyalist legal owner; her thirteen-year-old daughter, Martha-Fitch Wendell; and their eighteen-year-old guest, Abigail Collins of Rhode Island.

After a visit to the house in August, Abigail Adams wrote to her husband in Philadelphia with a hint for Mifflin’s wife Sarah:
tell her I do not know whether her Husband is safe here. . . . You hear nothing from the Ladies, but about Major Mifflins easy address, politeness, complasance &c. &c.
Sarah Mifflin set out for Cambridge in the next month.

The Mifflins lived together in the Brattle house over the winter. They hosted Dr. John and Mary Morgan, another Philadelphia couple. They held dinner parties. In fact, it looks like the Mifflins entertained visiting officials in genteel style while dinner at Gen. George Washington’s headquarters down the street was more of a “pot-luck” military affair.

So did that togetherness fend off any rifts in the Mifflins’ marriage? Not for long. By the end of the war, Thomas Mifflin was known for his sexual affairs. After Mifflin was elected governor of Pennsylvania in 1790, Dr. Benjamin Rush wrote:
This man was known to be of a very immoral character. He had lived in a state of adultery with many women during the life of his wife, and had children by some of them, whom he educated in his own family. It is said his wife died last summer of a broken heart in consequence of this conduct towards her.
Rush had other reasons to dislike the man, but everyone seems to agree that Mifflin led a “dissipated” later life while also serving as his state’s highest official.

However, the Brattle House was a happier rendezvous for other couples. Abigail Collins met her future husband, Dr. John Warren, when he was working down the street at the army hospital. Martha-Fitch Wendell later married a tutor from Harvard College nearby. And her mother, by keeping on the good side of both military and local officials, kept the estate from being confiscated as the property of a Loyalist.

I’ll have stories of other women in other mansions along Brattle Street in my “Women of Tory Row” walking tour on Saturday afternoon, part of this year’s Cambridge Discovery Day.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

“Women of Tory Row” Tour, 20 Sept.

Saturday, 20 September, is this year’s Cambridge Discovery Day. The city’s historical commission has organized a series of walking tours, exhibits, and lectures, most of them free.

I’m leading a tour of Brattle Street called “The Women of Tory Row.” We’ll start at 3:00 at the Tory Row historical marker on the corner of Brattle and Mason Streets. That means we won’t see the Brattle House, now part of the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, so I’ll talk about the ladies in that house now.

William Brattle was a militia general who triggered the “Powder Alarm” of 1-2 September 1774. As soon as he realized his neighbors knew he’d told Gen. Thomas Gage about gunpowder in the county powderhouse, and that those neighbors saw his action as a betrayal, Brattle fled into Boston.

Brattle’s widowed daughter, Katherine Wendell, remained in Cambridge, and remained determined to keep the family property from being damaged or confiscated. Her method, according to descendants, was to obtain “the favor of men in power civil and military.”

During the siege of Boston, when Cambridge housed thousands of Continental soldiers, Mrs. Wendell hosted two teen-aged girls in that house:
  • Her daughter, Martha-Fitch Wendell (1762-1835).
  • Abigail Collins (1757-1832), daughter of a Rhode Island Patriot and an Avery from Boston.
Collins’s son later described them as “two young ladies whose personal qualities rendered them the centre of attraction among the officers of the army.” Not least because there probably weren’t any other upper-class young women around.

By August, Thomas Mifflin of Pennsylvania had accepted the post of quartermaster-general of the army and chose the Brattle house to be his home and office. I suspect Mrs. Wendell moved herself and the girls into back rooms, accommodating the quartermaster to curry his favor and make sure people understood that she still claimed the house.

That month, Abigail Adams sent her husband in Philadelphia a word to pass on to Mifflin’s wife Sarah (shown with him above): “tell her I do not know whether her Husband is safe here. Belona and Cupid have a contest about[.] You hear nothing from the Ladies, but about Major Mifflins easy address, politeness, complasance &c. &c.”

TOMORROW: Can this marriage be saved?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Incentives Behind the A.P. Test

Having discussed the economic incentives that might fuel some criticism of the new A.P. U.S. History guidelines, I feel I should acknowledge the other side of the coin: the economics behind that revamping.

Advanced Placement exams are administered by the College Board, the same company that handles the S.A.T. In the last decade, the company lost its dominant place in the market for basic standardized college-entrance exams to the A.C.T., or “Iowa Test.” Last year the College Board’s new president announced an effort to revamp the S.A.T.

The Advanced Placement tests remain a College Board exclusive. They also cost more to take. (There are financial-aid programs.) Thus, the firm has an economic incentive to see more high-school students taking A.P. exams.

Before 2011, U.S. History was the College Board’s most popular A.P. test. Even now, more than 400,000 students worldwide take it each year. At about $80 per test, that represents around $32 million in revenue.

The original design of A.P. classes was to provide high-school students with the equivalent of an introductory college course, so they could gain college credits or move on to higher-level courses. Under that purpose, it makes sense to periodically revamp the curricula to make sure they really do reflect the latest college scholarship.

However, these days students may take A.P. exams not to move through college quicker but to burnish their résumés for getting into college. And schools face pressure to offer more A.P. courses. College-application counselor Nancy Griesemer wrote on the Examiner website:
…instead of pushing students forward to complete college faster (an expensive proposition for institutions losing tuition revenue from early graduates), the AP has become the “gold standard” for proving academic excellence in high school and for measuring college readiness. . . . colleges use AP’s as a measure of course rigor. . . .

…ranking of high schools based on number of AP (and IB) classes offered, how many students take the exams and how well they do, feeds this frenzy by suggesting to school administrators that AP’s need to be increased—sometimes in place of more appropriate honors classes—and students need to be pushed into taking these classes earlier in their secondary school careers. . . .

Outside of the classroom and in a measure of self-motivation as well as academic excellence, colleges reinforce the message by appearing to reward students who appear to go beyond course offerings at their schools by studying for and taking AP exams on their own. As a result, a cottage industry of online classes and specialized tutors has developed targeted to preparing students to take AP exams without going through the rigor of taking the AP class.
All of those incentives nudge the associated enterprises away from what should be their goal: that students actually learn the subjects they’re being tested on at an advanced level.

U.S. History, like nearly every topic I know, requires knowledge both of many specific facts and techniques and understanding of concepts and principles. It’s important to know about significant events that led up to the American Revolution; it’s also important to be able to see the conflict from both sides, and to recognize how each group saw the other as escalating the conflict and thus felt justified in escalating as well.

Knowledge of facts is easy to gauge through a standardized test. The College Board’s S.A.T. or achievement test for U.S. History is an hour long and consists entirely of multiple-choice questions. (A little over 100,000 students take that per year.) That sort of test is also easier to cram for.

Understanding is much harder to assess on a massive scale, at least economically. The College Board has designed its A.P. exam to achieve that goal, using document-based questions and essays. The company has every incentive to convince us its methods work. Those methods may well be the best available. I’m just not sure that goal is really achievable.

Monday, September 15, 2014

“Will This Be on the (A.P. U.S. History) Test?”

Larry Krieger, the educator most voluble in his criticism of the new Advanced Placement U.S. History course guidelines, has a quick answer to the fact I documented yesterday: that most of the topics he and his allies say are missing from the new guidelines weren’t in the older, shorter guidelines either.

Krieger has argued those topics indeed didn’t appear in the older guidelines, but they did appear in other documents from the College Board—namely, the A.P. tests themselves. In that online essay he wrote:
In fact, all of the omitted people and events listed above and in my analysis have generated numerous questions on released AP U.S. History exams. For the record, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution is one of the most frequently tested APUSH items.
Why would Krieger know that? Because he built a business called Insider Test Prep by analyzing past tests to find out what topics are most likely to appear on future exams.

In 2012, Krieger used CreateSpace to publish The Insider’s Complete Guide to AP US History: The Essential Content. Its approach promises that “students do not need to memorize long lists of names, dates, places, events, and terms.” Instead, they can memorize shorter lists: “65 key terms that are regularly tested on the APUSH exam”; “Over 100 sidebar tips that tell students what to ignore and what to study”; “20 Top Ten list of key people, events, Supreme Court cases, reformers and books.”

Krieger based his book on the College Board’s existing guidelines and samples, with “40 chronological chapters that follow the College Board’s AP US History Course Description outline” and “Over 25 references to specific essays and DBQ’s found at the College Board’s authoritative AP Central website.” He promises customers that his guide “ignores topics that rarely generate questions while focusing on topics that generate the overwhelming majority of test questions.” He has argued that “This predictable clustering of questions on key figures and events enabled teachers to efficiently prepare their students for the APUSH exam.” If the course changes significantly, his book becomes less valuable.

The same change might make the next edition more valuable. Tax lawyers know that any significant change in the tax laws generates more income for them because their clients need new advice. Publishers know that a new software release is an opportunity to issue new primers on that software. And a guide to the radically new A.P. U.S. History course would probably do better than an old one.

If, that is, the same approach can work. But what if it can’t? Back in April, Trevor Packer of the College Board responded to Krieger’s complaints by saying:
Krieger is a prolific author of “Crash Course” guides to a number of AP courses, the SAT, and the SAT-II. As someone deeply invested in the test preparation industry, Krieger cannot be expected to welcome the way that AP courses and exams are being revised to emphasize inquiry and depth at the expense of memorization. His perspective only makes sense once one recalls that Krieger’s publications emphasize a test-prep, memorization mentality that will no longer be privileged in revised AP exams.
The new course’s emphasis on “Historical Thinking Skills” and “Thematic Learning Objectives” is evidently the company’s attempt to “to emphasize inquiry and depth at the expense of memorization.”

Whether that’s possible within the confines of a standardized national annual exam is another question. As I wrote before, I don’t have the relevant experience teaching or taking A.P. U.S. History courses to answer that. The exam will still have multiple-choice questions and essays to be evaluated in bulk, like a lot of other tests American students take these days. People may well discover ways to take advantage of that system—identifying what to memorize and what to ignore, as Krieger says he did.

But to get back there, Krieger would need to build up a new database of exam questions. Which might explain why one of his repeated complaints is that the College Board isn’t letting people like him know exactly what will be on the test. And the R.N.C. has echoed him with an official complaint: “the College Board is not making its sample examination available for public review, thus maintaining secrecy about what U. S. students are actually being tested on”.

Again, I’m not a classroom teacher, but my strong impression is that good educators don’t like students to ask, “Is this going to be on the test?” with an obvious plan to tune out if it isn’t. And if, say, a big city school department demanded to be told in detail what parts of American history would be on an upcoming national test to ensure that its curriculum “ignores topics that rarely generate questions,” I’d expect Republicans to deplore that as a sign of falling educational standards. But that’s exactly what Krieger and the R.N.C. seem to demand.

Krieger’s economic interest in seeing the A.P. U.S. History test stay the same for another few years is apparent, but that’s not necessarily what motivates his animus toward the new guidelines. Similarly, all evidence suggests that Thomas Hutchinson would have supported enforcing the Tea Act of 1773 even if he didn’t have thousands of pounds invested in his sons’ tea-importing business, and that George Washington would have supported U.S. expansion to the west even if he didn’t own vast tracts of land in those territories. Still, the conflation of public good and personal economic interests never looks good.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Looking for the R.N.C.’s “Critical Topics” in A.P. U.S. History

Having found the 2006-07 version of the College Board’s guidelines for the Advanced Placement U.S. History test (P.D.F. download), I decided to test it against the objections listed in the Republican National Committee’s resolution from last month.

The R.N.C. based its complaint on the claim that the new guidelines (P.D.F. download) omitted “critical topics that have always been part of the APUSH course,” though without specifying evidence for that assertion. “Always” is an easily tested claim.

The committee’s specific complaints about the new guidelines (as opposed to hard-to-measure value judgments) are:
little or no discussion of the Founding Fathers, the principles of the Declaration of Independence, the religious influences on our nation’s history, and many other critical topics that have always been part of the APUSH course.
The 2006-07 booklet doesn’t mention “the Founding Fathers.” It doesn’t include the phrases “Continental Congress” or “Constitutional Convention.” The names of Washington, Hamilton, and Jefferson appear in connection to the early Presidency but not the founding moments. The booklet doesn’t mention Franklin, Adams, Madison, and most other political leaders of the period at all.

That booklet includes the Declaration of Independence only as an example of “familiar classics” that might be part of the test’s document-based essay questions. It doesn’t discuss the Declaration’s “principles.”

The older booklet lists “Religion” as one of the “Themes” in American history to be considered. The word “religion” appears 7 times in that 54-page booklet, as opposed to 29 times in the new 142-page booklet; in sum, that word appears significantly more often in the new guidelines.

the Framework excludes discussion of the U. S. military (no battles, commanders, or heroes)
The old guidelines mention “the attack on Pearl Harbor” but no other battle. Washington, Jackson, and Kennedy appear, but as Presidents, not as “commanders, or heroes.” I saw no individual wartime commander or hero named.

Variations on the word “military” appear 5 times in the older booklet, thrice in the sample multiple-choice questions. Again, that word appears significantly more often in the new booklet: 32 times.

the Framework…omits many other individuals, groups, and events that greatly shaped our nation’s history (for example, Albert Einstein, Jonas Salk, George Washington Carver, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Tuskegee Airmen, the Holocaust)
Not one of those “individuals, groups, and events” appears in the 2006-07 guidelines.

The R.N.C.’s complaint thus appears to be that the old course guidelines were better even though they didn’t include those “critical topics” because the new guidelines, while including much more material (and therefore being much longer), don’t include every topic that critics can think of.

That objection doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. As I wrote before, it’s obvious the College Board isn’t trying to limit A.P. class teachers to only the topics specifically mentioned in the new booklet. It states themes and explicitly gives teachers flexibility to choose how to cover those themes while naming a few examples. If teachers “always” covered subjects that weren’t explicitly mentioned in the guidelines before, there’s no rational reason to conclude they won’t cover those same subjects now.

Second, at the same time the R.N.C. was making the complaints above, it was also complaining that the new guidelines don’t “respect the sovereignty of state standards.” In other words, the committee said there should be no national standards, but also that advanced U.S. history courses are fatally flawed if they don’t include the names, topics, and messages its members prefer.

Like most people who have argued for “state sovereignty” in U.S. history (like the Vice President pictured above), the R.N.C. would actually like to apply its own policies to the whole nation at once if it only could.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The “5-Page Topic Outline” and the “98-Page Framework”

One of the common complaints about the new Advanced Placement U.S. History Course guidelines is that they’re so much longer than they were before. For instance, World Magazine reported:
The new framework is 98 pages long, compared to the five-page topic outline teachers used previously, [critic Larry] Krieger said.
That criticism from Krieger, founder of Insider Test Prep (shown here), has been echoed on a lot of websites; just look for the phrase “five-page [or 5-page] topic outline” and the mention of “98 pages.”

That struck me as another claim about the College Board’s new course guidelines (P.D.F. download) that could be objectively tested. So I looked for the older guidelines, and found a set labeled for May 2006 and May 2007 (P.D.F. download). And I looked at them side by side. Does that comparison hold up as accurate and fair? Not really.

To start with, I can’t figure out why Krieger describes “the new framework” as “98 pages long.” The entire booklet is 142 pages, including title page, contents, index, and those pages paradoxically printed “This Page Is Intentionally Left Blank.” The Framework starts on page 9. Ninety-eight pages later takes us to page 106, which is in the middle of the sample questions. The page header “The AP U.S. History Curriculum Framework” continues until page 119. So that actually looks like 111 pages of Framework material, not including the index for it.

The pages under the “AP U.S. History Curriculum Framework” header include sections titled “Introduction,” “Historical Thinking Skills,” “Thematic Learning Objectives,” “The Concept Outline,” “The AP U.S. History Exam,” and “Sample Exam Questions.” So if we want to fairly compare the Framework’s length to the older version, we have to include all the equivalent sections in the older booklet.

Turning to that older booklet, I find that the “five-page Topic Outline” actually takes up five and half pages, so that count is off by 10%. Furthermore, that “Topic Outline” looks like the equivalent of the “Concept Outline” section in the new booklet—i.e., just one of the relevant sections. The earlier booklet also contains sections titled “Introduction,” “The AP U.S. History Exam,” “Themes in AP U.S. History,” another page about teaching the course, and “The Exam” with sample questions. Those total to 33 pages.

Obviously the expansion of 33 pages into 111 is significant—the new guidelines are more than three times as long as the old ones. But Krieger and everyone parroting his figures (without apparently checking them) have transformed that into an explosion from 5 pages to 98—more than nineteen times longer! That doesn’t show a great concern for accuracy or fairness.

Turning from quantity to quality, the older booklet’s “Themes in AP U.S. History” simply lists topics. Here’s one section as an example:
4. The American Revolutionary Era
The French and Indian War
The Imperial Crisis and resistance to Britain
The War for Independence
State constitutions and the Articles of Confederation
The federal Constitution
There’s no exact equivalent to that section in the new guidelines, but to show how they treat some of the same ideas, here’s Key Concept 3.2.II on the transition from the Articles of Confederation to the new Constitution.

Obviously, the new treatment has a lot more words. It’s not just a short list of concepts and buzzwords, but a series of complete sentences connecting those concepts. And it offers more concepts to consider, as well as possible examples for discussion.

In fact, if one were interested in educating young people about the historical transition from the Articles to the Constitution, one might even say the information in the new guidelines is important, pertinent, and useful.

But apparently it’s too long.

TOMORROW: The missing names.

Friday, September 12, 2014

What Lies Behind Complaints about the A.P. U.S. History Test

One of the hot topics is American historiography lately has been an attack on the new Advanced Placement U.S. History course and test guidelines (P.D.F. download).

Last month the Republican National Committee passed a resolution calling for those guidelines to be both rewritten and investigated.

The National Council for History Education, the American Historical Association, and the Organization of American Historians have dismissed such attacks as unfounded and politically motivated. (I was interested in what the right-leaning Historical Society might say, but it’s out of action.)

I’ve never been a classroom teacher. I haven’t taken an A.P. U.S. History course in more than thirty years, and I didn’t take the exam back then because I didn’t think my class had been adequate. So I don’t feel qualified to speak to how the new guidelines will affect those high-school classes compared to what teachers had to work with before this summer.

But I can read two documents and compare them, and I’ve concluded that the R.N.C. resolution on the College Board’s guidelines is based on false statements and double standards. I don’t know whether the committee member who proposed the resolution, Tamara Scott of Iowa (shown above with party chair Reince Priebus), was responsible for those deceptions or was duped by someone else. But it’s obvious that her description of the College Board guidelines is inaccurate—so inaccurate that it’s hard to believe that a rational person acting without malice came up with it.

Before getting to the specifics, it’s valuable to consider what those guidelines are meant to be. The College Board says it’s revised the A.P. test to focus on historical thinking. The guidelines start with sections on “Historical Thinking Skills” and “Thematic Learning Objectives.” Then there’s a chronological “Concept Outline”; after stating each concept in a sentence or two, those sections say, “Teachers have flexibility to use examples such as the following:…”

Those examples are obviously not supposed to be exclusive—i.e., the only examples teachers should cover. They’re not even presented as requirements that all teachers should cover. At best, one might say that the College Board strongly suggests that A.P. U.S. History teachers include those topics in their lessons. But the guidelines clearly and repeatedly stress “flexibility.”

The guidelines’ critics have instead chosen to read the concepts and examples in the most narrow-eyed way, deciding that if the document doesn’t mention a particular person or topic by name, it has been omitted from the course and the test. Thus, the R.N.C. claims: “the Framework includes little or no discussion of the Founding Fathers, the principles of the Declaration of Independence, the religious influences on our nation’s history,…”

That contention doesn’t survive a moment’s examination. Key Concept 3.2.I.B says:
The colonists’ belief in the superiority of republican self-government based on the natural rights of the people found its clearest American expression in Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and in the Declaration of Independence.
Key Concept 3.2.II is:
After experiencing the limitations of the Articles of Confederation, American political leaders wrote a new Constitution based on the principles of federalism and separation of powers, crafted a Bill of Rights, and continued their debates about the proper balance between liberty and order.
How could anyone teach about the “American political leaders [who] wrote a new Constitution” without discussing the “Founding Fathers”?

As for “the religious influences on our nation’s history,” variations on the word “religion” appear in the guidelines twenty-nine times. The document refers to “Bartolomé de las Casas,” “converts to Christianity,” “the Great Awakening,“ “the Second Great Awakening,” “Protestant evangelism,” the “Women’s Christian Temperance Union,” and “the growth of religious fundamentalism” in recent decades. That is not “little or no discussion.”

Likewise, the word “military” appears thirty-two times, yet the R.N.C. resolution states:
the Framework excludes discussion of the U. S. military (no battles, commanders, or heroes)…
The possible examples for teachers include the “Battle of Fallen Timbers,” “Gettysburg,” “Little Big Horn,” and “Pearl Harbor,” which are all battles. The R.N.C.’s statement is factually wrong, and since a simple keyword search for “military” and “battle” would have been enough to check that, I can only conclude that someone lied.

As a sign of how badly the Republican National Committee was stretching to justify its complaint, its resolution refers to ”the College Board (a private organization unaccountable to the public).” Of course, the same description applies to any business, any private school, and the R.N.C. itself. When exactly did the Republican Party decide that private institutions were ipso facto suspicious, and how long after last month’s meeting did that feeling last?

It’s mildly amusing to note how the committee’s examples of “other individuals and events that greatly shaped our nation’s history” yet don’t appear in the guidelines have been carefully chosen not to include any white Christians: “Albert Einstein, Jonas Salk, George Washington Carver, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Tuskegee Airmen, the Holocaust.” What are the odds of that?

In fact, that game of pointing to left-out names can be endless. The guidelines discuss the post-World War II civil rights movement in detail, and if the R.N.C. believes teaching that topic means excluding Martin Luther King, they can try to make that argument to the public. Meanwhile, I’ll ask why the committee didn’t note the inclusion of David Walker, Robert Smalls, Fannie Lou Hamer, and several other African-American activists. Perhaps its members didn’t recognize their names? Did the committee’s choice not to list W. E. B. DuBois, A. Philip Randolph, and Cesar Chavez among the omitted mean that it feels those people should have no place in U.S. history courses? That’s the same logic its resolution applies to the College Board.

Finally, the R.N.C. resolution puts a lot of weight on how “the APUSH course has traditionally been designed to present a balanced view of American history,” and “critical topics that have always been part of the APUSH course,” in contrast to this new approach. However, it doesn’t do the basic historical work of citing documents to justify those statements—for example, a previous set of guidelines from the College Board listing all the topics the committee complains have been excluded and not listing any it claims have been wrongly added.

In fact, the College Board has never issued guidelines this long and detailed. It did so because the switch to emphasizing historical thinking over memorizable facts is a big one for teachers and students. We can debate whether that goal is possible within our present system of standardized testing. Instead, the R.N.C. (“a private organization unaccountable to the public”) has made up its own incomplete standards of what U.S. history should be, projected them into the past, and called for a Congressional investigation into why the College Board isn’t following them to the letter.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Great Hamilton

Ten years ago Hamilton, Ohio, founded in 1791, installed a statue of its namesake, Alexander Hamilton. (The city has branded itself as a “City of Sculpture.”)

Kristen Visbal won the competition to design and produce the Hamilton statue. As you can see, its most striking feature is the thirteen-star American flag that the Federalist politician is shown wearing as a cape, billowing from his shoulders. In fact, the official name of the statue is “The American Cape.”

At over twelve feet high, this is said to be the largest statue of Hamilton in existence, bigger than Boston’s, the Treasury Department’s, Columbia University’s, or Paterson, New Jersey’s.

However, the marble statue of Hamilton made for the New York Merchants Exchange in 1835 is said to have been fourteen feet high on its base—I don’t know how that compares. That tribute was on display for less than a year before being destroyed when the building burned down.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Smithsonian to Restore Landsdowne Portrait Starting in 2016

The “Landsdowne portrait” of George Washington, painted by Gilbert Stuart in 1796 and purchased by the Smithsonian in 2001, is scheduled to be cleaned and restored starting in 2016. The Associated Press reports:
Conservators wanted to clean and restore the painting for many years, but the museum was reluctant to take it off view. The painting is in good condition but does have problems, including paint losses in Washington’s black coat, said CindyLou Molnar, the museum’s head of conservation [shown above]. The biggest problem is the heavy yellow varnish that disguises details in the painting.

“It will take me quite a while to figure out what it will take to safely remove the yellow resinous varnish and not disturb the actual paint surface,” Molnar said.

In 2001, film X-rays of the painting revealed some changes Stuart made in the picture. In one case, he moved a quill ink pen on the table beside Washington. The images showed how Stuart was having trouble adjusting the figure and objects in his original portrait, Molnar said. New technology will provide a clearer image beneath the surface. It’s not clear, though, whether any new discoveries will be made.
There will also be a “refreshing” of the museum’s galleries of Presidential portraits to tell more about each man and his administration. The U.S. government has long owned a backup copy of this portrait, which could presumably be moved over from the White House to the Smithsonian during the study and conservation period.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

A Sedimental Education

Heather Hoppe-Bruce wrote an op-ed essay in the Sunday Boston Globe about what might be unearthed in a new Boston harbor dredging project. Among the possibilities:
HMS Diana

On May 28, 1775, during the Battle of Chelsea Creek, this schooner was abandoned, captured by provincial forces, then set ablaze and run aground. As this battle was the first naval engagement of the American Revolution, the HMS Diana site would be a major find. Could ship remnants still exist by the creek’s entrance? The state’s Board of Underwater Archaeological Resources thinks so and has requested additional survey work on the site. . . .

The Magnifique

Pilot error may have stranded this 74-gun French war ship on a Lovells Island shoal in 1782. The crew then completely stripped the ship and abandoned it, which was the end of the Magnifique but the start of more than 200 years of rumors and political intrigue regarding how exactly she ran aground. The ship’s remains were allegedly last seen in the mid-1800s.
In other French naval news, a replica eighteenth-century warship is undergoing her first test on the water:
A life-size replica of the Hermione, the French navy frigate made famous when it carried General Lafayette to Boston to help fight in the American War of Independence, embarks on its maiden voyage Sunday, more than 200 years after the original one.

Thousands of spectators lined the port of Rochefort on France’s west coast, where both the original and the replica were built, to watch the reproduced vessel set off on several weeks of sea trials in the Atlantic Ocean.

The moment has been a long time coming – a group of restoration enthusiasts first embarked on the arduous task of recreating the three-masted vessel, using only eighteenth-century shipbuilding techniques, back in 1997.

They were forced to wait a little longer for the new Hermione to take to the seas after the launch, originally planned for Saturday, was delayed due to a build-up of sediment at the port.
If all goes well, the Hermione is scheduled to visit the U.S. of A. in 2015.