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Jim Loewen

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  • We Have Had a Gay President, Just Not Nixon

    In his recent article in the Washington Post "Was Nixon Gay?" journalism professor Mark Feldstein puts down the claim recently made by Don Fulsom in his book Nixon's Darkest Secrets. Almost no evidence supports it, he (rightly) points out.  He calls the book a "pathography," using a term invented by Joyce Carol Oates for biographies that emphasize the pathological. 

    But then he goes on to decry similar claims about Abraham Lincoln, James Buchanan, and J. Edgar Hoover as similarly baseless.

    Just as we should not rush to believe all the rumors about the sexual orientations of important past Americans, neither should we rush to deny them. Feldstein implies that history on this issue is just about impossible: "[T]here is almost no way to prove—or disprove—alleged intimacies from so long ago." But there is. It is called evidence.


  • Meaning in 'Pure' Music: Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony

    Within sociology is an exciting field, the "sociology of knowledge." Its name is unfortunate, because it not only studies knowledge, but also error, as well as things like law, religion, and art that cannot easily be categorized "true" or "false." The sociology of knowledge, especially the subfield the “sociology of sociology,” is somewhat similar to historiography in history and epistemology in philosophy. In the words of Karl Mannheim, a pioneer, "The principle thesis of the sociology of knowledge is that there are modes of thought that cannot be adequately understood as long as their social origins are obscured." Historians might say, we must locate a speaker within his/her own time and situation to understand him or her fully. This notion can provide useful insights to students of law, science, religion, art, and other areas of human thinking. 


  • Can American Trains Achieve Steam Speeds in the Modern Era?

    by James W Loewen

    I began writing this piece aboard Amtrak's Acela, the fastest train in North America.  It travels from Washington to Boston in 6 hours and 32 minutes.  Eventually, we read, despite Republicans, we may have truly high-speed rail, linking those cities and also perhaps speeding through corridors in California, Florida, and the Midwest. 

    Pardon me, but haven't we been around this track before?



  • Penn State and Violence Against Men

    by James W Loewen

    The Penn State scandal brought forth a thoughtful commentary by Daniel Mendelsohn, Charles Ranlett Flint Professor of Humanities at Bard College.  Mendelsohn begins his recent New York Times op-ed, “What if it had been a 10-year-old girl in the Penn State locker room that Friday night in 2002?”

    He concludes that then Mike McQueary, the graduate assistant to the football team, would surely have intervened or at least called the police.  "But the victim in this case was a boy," Mendelsohn notes.  He goes on to speculate that the university, too, would have taken the crime more seriously, had the victim been female.



  • Victimized by Folklore

    by James W Loewen

    Claiming the status of victim has become an effective way to solicit attention on behalf of justice and social change in the United States.  Women claim to be victimized by male violence.  African Americans claim to be victimized by racism.  Gays play the Matthew Shepard card to gain sympathy and a hearing.  On October 13, 2011, residents of Martinsville, Indiana, put a new twist on the victim role, claiming to have been "Victimized by Folklore."  

    The occasion was the 2011 Annual Meeting of the American Folklore Society, hosted by Indiana University in Bloomington.  Joanne Stuttgen, long-time resident and president of the local historic preservation society, moderated a session with the above title.  Other Martinsville residents spoke as well.  Their point was:  Martinsville has not been a racist community; that charge amounts to nothing but folklore, by which they meant falsehood. 


  • Going Postal History

    by James W Loewen

    Just now, your local post office—easier to find than it will be next year, when the Postal Service plans to close as many as 3,600—features a stamp of Owney, a dog.  He appeared in the Albany, NY, post office in 1888, where "clerks took a liking to him," according to the history that the USPS supplies on the back of each sheet of Owney stamps. 



  • Rick Perry's "Niggerhead" Camp Is Only Part of the Problem

    by James W Loewen

    On Sunday, October 2, a front page story in the Washington Post told of Gov. Rick Perry's hunting camp, a place known as "Niggerhead."  For many years a large flat rock stood upright at its gates, announcing the name in painted letters.  That rock is still at the entrance, now lying on its back, parts of the name still visible, painted over ineffectually. 

    The camp has been important to Perry's political career.  Perry often hosted friends and supporters and fellow legislators there for turkey shoots and other outings.  Now Perry implies that he first saw the rock with its offensive name only in 1983 and immediately got his parents to paint over the letters.  As Post reporter Stephanie McCrummen delicately phrases it, Perry's version

    differs in many respects from the recollections of seven people ... who spoke in detail of ... seeing the rock with the name at various points during the years that Perry was associated with the property.


  • "New Beginnings" at the AASLH

    by James W Loewen

    The AASLH (American Association for State and Local History) just concluded its annual meeting, held in Richmond, VA.  Signs of "new beginnings" in local history—a phrase used in the conference title, abounded, both at AASLH and in Richmond.  Just in time, too! 


  • Taking 9/11/2001 Seriously on 9/11/2011

    by James W Loewen

    Living in Washington, D.C., I attended three civic remembrances on September 11, 2011.  The first was held at "Freedom Plaza," a triangular paved space on Pennsylvania Avenue midway between the Capitol and the White House.  The premiere D.C. remembrance event, it featured the mayor, D.C.'s non-voting "congresswoman" Eleanor Holmes Norton, and other officials.  The second took place in the Kogod Courtyard, the beautiful indoor/outdoor space that connects the National Portrait Gallery and National Museum of American Art.  It featured a "Burden Boat," built by Kurt Steger. 

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