Anne Kelly Knowles: With Digital Mapmaking, Scholars See History


History Buzz

Few battles in history have been more scrutinized than Gettysburg’s three blood-soaked days in July 1863, the turning point in the Civil War. Still, there were questions that all the diaries, official reports and correspondence couldn’t answer precisely. What, for example, could Gen. Robert E. Lee actually see when he issued a series of fateful orders that turned the tide against the Confederate Army nearly 150 years ago?

Now historians have a new tool that can help. Advanced technology similar to Google Earth, MapQuest and the GPS systems used in millions of cars has made it possible to recreate a vanished landscape. This new generation of digital maps has given rise to an academic field known as spatial humanities. Historians, literary theorists, archaeologists and others are using Geographic Information Systems — software that displays and analyzes information related to a physical location — to re-examine real and fictional places like the villages around Salem, Mass., at the time of the witch trials; the Dust Bowl region devastated during the Great Depression; and the Eastcheap taverns where Shakespeare’s Falstaff and Prince Hal caroused.

Like the crew on the starship Enterprise, humanists are exploring a new frontier of the scholarly universe: space.

Mapping spatial information reveals part of human history that otherwise we couldn’t possibly know,” said Anne Kelly Knowles, a geographer at Middlebury College in Vermont. “It enables you to see patterns and information that are literally invisible.” It adds layers of information to a map that can be added or taken off at will in various combinations; the same location can also be viewed back and forth over time at the click of a mouse…..READ MORE

Political Buzz Debt Ceiling Showdown, July 26, 2011: Democrats and Republicans Divided between Reid and Boehner Debts Plans with less than 8 Days to Debt Ceiling Deadline


By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor of History Musings. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.


U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is pictured alongside other Republicans as he speaks to the press about U.S. debt reduction talks on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 25, 2011. REUTERS/Jason Reed


Americans increasingly unhappy with Washington’s effort on jobs, poll finds: More than a third of Americans now believe that President Obama’s policies are hurting the economy, and confidence in his ability to create jobs is sharply eroding among his base, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Americans are also unhappy with congressional Republicans: 65 percent disapprove of the GOP’s handling on jobs, compared with 52 percent for the president.

“They can do far more. I do believe this plan is enough … I would ask all my colleagues, Democrat and Republican, to look a this common sense plan, this common sense way forward that will avoid default and put American fiscal house back to other.” — Speaker of the House John Boehner

“Republicans have offered the only proposal that attempts to get at the root of the problem — and which actually has a chance of getting to the president’s desk. That’s why we’ll continue to press for the legislation Speaker Boehner has proposed. And that’s why we’ll fight against anything that pretends to solve the problem but doesn’t. The Majority Leader proposed a plan yesterday that’s nothing more than another attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the American people” — Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

“History is scattered with the stories of those who held fast to rigid ideologies and refused to listen to those who disagreed. But those are not the Americans we remember. We remember the Americans who put country above self, and set personal grievances aside for the greater good. We remember the Americans who held this country together during its most difficult hours; who put aside pride and party to form a more perfect union. That’s who we need to be right now. The entire world is watching.” — President Barack Obama Address to the Nation, July 25, 2011

  • Boehner presses debt plan opposed by Democrats; IMF urges raise in debt limit: With a debt-limit deadline now a week away, House Speaker John A. Boehner pressed ahead Tuesday with a two-stage deficit-reduction plan that President Obama and most congressional Democrats reject, and the International Monetary Fund warned of “serious spillovers” worldwide if the U.S. debt ceiling is not raised.
    Responding to Obama’s appeal in a speech Monday night for Americans to contact their members of Congress to urge them to adopt his “balanced approach” to deficit reduction, callers flooded Capitol telephone circuits Tuesday morning, and several lawmakers’ Web sites — including Boehner’s — reportedly crashed Monday night as huge numbers of people tried to send them messages…. – WaPo, 7-26-11
  • McConnell disses Reid plan: Minority Leader Mitch McConnell joined fellow Republicans critical of Majority Leader Harry Reid’s plan to raise the debt ceiling, calling it “another attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the American people.”
    The Senate’s top Republican didn’t outline any specific objections to the plan, which calls for slashing $2.7 trillion over the next decade in exchange for raising the debt limit by a similar amount through the 2012 elections.
    But Republicans in both chambers have blasted a major provision in the bill which counts a $1 trillion in savings from winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, something they dismiss as an accounting “gimmick” since those savings had already been expected.
    Instead, McConnell said Republicans will push for a rival plan by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) that would raise the debt limit in two stages between now and early 2012
    “Republicans have offered the only proposal that attempts to get at the root of the problem — and which actually has a chance of getting to the president’s desk,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “That’s why we’ll continue to press for the legislation Speaker Boehner has proposed. And that’s why we’ll fight against anything that pretends to solve the problem but doesn’t. “The Majority Leader proposed a plan yesterday that’s nothing more than another attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the American people,” he added…. – Politico, 7-26-11
  • Boehner says his debt plan can pass House and Senate: House Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican in Congress, said Tuesday his two-stage deficit reduction plan could pass through the House and the Senate.
    Boehner is advancing a plan that would start with an initial $1.2 trillion in savings over 10 years, but would only increase the debt limit for a few months. Senate Democrats have proposed a single-step plan to raise the debt ceiling through 2012 that would reduce the deficit by $2.7 trillion over the next decade…. – Reuters, 7-26-11
  • GOP leaders seek to build support for Boehner debt plan: House Republican leaders tried to sell their deficit reduction proposal as the only “bipartisan” plan on the table, but acknowledged they don’t yet have the votes to pass the bill through the House.
    At a morning press conference, House Speaker John Boehner said despite some push back from high-profile House conservative he’s optimistic the House will pass the plan tomorrow.
    “I do think we have some work to do to get it pass but I think we can do it,” Boehner told reporters.
    If House Democrats remain largely united against the bill – as they claim they will – Boehner will need all but roughly 20 of his GOP members. Five Democrats already voted for a stricter version of the Boehner plan.
    Asked if the plan would do enough to calm the markets, Boehner emphasized that more deficit reduction would be coming later in the year when a committee devises a plan for at least $1.8 trillion in spending reductions.
    “They can do far more,” Boehner said. “I do believe this plan is enough … I would ask all my colleagues, Democrat and Republican, to look a this common sense plan, this common sense way forward that will avoid default and put American fiscal house back to other.”… – LAT, 7-26-11
  • What was accomplished in Obama and Boehner speeches?: President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner gave televised addresses Monday night that seemed to emphasize how far Washington is from a debt-ceiling deal.
    For weeks now, President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner have been speaking past each other at the negotiating table – unable to find compromise on a deal to trim the deficit and raise the national debt ceiling. Monday night, they continued that trend on national television.
    In separate primetime televised speeches, Messrs. Obama and Boehner told the country what has been well known for more than a month. The president wants Republicans to pass a bill that would compel the wealthiest Americans to “share in the sacrifice” of a deal through new tax revenues. The Republicans do not.
    It is, they both agree, a fundamental difference in how each views the political world. And yet on Monday night neither Obama nor Boehner offered an inkling as to how that gap is to be bridged before the federal government runs out of money to pay all its bills on Aug. 2. If anything, their speeches gave the impression of the two entrenching more deeply…. – CS Monitor, 7-26-11
  • Does John Boehner have the leverage in debt-ceiling crisis?: With a week to go until a potentially calamitous federal default, talks that began three months ago with an overt gesture toward bipartisanship appear to have ended in a high-stakes game of chicken.
    Both President Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner set their hot rods on a collision course Monday evening, with neither side showing much interest in compromise even as the clock continues to tick.
    Both men appeared to center the thrust of his appeals to the audience at home around the same set of political players, the insurgent Republicans in the House. To Obama, they represent irrationality and a failure to seek compromise for the good of the nation. To Boehner, they are a growing power base that must be courted if his plan has any hope to pass…. – LAT, 7-26-11
  • Web errors hit Hill after Obama, Boehner speeches: Shortly after President Obama’s address on the debt ceiling negotiations Monday night, problems were reported with the web pages of at least two Republicans, House Speaker John Boehner and Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota.
    An error message on Boehner’s site said “The web page cannot be found,” and Bachmann’s website said the “Server is too busy.”
    “There were temporary issues with sites hosted by outside vendors – many have been resolved,” a spokeswoman for House Administration Committee said. Both websites were operating normally by early Tuesday…. – CNN, 7-26-11
  • What the Obama-Boehner bond is (and isn’t): President Obama’s and House Speaker John Boehner’s best efforts to become collegial negotiators hit a roadblock Monday night, with Boehner delivering a speech that suggests all their work together in recent months has meant little to the current debate.
    Obama played a round of golf with Boehner last month, and earlier in the debt-limit talks he praised the speaker as “a good man,” but on Monday night, he appeared to have lost an ally, as the two descended on a very stiff deadline to extend the federal debt limit.
    Really, though, that’s reading too much into relationship they were supposed to have forged. And it’s also reading too much into their public posturing…. – WaPo, 7-26-11
  • Cool Obama meets hot Boehner in dueling debt ceiling speeches: President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, the two men at the center of the ongoing debate over whether to raise the debt limit, both addressed the country on the topic tonight. And that’s where the similarities between the two speeches ended.
    Obama was all cool reason — making a case for why passing the debt ceiling is necessary to keep the economy on firm footing and quoting the likes of Ronald Reagan and Thomas Jefferson to argue that compromise is part of being American.
    Boehner was all white hot passion — blasting President Obama for his “business as usual” approach to governing in Washington and repeatedly insisting that it was the president not the Congress who was standing in the way of debt limit deal.
    The wildly variant tones from the two men make clear not only the gap that remains between the two sides with just eight days remaining before the country defaults on its loans but also the differing constituencies at whom the speeches were aimed…. – WaPo, 7-26-11
  • Obama changes tone in public debate over debt ceiling: “Don’t call my bluff,” President Obama reportedly warned House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) during a tough bargaining session over the debt ceiling July 13. “I’m going to the American people with this.”
    It was no empty threat. As the high-stakes negotiations with Congress to avoid financial default Aug. 2 have bogged down, Obama has taken his case directly to the public with increasing urgency. This month, he has appeared in front of reporters at the White House briefing room four times, taken the stage before a friendly crowd of 1,200 in a town hall-style event at the University of Maryland and delivered a rare televised prime-time address to the nation Monday night from the East Room.
    The gambit is aimed at winning public support that could give him an upper hand at the negotiating table, though polls suggest Americans are frustrated both with the president and his Republican rivals.
    With each appearance, Obama has not altered his message as much as his persona: He verged from poised early in the process — the “only adult in the room” strategy aimed at contrasting him against a squabbling, childish Congress — to frustrated and emotional by the end of last week, when House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) abruptly left Obama “at the altar.” He returned to a more collected and determined demeanor Monday night, as he tried to leave the public with a lasting impression with just a week left until the deadline.
    Along the way, Obama has perhaps revealed more public emotion than he has during his 2 1/2 years in office…. – WaPo, 7-26-11
  • John Boehner Debt Ceiling Plan May Still Trigger S&P Downgrade: Report: Minutes before House Speaker John Boehner delivered a prime-time address in which he framed his latest deficit-reduction deal as a silver bullet for the nation’s economic uncertainty, reports surfaced that the plan being crafted by the Ohio Republican would potentially lead to a downgrading of the AAA credit rating of the United States.
    In an address that immediately followed the president’s own, Boehner argued that if the president were to merely sign into law his latest deficit-reduction bill — which slashes more than a trillion dollars in spending before requiring a second tranche of cuts and a second vote — “the ‘crisis’ atmosphere he has created will simply disappear.”
    It was a fairly bold selling of a plan that — in terms of both the size of cuts and structural reforms — fell far short of what the Speaker had been negotiating with the White House prior to those negotiations ending this weekend. It also was delivered with an unfortunate backdrop. Just minutes before Boehner spoke, CNN’s Erin Burnett relayed word from her sources on Wall Street that the newest Republican plan would not satisfy the credit rating agencies, which have soured on the idea of a short-term solution to the debt ceiling debate. Rather, it was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s approach (padded by counting the savings from the drawdown of troops from Afghanistan and Iraq) that would calm their nerves…. – Huff Post, 7-26-11
  • Washington Day Ahead: Obama, Boehner Draw Lines in Debt Debate: In separate televised remarks, President Barack Obama warned of economic danger ahead unless a compromise is reached before the Aug. 2 deadline for a possible U.S. default, while the U.S. House of Representatives’ top Republican, Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, said that he had made a “sincere effort” to work with the White House and that Republicans weren’t going to hand the president a “blank check.”
    President Barack Obama warned of a “deep economic crisis” without a compromise to avert an Aug. 2 U.S. default as he dueled Republican House Speaker John Boehner in back-to-back speeches on increasing the debt limit.
    House Speaker John Boehner often attacks the spendthrift ways of Washington. “In Washington, more spending and more debt is business as usual,” the Republican leader from Ohio said in a televised address yesterday amid debate over the U.S. debt. “I’ve got news for Washington — those days are over.” Yet the speaker, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell all voted for major drivers of the nation’s debt during the past decade: Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts and Medicare prescription drug benefits. They also voted for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, that rescued financial institutions and the auto industry…. – Bloomberg, 7-26-11
  • Treasury 10-Year Note Yields Rise to Two-Week High on U.S. Debt Deadlock: Treasury 10-year note yields touched a two-week high after speeches by President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner showed they still disagree on how to raise the borrowing limit.
    Yields on two-year notes fluctuated after matching a two- week high before today’s $35 billion auction of the securities. The difference between yields on 10-year notes and inflation- linked debt reached to the widest since May on concern the U.S. credit rating may be lowered. The dollar fell to a record against the Swiss franc….
    Obama warned in a televised speech yesterday in Washington of a “deep economic crisis” unless Republicans and Democrats can agree on how to raise the $14.3 trillion federal borrowing limit and find accord on reining in future spending. Boehner, an Ohio Republican, who spoke afterwards from the U.S. Capitol, said Obama was asking for a “blank check.”
    Earlier in the day, Boehner and the Democratic leader in the Senate, Harry Reid of Nevada, announced competing plans to raise the debt ceiling. Reid dropped Democrats’ insistence on tax increases, a move favored by Obama.
    Treasuries with the longest maturities will have the biggest declines if the U.S. loses its top-level debt rating, said Pacific Investment Management Co.’s Bill Gross, who manages the world’s biggest bond fund, in a Twitter posting…. – Bloomberg, 7-12-11
  • Obama argues debt case to nation Boehner rebuts in another speech as divide deepens, default looms: President Obama, reminding lawmakers “the whole world is watching,” exhorted them last night to break through partisan bickering and pass a comprehensive budget deal that protects Americans from the pain of a government default in one week.
    The prime-time address to the nation came hours after House and Senate leaders released dueling plans that promised to spark days of battles between the chambers and within the parties. No clear path to a resolution emerged….
    Republicans appear to be hoping that their plan will be the only viable one still standing as the deadline of Aug. 2 for a government default approaches.
    “If you get to the 11th hour and you actually have some legislation that’s doable – if there’s not a lot of time for negotiations – it really puts pressure on Obama,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor at Princeton University…. – Boston Globe, 7-25-11
  • Boehner introduces debt plan, says can pass Senate: House Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican in Congress, introduced a new plan on Monday to approve an increase in the debt ceiling based on the principles of the “cut, cap and balance” plan that can pass in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Boehner said it would be irresponsible for President Barack Obama, a Democrat, to veto the Republican debt plan…. – Reuters, 7-25-11
  • Challenging Obama, House GOP unveils new debt bill: In a blunt challenge to President Barack Obama, House Republicans drafted legislation Monday to avert a threatened Aug. 2 government default — but along lines the White House has already dismissed. U.S. financial markets shrugged off the uncertainty.
    “Compromise has become a dirty word,” Obama lamented as congressional leaders groped for a way out of a looming crisis.
    According to a GOP aide familiar with the emerging House bill, it would provide for an immediate $1 trillion increase in the government’s $14.3 trillion debt limit in exchange for $1.2 trillion in cuts in federal spending.
    The measure also envisions Congress approving a second round of spending cuts of $1.8 trillion or more in 2012, passage of which would trigger an additional $1.6 trillion in increased borrowing authority.
    While the bill marked a retreat from legislation that conservatives muscled through the House last week, the two-step approach runs afoul of Obama’s insistence that lawmakers solve the current crisis in a way that avoids a politically charged rerun next year in the middle of the 2012 election campaign…. – AP, 7-25-11
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