• November


    Diaries and Journals?

    I had a document sitting on my desk the other day that I was due to return to the owner.  This document was in a plastic bag to help protect it and well… it got me thinking.  One of the things that I’ve found myself repeatedly accessing, when conducting research for the show, are the diaries and journals of those who made history or were a witness to it. The people who wrote these documents confided their most personal private thoughts and feelings, many times including their emotional hurts.

    In most instances these historical records were not written with an eye toward the future. I wonder if these people would be horrified to learn that their diary or journal had been reproduced, sold on Amazon or kept in a University library for anyone to peruse. Would they be upset, angry or flattered? Some obviously would not mind, though others I suspect would be terribly embarrassed… maybe even a little hurt. 

    From a historical research perspective, I am extremely grateful to be able to have the privilege to access these documents.  It helps me better understand what these people went through, endured and witnessed.  I feel it opens an unfiltered window to the past and helps me to get to know them better. 

    In a previous blog I wondered about the loss of the art of writing.  Perhaps it’s time we all kept a diary or journal.  Maybe one day in the far far future a historian or researcher will get just a little bit excited over one of ‘our’ journals. I’ve experienced that excitement myself.  Wouldn’t it be fantastic if they found something of value to help them better understand us and our time period? 

    I’m thinking that tonight… after my recording session… I will take a little time to write about my day.  Maybe you should as well…

  • October


    Charitable Ventures and Community Servic

    This morning my wife told me that she is beginning to organize her annual Care Package Drive for the troops in Afghanistan.  She did this last year with her Mom’s Group.  She belongs to four or five… basically they get together throughout the week and do activities with the kids, have play dates, hit the park, etc.  They are highly organized and have committee meetings.  It’s really a neat thing and until we had kids I never knew this subculture existed.  :P  Some of you out there who have kids may know what I am talking about.   Some may not.  Look them up on the web.  They are everywhere!

    Anyway one of the groups decided they wanted to introduce the kids to community service and the idea of giving back to the community… i.e. working on food drives, helping needy families, etc.  Each Mom organized one event or activity. 

    My wife chose organizing care packages for the troops in Afghanistan.  The Moms worked hard and collected items like chips, soda, books, wet wipes, basic needs items, DVDs, etc.  Then the group held a play date in our basement and assembled the items into care packages for random company sized units. The kids made cards, and also included disposable cameras and return envelopes. It was a great activity and I am extremely proud of my wife for organizing it.

    I don’t care if you are for or against the war… that is beside the point.  We have family members who were deployed and from what I understand Afghanistan is a pretty terrible place to be.  From an American perspective I thought the activity was great in that during the holidays far from home and probably very lonely… some troops would get a little something from someone back home that says “hey we care and we’ve not forgotten you.”  Working with the USO we delivered the packages to the Philadelphia airport and off they went. 

    Let’s be brutally honest… for most of us throughout the year, too often we only think of ourselves. Perhaps this time of year is a good excuse to think of others. My wife’s comment about beginning to organize got me thinking this morning.  For us, the Holidays are approaching. There are a great many people in need, especially now with this terrible economy.  Individuals and families are hurting.  I know that based upon the website reporting package a great many people hit the website daily.  We may only have a few people who joined the forums but we have a lot of lurkers.  I thought that besides being just a fan or history and sharing my passion I might encourage others to perform community service and or get involved with charitable ventures.  There are a great many people hurting out there.  Even little things can help.  Last year we adopted 2 families for the Holidays.  One family was local and the other was in Center City Philadelphia.   One was through a Church (of which we are not members) and the other was through the Salvation Army.  The one in Philadelphia broke my heart.  The father had just been killed leaving 2 extremely little children.  Tough stuff...  To top it all off my wife also organized a toy drive and for weeks our garage was full of toys!  It makes me feel good to know that last year we, as a family, made a number of random people feel good… demonstrating that others cared.

    The point I am trying to make is that you too can make a difference in someone’s life by giving.  If you are unable to give financially… then give a part of yourself your time.  Volunteer at a soup kitchen, cleaning someone’s house, visiting the elderly in a nursing home, etc. If we all give back a little I am confident we can make this world a better place. 

    Note:  I am going to temporarily get rid of the Alternative History forum… Yes I know as I say in the show… the “What if’s are amazing.”  The truth is no one is using that forum yet… so if you have a “what if” post it under History in General.  This new forum will be: Charitable Ventures and Community Service

    I would like to hear what you have done or plan to do.  Help give others ideas or post charities you think are worthwhile. 

  • August


    Everyone Has a Dream

    I smiled to myself after I left the recording studio.  I had just recorded the final episode of the Shot Heard Round the World.  It had taken me more than 2 years to get to this point. It was with a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment that I climbed into my car. I had just fulfilled one of my dreams.  I had done something that I considered extraordinary.

    A little background…  I am an avid fan of podcasting.  One day while listening to another History show I thought to myself… ‘hell I could do that.  I used to teach like that.’   An idea or really more of a dream was born that day. 

    I have always had an intense passion for history.  Whenever I walk into the bookstore the first area I hit is the History section. On my nightstand you can always find at least one (usually there are more) book on history. I regularly read in bed for about an hour each night.  I will admit a bit bashfully that I drive my wife a tad crazy doing this. She wants to sleep.  I want to unwind reading. I could read on the couch in the living room before coming to bed each night but I find the bed is more comfortable. Stubbornly I do a lot of my reading there. The light stays on and the argument continues.

    Months passed and the idea to podcast continued to nag at me, especially whenever I listened to one of my favorite history shows.  Life at the time was exceptionally fast paced.  I had and still have a high stress job that keeps me very busy.  At the time I had a budding family with a one year old running around at home. We were also expecting our second child. Between work and home there never seemed to be any real free time. In addition, there were tons of questions and potential roadblocks.  Could I afford to produce and host an online show?  Would the show could be successful?  Would people like it or find it interminably boring?  When would I find the time to do this? These thoughts troubled me.   

    Then one day while driving to the Jersey shore, my wife and daughter were asleep, I suddenly came to the conclusion that I was making excuse after excuse. For months I had been making excuses to myself or coming up with reasons why not do the show. I don’t like making excuses. I resolved then and there that I was going to become a podcaster.  I would make the time to do the show. I nudged my wife awake and told her of my resolution. Duly impressed she promptly went to back to sleep. 

    Over the next two weeks I began serious planning for the show. I decided I would select a topic that would fit within a 40 minute time block. I needed to pick something that people would find interesting. I also set myself the goal that I wanted my listeners to come away having learned something.  I would talk with passion, like how I used to teach.  I made the decision that I would give the listeners an opportunity to hear divergent opinions especially where historians disagreed.  I wanted to allow my listeners to form their own position. I also resolved to give my opinion when I felt it pertinent.

    When I picked Lexington and Concord as my topic I thought how much material could there be?  I learned very quickly as I began my research that my first topic was not so simple and easy to talk about, especially if I wanted to tell the story behind the story.  I purchased and read a wide number of books and accounts.  I needed to dig deeper and I did.  I contacted specialized libraries around the country and began to get much more detailed information, including firsthand accounts. Reading these accounts I began to get a sense for what it was like for those who lived and fought in 1775. I made several trips to the battlefield.  I walked it.  I made sure I looked around to get a picture how things went down… how terrain shaped events.  In short I wanted to know as much as possible so that when it was time to record I would be ready to tell the tale of what happened and not just offer a boring regurgitation of what someone could easily read online in 10 minutes. I wanted to paint a picture of the people, what they were like, how things went down and what they endured.  In short I wanted my listeners to smell the powder smoke and feel the tension on both sides.  I also wanted to provide an objective view of what happened.  I tried very hard not to favor either side… though I will admit I had some favorite people that I gave a little extra attention to… call it the host’s prerogative. Looking back now, it is a bit humorous how I started out with a goal for a 40 minute show on one subject and ended with over 6 hours of recorded time.

    The show took a lot of energy, effort and time to put on.  Most of the work for the show was completed late at night while my family slept or by sacrificing what little free time was available to me.  Simply put it took a lot of dedication. It was work.  I learned a lot about myself doing the show.

    Whether listeners liked the show or not was very important to me.  I was giving it my best shot.   I wanted my listeners to love the show, however I resolved that whether the show was well or poorly received there would be no regrets.  I was doing something that was important to me. Call it a life goal. It mattered to me and when completed I would be able to say I did something original…. Something that I could point to and say, “yeah I gave it a good shot!”

    So, was it worth it?  Yes, doing the show was very worth it. Whether you love or hate the show it was worth it to me.

    I think that based upon the response via email I have succeeded in achieving my goals.  Listeners from all over the world have emailed and corresponded with me, sharing ideas, thoughts, opinions, constructive feedback.  I have not gotten one piece of negative mail but mostly extremely positive feedback from listeners who loved the show. This is one my favorite emails and I would like to share it with you:


    I wish I could bottle your enthusiasm for history and dispense it to all our cadets. :)

    Good luck!

    Lance Betros
    Colonel, U.S. Army
    Professor and Head
    Department of History
    United States Military Academy
    West Point, New York 10996

    So why am I telling all this? Why am I laying everything out on the table? It’s simple.  I had a dream of doing a podcast, a dream that was important to me. After dragging my feet and making excuses, I finally grabbed the reigns, set aside the time and made my dream a reality. If I can do it, then so can you.

    If you have a dream of doing something that is important to you, my recommendation is to not let life pass you by.  I fully encourage you to reach within yourself and regardless of excuses or foot dragging work to make your dream a reality.  Do something extraordinary.

    Fulfilling one’s dream is not always easy.  Most times it is downright hard work.

    Oh… and a side note:  I have another dream of one day writing a novel. I’m in the process of fulfilling that dream also.

    I would love hear from you.  Please post on the forums or email me directly.




  • July


    The Fading Art

    A week ago I saw a news story where an elderly man had received a love letter over half a century after it was originally sent. Delayed only in delivery, the letter was in mint condition. 

    Well, this story got me thinking. I regularly read accounts of people long lost to the passage of time and when reading their letters and diaries I try to imagine what life was like for them? I attempt to read between the lines and get a feeling for what they lived through. Their personal letters and diaries offer an unguarded view into the past… and more importantly a look into their daily lives which tells us a lot about the world they lived in.

    I tried and simply cannot remember the last time I mailed someone a handwritten letter that was not a bill.  Perhaps in the early 90s? 80s? 

    In our modern age of brief rapid fire emails and 24/7 availability by cell phone have we lost something important?  Have we lost the art of the letter? 

    What I wonder about is this… What will historians of the future (say a thousand years from now) study to learn about our culture today and the world we lived in? How will they ‘read’ between the lines?  Obviously, if available and accessible they will study our News Broadcasts, TV media, and online content including blogs, news and email. Will digital records survive that long?  Is such a thing possible?  I don’t know.  Will a future archeologist’s ‘dream’ be discovering a Western Digital hard drive with an email account or perfectly preserved iPod/MP3 player complete with podcasts and music in an ancient land fill?  How will they learn about who we were?  It’s kind of interesting to ponder such things. 

    In studying old letters and diaries you notice something you don’t often see in emails, blogs, news or public statements… unguarded and genuine thoughts and feelings of those who wrote them.  Will future historians discover that with the digital age not only did ‘they’ lose something important but we did too?  Letter writing and diaries seem to be a fading art and I find that, from a research perspective, to be tremendously distressing. 

  • March


    Adams, Americans, Beer and History

    I have always found it interesting and a little amusing (in a sad way) that when Samuel Adams is mentioned many Americans think of beer first and the Revolution second. And as a student of mine once said in a class, “He made great beer.”

     To be honest the beer is quite good… I enjoy it, but why would we today not remember someone who many historians consider to be the “Father” of the American Revolution?  When the Revolution is brought up most remember some of the more famous founding fathers such as John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams… the list goes on. 

    Sam Adams was probably the man most singly responsible for shaping the events that took place on April 19th, 1775.  He was the first who recognized that liberty for the colonies meant a break from the mother country and a break meant a fight. He well knew Englandwould not idly give up her possessions and Sam set about working toward his vision of liberty. 

    Many have branded him as a man who was a wild radical stirring up the mob and relying upon mass violence to achieve his ends, however this is far from a true characterization of Adams. He was definitely involved with the mob to achieve his ends, however he was more than that… and was clearly a tireless political advocate and worker.  He seems to have displayed a deep intuitive understanding of others’ motivations and he was not afraid of allowing others to take credit for his inspiration or ideas thinking that his ideas were theirs. He was a brilliant manager, motivator and promoter. He made himself available to attend meetings, rallies day or night… rain, sleet, ice or snow.  He wrote highly thoughtful articles, letters, petitions and pamphlets based upon heavily reasoned arguments in favor of his chief cause… liberty. His readers were literate… educated… many incredibly well read or self-educated and his writing enticed the interest and attention of the likes of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Payne, Benjamin Rush and many others.  Thomas Jefferson aptly named Adams… quote “the Patriarch of Liberty!” 

    Sam directly organized committees of correspondence throughout the province and other colonies to collaborate and share information and this alone allowed many people from distant and disparate colonies to really share information and communicate for the first time.  Up until this point many people’s world revolved around their little community, some isolated and or insulated from the outside world others not. These committees of correspondence began many Americans thinking about more than just their community or state identity. An idea slowly began coalescing that they were in the same boat together… they were not just New Yorkers, of Virginians, New Englanders, etc… but Americans.  Without Sam this may not have been possible.  Of course a portion of the population disagreed and hence the reason why the American War of Independencewas really a terrible and brutal civil war. 

    Today, unlike many of the founding fathers we Americans have come to honor… Sam Adams in a way slipped off into obscurity.  We do not think of him as one of the principal leaders who brought about the revolution. I think it is sad that Paul Revere is more recognized than Sam Adams and today we associate beer with him or think of his better known cousin John, when all along it was Sam Adams working tirelessly behind the scenes to bring about liberty. How did this happen?  How could we Americans forget someone so pivotal?  The answer in my mind is very simple.  When many other founding fathers wrote their memoirs Sam chose not to write his. He simply did not consider it important. Sam seems to have cared more for liberty than history’s judgment and as a result he slipped off into the mists of history… and 226 years later… we Americans enjoy the beer named in his honor, many not realizing or even recognizing the liberty and freedom they enjoy today can be traced directly to ‘his’ tireless work and effort to bring 13 disparate and unique colonies to a common purpose and revolution. 

     So on this April 19th, 2011… give Sam some thought and a word of thanks.  Also, if you are a beer drinker have a beer in his honor.