Cliopatria: A Group Blog
Aaron Bady (∞); Chris Bray (∞); Brett Holman (∞); Jonathan Jarrett (∞); Robert KC Johnson (∞); Rachel Leow (∞); Ralph E. Luker (∞); Scott McLemee (∞); Claire B. Potter (∞); Jonathan T. Reynolds (∞)
"Das Lied der Deutschen," The Economist, 5 August, reviews Ruth H. Sanders's German: Biography of a Language.
The William James Centennial:
Jill Lepore,"The Uprooted," New Yorker, 6 September, reviews Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration and Richard Wright's 12 Million Black Voices: A Folk History of the Negro in the United States. See also, the accompanying slide show:"Life on the South Side," New Yorker, 6 September.
Finally, because of staff turmoil at the Virginia Quarterly Review, the University announced yesterday that the Review's winter issue has been put on hold.
The Broadside is a regularly updated collection of history bloggging (and some other online history news) that has been popular among the historians who are followed by @historycarnival on Twitter.
It's intended as a supplement to the monthly Carnivals - the content is largely automated and will be much less selective and individual. (For more information, read here.)
Aminatta Forna reviews V. S. Naipaul's The Masque of Africa: Glimpses of African Belief for the Guardian, 29 August.
John Smolens reviews Alex Butterworth's The World That Never Was: A True Story of Dreamers, Schemers, Anarchists and Secret Agents for the Washington Post, 29 August.
Fresh from the slammer, Conrad Black publishes"Decline, but Not Inevitable Decline," NRO, 26 August, which surveys American history since 1940. Except for Viet Nam, it's onward and upward to 1989. Then it's declension under four failed administrations.
Henrik Bering,"True Barbarians," Policy Review, n.d., reviews Adrian Tinniswood's Pirates of Barbary: Corsairs, Conquests and Captivity in the Seventeenth-Century Mediterranean.
Joseph Berger,"Revolutionary Road," NYT, 26 August, reviews Eric Jaffe's The King's Best Highway: The Lost History of the Boston Post Road, the Route That Made America.
John Schwartz,"Steam-Driven Dreams," NYT, 26 August, reviews William Rosen's The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention.
David A. Bell,"Pogroms of Words," TNR, 27 August, reviews Frederick Brown's For the Soul of France: Culture Wars in the Age of Dreyfus.
Tara McKelvey,"Where Hatred Ruled," NYT, 26 August, reviews Alex Heard's The Eyes of Willie McGhee: A Tragedy of Race, Sex, and Secrets in the Jim Crow South.
Mark Harris,"I Get Around," NYT, 26 August, reviews Justin Spring's Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade.
Beck:"the movement of the 1960s has been perverted and distorted” by people “like the Reverend Al Sharpton telling people that Martin Luther King's dream was really about redistribution of wealth…I don’t remember that. Really?"
King:"…we are dealing with issues that cannot be solved without the nation spending billions of dollars -- and undergoing a radical redistribution of economic power."
Beck:"Who were the civil rights marchers?…They weren't crying for social justice, they were crying out for equal justice.”
King: (in his speech “Social Justice”) “we will be able to go this additional distance and achieve the ideal, the goal of the new age, the age of social justice.”
Beck:"They have infiltrated our churches" and" confused the gospel with government-run programs."
King:"If America does not use her vast resources to end poverty ... she too will go to hell."
(These quotes were stolen shamelessly from the good people at MediaMatters, by the way)
A. W. Purdue reviews Adrian Smith's Mountbatten: Apprentice War Lord 1900-1943 for the THE, 26 August.
Oralandar Brand-Williams,"Rare collection of Nation of Islam papers discovered," Detroit News, 26 August, reports an extraordinary find of early Black Muslim documents.
David Thomson,"Chinamen," TNR, 27 August, reviews Yunte Huang's Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and his Rendezvous with American History.
Robert Messenger,"Contemplating Death From Above," WSJ, 27 August, reviews Daniel Swift's Bomber Country. If trench warfare caught the poets' imagination in World War I, aerial bombing captured it in World War II.
R. Scott Appleby and John T. McGreevy,"Catholics, Muslims, and the Mosque Controversy," NYR Blog, draws on the historical experience of American Catholics to urge American Muslims to make a forceful assertion of their constitutional rights.
9/11 kept Got Medieval's Carl Pyrdum busy commenting on the misuses of"medieval" in reference to the Arab world. When The Nation's Katha Pollitt tried to explain what's wrong with the term"Islamofascism," a reader agreed and insisted that radical Islam was more like Puritanism run amok. Which sent Truewit of Blogging the Renaissance to the defense of the Roundheads."What," asks TW,"is The Nation taking letters from 400-year-old Royalists, still bitter about spending the 1650's in Paris?" Thanks to Sharon Howard at Early Modern Notes for the tip.
Jill Lepore's"The Sharpened Quill," New Yorker, 16 October, reviews Craig Nelson, Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations. Lepore's review essays in the New Yorker are must reads.
Finally, William J. Turkel of Digital History Hacks and Nicolás Quiroga of Tapera have launched a survey of history bloggers. Their preliminary results are here: One, Two, Three. There's also a wiki page for the survey. There's even a neat sociogram of our behavior. The sociogram reflects the received input from the survey and it's currently a little strong on the UWO-GMU Axis of Digital Evil. edwired's Mills Kelly calls it"incest". I call it" community". If you'd like to participate in the survey, contact Nicolás: tapera*at*tapera*dot*info.
Adam Kirsch reviews Fred Inglis's A Short History of Celebrity for the Barnes & Noble Review, 20 August.
Alastair Macauley,"The Protean Master of the Ballets Russes," NYT, 25 August, reviews Sjeng Scheijen's Diaghilev: A Life, trans. by Jane Hedley-Prôle and S. J. Leinbach.
Anne Karpf reviews Francine Prose's Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife for the Guardian, 21 August.
Leslie Sprout,"Unlocking the Mystery of Honegger," NYT, 26 August, searches the evidence of Arthur Honegger's political loyalty during World War II.
It is nine years since 9/11:
Jen Phillips,"Ground Zero's Slave Graves," Mother Jones, 25 August, argues that, since about 10% of North American slaves were Muslim, it seems likely that Manhattan's Twin Towers were built on Muslim holy ground. At Lal Salaam, Vinay Lal has a three-part series,"The Mosque at ‘Hallowed' Ground":
It is five years since Hurricane Katrina:
Adam Kirsch,"The Literary Critic as Humanist," Slate, 26 August, pays tribute to the late Frank Kermode.
Emily Hodgson Anderson,"Who were the Bluestockings?" TLS, 25 August, reviews Elizabeth Eger's Bluestockings: Women of reason from Enlightenment to Romanticism and Arianne Chernock's Men and the Making of Modern British Feminism.
Michael Marrus,"The Dreyfus Affair and why it matters today," TLS, 25 August, reviews Louis Begley's Why the Dreyfus Affair Matters and Ruth Harris's The Man on Devil's Island: Alfred Dreyfus and the affair that divided France.
We've featured the early color photography before at Cliopatria. There is both the Library of Congress's"The Empire That Was Russia," showcasing the work of of Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii and displays of the work of Jean-Baptiste Tournassoud and other color photographers of World War I."Russia in color, a century ago," The Big Picture, 20 August, is the Boston Globe's display of Prokudin-Gorskii's work. The photographs are simply stunning.
Michael Dirda reviews Yunte Huang's Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective for the Washington Post, 26 August.
For the Telegraph, 18 August, on the 50th anniversary of its original publication, Andrew Rosenheim reviews a new, revised edition of Ernest Hemingway's memoir, A Moveable Feast. It is, says Rosenheim,"a study in character assassination,""a masterpiece of malice."
Adam Kirsch,"Hareloom," Tablet, 24 August, reviews Edmund de Waal's The Hare With Amber Eyes, a recollection of one of pre-World War II's leading German Jewish families.
Anne Helen Petersen,"‘Tells the Facts and Names the Names'," Celebrity Gossip, Academic Style, 22 August, is an illustrated and endnoted chapter from her dissertation on the scandal mag Confidential in the late 1950s.
Sean Wilentz,"New Dylan Recordings Unveiled," Daily Beast, 24 August, announces Columbia Records release of two new collections of Bob Dylan recordings and anticipates the publication of Wilentz's Bob Dylan in America.
Matilda Battersby,"Hendrix in Britain and Handel's house," Independent, 18 August, reviews"Hendrix in Britain," an exhibit at Mayfair's Handel House Museum."Jimi Hendrix memories inhabit Handel House," Guardian, 24 August, is a gallery of photographs.
Among Cliopatria's alums,
Geoffrey Wheatcroft reviews Jonathan Schneer's The Balfour Declaration: the Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict and Richard J. Evans reviews Adrian Weale's The SS: a New History for the New Statesman, 23 August.
Adam Gopnik,"Finest Hours: The Making of Winston Churchill," New Yorker, 30 August, reviews Max Hastings's Winston's War: Churchill, 1940-1945, Richard Holmes's Churchill's Bunker: The Cabinet War Rooms and the Culture of Secrecy in Wartime London, Paul Johnson's Churchill, and Richard Langworth, ed., Churchill by Himself: The Definitive Collection of Quotations.
Finally, farewell to SMU's David Weber, a historian of the American West and Borderlands and an officer of the AHA.
Jonathan Yardley reviews Lucy Worsley's The Courtiers: Splendor and Intrigue at Kensington Palace for the Washington Post, 22 August.
Elaine Showalter reviews Ilyon Woo's The Great Divorce: A 19th-Century Mother's Extraordinary Fight Against Her Husband, the Shakers, and Her Times for the Washington Post, 22 August.
John Pollard reviews Herbert Wolf's Pope and Devil: the Vatican's Archives and the Third Reich, translated by Kenneth Kronenberg, for the THE, 19 August. Wolf,"Why Did the Pope Keep Quiet about Hitler?" Foreign Policy, 6 May, is an excerpt from the book.
Seamus Perry,"Parody, the vile art," TLS, 18 August, reviews John Gross, ed., The Oxford Book of Parodies.
Finally, Dave Stone notes that, while he's been on"sick leave" from the University of London's Birkbeck College, Orlando Figes is out and about, most recently seenlast week, lecturing at Chile'sUniversidad Gabriela Mistral.
Robert Darnton,"A Republic of Letters," NYT, 20 August, reviews Lewis Hyde's Common as Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership.
Tom Segev,"‘View With Favor'," NYT, 20 August, reviews Jonathan Schneer's The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict.
Stacie Williams for the Christian Science Monitor, 18 August, and Lynell George for the LA Times, 22 August, review James Baldwin's The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings, Randall Kenan, ed. Both reviewers conclude with Baldwin's reply to Robert Kennedy's comment that one day a black man could be president."What I am really curious about," Baldwin replied,"is just what kind of country he will be president of?"
Linda Robinson,"Christians and Muslims," NYT, 19 August, Christopher Caldwell,"Where Islam and Christianity Collide," Slate, 22 August, and Michael Mewshaw for the Washington Post, 22 August, review Eliza Griswold's The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches From the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam.
Robert Alter,"The Sense of An Ending: Remembering Frank Kermode," TNR, 21 August, remembers a distinguished literary critic; and Timothy Garton Ash,"Tony Judt (1948–2010)," NYR Blog, 20 August, remembers a distinguished historian.
Bloody damn mystery how they ever managed to shoot down all those Soviet aircraft and what have you. The blind luck of the primitive, I suppose.
Diane Coyle reviews Nicholas Phillipson's Adam Smith: an Enlightened Life for the New Statesman, 16 August.
Donald R. Prothero,"A Cornucopia of Darwinian Gems," eSkeptic, 18 August, reviews Richard Milner's Darwin's Universe: Evolution from A to Z.
Robert Darnton,"Talking About Brazil with Lilia Schwarcz," NYRBlog, 17 August, interviews one of Brazil's leading anthropologists and historians.
Adam Kirsch,"Unsettling," Tablet, 17 August, reviews Gadi Taub's The Settlers on the future of Israeli settlements on the West Bank.
Finally, farewell to Sir Frank Kermode, England's foremost literary critic.
Purdum argues that Washington is"broken," that procedural disfunction prevents the rational management of the nation's affairs. The presidency, he writes,"has become a job of such gargantuan size, speed, and complexity as to be all but unrecognizable to most of the previous chief executives. The sheer growth of the federal government, the paralysis of Congress, the systemic corruption brought on by lobbying, the trivialization of the 'news' by the media, the willful disregard for facts and truth -- these forces have made today's Washington a depressing and dysfunctional place. They have shaped and at times hobbled the presidency itself."
But there's some good news, Purdum adds. Despite the crushing burden on the presidency, the guy who holds the job has gotten some big things done: he secured the passage of major legislation on health care, education, and financial reform, and the administration"managed the Afghan surge" with unnoticed skill and unmistakable political discipline.
So. The presidency is becoming untenable, as a single individual sits in a chair in an office and makes decisions about so many things:
The social and political future of whole swathes of the world -- Afghanistan, Iraq, the many other places where American drones fire missiles and Special Forces operators join CIA paramilitary warriors and federal contractors in shaping the competing place of Islam and pluralist democracy in foreign societies.
The future of American education, and the nature of the relationship between teachers and students, now sharply defined by federal legislation.
The future of the global economy, now closely regulated by an American government that travels the world to push other national leaders to follow the American path to economic recovery.
And on and on and on. The president manages the world, you see, and it's becoming too much responsibility for any one person to carry. But despite all those burdens, the president has managed to centralize the management of American health care with the passage of legislation that imposes a federal mandate on everyone in the country. And he's managed to expand the American wars overseas, going all in on the American bet that it can build a better society in Afghanistan. And he's pulled the regulation of finance and industry and energy to the center, where it can be better managed.
Yes, despite the growing centralization of power and the spectacular insanity of its untenable burdens on that center, the president has successfully managed to centralize more power. Despite the debilitating effects of the disease, he's managed to cause the disease to metastasize. Success!
Meanwhile, back on earth, the solution to the"gargantuan size, speed, and complexity" of the contemporary American presidency is for Afghans to run Afghanistan, local school boards to run schools, and state legislatures to give policy direction to state insurance commissioners regarding the regulation of health insurance. The solution is to spin power out and down. The difficulty of getting the rock farther up the hill isn't a procedural error. It's gravity. And the people pushing on the rock haven't figured it out, yet.
Despite the paralyzing effects of the growth of the federal government, the president has managed to implement a universal federal health insurance mandate. Nothing strange about that argument, no sir.
This moment feelshistoricallyfamiliar, doesn't it?
Bianca Bonomi,"Maps give insight into artists as much as locations," The National, 10 August, reviews"Magnificent Maps: Power, Propaganda and Art," an exhibit at the British Library.
Peter Duffy,"Lords of the Ring," The Book, 17 August, reviews an updated edition of Elliott J. Gorn's The Manly Art: Bare-Knuckle Prize Fighting in America.
"It used to be" -- here we go --"that news outlets had space to report or comment on only a fraction of any day's events. The pace of events has picked up, sure, but the capacity to assert, allege, and comment is now infinite, and subject to little responsible control."
The capacity to comment is no longer contained by responsible control. This lament takes up roughly 9,999 of Purdum's 10,000 words. No one is in charge of communication, now. People can just...say things, and look closely at what this amazing human specimen just actually said in print:
Obama's senior adviser Valerie Jarrett looks back wistfully to a time when credible people could put a stamp of reliability on information and opinion:"Walter Cronkite would get on and say the truth, and people would believe the media," she says. Today, no single media figure or outlet has that power to end debate, and in pursuit of"objectivity," most honest news outlets draw the line at saying flatly that something or other is untrue, even when it plainly is.
I can't think of many statements more revealing than the lament that no single figure has the power to end debate, anymore. I laughed so hard at this paragraph that it sounded like shouting, and my wife rolled over in bed to shoot me a nasty look. The world where Walter Cronkite silenced America with his Holy Word -- it never existed. But how telling to invent it, and then to mourn its loss. I only agree with parts of this article, but I agree with the most important part: the American ruling class is locked in a cultural crisis of its own making.
On the same page, Purdum purses his mouth into a pucker to note that reporters at White House press briefings now casually ask questions about things they saw on the Drudge Report, an act that once"was enough to make Mike McCurry ask if the offending reporter was sure -- really sure -- that he or she wanted to sully the august precincts of the West Wing with a question based on such a source."
Try as I might, I can't imagine what would have to happen in my head to make it possible for me to type the phrase"sully the august precincts" -- about a building full of politicians, for crying out loud -- without bursting into an uncontrollable fit of nervous giggling. It happened just now, as I typed Purdum's phrase here. I think Vanity Fair should pay for trumpeters in velvet robes to come to my house and play a flourish every time I see references to the West Wing, the White House, or the Sacred Body of the Emperor (whose Name I dare not speak) on the page. ("You're gonna read the Purdum thing now? Hold on, give us a second to clear our spit valves.") The august precincts, citizens! Sully them not!
Purdum's sense of American political history is just as strong as his sense of American cultural history. Did you know that, once upon a time, everyone in Congress liked each other?"Fifty years ago, Congress met for only about nine months a year. During those months, though, the spouses and children of most members lived full-time in Washington. Members formed not just a legislature but something very like a club, with bipartisan twilight softball games on the Capitol grounds, weekend cocktail parties in one another's houses, and long end-of-session car-pool trips back to their home states."
Also, my friends, the green light at the end of Daisy's dock. Bipartisan twilight softball games on the Capitol grounds, and oh, friends, everyone was PLU and had the most rollicking stories about the antics of their supper clubs at Princeton, such sporting fine lads they were. You may now vomit. Oh, for the days when Congress was"very like a club," and the members all liked each other. No.
Finally, I absolutely cannot help but throw down another block quote, because this may just be the funniest thing ever written in the English language:
In 1993, at the start of the Clinton administration, The New York Times's White House team consisted of Thomas Friedman, Maureen Dowd, Gwen Ifill, Richard Berke, and the late Michael Kelly, each of whom had covered politics or foreign policy at high levels for years, and each of whom went on to be either an op-ed columnist or top editor at one outlet or another. Today the briefing room is filled with correspondents for whom the White House is their first big assignment. The life experiences -- and thus the sense of perspective, history, and balance -- of today's Washington reporters are qualitatively different from those of their predecessors. An entire generation of Beltway journalists has come of age being taught that the way to succeed is to be a smart -- if not smart-alecky -- young thing.
Ohhhhhh, for the days when White House reporters were giants, my friends, giants! Worldly and wise, they had traveled the world, and they knew it well, with depth and care. Men and women of extraordinary intellectual gifts, they were not the sort to rely on mere cleverness, this smart-alecky show-off stuff. The White House press room may never again see the kind of exceptional sense of perspective and history brought to the job by sober journalists like...Maureen Dowd and Thomas Friedman.
Today, with the coarseness of Washington news media culture, you could easily imagine the nation's media elites descending into a mad pile-on over some insane presidential sex scandal or something. Thank god something like that could never have happened during the Clinton era, when Maureen Dowd brought her extensive life experience to the table.
I only wish I had a Walter Cronkite to tell me what to think of all this.