Roundup: Talking About History
This is where we excerpt articles about history that appear in the media. Among the subjects included on this page are: anniversaries of historical events, legacies of presidents, cutting-edge research, and historical disputes.
Eric L. Muller, George R. Ward Professor of Law at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in his blog, isthatlegal.org (March 14, 2004):
[In an email to HNN Mr. Muller wrote: "I thought you might be interested in the below blog post about the 'Hall of Great Westerners' run by the National Cowboy and Western History Museum. (By the way, living people can't be inducted into this Hall without their consent, so there's no question Justice O'Connor agreed to this. I would have advised her not to affiliate herself with so one-sided a depiction of a complex and often tragic chapter in American history."]
Suppose you were the National Southern Heritage Museum, and you maintained a Hall of Great Southerners. Suppose further that it's today--2004--and not, say, 1930.
Would you induct more than a couple of African Americans into your...
David Templeton, in filmthreat.com (March 4, 2004):
That’s his word for it. As the end credits finally roll on Mel Gibson’s much-hyped The Passion of the Christ, I turn to gauge the reaction of Dr. Funk, a renowned biblical scholar, historian, and author, best-known as the founder of the controversial Jesus Seminar, and as Director of the Westar Institute, a nonprofit advocacy group devoted to encouraging “religious literacy.” With a shake of his head, Funk lets out a long, slow sigh (exasperation? relief?) and wearily declares, “Well. Gosh, I don’t know. I’m just flabbergasted.” Five minutes later, as we make our way out to the parking lot, he elaborates a bit, stating, “What in the world has Mel Gibson done in his life that he feels so guilty he has to make a godawful film like that?” Funk adds, “Here’s my bottom line, this movie...
Hilary Mantel, in the Guardian (March 4, 2004):
Anorexia is seen as a modern illness. But is it really so different from the suffering that female saints throughout history have put themselves through.
We are living in a great era of saint-making. Under John Paul II an industrial revolution has overtaken the Vatican. Saints are fast-tracked to the top, and there are beatifications by the bucketload.
Gemma Galgani became a saint in 1940, in the reign of Pius XII. It was a rapid promotion by the standard of those days. After a miserable life, Galgani died of TB in 1903, when she was 25. Her life and writings, say Rudolph Bell and Cristina Mazzoni, authors of The Voices of Gemma Galgani, reveal her to be an old-fashioned saint - Italian, passive, repressed, yet given to displays of flamboyant suffering, to public and extreme fasting and self-denial and the...
Virginia Extra, in the Wash Post (March 11, 2004):
Ulysses S. Grant, the general, is usually recalled as a tough, driven man who saved the Union on the battlefield. Grant, the president, is often remembered as an inept, disengaged and possibly corrupt politician.
The most recent seven of the 26 volumes of "The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant" may not redeem his presidential reputation, but they do show the human side of Grant as reflected in his official and personal correspondence during the White House years.
The editor of the papers, Professor John Y. Simon of Southern Illinois University at Carbondale , began assembling Grant's papers in 1962 and published the first volume in 1967. Volumes 19 through 26 cover most of the presidential years. At 70, Simon said he has the material and the energy to finish the project, with about six volumes remaining.
For his life's work in Civil War scholarship, Simon will...
Rory Carroll, in the Guardian (March 11, 2004):
North African pirates abducted and enslaved more than 1 million Europeans between 1530 and 1780 in a series of raids which depopulated coastal towns from Sicily to Cornwall, according to new research.
Thousands of white Christians were seized every year to work as galley slaves, labourers and concubines for Muslim overlords in what is today Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Libya, it is claimed.
Scholars have long known of the slave raids on Europe. But American historian Robert Davis has calculated that the total number captured - although small compared with the 12 million Africans shipped to the Americas in later years - was far higher than previously recognised.
His new book, Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast, and Italy, 1500-1800, concluded that 1...
Columnist Denise Smith Amos, in Cincinatti.com (March 8, 2004):
QUESTION: Why do so many history books in grade school and high school leave out so much history, even of recent events? They seem bland. Can't history books tell a story, instead of just conveying facts and dates?
ANSWER: Bland is in the eye of the beholder, but at least one education think tank agrees with this assessment.
The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education reform group in Washington, D.C., says some widely used history textbooks are"fat, dull, boring books that mention everything but explain practically nothing."
The institute in recent years has been publishing studies decrying the decline of history and social studies education in American schools.
This year, it rated half of all states' history education standards as inadequate. Its most...
David Remnick, in the New Yorker (March 8, 2004):
Last week, while the critics, the clergy, and the professional opinion-providers were caught up in the opening, on Ash Wednesday, of "The Passion of the Christ," it seemed a good idea to ask Elaine Pagels, a renowned historian of the early Christian period, to see the film and offer her reaction. Scholarship on the quick, admittedly. Professor Pagels, who teaches at Princeton and is the author of "The Gnostic Gospels" and "The Origin of Satan," seemed hesitant at first. But one evening she viewed "The Passion" with some friends, and afterward she called to say that she was, well, disturbed. And not just because of the unremitting and brutal flaying of Christ, "though my friends said that anyone who had really endured that kind of torture would have been dead a lot earlier in the movie."
Pagels is both a scholar and, in her way, a...
From an anonymous correspondent in Dharamsala, India, as published by the Australian(March 10, 2004):
TODAY marks the 45th anniversary of Tibet's bloody rebellion against Chinese rule that led to the exile of the Dalai Lama, who enjoys a worldwide following but can only hope that he will ever see his homeland again.
Since taking up residence in India in 1959, the Dalai Lama has toured 44 countries, been received by three US presidents and won the Nobel Peace Prize, but his travels are ritually denounced by China , which boasts it freed Tibet from a "feudal" regime.
Most residents of today's Tibet have not lived under the Dalai Lama, whose predecessors ruled as omnipotent incarnations of the Buddha, and even among the 120,000 Tibetans in exile there are grumblings that the 68-year-old monk's peaceful approach has borne little progress.
The Dalai Lama spent a week in a Bombay hospital in 2001 being...
Arnold Beichman, a Hoover Institution research fellow, in the Washington Times (March 8, 2004):
In the dear old days of the Soviet Union, there grew up two subdisciplines in Western political science. One was called Kremlinology, the other Sovietology.
These disciplines were developed because the Soviet Union was pledged to the overthrow of democratic countries, it had become a great military power and, as a closed society, it was immune to normal research procedures.
During Josef Stalin's dictatorship, Kremlinologists, usually academic specialists and foreign correspondents in Moscow, tried to determine the Politburo batting order by comparing from one year to the next photos of, for instance, the May Day parade and seeing which Politburo member stood closest to Stalin in he group photo. Another technique was to examine each day's Izvestia or Pravda,...
Joshua Green, in the Atlantic Monthly (March 2004):
The [Confederate] flag's fiercest critics, in Georgia as elsewhere, have been black leaders angered by its association with segregation and slavery and white businessmen hurt by the economic dislocations that accompany such strife. In an effort to extinguish the controversy and celebrate a New South of tolerance and prosperity, in 2001 [Georgia] Governor Roy Barnes replaced the flag with one that did not feature the Southern Cross. Voters responded the following year by replacing Barnes. They elected Sonny Perdue, the state's first Republican governor since Reconstruction, who appeared as untroubled by the flag's legacy as he was attuned to its power. This stunning upset of Barnes (once a dark-horse presidential candidate) was led by rural white voters who turned out in record numbers on the strength of Perdue's promise to hold a...
Myles Kantor, in FrontPageMag.com (March 11, 2004):
Stanley Payne is Hilldale-Jaume Vicens Vives Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. An eminent scholar of Spain and fascism, his books include The Franco Regime , Spain's First Democracy: The Second Republic, 1931-1936 , and A History of Fascism, 1914-1945 . Payne's The Spanish Civil War, the Soviet Union, and Communism is forthcoming from Yale University Press.
What were the causes of the Spanish Civil War?
The main cause was the growth of the revolutionary process, by which the revolutionary movements sought to replace the democratic Republic with a revolutionary regime. But a second cause was the aim of the rightist groups also to replace the Republic, though until the rebellion that began the civil war they were much more respectful of law and...
Neil J. Kressel, in theChronicle of Higher Education(March 11, 2004):
For many decades, social scientists of every disciplinary stripe have placed themselves in the forefront of the battle against bigotry. On the basis of that record, one might expect to find psychologists, sociologists, and others hard at work studying the dynamics of Jew-hatred in the Muslim world. But that is far from the case.
These days, more than a few leading Muslim clerics routinely denounce Jews with dehumanizing rhetoric. For example, in April 2002, Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi of Egypt, one of the most important Sunni clerics, described Jews in his weekly sermon as"the enemies of Allah, descendants of apes and pigs." Sheikh Abd Al-Rahman Al-Sudayyis, the imam of the most important mosque in Mecca, similarly sermonized that the Jews are"the scum of the human race,...
Yale historian Jon Butler, in the Journal of American History (subscribers only) (March 2004):
It has seldom been possible, much less wise, to assess American history before the Civil War without taking religion seriously. The Puritans fascinated nineteenth-century historians and novelists alike, although the portraits left by Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville easily outlasted those crafted by George Bancroft or even the truculent Brooks Adams. Then in the 1930s Samuel Eliot Morison and Perry Miller transformed the Puritans' crabbed image by taking them seriously as intellectuals."Puritanism was one of the major expressions of the Western intellect," Miller proclaimed, and his reassessment stimulated an outpouring of American Puritan studies that continued into the 1990s. This mountainous scholarship not only revised our view of the Puritans, but led to a renaissance...
Richard Rothstein, research associate for the Economic Policy Institute, in the Journal of American History (subscribers only) (March 2004):
Americans have never considered learning history to be an end in itself. Instruction about history and the development of political institutions (civics) has always been justified as an exercise that would produce better citizens, however blandly defined. Yet educators have never successfully explained how the content of history or civics curricula promotes the stated goal of good citizenship. Even when educators duck this problem of means and ends and treat history and civics instruction as an end in itself, they have no realistic expectations of what students should learn. Most definitions of student proficiency are corrupted by nostalgia for alleged past achievement levels that never existed.
What is more, educators cannot...
Sam Wineburg, professor of education at Stanford, in the Journal of American History (subscribers only) (March 2004):
Results from the 1987, 1994, and 2001 administrations of the National Assessment of Educational Progress ( NAEP , known informally as the"Nation's Report Card") have shown little deviation from earlier trends. In the wake of the 2001 test came the same stale headlines ("Kids Get 'Abysmal' Grade in History: High School Seniors Don't Know Basics," USA Today ); the same refrains of cultural decline ("a nation of historical nitwits," wagged the Greensboro [North Carolina] News and Record ); the same holier-than-thou indictments of today's youth ("dumb as rocks," hissed the Weekly Standard ); and the same boy-who-cried-wolf predictions of impending doom ("when the United States is at war and under terrorist threat," young people...
Roy Peter Clark, senior scholar at the Poynter Institute, in the St. Petersburg Times (March 7, 2004)::
To me, the greatest tragedy of human history is not the crucifixion of Jesus. (His death, after all, is a Divine Comedy for us believers.) The tragedy lies in how we Christians have used the story of Jesus to hurt the Jews. This injustice will be visited upon our Jewish brothers and sisters with each viewing of The Passion of the Christ, not because the film is a hyperviolent distortion of the Gospels, but because it is a mostly accurate meditation on the central story of Christianity.
Let me state my thesis more boldly: Every time we Christians tell the story of our salvation, we hurt the Jews. As Catholic author and historian James Carroll argues, it did not have to be this way. A truer story of the Jewish rabbi named Yeshua - we call him Jesus - could have emerged over the centuries and...
David Shaw, writing for the Los Angeles Times (March 7, 2004)
Early in my career, I had a city editor -- an otherwise reasonable man, a talented journalist and a good friend -- who nonetheless spun the most astonishingly farfetched conspiracy theories about the assassination of President Kennedy. In one of his more fevered imaginings -- spun over his desk at work and over bourbon and poker in his home -- my friend told a conspiracy tale in which a police officer in Long Beach was murdered, in the police station, to cover up his role in the assassination and its coverup.
But not even my friend went as far as a History Channel documentary broadcast in November that argued -- no, insisted -- that Lyndon Johnson"murdered John Kennedy to become president and to avoid prison," as one Texas lawyer said in the opening moments of"The Guilty Men," one program in a 12-hour series called"The Men Who Killed Kennedy."
Andrew Bridgeford, author of the new book, 1066: The Hidden History of the Bayeux Tapestry (Fourth Estate); in the London Times (March 6, 2004):
For almost a thousand years the Bayeux Tapestry has survived wars, revolution, theft and neglect. Today, it is seen by thousands of visitors every year -a strip of connecting linen panels almost the length of a football pitch that tell in exquisite detail the story of the Norman Conquest. It is one of the most important historical documents of all time, a near-contemporary record of the last successful invasion of English soil.
But as much as the bloody epic it recounts, the adventures of the tapestry itself have the power to intrigue and captivate us. How is it that so fragile an object has not been lost to history? An inventory of Bayeux Cathedral in 1476 tells us of "a very long and narrow hanging of linen, on which are embroidered figures and...