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TraveLit--A blog about travel literature. 

     Even with the best of maps and instruments, we can never fully chart our journeys.

Review: Hallowed Ground: A Walk at Gettysburg

Hallowed Ground: A Walk at Gettysburg

By James M. McPherson.  Crown Journeys, 2009, 144 pp

 

"Perhaps no word in the American language has greater historical resonance than Gettysburg," writes the Pulitzer-Prize-winning Civil War historian, James M. McPherson.  "For some people Lexington and Concord, or Bunker Hill, or Yorktown, or Omaha Beach would be close rivals.  But more Americans visit Gettysburg each year than any of these other battlefields—perhaps than all of them combined."

 

Indeed, nearly 2 million people a year (including around 60,000 foreigners) visit the Gettysburg National Military Park, where the battle took place in the first three days of July 1863.  There were almost 50,000 casualties in this battle, which, the author calls the "costliest" in the Civil War and which, he believes, "turned the tide toward ultimate victory."

 

McPherson, who says he has visited the Park and given tours so many times it feels almost like a "second home," is a superb guide for readers.  Not only is he knowledgeable, he is a lively writer, with a good sense of character and story.  As he walks, pausing at one of the approximately 1,400 monuments and markers, or at a particular hill or road, he fleshes out the significance of the place with portraits of the players.

 

At one spot, he tells the story behind the only monument to an individual enlisted man: Amos Humiston, Read More 

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Review: First Fieldwork: The Misadventures of an Anthropologist

First Fieldwork: The Misadventures of an Anthropologist

By Barbara Gallatin Anderson.  Waveland Press, 1990, 150 pp.

 

What is it like to travel as an anthropologist, living in a foreign culture for a year, as both observer and participant? 

 

As Barbara Gallatin Anderson says, the traditional anthropological monograph has done little to answer that question.  With some exceptions, most anthropologists writing scholarly monographs about the societies they lived in have revealed little about their personal experience in the field.  Indeed, as Gallatin observes, anthropologists were traditionally trained to suppress "extraneous personal reporting"—precisely the stuff that travel readers and newbie fieldworkers would want to hear about.

 

Anderson, an anthropologist who has written scholarly works, gives us something altogether different in her delightful book, First Fieldwork.  Setting aside academic theory, fictionalizing names and places to protect privacy, and writing with a nice dose of self-deprecation, she chronicles in personal detail the challenges and mishaps of her first fieldwork in a small Danish fishing village.

 

As the author explains early on, she had initially hoped to do fieldwork in Ghana.  But when she discovered that she was pregnant, she decided instead to go to Taarnby (not its real name) with her husband Thor, who was also an anthropologist, and their 5-year-old daughter, Katie. 

 

This was clearly a safer choice, but it was not especially easy.  The accommodations alone were a challenge.  Their small cottage—available only because "no fisherman would live in it"—was equipped with only a potbellied stove to see them through the freezing northern winter, a two-plate burner for cooking, no indoor toilet or bathing facilities, and a very peculiar-sounding loft arrangement for sleeping.

 

For all that she was an observer, Anderson also knew that she was being closely observed, and that in Taarnby, as in any small town, her errors would be widely known with incredible speed. Read More 

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