Bookshelf provides descriptions and notices of recent publications on Pennsylvania subjects.

The Civil War in Pennsylvania: The African American Experience

Samuel W. Black, editor of a collection of eight essays comprising The Civil War in Pennsylvania: The African American Experience (Senator John Heinz History Center in partnership with Pennsylvania Civil War 150, 2013, paper, 239 pages, $29.95), contends, “In various ways African Americans have been fighting for freedom for several hundred years. The Civil War was an opportunity for complete liberation. From every statute and law passed in this nation’s history leading up to the war, to the questions of emigration at various times in African American lives, to the defense of freedom in the face of the fugitive slave law of 1850, African Americans never have been passive about their quest for freedom.”

Director of African American Programs at the Heinz History Center, Black introduces the compilation by writing the book “explores the roles that blacks in Pennsylvania played in their quest for freedom, nationhood, and self-determination before, during, and after the Civil War.” His introduction sets the stage for three sections: “The Early Impact of Race, Politics, and Freedom,” “In Search of Freedom: Migration, Emigration, or Just Stay Put,” and “The War to End Slavery: On the Road to Freedom.” Chapters in each section provide fresh perspectives and revealing insights that make The Civil War in Pennsylvania: The African American Experience transcend previous scholarship and interpretation.

The book goes far beyond usual Civil War history – discussions of leaders, victories and defeats, battles, casualties, strategies and tactics and life on the home front – by covering civil rights, emigration, abolitionism, resistance, service in the war and more. It treats the war with circumspection from a point of view defining the conflict as a war over slavery and the opportunity to liberate the masses of Africans from suffocating bondage. That view did not consider the war as an opportunity to restore the Union but to build a new Union that included liberty for all – black and white, enslaved and free, Northern and Southern.

Contributors include Michael G. Krause, David M. Neville and Kenneth C. Turner, “A Photographic History of Pennsylvania’s African Americans in the Civil War”; Eric Springer, “The Role of Compromise in the Development of American Race Relations”; and Nina Reid-Maroney, “Black Pennsylvanians in Canada West.” Black’s contribution is entitled “Allegheny County and the National Emigration Convention of 1854.”


Also Worth Noting

As hard as it might be for many to believe, John James Audubon was not the father of American ornithology. The honorific belongs to Alexander Wilson (1766–1813), whose encyclopedic American Ornithology established a distinctive approach that emphasized the observation of live birds. Alexander Wilson: The Scot Who Founded American Ornithology by Edward H. Burtt Jr. and William E. Davis Jr. (Harvard University Press, 2013, cloth, 444 pages, $35) is the first full-length study to reproduce all of Wilson’s known unpublished drawings for the nine-volume American Ornithology. The authors illustrate their subject’s pioneering and, today, underappreciated achievement as the first ornithologist to describe the birds of the North American wilderness. Abandoning early aspirations to become a poet in the mold of his countryman Robert Burns, Wilson emigrated from Scotland to near Philadelphia where botanist William Bartram encouraged his proclivity for natural history and art. Wilson traveled 12,000 miles on foot, on horseback, in a rowboat, and by stage and ship, establishing a network of observers along the way. He wrote hundreds of accounts of indigenous birds, discovered new species, and sketched the behavior and ecology of each species he encountered. Drawing on their expertise in science and art, Burtt and Davis show how Wilson defied 18th-century conventions of biological illustration by striving for realistic depiction of birds in their native habitat. He drew them in poses meant to facilitate identification, making his work an inspiration for Audubon and other naturalists who followed and making his work the model for modern field guides.

When visitors travel to what is colloquially called Pennsylvania Dutch Country, they are encouraged to consume the local culture by way of “regional specialties” such as cream-filled whoopie pies and deep fried fritters of every variety. Yet much of the fare visitors have come to expect from the region emerged not from Pennsylvania German culture but from expectations fabricated by local color novels or the region’s tourist industry. At the same time other less fabled (and often more delicious) dishes, such as sauerkraut and stuffed pork stomach, have been enjoyed in the homes of Pennsylvania Germans across various localities and economic strata for decades. Celebrated food historian and cookbook writer William Woys Weaver delves deeply into the history of Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine to sort fact from faction in this culture in As American as Shoofly Pie: The Foodlore and Fakelore of Pennsylvania Dutch Cuisine (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013, cloth, 318 pages, $34.95). Through interviews with contemporary Pennsylvania Dutch cooks and intensive research, As American as Shoofly Pie provides a comprehensive and counterintuitive cultural history of this distinctive food, its roots and regional characteristics, its communities and class divisions and, above all, its evolution into a uniquely American style of cookery. The proverbial zucker glessur (glaze icing) on the leppekuche (lepp cakes) is a section devoted to recipes for a number of beloved delicacies, among them bierkees sup (beer cheese soup), gruscht pannkuche (bread crust pancakes), grautgnepp (cabbage dumplings), katzefisch un gedarrte welsckkarn waffle (catfish gravy and dried corn waffles), melassich riwwelboi (shoofly pie) seimawe (stuffed pig stomach) and hasenpfeffer (sour marinated rabbit).

A Gift from the Heart: American Art from the Collection of James and Barbara Palmer (Palmer Museum of Art, distributed by the Penn State Press, 2013, paper, 242 pages, $39.95), edited by Joyce Henri Robinson, curator of the Palmer Museum of Art located on the University Park campus of the Pennsylvania State University in Centre County, documents in its entirety what is arguably one of the finest private collections of American art in the country. The collection was amassed over three decades by Barbara and the late James R. Palmer, collectors and patrons of the museum that bears their name in recognition of their vital support and generosity. The collection features notable works by well-known 19th-century artists and boasts strengths in Ashcan realism and Stieglitz-circle modernism, as well as works by noted artists of the mid-to late 20th century. Much of A Gift from the Heart comprises thematic essays written by invited scholars – college and university professors, museum and gallery professionals and independent curators – who each consider the broader socio-historical context of American art and culture as they delve into the particulars of the collection. Interspersed throughout the book is a series of brief “In Focus” essays highlighting a number of the most notable works in the collection. These include Thompson and Bleecker Streets by Georg Luks, New Mexico Landscape and Mountains in Stone, Dogtown, by Marsden Hartley and Lake George by Georgia O’Keefe, among others. The remainder of A Gift from the Heart is an extensive, fully illustrated catalogue of paintings, works on paper, sculpture and ceramics acquired by the Palmers, including pieces that have been donated to the museum and works that will be eventually gifted.

Allegheny City, known today as Pittsburgh’s North Side, was the third largest city in Pennsylvania when it was annexed amid bitter controversy by the city of Pittsburgh in 1907. Founded in 1787 as a reserve land tract for Revolutionary War veterans in compensation for their service, it quickly emerged into a thriving urban center with its own character, industry and accomplished residents, one of whom, Dan Rooney, is chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers, NFL Hall of Famer and former United States Ambassador to Ireland. With Carol Peterson, a noted Pittsburgh architectural historian, he authored Allegheny City: A History of Pittsburgh’s North Side (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013, cloth, 250 pages, $24.95), which offers an intimate look at the area, affectionately called “The Ward,” and its illustrious inhabitants, among them Andrew Carnegie, Mary Cassatt, Stephen Foster, Gertrude Stein and Martha Graham. Once a station on the Underground Railroad, location of the first iron suspension bridge and host to the first World Series, the North Side is now home to Heinz Field, PNC Park, the Andy Warhol Museum, the National Aviary and world headquarters for corporations such as Alcoa and the H.J. Heinz Company. Rooney and Peterson chronicle the highly engaging history of the cultural, social, industrial and architectural legacies of Allegheny City from its humble beginnings through today. The authors explore the experiences of Pittsburghers as they lived through periods of war and peace, economic boom and bust, great poverty and wealth and the challenges and opportunities that fused them into a strong and durable community. Illustrated by historic, vintage and contemporary images, Allegheny City: A History of Pittsburgh’s North Side takes readers on a fascinating and often surprising street-level tour of this vibrant, colorful and proud place.