With Good Reason

Red Ink
March 16th, 2013

mass-seal_14755_lgA common historical myth is that Native Americans were an “oral people” and did not engage in literacy. In his new book Red Ink: Native Americans Picking Up the Pen in the Colonial Period, Drew Lopenzina  (Old Dominion University) argues that Native Americans early on acquired the skills of reading and writing in an effort to strengthen their claims for sovereignty and to preserve their traditions. Also featured: In the movies, the American frontier is a lawless place. But historian Turk McCleskey (Virginia Military Institute) studied 18th-century court records and found that the first settlers of Virginia’s frontier actually took the law very seriously. And: We have a sense of what early America looked like. But Bonnie Gordon and Emily Gale (University of Virginia) ask: What did it sound like? From bawdy tavern songs to tunes commenting on Thomas Jefferson’s relationship with Sally Hemings, Gordon and Gale are uncovering the soundscape of early America.

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Steven Spielberg’s recent film, Lincoln, stirred up a lot of talk about what history sounded like. Spielberg even recorded one of President Lincoln’s pocket watches as a way to capture an authentic historical sound. Two Virginia scholars have spent years trying to fill in the gaps in musical history from early America—and they’re making strides. Allison Quantz has more.