Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Enjoy History 2015: Year In Review

At the beginning of the year, we made plans to enjoy history more throughout the year. We shared the challenge and invited people to join us in enjoying history more in 2015. Now that the year is coming to a close, let's look back at a few of the highlights from our enjoy history challenge. 

Visit a Museum or Historic Site

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Beer Jellies

By Jeff Burns

There is an old saying:  Beer is liquid bread.  There’s no doubt that beer has been just as important in history as bread, and just as ubiquitous.  Beer was first brewed thousands of years ago by ancient Mesopotamians and Egyptians, and some form of beer or cider has been commonly consumed by people of all ages in cultures around the world ever since, more commonly consumed than water in some places and times. In the United States, there’s been a huge boom in homebrew and craft beer making, and beer lovers have more choices than ever before.  So, when my wife and I first saw jellies made from beer at an event a few years ago, it made sense.  We make jellies from fruit juices, why not beer jellies?   Fortunately, fellow Histocrat Margaret Duncan and her husband David are homebrew hobbyists and graciously offered to supply varieties, including historic recipes like a porter from 1744and a pilsner from the early 20th century, for our experiments.

We experimented and tasted and sold our products at farmers markets.  They taste good and attract a lot of attention because they’re unique.  They’re great on bread, just like fruit jellies and jams, but I’ve also used them extensively in cooking, adding them to sauces and chili and for marinating and grilling vegetables, seafood, and meats.  Whenever we find something different in a beer or cider, our first thought is “what kind of jelly would that make?”

When we started, we read a few blogs and looked at some recipes, and I came up with a basic recipe that seems to work for all types of beer and for hard ciders as well.  (I would also use the same recipe for soft drinks.)  Some beer jelly makers add various ingredients and spices to complement the beers’ flavors, but ours have been pretty simple so far.

How do you do it?  You need two regular bottles or cans or one big bottle, 1 box of pectin, and 3 cups of sugar. As with any canning process, you start by sterilizing and preparing jars and lids.

You need a deep stainless steel pot. The beer will make a fast and furious foam, and the cooking part is very quick. If you don’t give it your full attention, you’ll end up with beer foam all over your stovetop and a great beer-y smell throughout the kitchen.  In the pot, mix the beer and pectin.  Bring to a boil, constantly stirring.  When it’s a rapid boil, add the sugar, bring back to a boil for a minute, and you’re done.  Ladle or pour it into the jars and process for 10 – 15 minutes.  Most of the time, you skim the foam off the top before putting jelly into jars, but I leave the foam on beer jellies.  That means pouring takes a little longer, but the jars look like they have suds on top. After processing, it has to set. The setting time varies. Setting is often the bane of jellymakers.  Some jellies firm up quickly, some don’t, and some have to be re-done.  Generally, I’ve found that ciders work well, and lighter beers might take longer than stouter beers.

As far as taste goes, the jelly is remarkably true to the beer or cider, and of course the alcohol content is cooked off in the process, leaving the flavors behind.  Try making your own or check your local farmers market; I bet you’ll find a vendor.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Making History Relevant

By Jeff Burns

In the fall of 2013, when the four Histocrats got together to form our group and to embark on our journey, our mission was to share our own love of history in all of its forms with the public at large.  Of course we had no idea how large or small our “public” would be, maybe just a few of our friends and family members.  However, that didn’t matter.  We wanted to continue our relationship, cultivated as colleagues sharing great history experiences through participation in Teaching American History grants over the course of a decade.  We’ve been humbled by the response and opportunities we’ve received thus far, and we have discovered that there is both a great audience and a great need for history and history education.

We have just become aware of the History Relevance Campaign (HRC) first informally organized in 2012 by historians and historical organizations with the purpose of engaging in conversations about ways to make history and history education more relevant in Americans’ lives.  Wait, that’s not really stated correctly, is it?  I mean, if you are reading this, chances are that you already believe in the relevance of history.  I guess a better way to say it would be “to make Americans more aware of how incredibly relevant history is to their everyday lives.”

We see the need for more historical awareness every day, in man on the street interviews and polls that expose our fellow citizens’ ignorance and in the blatant misuse and misinterpretation of history by politicians, entertainers, businesses, and the media.  HRC's 7 point statement, Value of History, emphasizes the role history plays in our lives and our communities. History is essential to personal identity and the development our communities. People and places grounded in historic knowledge are better prepared to approach the future.

Are you interested in getting involved in the History Relevance Campaign? Check out their website and toolkit. You can find ways to get involved. The Impact Project is just one of many opportunities. What will you do to promote history?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Give Thanks

As Thanksgiving approaches, the American annual tradition of reflection continues. This is both a personal act and a national act.   The history of this tradition has its roots in New England. Pilgrim Hall Museum, America’s Museum of Pilgrim Possessions, organizes a collection that tells the story of origin and history of Thanksgiving. The collection of presidential proclamations online is a unique glimpse into the past.
The tradition of issuing a proclamation for Thanksgiving dates back to the Continental Congress. The modern tradition of Thanksgiving Proclamations dates to the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. Since Lincoln, a presidential proclamation has announced the modern holiday. No matter the challenge Presidents have taken a moment to express gratitude for the blessings enjoyed.  This holiday take heart from the words of Presidents, past and current, and have a happy peaceful holiday.

 “We have not lost our faith in the spiritual dignity of man, our proud belief in the right of all people to live out their lives in freedom and with equal treatment. The love of democracy still burns brightly in our hearts.”
-Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1941

“We give thanks with the humility of free men, each knowing it was the might of no one arm but of all together by which we were saved. Liberty knows no race, creed, or class in our country or in the world. In unity we found our first weapon, for without it, both here and abroad, we were doomed. “
-Harry Truman, 1945

“All about us, doubts and fears threaten our faith in the principles which are the fiber of our society; we are called upon to prove  their truth once again. Such challenges must be seen as opportunities for proof of these verities; such proof can only strengthen our Nation.”
-Richard Nixon, 1970

“I encourage the people of the United States to join together — whether in our homes, places of worship, community centers, or any place of fellowship for friends and neighbors — and give thanks for all we have received in the past year, express appreciation to those whose lives enrich our own, and share our bounty with others.”
-Barack Obama, 2015


Obama, Barack. "Presidential Proclamation -- Thanksgiving Day, 2015." The White House. The White House, 20 Nov. 2015. Web. 24 Nov. 2015.

Thanksgiving Proclamations. Pilgrim Hall Museum. Pilgrim Hall Museum, 13 Dec. 2012. Web. 24 Nov. 2015.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Great Thanksgiving Listen

By Jeff Burns

I have large southern families on both sides.  My father is one of 10 siblings, and while my mother only had one brother, her mother was the oldest of eleven, and their ages were such that she basically grew up as a sibling, not a niece.  Both of my parents are now deceased. Just recently, I served as a pallbearer for my 95 year old uncle, the last of my father’s generation.  My mother’s younger brother died this summer, and of the eleven in my grandmother’s generation, three survive.

 The Burns siblings (9 of them anyway), with my father on the far right. 
It is the only photo of all or almost all that I have. Taken 1984

My mother’s grandparents and their 11 children. 
My grandmother is on the far right.
Only known picture of them all together.Taken 1946.

Although we often had family reunions and were closer than many families, I don’t have much from my grandparents and beyond. They were generally poor working people just getting by, farmers and sharecroppers.  They didn’t have much in the way of belongings to pass down, and they weren’t great picture-takers or letter-writers or diarists. As an adult and especially as a history teacher, I regret that I didn’t engage them more about their lives and memories, and I bet most readers of this blog have similar feelings.

We recently shared a post on Facebook about a new initiative launched by StoryCorps called The Great Thanksgiving Listen, encouraging people to engage and interview their elders during the holiday season this year.  This is a great idea.  Give it a try.  Whether you submit the results to StoryCorps or not, you will learn something.  And don’t think it’s just for Thanksgiving.  You can do it anytime, with relatives, neighbors, or anyone else.  So, get out and DO history!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Repurposing Vintage Objects into Something New

By Jeff Burns

They are as much a part of fall as football, pumpkins, and turning leaves: Fall Festivals.  Nearly every weekend, schools, churches, and communities host festivals, and craftspeople and vendors come from all over to sell their handiwork. 

If you are a fan of history like we are, you are probably a fan of old things and of repurposing old things.  Fall festivals are a great place to discover repurposed things, vintage objects transformed into something else for your home or something to wear, or things made to resemble vintage things. Here are a few things we’ve seen in our area festivals this fall.

I’ve previously blogged about my wife’s craft, Patchwork Revival. We find vintage fabrics and unfinished quilt tops and squares at estate sales and other places, and she makes them into placemats, potholders, table runners, teddy bears, and bags among other things.  At every festival and show, we run into people who have something started by a grandmother but never finished.  These are fabrics from the 1930s to the 1960s and even earlier.

Bottle trees fashioned from rebar. While it’s not necessarily repurposing, it’s an old idea.  Bottle trees or “haint” trees have been around for ages and have an interesting History. The idea is that old bottles are put on tree branches to frighten and trap evil spirits.

Another vendor offered angels made out of old hymnals.

Photo and poster reproductions become new home d├ęcor.

Colorful baskets made in the traditional Gullah/Geechee/Low Country style that was brought from Africa

Chimes made from vintage silverware and from old glass bottles

New cloche hats, 1920s flapper style

These are just a few of the great finds in my area. Go out and explore yours, and enjoy a few funnel cakes on the way!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Discovering All Things Japan at JapanFest Atlanta

By Margaret Duncan, Ed.D.
Domo (NHK Mascot)

“Youkoso Nihon E.” Welcome to Japan!

Maneki-neko (Lucky Charm)
Every year JapanFest takes place in the northern suburbs of Atlanta.  This is a great festival that allows visitors to learn about all things Japan, from history to anime to culture to cuisine.  At JapanFest, visitors can really get a close up look at Japanese culture by sampling authentic Japanese food, playing games, viewing martial arts demonstrations, attending traditional performances and workshops.  Attendees can also buy plenty of items from collectables to art to nick-knacks to food to Anime.  As a parent of girls who love Anime (Japanese animation) and all things associated with Japanese culture, attending JapanFest has been an activity we look forward to each and every year.

 Murata Boy Bicycling Robot                                                

At its core, JapanFest is all about improving the understanding and appreciation between the Japanese people and Americans.  As such, the festival is a two day celebration that promotes multicultural education.  Indeed there are a number of stages and workshops that show off various aspects of the Japanese culture.  During the weekend, I had a chance to learn about Sake in Sake 101, learn about making sushi, learn the different aspects of Japanese cuisine from an award winning chef, and sample quite a bit of Japanese food and drinks. 

In order to showcase a variety of performing arts, JapanFest has several stages that offer a number of performances and demonstrations.  Attendees can view a Taiko Brum show.  Taiko Brum is a broad range of Japanese percussion instruments played as an ensemble. We also watched a Samurai show—and even learned to be a Samurai at a boot camp.  The various stages also hosted an acrobatic top spinning, jazz guitar and J-Pop performances.  J-Pop is the mixing of traditional Japanese music with foreign pop and rock music.  It can also have heavy Anime ties. We also had the chance to traditional archery, try on traditional dress (kimono) and paint a Hakata (traditional Japanese clay) doll.

                          J-Pop Performer Junko Fujiyama         Jazz Guitarist Hiroya Tsukamoto
JapanFest has always had an anime element with vendors and a video room.  Initially, this is why we started attending the festival years ago.  However, this year the festival partnered with MomoCon, the fastest-growing anime convention in the country, to create an Anime Village. Within the village you could shop for all types of anime products, Japanese snacks and drinks.  Visitors could even play a variety of Japanese video games and/or participate in a number of cosplay events.  The Anime video room was expanded and not only offered a lot of anime to watch, but there was also trivia contests with giveaways. 

Re-Discover Japan Street & Celebration
The addition of the Anime Village allowed for visitors to be spread out over more area.  No doubt the festival was still congested in areas but it was manageable.  The village also allowed for new vendors in the exhibit hall.  New this year was a Re-Discover Japan Street.  This area allowed for several Japanese cities and traditional arts to be showcased. Overall, there was such a variety at the festival that there was plenty to do for all visitors, no matter the age or interest!