Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Ebenezer Macintosh

Today, I'd like to talk about the  Revolutionary War hero Ebenezer Macintosh.  We all know about his activity in anti-British mobs in the 1760s, his controversial appointments as town sealer-of-leather, and his later decline into poverty as he...

Wait, you don't know who Ebenezer Macintosh was?

Neither do I.  Well, I should say "Neither did I."

Let me take you back to the late 80s.  New York Seltzer and Max Headroom were still around.  The Reagan Era was fading into the First Bush Era (or, as we called it, the "Oh my God, I can't believe there's going to be four more years of this" era.)  Member's Only jackets were still almost cool.

I went to Beloit College and, needing to fulfill a history requirement, I took Early American History.  I mostly remember the teacher.  She was proudly and vocally Native American.
She had a poster like this on her wall.
She also had a weird idea on how to give out assignments.  On one biography assignment, she gave us a list of important Revolutionary War figures to write about.  Each student had to pick a different one.  I was nervous about the assignment as I hadn't heard of half of them.  I called my parents.

My parents: Why don't you ask her for a specific one before class?
Me: That wouldn't be fair.

The day came and she read off the names.  We raised our hands if we wanted to write about them, and she picked who got whom.

I raised my hand for Thomas Paine and Samuel Adams.  They went to other students.  Daniel Webster and Pocahontas went to students who raised their hands faster.  Dorothea Dix and Paul Revere also went to others.

I panicked.  I scanned the list of names, but they were assigned before I could remember who they were.  Finally, I raised my hand and just held it up.  I got Ebenezer Macintosh.

I approached my teacher after class.

Me: Who the fuck is Ebenezer Macintosh?
Professor: I don't know.  Why didn't you ask for a specific figure before class?

But I had an ace in the hole: my father, who taught Early American literature.  I called and asked for his help.

Me: What can you tell me about Ebenezer Macintosh?
Father:  Who?

I hit the library.  That was how you did research back in the 80s.  You went to the card catalog and scanned every single book you could find. I spent weeks searching both the Beloit library and the giant one at the University of Illinois.

I found the following information:

  • He was a cobbler.
  • He organized riots.
  • He put a boot in his window as a sign it was time to riot.
Some day, when you're bored, try writing a five-page biography with just those three facts.

I explained the problem to my teacher.  She sympathized, told me she'd remove the name from next year's list, and promised she'd be lenient when grading.

I got a D.

Yesterday, I thought back on my Macintosh Experience (now a software package available from the Apple Store).  On a whim, I did a web search on Ebenezer Macintosh.
Yeah, I use Bing.  Bite me.
Elapsed time: five seconds.  Note how many results.
Twelve thousand.  Twelve thousand. Twelve thousand.

Nope, doesn't matter what the font is.  I still want to find my old teacher and kick her in the shins.

And no, those aren't twelve thousand (Twelve thousand? Nope, still in a kicking mood.) results of "He was a cobbler."  There's an extensive Wikipedia page.
"Well, he was a cobbler who organized riots..."
Even the slideshows had more information than every library in the midwest in the 80s. 
"He put a shoe in the window."

"He always complained that they 'Ne'er had enough window boots.'"
I found a reference to his career as a "sealer of leather" that wasn't explained.  It took me an additional twenty seconds to find out what that meant.

This came from my second search.  The first search yielded a list of epoxies.
That additional search in the 80s would have taken me several hours.

When I've been a teacher, I told my students to avoid Wikipedia.  I told them to use the library as much as possible and to get information from books and journals.
Yeah, fuck that shit.

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