Entries by Brian Halpin

From the Americana Files: Mid 20th Century Barber Shops

  For the Boomer generation and earlier, barber shops in heartland America used to be male-only refuges. Unisex “hair stylists” were not yet a thing – men and boys went to barber shops, and women went to “the beauty salon”. As a 10-year-old going to the barber shop for the first time (our hair was […]

Jewish Pirates

  One of the most interesting insights I’ve had during my many years studying history is the realisation of the central role played by pirates and piracy. The Vikings played a huge part in the formation of numerous countries from Western Europe to Russia, and for a large chunk of their heyday, they were essentially […]

Reclaiming Lost Ethnicity in America

  Before We Were White doesn’t put its blogs or podcasts behind a paywall, so we rely on the generous goodwill of donors and patrons. This means we’ve had to find creative ways of thanking patrons for their incredible support. One such way is by making PDF transcripts of individual podcast episodes available, and curating […]

MAGA Golden Age and East Kentucky Fornicators

  At the root of every desire to “Make America Great Again” is a misplaced belief in some golden, halcyon age, in which everyone was hard-working, decent, and God-fearing. A belief that there was ORDER. We mythologise the past, precisely because “golden ages” are such ephemeral, fleeting snapshots in time, and these gilded folk memories […]

When the Fighting Starts

  When states, nations, governments, insurgencies or revolutionaries are victorious in war, they invariably portray their “war heroes” in the image they want to see in the mirror. This has always been the case in America, going right back to the very beginning of European colonisation there. Go online, and try to find any painting […]

Raising Ghosts

  When most amateur genealogists get a family line back to the 1600s in America, the received narrative clicks-in. New Haven, Connecticut, 1676.  An ancestor with a nice solid English-sounding name. “Edward Grannis“.  A wife named “Hannah Wakefield“.  Living in a settlement founded by Puritans in 1638.  Home of Yale University. Natural perhaps, to presume […]

The 300 Year Fire

  In late summer 1666, London was tinder-dry, and coming off the back of a two-year drought.  A small fire in a bakery, along with an indecisive and incompetent public official, led to the incineration of 87 churches, a cathedral, and 13,200 houses.  7 out of 8 Londoners were left homeless. Fast-forward 300 years to […]

The Scots-Irish Did Not Single-Handedly Create America

  America’s first inner identity, its first distinctly “American” culture, is “Southern Appalachian”. Before Appalachian culture came into being, America was largely a land of immigrant administrators, speculators, members of religious sects, colonists, convicts, servants, and slaves of many different cultures and ethnicities. English, Africans (including the Gullah and so many others), Scottish, Irish, Welsh, […]

Weaving the Past

  Someone recently left a comment under another BWWW blog, in which I mentioned some of the non-European ancestors of a popular country music artist who is widely perceived as “white”. The person commenting suggested that the use of comparative DNA analysis and genealogy by this blog and podcast to highlight non-European ancestry might be […]

Longing and Belonging: The Strange Case of Buffy Sainte-Marie

  I wrote a short piece recently about the controversy surrounding the “outing” of singer-songwriter and indigenous rights activist Buffy Sainte-Marie. This “outing” by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation News (CBC) concerned the unearthing of Sainte-Marie’s birth certificate showing her to be the birth child of Italian-American Albert Santamaria and his wife Winifred Irene Kenrick. Sainte-Marie had […]