Friday, July 29, 2022

7 Questions With Rebecca J. Johnston, Author of Not to Keep: A Brother's Story


Rebecca Johnston has a Bachelors in English and Modern European History and a Masters in English from the University of Texas at Tyler. Currently Rebecca is pursuing a doctoral degree from the University of Exeter while also serving as the Vice President of the Florida Hemingway Society. She has had academic articles published both nationally and internationally, and she has received research grants from the Hemingway Society and the JFK Library in Boston. Rebecca is an English Professor at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Florida, while living nearby on an island off the coast of Florida. 

1. How and when did you get hooked on history?

I have enjoyed reading historical fiction for as long as I can remember. That was the beginning of my love for history. When I was working on my undergraduate degree, I had an opportunity to
take a class on the First World War, followed by a class on the Second World War. My grandfather was born in 1895 and served in France in the First World War. I jumped at the chance to
understand the war of the grandfather I never knew. That class was all it took. I was hooked. I ended up earning a double major in English Literature and Language and Modern European
History. I decided which of those to make into a career by applying to graduate programs for both and seeing which accepted me.

2. What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?

History has played a tremendous role in my personal life. I am fascinated by history and love to read historical fiction and non-fiction. My love for history is closely tied to not getting the chance
to know my grandfather who was married to the world’s best grandmother. On the other side of my family, my grandfather served in the Second World War and his family was stationed in
Occupied Japan after the war. These personal connections fascinate me. I also remember spending summer days in my childhood out in the woods finding arrowheads and wondering
about the people groups who lived before me.

3. How does history play a part of your professional life/career?

Despite my rejection from the University of Florida’s graduate program (Go Noles!), I was able to ground my Master’s thesis in history with help from the wonderful professors in the English Department at the University of Texas at Tyler. While teaching English in Slovenia, my students told me Hemingway’s novel A Farewell to Arms was partially set in Slovenia, not Italy. I had to know more. This led me to researching the novel along the Italian Front of the First World War twice in person, thanks to grants and fellowships from the Hemingway Society. My current research,
which is working towards my doctorate from the University of Exeter, involves historically placing forgotten American First World War poetry. To this end, my doctoral supervisors are poetry expert
Dr Tim Kendall and historian Dr Catriona Pennell.

4. Why is studying/knowing history important?

We cannot know our county’s mistakes without studying history. Without knowing those mistakes, we are likely to repeat them. Also, as an English professor, I believe we cannot fully
understand classic literature without a solid understanding of the history and culture of the era it was written in. As a very basic example, how could we understand Paul Simon’s “Cecelia”
properly without knowing that Cecelia is the patron saint of music and musicians?

5. What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?

I love the history of the First World War. As I mentioned previously, much of the reasoning ties into my grandfather’s experiences. I also believe the twentieth century could be called a
one hundred years’ war. All wars of that century can be traced back to the First World War. How can we understand modern history without an understanding of what started so much of the
twentieth century? Furthermore, so many men came back from that war broken, changed, and misunderstood. They deserve to be remembered. Furthermore, without remembering them we will
not fully understand the generation that they raised.

6. How did you come up with the idea for Not to Keep: A Brother’s Story?

I was researching the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 for a presentation I was giving at Raul Villareal’s Hemingway conference at Santa Fe College in Gainesville. Hemingway mentioned the veterans who died in that hurricane in his novel To Have and Have Not. Hemingway helped remove bodies from the
trees and the water in the aftermath of the storm before the government was able to get help to the area. He was disturbed by the loss of life and the lack of governmental concern. I wanted this portion of history to reach a broader audience, and I believe historical fiction reaches more readers than non-fiction does. For years prior to my research into the hurricane, I had been running weekly with a Goldstar friend. I wanted to tell the story of a Goldstar family and have my readers feel and see what it is like to lose a family member and have the community move on from a loss the Goldstar family will never move on from. As there were also American Goldstar families in the First World War, I
combined the two ideas into one story.

7. What do you hope readers take away from Not to Keep?

I hope they walk away with a better understanding of Goldstar families and US veterans. I hope individuals, churches, and communities become more patient with those who come back different from the wars we asked them to serve in. I also hope they gain a fuller understanding of the horrible acts of Patton, Eisenhower and MacArthur in the Bonus Army and FDR’s role in denying a hurricane shelter to the vets stationed in the Keys.

Friday, July 22, 2022

7 Questions with Josh Ellenbogen, Art Historian and Intellectual Historian


Josh Ellenbogen trained as an art historian and intellectual historian. He teaches in an art history department at a research university in the United States. He focuses on the nineteenth century, the history of photography, scientific imaging, and historiography. His scholarship—of which Reasoned and Unreasoned Images and Idol Anxiety exist as books—principally concerns these areas. You can follow him on Instagram at rue.chemin.vert

  1. How and when did you get hooked on history?

For good or ill, it’s been this way my whole life. When I was a kid, my dad had a very large pre-Columbian art collection—Teotihuacan, Mayan, Aztec, et cetera. I have a vivid recollection from when I was around 9 of looking at one of the pieces, an Olmec object that consisted in the top half of a broken clay figurine, where only the head and arms and upper part of the torso remained (I still have the figurine). And I remember my dad commenting that it was 3,000 years old, and me feeling in awe of the thing for its sheer age. The fact it was a fragment only made the piece more powerful and evocative—it really looked like the trace of a lost world to me. Also, because of my dad’s interest in Pre-Columbian history and civilization, we went down to Mexico a lot when I was a kid, and clambered about the pyramids and visited the museums and such. I don’t want to overstate the importance of all this, of course. I didn’t focus on Pre-Columbian civilization at any point in my training, for instance, and I suspect my interest in history partly derives from more deep-seated sources (a therapist once told me that something like 90% of historians are oldest children, as is the case with me). But certainly, growing up surrounded by objects from ancient and alien cultures catalyzed my interest in history. 

2. What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?

Well, it’s destroyed a few relationships… Beyond that, because I’m an art historian, it has obviously contributed a lot to my ability to take aesthetic satisfaction in many things in the world. It also makes me travel a good deal, so I can see as much as possible of the things that people made and left behind. Before Covid, even though my research is all European and American, I was spending Summers in Shanghai mostly for this reason, so I could learn about China, and also travel around to Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, etc. These are some of the best places that there are, by the way, and I feel very lucky to get to go see them. I would like to die in Laos.

3. How does history play a part of your professional life/career?

I’m an art history professor. It is my professional life/career.

4. Why is studying/knowing history important?

It depends on what matters to you. If you want to produce some species of practical effect in the world—if you want to make money, or improve people’s lives in a material sense, or create new and better napalm—it’s not actually that useful. I know that “defenders of history” often try to contrive various sorts of instrumental justifications for studying the past, but that is mostly nonsense. The practical pay-offs are either non-existent, or could be as easily obtained without studying history, or are so marginal and indirect that they do not justify the existence of the endeavor. In the end, and I would insist on this point for all of the humanities, the study serves no external purpose at all, and is fundamentally its own end (some people will also tell you, incidentally, that this description applies to all the highest forms of knowing). To be blunt: you either find the story of the different ways in which humans have made the world meaningful for themselves—that is, the different ways in which humans have realized their humanity—interesting, or you don’t. I think the humans who don’t find this study interesting (the “new and better napalm” crowd) tend to be less successful humans, and my earlier comment about learning to take aesthetic satisfaction in things was meant to wave at this idea. But even here, that desirable outcome is not something separable from the activity of studying history, though I suppose I really mean “humanistic study most broadly”—it’s central and intrinsic to it.


5. What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?

As is the case with good men everywhere, the 19th century remains my favorite period. This was the period of time when humans were most fully and completely human. I can either write several pages on this idea, or you can trust me on this... I think you should trust me on this. 

6. You’ve studied in both the historical and art historical disciplines. How do they compare to each other?

Great question. In principle, there doesn’t need to be much difference between them, if we define both as centering on the study of how the world has become meaningful for humans. In that case, you would get to similar places, albeit by different means. Of course, both disciplines tend to fall pretty well short of the more lofty goals I ascribe to them, and so, as in most things academic, the real differences between the disciplines tend to the petty and squalid.

7. What do you hope readers take away from your Instagram account?

To never let their own lives fall into such a deplorable condition!

Friday, July 15, 2022

7 Questions with Ruth Hanson, Author and Screenwriter


Born and bred in SoCal, Ruthie had a passion for storytelling at a young age. Published at 19, she spent her 20's releasing queer romance books through three different publishing houses. Her book, "The Railwalkers," made the Screencraft's Cinematic Book quarterfinalists, and has since been adapted for a miniseries. She is the creator of "Ladies of Fortune," a retelling of Anne Bonny and Mary Read's history during the Golden Age of Piracy. 

1. How and when did you get  hooked on history?

I've always been a storyteller at heart, and history is really just a discipline of stories. As a kid, I was exposed to all sorts of old movies, music and books. My favorite novel of all time was an anthology of Robin Hood stories I randomly picked up from my mother's bookshelf. As an adult, I got involved with the SCA, or Society for Creative Anachronism, which is a massive reenactment/historical camping group that meets up for immersive camping events throughout the country.

2. What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?

As I mentioned, I am part of the SCA. Before this latest plague, I would go to giant camping events once a year to turn off my technology and just be with like minded people. There's a community amongst weirdos like us, and the memories I've made with fellow history nerds and/or depraved alcoholics with a passion for pole-arms are some of my most treasured. 

3. How does history play  a part of your professional life/career?

As a screenwriter and an author, history is invaluable. No matter what era, human behavior transcends time and culture. My western novel, The Railwalkers, was a very research heavy experience (which, as a nerd, I found part of the fun), but the reason why it became my best selling novel was because of the human element. My vigilante bandits are fake, but the pain, the joy, the love and the heartbreak they experience are very real, which can in part help connect with those readers who might not be as interested in the time period as I am.

4. Why is studying/knowing history important?

There is, of course, the classic answer to this. "Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it." And I think there is some truth to that. But on a less depressing note, studying history is, frankly, inspiring. If you're a creative, looking into a historical era you're curious about might just spark something amazing. And, often digging into more than just surface level public school history classes can also lead to some pretty validating facts, especially if, like me, you're a queer person. LGBTQ history has always been there, despite all efforts to erase us from the books. Trans folk have had footholds in Indigenous and Asian communities for centuries. Gay, bi/pansexual and asexual figures have always existed; some even holding astounding positions of power. And of course, there is a world of history outside the Euro-centric model that I could not even begin to cover.

5. What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?

As a kid, one of my obsessions to follow me into adulthood was the Golden Age of Piracy (specifically 1690's to about 1720's). I've spent my whole life collecting nuggets of information about everything from the larger than life players like Blackbeard and Morgan to the more mundane elements like the fact that most pirate ships had a salary and health insurance. The element of adventure is definitely a draw for me, but what really fascinates me about it is that, while it predates the American and French revolutions, it's the first exhibition of a kind of international rebellion, where those on the bottom find ways to defy the old world and its centuries of structure. It's one of the most misunderstood eras of history, in my humble opinion, and I've made it a personal mission to rectify that ❤

6.       How did you develop the concept of Ladies of Fortune and what is it?

Ladies of Fortune is a concept I developed all the way back in 2017, though I'd had the story kicking around in my head for ages. It's a retelling of Anne Bonny and Mary Read, two of the most infamous female pirates in history. While Anne and Mary are not new to media depictions, in my opinion, they've never been done justice, as they often fill out supporting cast or are pushed to the side entirely. When in fact, I believe, their story is one of the greatest ones out of the Golden Age. I became fascinated with them in particular during my dive into pirate history, and uncovering details about them also helped in understanding my own complicated identity as well. It is a deeply personal and sincere passion project, and I am so lucky to have found a small group of equally invested people to help make it a reality.

Currently, it is just a kickstarter. The intention is to film what is known as a "proof of concept," which is a scene from the pilot shot with actors/stand ins and polished up to look like something ready for television. We are extraordinarily fortunate to already have talent attached (and has been since day 1), Damien T. Gerard. Damien has been cast as the cruel and fearsome Ben Hornigold, whose story goes from navy man, to pirate, to pirate hunter. Currently, we are set to film a scene between him and his first mate, Jasper, where he first is presented the idea of taking a king's pardon to work for the crown. This scene was chosen for a few reasons, chief among them being it's a very cheap scene to film. However, there is another scene we would love to film more. Half way through the pilot, all four of our leads -- Ben Hornigold, Jack Rackham, Anne Bonny, and Mary Read -- meet for the first time. Tension brews as Anne and Hornigold square off, while Jack does his best to mediate, and Mary forms a plan of subterfuge. To film this scene, we would need nearly ten times the amount of our initial goal. But with how hyped people have been getting over the project so far, it seems doable!

7.       How can people help make Ladies of Fortune happen?

First -- donate~! We have some very cool rewards to offer, including signed scripts, commemorative coins, and Q&A sessions with the cast and crew.
But if you can't donate, share the link, engage with it on social media, tell your friends, all that jazz. And when it does get made, and if you like what we've done, keep cheering us on! We've got a long road ahead of us, but we are primed and ready to make that horizon!

Friday, July 8, 2022

7 Questions with Luana Graves Sellars of the Lowcountry Gullah Podcast


A native-born New Yorker, Luana Graves Sellars, moved to Florida, and discovered that she was really "a mis-placed Floridian," and knew that snow and nor’easter’s were not meant for her. At Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, she earned a degree in Journalism with a dual minor in Business and Black History.

With her degrees, she was not prepared to live on Hilton Head Island, one of the most culturally rich and historic areas of the South. The island motivated her to become a contributing writer for local magazines with a focus on Gullah culture, its history, people and native island issues by researching, documenting and publishing cultural legacies in an effort towards preservation. In 2021, she expanded  into visual media, by writing and producing cultural videos and documentaries. As the owner of Sankofa Communications, founder of the nonprofit(s) Lowcountry Gullah and the Lowcountry Gullah Foundation, a keynote speaker, writer, filmmaker, community activist and cultural influencer, she is sustaining and preserving Gullah culture for future generations.

1. How and when did you get  hooked on history?

History has always fascinated me and was one of my favorite classes since elementary school. In addition to American History, learning about Black History has always been important to my family, which eventually led to getting a degree in Black History.

2. What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?

Today, history has become a constant focus for me everyday, both professionally and personally. The work that I do documenting and preserving Gullah cultural traditions includes the history and in some cases genealogical research, which also lends itself to getting a chance to peek behind the curtain of someone’s past. As a result, my search into my own family lineage has merged into my work and my work has become a personal as well as cultural experience that offers motivation and inspiration for myself and my followers.

3. How does history play  a part of your professional life/career?

In order for me to document the Gullah culture, which is rooted in African traditions, it needs to begin with the history of the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade, which in turn blends the history and cultures of not only US history, but the history of several African countries. Lowcountry Gullah sole purpose is for future generations as it honors the past.

4. Why is studying/knowing history important?

The African proverb of the Sankofa says it best. Symbolized as a bird looking backwards towards an egg, it literally translates to San - go back or return, Ko - to go, Fa - to fetch. In other words, learning from the past is how to improve the future.

5. What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?

I would say, that the colonial period and specifically, Black History have always been my favorites. It has become really unexpected and coincidental that my work has become targeted towards the 400 years during slavery.

6.        How did the Lowcountry Gullah podcast come about and what’s a typical episode about? 

The Lowcountry Gullah Podcast is an extension of my writing as a Cultural Influencer. The website offers several options for people to receive and enjoy cultural information through articles, documentaries and video snippets on YouTube and now through the podcast. All of the podcast topics are focused on the Gullah culture, history and traditions as well as the current issues that effect it. Sharing the culture includes stories and interviews with interesting people who I call the Keepers of the Culture.

7.       What do you hope listeners take away from your podcast?

My hope is that people listen to the podcast and are able to grow into and learn about the culture. Unfortunately, as a consequence of slavery, most Black/African Americans don’t have a cultural identity or foundation. Daily, I encounter people who are unaware that they too are Gullah Geechee and are not familiar with their roots or all of the richly significant cultural contributions that are woven into American society. Lowcountry Gullah’s ultimate goal is to educate, inform and culturally ground current and future generations.

Friday, July 1, 2022

7 Questions With Shane Newell, Historian, Collector, and Game Developer


Shane Newell is the Senior Director of Real Estate for Baystate Health in Springfield, Massachusetts. He serves as Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Baystate Medical Office Building Association and as Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Pioneer Valley Federal Credit Union. Shane is also a historian, essayist, and art collector. He is the author of The Essential Guide To Stevens Decoys, Joseph Warren and the Boston Rebellion, and inventor of Franklin's Fortune deck-building game. 

1. How and when did you get hooked on history?

My interest in history began as a hobby enterprise – treasure hunting for valuable antiques in the mid-1980s. As I researched the things I found, I began to take interest in the story behind the objects. This became a love for both history and the artistic objects that lent physical and visual connections to the story being told. A single object can represent generations of human endeavor.

2. What role does history play or has it played in your personal life? 

I have a library of mentors and role models that help shape my thinking. I read historical biographies to learn about human nature because, while it is imperfect, it can be understood and predictable. Love, greed, fear, integrity, courage, and all the rest of human nature has been with us since creation. I believe we can learn more from studying historical lives than we can from historical events. Historical mentoring is most useful when the insight is applied to our own nature and patterns that we want to strengthen or overcome. 

3. How does history play a part of your professional life/career? 

My career as a corporate real estate executive may appear to have little relationship with history, but from history we can give context to our modern working life, our important communications, the business cycles we encounter, and human behavior.

4. Why is studying/knowing history important? 

Without history, being “in the moment” is meaningless, or it will be meaningless after the moment is over. Without history, we are in aimless spell. We confuse change, modernizing, smoothing, simplifying, and streamlining, with human progress – that being, ideally, the quest for human happiness. Yet, with all these conveniences and more, our society is no happier than it was 50, 100 or 200 years ago, perhaps much less. History teaches us that lasting happiness is born in a gritty connection to the earth, our personal and public trials over time, and doing something useful for others. Mobile devices and conveniences can’t offer the kind of happiness known by people for thousands of years, long before these recent inventions. The only way we can learn about lasting happiness is by understanding human history. When we value our past, we can be happy in the moment. 

5. What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?

I enjoy artistic and biographical interpretations of the American patriots from 1750 to 1800. I study the ideological constructs related to self-government. I find the time period most compelling and revealing of the American Spirit – the quest for enlightenment, common sense, liberty, resolve, justice, and having the courage to trust in the virtue of the People to govern themselves. It’s been a long and difficult road forged ahead by a special kind of unified hope for America.

6. What is Franklin’s Fortune and how did it come about?

Franklin’s Fortune is a deck-building game that I developed based on the works of Benjamin Franklin. Franklin knew that to learn, we must be involved.  This is the reason I decided to “gamify” Franklin’s timeless wisdoms. Few educational systems consider the value of balancing energy, experience, opportunities, wealth, courage, wisdom, persistence, and the virtue gain by overcoming obstacles. My game is designed for this purpose – to have real-life usefulness. Each game mechanic represents a guiding principle taught by Franklin. Many players have shared with me how Franklin’s Fortune has changed their outlook on life, realizing that success is simply balancing energy with meaningful pursuits. 

7. Like Franklin, you’re a man of many talents. Please tell us about a book or project or two?  

I think we all want to do something interesting, and that usually requires trying many different things. Franklin did many interesting things, and he was uniquely successful with all of them. My projects haven’t been commercially successful, but their purposes are served. My book about Stevens Decoys helped introduce this unique and indigenous folk-art to many types of collectors. My pamphlet, More Common Sense, is a reflective essay about modern society and administrative government. My book about Dr. Joseph Warren and the memorial art collection creates new interest about this astonishing patriot leader. At the outset of American Revolution, Joseph Warren was known throughout America, and dubiously feared in England. Today, only a few hundred people understand his important role as a Leader. I want to help restore his legacy with a project called The Joseph Warren Center for History and Leadership. I enjoy writing essays about these topics – along with an occasional personal, and amusing, story – on my website