Garden Like It’s 1943

Among my many books (I collect them, so when I say “many” I mean…more than a hundred, much more) is a gardening tome called the Victory Garden Manual by James H. Burdett. It was produced in 1943, right during the Second World War years. The purpose was to instruct city dwellers in the process and possibilities of developing their urban space into what were called “Victory Gardens.”

Image: Amanda Stiver

Image: Amanda Stiver

The victory garden movement was meant to encourage civilians to develop their urban and rural spaces into large scale kitchen gardens. The kind that would keep an average family of four in potatoes, carrots, and turnips all winter long. The idea was to reduce the burden on the domestic vegetable and fruit producers so that their industrial sized haul of produce would be primarily shunted to foodstuffs for the U.S. troops. It was also meant to reduce the oil, coal and gas used to fuel transit of produce from one end of the country to the other.

This effort was so successful that average Americans produced 1/3rd of the annual vegetable crop for consumption during the war years. More importantly, a whole generation of young people grew up knowing how to garden and how to eat locally, keeping their ear to the ground as it were. Knowing how to produce food is invaluable. Even if you only have a small garden, the simple experience of watching a plant grow to maturity and seeing the fruit form gives you insight into the quality of the vegetables and fruits you will be buying at the store or the roadside stand (I recommend the latter, these folks benefit from your business and the product is usually much tastier than the grocery-store variety).

I haven’t had the means or space for a full scale garden in several years, but I still love to cast my mind back to the garden my grandparents grew. They were children of the Great Depression and their grandparents pioneers into the west before them, so “growing your own” wasn’t a leap of logic, but a standard operating procedure. My grandparents used half of their roughly one acre yard to create a substantial and highly productive victory garden. I spent many memorable moments helping dig up potatoes (they come from the ground, by the way, not trees, just thought I would clarify…you never know), picking raspberries, and other produce.

I learned what good soil smelled like, that veggies were supposed to have dirt on them, and that with plants…you have to have patience.

victory garden book for historygal

Image: Amanda Stiver

So, back to The Victory Garden Manual, this lovely little book is a project of it’s era, a red-white-and-blue cover with a big “V” for victory. It has just a few color photographs that look like they might be lithographed, but they are beautifully composed and show off the abundant produce of the test garden. Truly inspiring.

However, I have another favorite gardening book, this one, a reproduction titled, How to Grow Vegetables & Fruits by the Organic Method that was first printed by Rodale Books in 1961. The reproduction print run from 1999 is still widely available and they sport a bright yellow jacket with vintage 1960’s photos of various gardeners and their surplus.

What makes this such a great book is the comprehensive nature of the material. It covers everything from planting to harvest to saving seed and, of course, how to grow a garden with basic knowledge of soil health and structure and without toxic chemicals and pesticides. Great stuff.

I hope this post will be an insightful little nudge to go out and grow something. Anything, from a giant backyard kitchen garden to as small as a few pots here and there (my garden this year). There is an education in growing things. I think we find ourselves more balanced after time in the natural world as we seek to understand the creation and the Creator than we do in the digital creations that seek to obscure reality.

Gardening demands patience, curiosity, and the capacity to deal with loss. These are all vital qualities that help us, when translated into human interaction, to relate to others and to seek to understand them.

So dig in, don’t be afraid to grow! Because you will when you tackle vegetable gardening!

Keep thinking history!

– Amanda Stiver

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Exploring Gateways to History: The Used Bookshop

Stepping into a previously unexplored used bookstore for the first time is akin to stumbling on that long lost tomb of King Whoever with the certain knowledge that inside are more artifacts of priceless historical value than you can shake a stick at. It is a place ripe with undiscovered adventures, knowledge, and surprises. It’s also addictive, so explore at your own risk, you may never find your way out!

Maybe the Indiana Jones-esque archeological connection is a bit much, but not far off. As a gateway into history (which you can read about in a previous post) used bookstores are an unmined field waiting to be excavated. Any bookstore can do the job, but used bookstores offer the advantage of old books, books out of print, and rare volumes along with the mundane. All of these are really, the fodder of history as they shed light upon a viewpoint that encapsulates the outlook and perspective of its time.

Old books are a slice of history, just as archeologists sometimes create a shaft in order to see what pieces of history are beneath their feet at a dig site, so too, is the experience of flipping through a book from fifty, sixty, or a hundred years ago. We see what people fed on, their thoughts, their concerns, their solutions for their time. These all inform the present, by the way, since those problems and solutions have become our own.

A gateway to history is something that intrigues us into wanting to know more about the past, to take a little time to study and appreciate all that came before us and to seek to learn from those successes and mistakes, problems, and stories. For some a gateway is a good biography or autobiography of an historical personage (a favorite approach of mine) since you get a compelling human story along with all kinds of fascinating historical tidbits about their time and place. Others enjoy a good historical film, with the caveat that you know the history in the film will most often be “adapted”, which means, changed, to make a spiffy or more exciting film. Sometimes a fun documentary will draw you in and make you want to know more. Maps of different eras bring up questions that need answers. Photographs of famous events or people strike up a curiosity for some.

There are many gateways into history, and as I crept carefully down the dimly lit, rather tight quarters of the little local bookshop the other day, I was struck again at the excitement and breathless sense of exploration that can emerge when you find a gateway and get set to explore. I found books that I was looking for, some that I already had, many that I had never heard of, and a few that I will have to go back again and read. I may not be able to buy them all, but knowing that little place is there to explore will rescue many a rainy day in the future!

Keep thinking history! Keep exploring!

– Amanda Stiver

EXPERIENCE HISTORY: If you are in the Massillon, Ohio area be sure to stop by the local used bookstore…

The Village Bookshelf  — 746 Amherst NE, Massillon, OH 44646

Tomorrow’s History: Weekly Roundup (Mt. St. Helens – “Tough Times, Strong Women” – Price of “Choice”)

Mt. St. Helens Recharging – Ring of Fire Active

In the news lately has been a flurry of news items relating to the increased earthquake activity around the Ring of Fire, the Pacific rim volcano and earthquake zones. Among these, Mt. St. Helens has begun to quake again, and scientists believe that the magma cavity is refilling. Incidentally, this is not news…it has been filling for some time. The latest swarm of tremors, however, make good news, and no doubt, are indicative of the overall activity in the Ring of Fire.

Some important things to remember when considering reports of “predicted” earthquake activity. Earthquakes are not predictable, per se. For instance, recent news items have indicated that an earthquake along the San Andreas fault line is imminent, as are earthquakes on the New Madrid fault line in the center of the U.S. Earthquakes are always imminent along fault lines because that’s where earthquakes take place. Even the Yellowstone basin is reported to be seismically active…it is always seismically active and volcanologically active, since it is a giant volcanic hotspot!

The take away from all this is that yes, indeed, the Ring of Fire is more than usually active, there are many fault lines and many possible locations for earthquakes. Most earthquake preparation is done ahead of time, building codes, tsunami warning programs, etc. Be aware of the risks in your area, know what to do, and pray. Same goes for volcanoes, although they have a better rate of prediction. Above all, don’t panic without good reason!

Tough Times, Strong Women – Worth a Read

I just finished a unique history book a few days ago. Titled “Tough Times, Strong Women” and published by nostalgia publication “Reminisce” magazine, this compilation of first hand, personal stories and memories of women in the 20th century, particularly during the Great Depression and World War II, is rare among history works.

Most history books are theoretical, sometimes annotated with quotes from primary sources, but by and large are an abstract overview. This book is different. It’s like listening to your elderly aunts talk all about the “old days”. All the wisdom and appreciation that the generation who lived through the Great Depression learned. Most of these accounts are short, just a memory or a summation of a life, but they are very powerful because of the world that they record.

Right now we live in a vapid age, full of short attention spans and technological and moral quandaries. Those who came before us were not perplexed by such things, they knew if they were men or women, that marriage was designed to produce children, that food grew out of the ground, often from their own garden, and that drug (recreational or pharmacological) and alcohol abuse destroyed lives. Most had a firm belief in God, and a sense of moral rectitude, knowing what was right and wrong.

We no longer have a society with moral rectitude. The painful reality is, however, that “freedom” from essential truths that have been understood for centuries is not necessarily going to bring happiness. Belief in a Divine Creator, whose design for the natural world and the moral world was created to help humans flourish, begs that we put aside our secular constructions and consider the fact that the Divine design is better than the designs and experiments of the created.

A good book can spur many contemplations!

The Cost of Abortion as a Societal Norm

The decision to legalize abortion in 1973 was, and still is, seen as a triumph of women’s rights. In order to accomplish this feat of mental gymnastics, one must accept the fact that the rights of the born outweigh the rights of the unborn, that life does not start at conception (which has recently been refuted by a stunning discovery and recording of the flash that occurs at the moment of conception), that we are better off with fewer people on the earth (a form of population control, which is a foundational principle of abortion theory), and, ultimately, that human life is not sacred, that future generations are not a blessing, and that women are capable of giving birth at any age thanks to advances in science (by no means universally true).

After that exhausting series of leaps and bounds, ignoring the emotional, physical, and mental cost of terminating a pregnancy, some still insist that there is no price to be paid for accepting abortion. Even the 58 million lives lost since 1973 (far more than the Nazis managed to kill during WW2) aren’t enough to move the minds and hearts of many.

However, simple economics may make that irrelevant. 58 million fewer Americans means increased taxes for the surviving younger generations, since somebody has to pay. Fewer people in the workforce. Fewer productive individuals to support industry, agriculture, and business. It means America (to say nothing of Europe) does not have enough births to replace those who die each year, and this nation will gradually, or catastrophically (if we have too few people to defend our borders), disappear in the course of time. Quite a cost (Michael Swartz, “The Long-Term Effects of ‘Choice’ Come Home to Roost,” The Patriot Post at PatriotPost.us, May 13, 2016).

The lesson: Every choice in history has a cost and, ultimately, that price will be paid. No man or woman is an island, one choice becomes many and affects everyone.

Good Taste Doesn’t Have to Remain Dead: Book Review – ‘The Lost Art of Dress’

Image: Amanda Stiver

Image: Amanda Stiver

Title: The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish

Author:  Linda Przybyszewski

AS I BEGIN, let me say “thank you” to Linda Przybyszewski, the author of The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish for this splendid, well-written, thoughtful, humorous, opinionated, and important book. Splendid because it covers a topic I have sorely missed reading about outside my own collection of fashion and dress planning books from the first half of the 20th century – that is, common sense, modesty, and good taste in dress.

As an art history student, I was excited to read about how the “Dress Doctors” – professors, designers, lecturers, and authors, mainly female, of the Home Economist movement – applied the principles (harmony, rhythm, balance, proportion, and emphasis) of what makes “art” beautiful to the composition of dress. The beautifully accessorized outfits of the 30’s and 40’s, the hats, the gloves, the varied and unique dress colors. One look around at what the stores offer this Summer and I bury my head right back in The Lost Art of Dress. What’s happened to the expression, creativity, individuality and chic that was possible in the fashions of half a century ago?

According to the author, the 1960’s happened along with the feminist backlash to the Home Economist movement, which they decided stereotyped women. To add to the trouble the space race drew funding away from what was considered “non-essential” – the home, nutrition, parenting, beauty decor and dress, sanitation, food preservation and consumer standards and toward nuclear weapons and war – quite a trade-off.

The 60’s ushered in a rejection of art in dress for a sort of anti-harmonious cacophony of “expression.” Clothing lost the fine dressmaker details of the previous decades and one and all, young or old was expected to aspire to the same “youth obsessed” style.

WHAT I PARTICULARLY like about this book is the author’s willingness to be frank about what she thinks. So many social history topics are ruined by an author’s attempts to please everyone at once – even polar-opposite opinions! Professor Pski…, as she is known on her website….., teaches at the University of Notre Dame and states her case with verve, good taste, and humor. Along the way, as she delineates how the art principles of design apply to dress, she also informs us of an important piece of 20th century social history – the rise and fall of the Home Economist movement and the USDA. If your taste in clothing runs to garish, grunge, or short and tight you will probably disagree with the author, but you may nonetheless enjoy the history she offers.

The Home Economist movement, USDA, and 4-H programs brought “home-making” skills to millions of women, and it also provided the skill of dressmaking to thousands of women. This practical education became a means of making a respectable living, especially during the “make-do” era of the Great Depression. My grandmother was a product of this system and I can only begin to scratch the surface of the skills she had. Women have many education opportunities now, but it’s vital not to demean the education and wisdom of women in this past era – they were able to absorb a vital core of skills that no college or university offers now. We are clueless in their presence in many ways.

Another detail I appreciate about the book is the perhaps blunt, but common sense explanations the author offers for modesty. There is a spiritual element to modesty and most who feel the subject is important approach it from this perspective, but Pski offers an undervalued, but pragmatic explanation of why mini-dresses, sheers, tight clothes and exposed flesh are not particularly tasteful, and are extremely impractical. How does one maintains one’s dignity in a mini-dress, seriously? Thank you for explaining why modesty and good taste and style are not opposites, but all elements of a harmonious whole!!

SO PLEASE READ this book for many reasons, none the least of which, is that it is an extremely well written, fascinating, well documented example of historiography. It is a form to which good historians aspire.

Read it also if you are one of the many in our generations X, Bridge (of which I am one), or Millennial who love the styles, ensembles, and outfits of the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and wonder what principles of art and science made those styles so lovely. On a pragmatic note, with the concepts outlined in The Lost Art of Dress it is still possible to aspire to the good taste of those eras.

Finally, read it because the skillful and talented women who were products of the Home Economist movement (our grand and great-grand mothers) deserve a tribute to the abilities and skills they acquired and the contribution to society they made. Their resourcefulness and determination raised families, helped win wars, and achieved greatness in various professions.

Keep reading history!

– Amanda Stiver

At A Glance: The Wonders of the World Almanac

“Why do I love my World Almanac so? Because I can flip pages, take in a quick dose of information and add that to my appreciation of the world around me.”

Image: Amanda Stiver

Image: Amanda Stiver

IT TOOK me five years to buy a new one (a lapse of sanity, surely), but just the other day I purchased a copy of the The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2015. Now, at my fingertips and within a scan of my eyes is a mountain of interesting facts, statistics, and history that would take me hours to compile looking through Wikipedia or any of its iterations on the Internet.

Why do I love my World Almanac so? Because I can flip pages, take in a quick dose of information and add that to my appreciation of the world around me. It is a fast way to build my knowledge base. A base of information that goes into the scaffolding of my mind and allows me to understand and analyze trends, motivations, and history being made as we speak. Scope is the old fashioned word people used to use to describe this, or even “a wide knowledge of the world.” You get that from books like the Almanac.

TRIVIA. A lot of people think that’s what a book like the Almanac is for. But isn’t life really about the “trivia”? The little things that happen each day make up what become the trends of our lives. So, trivia, factoids, added together make history!

Speaking of history, the Almanac has a great review of world history in it’s “World History and Culture” section. If you need to build a timeline of history in your mind, and you find yourself frustrated when you can’t place this event or that one into perspective, then this brief review is very useful. Read it through, commit the different eras to memory and suddenly, seemingly random events that are going on in our violent, tragic, chaotic world right now will begin to make sense. (On a related note, reading the Bible with a similar mindset will also help to put the craziness of the world in perspective as well.)

THE ALMANAC makes great light reading or a handy reference tool. Add it to your arsenal of history, for personal learning or teaching. Not even the Internet can beat it for quick reference and a fast overview of a subject. One of those old school triumphs that never goes out of style! Keep thinking history! – Amanda Stiver

The Best Book of Biographies: Great Lives, Great Deeds

“We were knowledgeable enough to verify our information, reverent enough to respect the deeds of a hero without trying to deconstruct his every molecule, and still innocent enough to believe in heroic, altruistic, moral duty. We don’t live there anymore as a society and it would benefit us to look back at some of what was good about that era.” — Amanda Stiver

hat and artifacts on map

Image: Amanda Stiver

HAVING taken a break from talking history for a while, I come back in the midst of missing Malaysian airliners, war in the Crimea, tensions in the Israeli corridor, tragic shootings on a U.S. military base, ongoing economic sticky-messes, inept political leadership, earthquakes in California and Chile, and buffalo running a-muck in Yellowstone National Park… so more of the same, only different.

As always, or this site wouldn’t be called “HistoryGal,” I tend to look back to get a little perspective on the future. One of my favorite sources (parents and home-based teachers, this one’s a great resource) is a chubby collection of biographies by that superb purveyor of condensed books of old, Reader’s Digest. Titled Great Lives, Great Deeds it contains over 80 short biographies of famous individuals.

True enough, modern scholarship may make some of the information outdated, but generally the basics are accurate. Remember that all history rises and falls on the bias of those writing it, even current authors.

WHAT I love most of all about this book is the stirring way in which history was written. I consider it the golden age of American historiography (mid-20th century). We were knowledgeable enough to verify our information, reverent enough to respect the deeds of a hero without trying to deconstruct his every molecule, and still innocent enough to believe in heroic, altruistic, moral duty. We don’t live there anymore as a society and it would benefit us to look back at some of what was good about that era.

Of particular note in Great Lives, Great Deeds are the biographies of American revolutionary heroes. The account of Paul Revere, “The Midnight Rider,” by Esther Forbes is stunning. An excerpt, like much of Reader’s Digest material, it is from a larger work I have not yet read, but plan to. A very short sample:

“They who had so recently seen the stocky, benevolent old gentleman walking the streets of Boston could hardly have guessed that he was destined forever to ride a foaming charger, his face enveloped in the blackness of a famous night, to become in time hardly a man at all–only a hurry of hoofs in a village street, a voice in the dark, a knock on a door, a disembodied spirit crying the alarm–an American patriot who, on a moonlit night in 1775, started out on a ride which, in a way, has never ended,” (Great Lives, Great Deeds, Reader’s Digest Association, 1964, pg. 272).

THIS kind of history moves, the writing has electricity and it stirs us to greater devotions of our own, whatever the cause is to which we are devoted (we all need one by the way, preferably a good one). This kind of stirring writing is not unlike the Bible accounts of the great heroes, and sometimes anti-heroes, of the Israelite world and environs. When most people think of the Bible, they think of stories (hopefully not films like the recent non-version of Noah) and characters. This one did this deed, that one fought that war, this one stood up to this dictator, etc…

I like to talk about gateways to history. Interesting ways in which we can pique our curiosity and gain an appreciation for and desire to learn from history. Biographies are a fantastic gateway. They give you enough of a story flow to sink your teeth into, while still filling in historical details of one era or another that by the end of a biography you will find that you are somewhat of a burgeoning expert on a small section of the historical timeline!

SO if you can find a used copy of Great Lives, Great Deeds to add to  your shelf (it is out of print) then do so (it also makes a great bathroom reader). There are many other historical characters of note to get acquainted with like Winston Churchill, Simon Bolivar, Edith Cavell, Booker T. Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, Patrick Henry, George Washington… and many more.

Find a copy and make an exploration of history, person by person.

And as always–keep thinking history!

– Amanda Stiver

The Window of History

window

Image: morguefile.com/hamper

Sitting in my office I have a great view of the woods. I can see birds, cats, deer, my neighbors, lush deciduous trees, the change of seasons and the occasional fox or raccoon. My view out the window is never the same twice. It can be similar, but never an exact copy. A leaf moves, the clouds are different, the dappling of sunshine through leaves changes, and different creatures troll the yard.

I never get tired of peering out that window to see what’s below. Such variety is refreshing and I often turn to look out when I get filled to saturation with staring at the computer.

Window of history

In the same way I never get tired of peering through the window of history. Okay, sometimes I do get tired of the same historical subject. So I solve the problem, I rotate subjects. On the whole, though, I don’t get tired of history. I find that a trip back in time via a well written history book helps me to see the present more clearly.

According to the StrengthsFinder program this is a particular trait called “Context.” StrengthsFinder is a workplace personality testing program that helps users find out how to use their strengths in connection with others.

Context is the use of a knowledge of history to see how that past shapes people and events. The ultimate goal being to anticipate what may happen in the future. According to StrengthsFinder it is also a way of relating to other people by empathizing with how they came to be the way they are.

Thus history becomes a window into not only the past, but also the future.

Back to the future!

I have been on a recent stroll through the boulevard of history, peering into various centuries and cultures as I go. It’s really a form of historical tourism, only you learn stuff and don’t pay as much as you would for a third-rate hotel room assigned to you because of over-booking.

Since the beginning of the year I’ve been to ancient Greece, the American Civil War era, the Revolutionary War era, and I’m just beginning a look into the history of the City of Jerusalem. Each book is a window, allowing me to see into the past with an eye open to the potential of what may come in the future.

What have I learned?

People haven’t really changed much despite centuries and millennia of existence. The window dressing may be different, but human motivation, greed, lust, anger, jealousy… are still the same and they still are at the crux of what turns the tide of world events.

So what window of history will you peer through today? What will you see and how will it affect your understanding of the present and the future?

Keep thinking history!

– Amanda Stiver