Entries by Brian Halpin

Where Have All the Good Girls Gone?

Hazel Dickens was a West Virginia girl, with deep roots in the mountains there. During much of the 20th century, urban and suburban America mocked the “hillbillies” of Southern Appalachia, while simultaneously benefiting from cheap Appalachian coal. And while much of the USA laughed or stared aghast at fare such as “The Beverly Hillbillies” or […]

Modern Attitudes and “Back Then”

  Ever since the advent of farming and urban civilisation around 10,000 years ago, some people have tried to make themselves the master of others. The list of reasons these people invent to justify their dominance over others could fill a library. Eventually the people who use others for self-enrichment may even come to believe […]

Appropriate Appropriation?

  Meet “Grey Owl“, born 18 Sep 1888. A one time fur trapper for Canadian companies, he eventually came to understand the great damage being wrought upon the natural world by unregulated commercial exploitation of natural resources. During his life, he wrote numerous books, becoming a renowned early spokesperson for the conservation movement.  He was […]

American Ethnicities According to Wikipedia

  As Stephen Stills once wrote for his band Buffalo Springfield in 1966: “There’s something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear…” Posts by friends on social media can send this writer down some pretty deep rabbit holes. Seeing a post about the 1970s film “Billy Jack” got me to thinking about the weird […]

Johnny Depp and the Gatekeepers

  Is it any wonder that most “Old Mix Americans” eventually declared their heritage under simplistic or ridiculous “race” or color labels? If there was ever any doubt that in the USA, “white” has always been a social category masquerading as a legitimate biological category, consider the following: Why are Americans who claim mixed ancestry […]

The 80-10-10 Principle

As I’ve grown older, I’ve become less and less certain of so many things. One thing which has remained, however, is my belief in the “80-10-10 Principle“. That is to say, perhaps 80% of humanity tend to be followers, blown to and fro by the prevailing spirit of the times. Another 10% are actively and […]

“Neither fish nor fowl…”

  Historians and genealogists digging through 19th century documents and family records will often stumble across images of people rendered in a curious style. These portraits are neither freehand drawings, nor are they early photographs. These pictures were made using an old optical drawing aid called a “camera lucida“, patented in the early 1800s, but […]

When Women Kill

  Any American with deep, pre-Revolutionary War roots in British colonial times must understand that their surname may bear only a tangential relation to their actual ethnic history. While it is obvious that many African-Americans carry assumed “Anglo” surnames, there are many other non-Anglo peoples who did the same. Spanish, Portuguese, Germans, French, Basques, Welsh, […]

History, Heroes, and Dentures

  Friends and other people often ask me “What’s this thing with you and history?” As if history is for fusty old geeks or weirdos – something to lump alongside stamp collecting, or being a Goth after the age of 50 (no offence intended to philatelists or middle-aged fans of The Cure). When I was […]

The Forgotten History of the Oregon Trail

  Perhaps one of the most misunderstood aspects of America’s past is the history of westward migration. Who exactly rode west in those wagons? There was almost no colonisation effort on the western American frontier which didn’t begin with squatters and “outsiders”. Squatting was a tricky game – people had to squat lands not yet […]