Entries by Brian Halpin

“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 […]

Covid, Cotton Mather, and Cultural Cross-Pollination

  Regular followers of this blog will know that as a history geek, I never neglect an opportunity to frame today’s events through an historical lens. Which is why, upon the occasion of receiving a Covid-19 booster vaccine, my mind wandered back to the 17th century…   *****   Cotton Mather was a Puritan minister […]

The Mechanics of Colonialism

  During the 11th and 12th centuries, in an age before gunpowder, the Normans were able to conquer England by constructing forts (motte-and-bailey “castles”) on newly occupied land. The exact same method – colonisation by fort-building – was employed in Southern Appalachia by land-hungry Americans in the aftermath of the Revolutionary War. Settlers were not […]

Blonde Bombshells and “Damaged Goods”

  Legendary film star Marilyn Monroe was born in 1926 to a mother who was first married aged only 14. We can only speculate what role, if any, this child marriage played in the later mental health issues which would plague Gladys Pearl Monroe. Gladys was actually born in Mexico to railway worker Otis Monroe […]

Paint Me A Picture

    Painters, not unlike musicians or actors, need patrons or a paying audience. This might seem obvious, but it has a direct bearing on how we view history. English society has been notoriously class-conscious since the first Norman warlords began erecting their stone fortresses – aka castles – among the peoples of England after […]

The “Scots-Irish” and Appalachia, Part 1

  After all these years of being told that the “Scots-Irish” are the embodiment of Southern Appalachian culture, that the “Scots-Irish” are the progenitors of mountain music, that the “Scots-Irish” virtually built America, that the “Scots-Irish” were “born fighting” and thus the reason for feud culture and honor killing in the hills and hollers… No.  […]