Sunday, December 11, 2016

Everything I write is now posted daily on my website

I am now writing daily blog posts about my poetry, book reviews, history and other topics on

my website, click here:

Thanks for your interest, I welcome your feedback on my website.

Rick Subber

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Rick Subber's new website

Here’s a sneak preview of my new website, check it out here:

It’s still under construction, but you can read samples of my poetry and my blog posts on books and book reviews, history, politics and some strange and wonderful stuff in the “Tidbits” category.

In the near future I will say goodbye to my three longstanding blogs—Barley Literate, History: Bottom Lines, and Magister Librorum—and do all of my daily posting on the website, where everything will be conveniently accessible from a single landing page.

I will manage the new website in tandem with my dedicated Facebook page, click here to take a look at it—and please “Like” the new Facebook page if you care to, I need 25 “Likes” to get access to some advanced Facebook audience measurements (all aggregate stuff, no personal or private information about individual persons, not even a little bit, not ever).

With appropriate humility and excessive excitement, I mention that in the near future I will publish my first poetry chapbook. Stay tuned!

Thanks again for your kind consideration in reading my daily scribblings. I try to write something worth reading every day.

Words, words, words—they can say so much if we choose them carefully, and if we choose to listen....


Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Monday, September 26, 2016

"...the commotions in America..."

A war by any other name....

It seems not everyone in London languished in post-war pain for years and years after the American colonists won the Revolutionary War.

Shortly after the November 20, 1785, death of Sir James Wright, the last British royal governor of the colony of Georgia, a London newspaper commented on his colonial service in his obituary:

“… As he presided in [Georgia] for two and twenty years with distinguished ability and integrity, it seems to be a tribute justly due to his merit as a faithful servant of his king and Country. Before the commotions in America, his example of industry and skill in the cultivation and improvement of Georgia was of eminent advantage…”

We call it the “Revolutionary War.”

The late 18th century obituary writer in the Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser called it “the commotions in America.”

I guess there was some small comfort in taking that point of view….

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Let’s put one more thing in context….

In America in 1877, 101 years after the Declaration of Independence:

Minor league baseball was organized

The first Easter “egg roll” was held on the White House lawn

President Hayes withdrew federal troops from New Orleans, ending military involvement in Reconstruction in the South

A horse named Baden-Baden won the 3rd Kentucky Derby

10 members of the Molly Maguires were hanged in coal country in Pennsylvania

The San Francisco Public Library opened

The New York Athletic Club staged the first American amateur swim meet

Thomas Edison announced his “talking machine” (phonograph) invention

The first issue of the American Bicycling Journal was published in Boston

Sketch of Crazy Horse
 ….and a U. S. soldier with a bayonet murdered the Oglala Sioux chief, Crazy Horse, outside a cell in an Army prison at Fort Robinson, Nebraska. Crazy Horse was one of the Sioux leaders whose warriors wiped out Custer’s Seventh Calvary at the Little Bighorn in 1876.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Chautauqua, revisited….

The 19th century successes of the Chautauqua Institution of New York have always appealed to me. I believe I would have been thrilled to attend the profoundly educational lectures of the itinerant speakers who followed the Chautauqua circuit. For some Americans—and for many middle-class women—the Chautauqua offerings were the closest thing they could get to a higher education.

The Chautauqua Institution was founded in 1874 as a teaching camp for Sunday school teachers. The concept spread through the United States. At its peak in the 1920s the movement offered a broad range of lectures and music on both religious and nondenominational topics, in more than 10,000 communities. By 1940 the network of originally Victorian-style centers of learning and culture had lost their mass appeal, after enriching the lives of more than 45 million men and women. Today, the Chautauqua Institution on the original site is alive and well, and still attracting many thousands of participants annually.

In the late 19th century, the notion of family vacations was becoming popular, partly as a result of increasing affluence and the expansion of rail travel. In a recent issue of The Massachusetts Historical Review, Anita C. Danker wrote:
“…a significant number of largely middle-class Americans chose to make constructive use of their increased leisure time, a by-product of industrialization, in ways consistent with their values and religious beliefs.”

Framingham train station
The Chautauqua centers were attractive destinations. One such place was the New England Chautauqua Sunday School Assembly at Mount Wayte in Framingham, MA. From 1880-1918 it offered a steadily diversifying assortment of lectures and performances, drawing a dedicated audience from the area that would become MetroWest Boston. Those folks wanted to vacation in comfort and style, and they also were committed to a high-quality experience. Rail service to Mount Wayte was busy.

Danker explains:
“One form of vacation consistent with middle-class values and the moral climate of the New England region was the religious retreat…A critical mass of ordinary Americans displayed another powerful need, compatible with the ideal of a Christian vacation: the purposeful employment of leisure time for education and individual self-improvement.”

A reliable corps of attendees was “middle-class women, whose access to higher education was restricted by tradition and circumstance […they] formed the bedrock of the institution.”

Think of TED Talks without the clip-on microphone.

Anita C. Danker, “Redeeming the Time: Learning Vacations at the New England Chautauqua Assembly,” The Massachusetts Historical Review, Massachusetts Historical Society, Vol. 17, 2015, 67-97.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Friday, September 2, 2016

….another 3rd grade tour

An historical society docent of course doesn’t mind talking about the same stuff with every tour group, and the groups with kids reliably ask the old familiar questions.

The eager 3rd graders making the pilgrimage to the historic district along the Charles River in Natick, MA, prove the point. Sometimes it’s not easy to encourage a sensible understanding of the context of “350 years ago,” but the kids are all too ready to engage in such thinking in their own terms.

In a few years maybe they’ll be ready to expand that thinking just a bit:

Another 3rd grade tour

Well, yes, Anna, this is the same river
   the Nipmuc Indians knew in 1651
it was here, they fished in it
and, yes, they saw ducks like those
   on the other bank over there,
and, no, it’s not too deep,
but, here’s another way to look at it:
the river is new today,
it’s filled with new rain,
it carries a different twig over the dam,
it swirls new bubbles
   from the fish we didn’t quite see,
the river has forgotten the feel of a canoe,
   forgotten how to turn the mill wheel,
it has learned to ignore
   the ever louder sounds that crowd the air,
and it sniffs in surprise
   each time new toes are dipped in its currents,
and those ducks on the other bank
   are new this year, too.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Published July 29, 2016, at Whispers

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Gee willikers, six miles an hour!

Roller coasters have been a hit since the early 1800s in France.

The first roller coaster in America opened in 1884 on Coney Island in Brooklyn.

Hold that thought.

First roller coaster - Coney Island
LaMarcus Thompson built that wooden wonder and called it the “Switchback Railway.” Basically, the cars started at one end of a slightly elevated track, rolled 600 feet to the other end, and then rolled back to the starting point. The ticket price was a nickel. That baby traveled at 6 mph. Ladies, beware!

Nevertheless, it was a big hit and by 1900 there were hundreds of bigger and faster coasters in operation around the country.

Today, the highest roller coaster in the U. S. is Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey. It’s 456 feet high and top speed is 128 mph. Gee willikers.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The women who pioneered electronic music

Electronic music doesn’t talk to me in a real loud voice, but this piece from rings a few bells.

It’s intriguing because it mentions the not too surprising fact that women were involved in the earliest incarnations of electronic music, back in the 1950s and even earlier.

Didja ever hear of Daphne Oram, Laurie Spiegel, √Čliane Radigue or Pauline Oliveros?

I think it’s a good bet I can say “Of course you didn’t.”

OpenCulture explains that these women represent a small sampling of too-often-overlooked electronic composers, musicians, engineers, and theorists whose work deserves wider appreciation, not because it’s made by women, but because it’s innovative, technically brilliant, and beautiful music made by people who happen to be women.”

Laurie Spiegel

Read a little bit about them and hear their ethereal music here.

Amen, sister.

I’m sticking with Odetta and Joan Baez (her early work), but this was a tantalizing interlude.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The times they are a-changin’….

The inexorable demographic transformation of America is part of the context for the current dangerous turmoil in our politics.

For instance, points out that less than half of Americans are now classified as white Christians. Less than 30% of the 18-29 age cohort identify themselves as white Christians.

Nevertheless, it’s true that almost three-quarters of all adults claim to be Christian (including Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox and other non-Protestant Christian faiths). So, the minority status of white Christians is largely driven by the increasing proportion of persons of color in the U. S. population.

Increasing diversity of the American citizenry is inevitable. Increasingly, ballot boxes will reflect this trend.

I think these changes will make American society richer in so many ways.

I look forward to the election of more folks who will champion the kind of government an increasingly diverse population needs and wants.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Blame the men!

As you know, it wasn’t always true in the United States that women were “permitted” to vote.

In 1889, legislators in the Wyoming territory approved a constitution establishing the right of women to vote. Wyoming became the national pioneer in legalizing women’s suffrage in 1890 when it was admitted to the union as the 44th state. (As territories, Wyoming and a couple others allowed women to vote as early as 1869).

The Isle of Man in the Irish Sea gave women who owned property the right to vote in 1881. In 1893 New Zealand became the first country to establish national women’s suffrage.

In America, women were unable to vote in most eastern states until August 18, 1920, when the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified.

So, when you’re thinking about U. S. history, keep in mind that men get all the credit—and all the blame—for the actions of the colonies and the national government for the first three hundred years or so.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Kids will be kids -- update

There has been a fascinating and, I think, poorly understood evolution of parenting and childhood since the earliest colonial days of the American experience.

Paula S. Fass writes about it in The End of American Childhood: A History of Parenting from Life on the Frontier to the Managed Child (Princeton University Press, 2006). A New York Times reviewer points out that the narrative gets a bit lost in the most recent history of “helicopter parents” who are overwhelmingly focused on controlling and protecting their children so they grow up to great lives with success and affluence and notable careers and….cue the all-important play date….make sure Joshua can get into Yale….

It’s intriguing to me to understand that colonial parents rather consciously moved away from the Old World view of children as economic resources, and adopted a more relaxed willingness to give their kids some degree of independence and flexibility in their paths to adult life. Of course, kids were put to work at a young age, but parents gave them opportunity and approval to feel engaged in the work and be open to wider horizons and innovation. Europeans thought that American children were “rude, unmannerly and bold.”

There were many circumstantial differences at work. In the colonies and early United States, there was an abundance of cheap land and a shortage of labor, and thus, pervasive opportunities for personal success. The European tradition of primogeniture was largely absent: on our side of the Atlantic, a father’s land and estate did not pass automatically to the firstborn son, so the more egalitarian inheritance practices boosted the life prospects of most children.

Of course, there’s another side to the childhood narrative: slave children in America were often treated as economic units by their owners. That’s a disgusting reality in our history.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Saturday, July 30, 2016


It was big news 140 years ago.

The Transcontinental Express made the trip from New York City to San Francisco in 83 hours—only three days and 11 hours!—and stunned the nation. A human being could ride the rails and cross the country in less than four days. Yowza!

The coast-to-coast railroad connection had been completed only seven years earlier, after the federal government had supported the epic project with millions in government bonds and vast land grants. (Quite a few people got rich, illegally, in the process, and some members of Congress were in that clique).

The amazing fact of speedy passage from sea to shining seas was celebrated as a boon to commercial and industrial development, and to the national prestige of the United States, which had more miles of railroad track than any other country.

Some of the folks who read the news on June 4, 1876, could remember that it took Vice President Jefferson 10 days to travel the 225 miles, using horsepower, from Monticello to his office in Philadelphia (the national capital until 1801). notes that at the time, the 100-mile trip from Philadelphia to New York City required “two days hard travel in a light stagecoach.” The word “comfortable” wasn’t used in any ads by stagecoach operators. 

 For a lot of folks, travel on the early transcontinental trains wasn’t much of a treat. First-class passengers wallowed in sumptuous splendor, but third-class travelers got a narrow wooden bench to sit on, no privacy and darn little respect—the third-class coaches often were shunted onto sidings to allow faster express trains to take precedence on the single track that served most of the route. The hoi polloi spent a whole lot more than 83 hours in their noisy coaches as they made the cross-country passage.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The cod in “Cape Cod”

Some readers may know this, but I didn’t: Cape Cod was named by an English explorer, 

Gosnold (1571-1607)

Bartholomew Gosnold, in 1602. Yup, 18 years before the Mayflower and that Plymouth Rock stuff. His visit is the first recorded European exploration of the Cape Cod area. He also helped settled the Jamestown colony a few years later in Virginia.

In 1602 Gosnold and his men intended to set up a trading post in what hadn’t yet been named “New England.” After landing on the tip of the peninsula, at what is now Provincetown, the explorers started checking out the bay area. The sailors caught so many codfish in the bay that they reportedly had to throw some back in the water. Gosnold named the place “Cape Cod.”

Later, after scouting down the Atlantic shore of the peninsula, he landed on an island with abundant grapes, raspberries, gooseberries, and huckleberries, and named it “Martha’s Vineyard” in memory of his deceased daughter.

Gosnold and his crew met and did some trading with some Native Americans. Ultimately, they abandoned the plan to build an outpost for trade.

By the way, there’s not much cod fishing in the bay these days. The fish stock is sharply reduced due to overfishing and environmental constraints, and the quotas for legal fishing are quite small.

Gosnold’s crewmen wouldn’t recognize the place.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

It wasn’t the good old days….

Sarah Parker Remond

“ 1853, Sarah Parker Remond and two other African Americans entered a Boston theater intending to enjoy a Mozart opera. When the manager discovered they were people of color, he directed them to the segregated balcony. Remond and her companions refused to sit there. When they were asked to leave, an argument ensued, and the police were summoned. One of the officers handled Sarah roughly. Refusing to be intimidated, she sued and won $500 in damages.”

Let’s be clear: this happened in Massachusetts, a boiling cauldron of anti-slavery activism in the middle of the 19th century.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Friday, April 22, 2016

It started out as a “bachelor’s” degree….

There’s a plain Jane reason why that four-year sheepskin is called a “bachelor’s degree.”

In the 11th century, the men who went to college for their first degree attained a respectable mastery of knowledge, but it wasn’t enough to set them up for good jobs.

Hence, they were generally unable to support a family, and thus remained bachelors until they went further in their studies.

In common parlance, they earned the “bachelor’s” degree.

The first Western university was the University of Bologna in Italy, established in 1088. The University of Paris opened its doors about 60 years later, and the University of Oxford was created in 1167.

First rough sketch of Harvard seal
There is some high-toned dispute about the founding date of the first American “university.” Harvard, without a doubt, was established in 1636 as the first “institution of higher learning” in the English colonies. cites Kevin Madigan’s Medieval Christianity in explaining the impact of universities on the development of Western civilization, starting about the mid-point of the Middle Ages.

By the way, the academic powerhouse we think of as a “university” was originally an outgrowth of the medieval guilds, and the name “university” is shorthand for universitas magistrorum et scholarium, that is, a "community of teachers and scholars.”

Sometimes a university is more than that, and sometimes, less. That’s a story for another time.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Friday, April 15, 2016

“Mannish Boy”….hold that thought

When McKinley Morganfield was born 103 years ago, nobody knew that he would become “the father of modern Chicago blues.”

That’s because nobody knew he was Muddy Waters. That didn’t come out right away.

Lucky for us, folklorist Alan Lomax “discovered” Muddy Waters” in 1941 and made the first recordings of the unshackled voice of the blues that would make such an enduring, personal statement in such fully dimensioned classics as “Rollin’ Stone,” “Hoochie Coochie Man,” “Got My Mojo Workin,’” and “Mannish Boy.”

If you’ve never heard Muddy’s voice, listen to him here, singing
“…I spell mmm, aaa child, nnn
That represents man
No B, O child, Y…”

Waters can make you a believer about the good qualities of a mannish boy, in a Delta blues kind of way.

He was one of the genuine musicians who seriously influenced the likes of Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones—who took their name from the classic Muddy Waters song.

Waters didn’t have to wrap his lips around the microphone to sing his full-throated songs that invoke zest, and longing, and desperately earnest immersion in life, always up to the hilt….

His mojo never stopped working.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.