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.
Charles Lane, in theWash Post(March 5, 2004):
The reputation of the Supreme Court of the United States depends heavily on the public's belief that it is not only an independent branch of government, but almost a world apart -- where, unlike Congress or the presidency, the law, not politics or personality, holds sway.
Yet, from the inside, that is not exactly how it looked to Harry A. Blackmun.
Rather, by the end of his 23-year-career as an associate justice of the court, the liberal Blackmun was stewing about what he saw as attempts by court conservatives to manipulate the court's docket for political advantage. And he was inclined to see his colleagues' occasionally flip-flopping votes as driven partly by principle, partly by personal concerns.
"I have often suspected that Justice [Sandra Day] O'Connor has been...
Daniel Finkelstein, in the London Times (March 5, 2004):
Today is the 30th anniversary of Harold Wilson's return to 10 Downing Street for his final two years as Prime Minister. He may have thought it little more than a footnote to his six-year stretch in the 1960s. But his 1974-76 Government deserves a chapter of its own. For it was the worst British Government of the 20th century.
In order to appreciate just how bad it was, it is not necessary to have good contacts in MI5. Simply spend a couple of hundred pounds buying the memoirs of the people who participated in those two awful years of government. Contained in their pages you will find eye-opening stories of incompetence, feuding, incoherence and incomprehension. When you start reading you may consider my judgment harsh. By the time you finish you will consider it irrefutable.
If you would rather spend a couple of hundred pounds on something else...
Jonathan Brent, in the Chronicle of Higher Education (March 10, 2004):
You cannot compromise with revanchists," Alexander Nikolaevich Yakovlev tells me as we sit and talk in his office at the International Democracy Foundation, in a renovated mansion located on Malaya Gruzinskaya Street in Moscow, not far from the city center.
Yakovlev is 80; his gray hair is swept neatly back, revealing jagged lines of thought that converge on his forehead like a geological formation. He limps from a World War II injury and possesses penetrating black eyes. Formerly the Soviet ambassador to Canada and educated at Columbia University, he speaks good English, but there is a practiced distance in his manner. His tone of voice turns easily to irony, deflecting familiarity.
After some topics of general conversation, such as America's intentions in Iraq,...
Leslie Lindenauer, assistant professor of history and women's studies at the University of Hartford and executive director of the Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame, in the Hartford Courant (March 7, 2004):
1872 was seven years after the close of the Civil War, a war that had forced Americans to confront slavery and ponder the meaning of liberty, and two years after the passage of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, enfranchising African American men.
1872 was the year Susan B. Anthony was arrested for voting. A warrant for her arrest lays out the charge.
That startling document - nestled, chronologically, in the middle of the always impressive, often moving exhibit"American Originals: Treasures from the National Archives" - tells but one of dozens of complex stories that capture our imagination and infuse...
Connie Levett, in smh.com.au (March 8, 2004):
An instruction to"up the mateship and increase the larrikinism" in an account of Australians in World War I came at the cost of the role women played in the war, says a Sydney historian, Caroline Viera Jones.
Likewise, she says, a Henry Lawson poem was tweaked by an editor to endorse mateship at the cost of a woman's reputation.
Ms Jones, an editor and historian, had noted the Australian story was littered with the feats of men, and wondered whether editors and publishers, rather than the writers themselves, were responsible for the women missing in action. In the early manuscripts of C.E.W. Bean's 12 volumes on World War I women were present both as battlefield nurses and back in Australia, until publisher George Robertson, of Angus and Robertson, told Bean to"up the mateship and increase the larrikinism".
"With Bean, by...
Tracy Early, in the Catholic News Service (March 8, 2004):
Pope Pius XII, who was elected to the papacy in 1939 after service as a Vatican diplomat and then secretary of state, should be evaluated in the context of the international situation in which he worked, a Catholic historian said in a lecture March 4.
Jesuit Father Gerald P. Fogarty, professor of religious studies and history at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, said Catholics should not react to criticism of the pope with defensiveness.
But he said they also should not"jump on the bandwagon" to join in the condemnation that has come to Pope Pius XII from the authors of a number of recent books and articles. These critics have emerged only since Rolf Hochhuth's 1963 play,"The Deputy," and present a picture different from that given by historical sources of the pope's own time, he said.
James Taranto, editor of OpinionJournal.com and co-editor of Presidential
Leadership: Rating the Best and the Worst in the White House, to be published
in June by Wall Street Journal Books; in WSJ
(March 8, 2004):
Upon signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Lyndon Johnson is said to have told aide Bill Moyers, "I think we have just delivered the South to the Republican Party for a long time to come."
At first blush, these words seem prophetic. Al Gore failed to carry a single Southern state in 2000, and in January John Kerry hinted that he may write off the entire region, with its 161 electoral votes. "Everybody always makes the mistake of looking South," Mr. Kerry said. "Al Gore proved he could have been president of the United States without winning one Southern state, including his own."
It's an article...
Michael Kammen, on the subject of his forthcoming book, A Time to Every Purpose: The Four Seasons in American Culture; in the Chronicle of Higher Education(March 8, 2004):
...The four-seasons motif arrived in America in the 17th century. Before industrialization, it remained largely derivative from European perceptions and rarely innovative. Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, for example, were spellbound by "The Seasons," written by the 18th-century Scottish poet James Thomson. Often considered the first book-length poem in English to feature nature, "The Seasons" saw in nature God's plan, helping to reconcile the existence of good and evil.
With the onset of industrialization and urbanization during the 19th century, as fewer Americans lived...
Jay Tolson; Linda Kulman, in US News & World Report (March 8, 2004):
... since the Reformation, a growing number of clerics, theologians, and scholars have worked hard to recover the historical Jesus. To Protestants, this effort was part of the struggle to throw off the "corrupted" misreadings of the Roman Catholic Church and return to the real Jesus. Yet even in the midst of such attempts, a combination of church politics, deeply ingrained prejudice, and limited evidence impeded a full or fair examination of Jesus's Jewishness well into the 20th century.
That has changed during the past 50 years. Aided by finds like the Dead Sea Scrolls, scholars have made great strides in reconstructing the centuries surrounding the Crucifixion. In addition to restoring the fully Jewish context of Jesus's career, they have also shown how some early Christians attempted to distance their founder and his movement from their Jewish roots.
Sally Satel, a psychiatrist and a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and co-author of the forthcoming One Nation Under Therapy, in the NYT (March 5, 2004):
... just as the press has spent a year comparing the invasion of Iraq to Vietnam, it has begun drawing parallels between today's troops and Vietnam veterans, who are believed to suffer from a high rate of war-related psychiatric disorders.
But as we try to help the soldiers of Operation Iraqi Freedom meld back into society, it would be a mistake to rely too heavily on the conventional wisdom about Vietnam. What is generally put forth as an established truth — that roughly one-third of returnees from Vietnam suffered psychological problems — is at best highly debatable.
That much-cited estimate comes from the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study, released in 1990 by the Veterans Administration. It...
George Shadroui, in FrontPageMag.com (March 5, 2004):
Until the mid 1960s, it could be argued, the National Book Awards, a much heralded and sought after honor, was a fair recognition of great writing across different perspectives and genres poetry, fiction, non-fiction, history, etc. But increasingly since the 1960s, the awards have been an exercise in political as much as literary judgment.
To refresh memories, during the 1950s and into the early 1960s a host of writers were honored who crossed the political and cultural spectrum. James Dickey, Wallace Stevens, John Crowe Ransom and Robert Penn Warren won in the arena of poetry. Walker Percy and William Faulkner took honors for their fiction. All were men of arguably conservative sensibilities, even if not notably political. Prominent liberals also were recognized, among them...
Yong Tiam Kui, in the New Straits Times (Malaysia) (March 3, 2004):
IN his famous travelogue Description of the World, Italian traveller and explorer Marco Polo claimed that he reached China with his father and uncle in 1275, met Kublai Khan and impressed him so much that the Mongol emperor made him a special emissary. He said he was sent on missions throughout China and governed the city of Yangzhou for three years before returning to Venice in 1295.
Scholars now suspect that Marco Polo never actually went to China. They believe that he could have gained his knowledge of the Middle Kingdom from Arab or Persian guidebooks.
This is because while he described some features of Chinese society such as porcelain, and the use of coal and paper money, he neglected to mention many others.
For instance, he did not mention tea, chopsticks, foot-binding, the Chinese writing system, woodblock printing...
Khang Hyun-sung, in the South China Morning Post (March 2, 2004):
Contradictory historical claims by China and South Korea over an ancient kingdom that ceased to exist 1,300 years ago has led to an unlikely alliance between the two Koreas, with important implications for a future reunified Korea.
The warrior kingdom of Koguryo, which for almost a century straddled most of the Korean peninsula and a considerable part of what today is northeastern China, was dragged into the public spotlight last year by a Beijing-backed study that concluded it was historically an integral part of China.
The claim has been fiercely rejected by South Korea and the country's academics who consider Koguryo (BC 37-AD 668) to be one of the founding kingdoms of the country and the basis for the word "Korea".
"It is an indisputable historical fact that Koguryo is the root of the Korean nation and an...
The decision by Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat to remove the Soviet military presence from his country during the summer of 1972 has often been viewed as the first step on the road to the October War the following year. By removing the Soviet presence, it has been argued, Sadat was also removing the major obstacle preventing him from engaging in another war with Israel.(1) Though Sadat insisted at the time that the expulsion of the Soviets was simply a result of the growing differences between Moscow and Cairo,(2) and while others have argued that their removal was a direct result of the Soviet-American detente,(3) it seemed clear that since Moscow was opposed to risking its new relationship with the United States by supporting Egypt in another war with Israel, Sadat had no choice but to ask for their departure.
In Washington, American...
Slave labour, beatings, sexual abuse, fear and isolation were the norm for thousands of “Verdingkinder”, or"discarded children", who were given away or sold as cheap labour until the 1950s.
Historian Marco Leuenberger told swissinfo that the time has come for reappraisal of this dark episode.
Leuenberger was ten years old when his father first told him of his childhood as a discarded child. Also aged ten, his father had to endure the daily grind of getting up at 5am and working until late into the night.
Inspired by his father and thousands of children like him, Leuenberger in 1991 embarked on a huge research project to explore this dark chapter in Switzerland's history.
The discarded children were usually orphans, illegitimate or came from the poorest families and they were either given away or sold to farmers....
David Clark Knowlton, associate professor of anthropology at Utah Valley State College, in the Salt Lake Tribune (Feb. 29, 2004):
The controversies stemming from the University of Utah History Department's attempt to fill the position vacated by the untimely death of Dean L. May raise issues of consequence to all of us. While the members of that department have to make the often-difficult decision of who to hire, all of us have a horse in this race.
The Salt Lake Tribune paraphrased a professor in the department saying that"anyone who studies the history of the American West can teach Utah history." It also quotes the department chair, Eric Hinderaker, on the need to"differentiate between Mormon history and Mormon studies."
Of course we in Utah, no matter our religion or ethnicity, have an interest in how the history of our...
Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin, in emediawire (March 2004):
On March 17, Irish people all over the world celebrate the patron who won the souls of their ancestors over fifteen hundred years ago. Celebrated in America since at least 1737, St. Patrick is still one of the most illustrious of the uncanonised saints in the Christian pantheon. An icon to schools and dance halls, public buildings and street names all over the world, his feast day marks a focal point in the cultural calendar of over forty million Americans who claim Irish heritage. And yet, despite the festivities and kitsch, there is much concern in the Irish-American community that modern-day ‘traditions' more often perpetuate derogatory cultural stereotypes of the Irish. As colorful parades make their way down international thoroughfares from Dublin to San Francisco, from Montserrat to Western Australia, the historic...