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.
James Hershberg, associate professor of history and international affairs at George Washington University, in the Wash Post (June 27, 2004):
... Ronald Reagan's policies surely contributed to the dissolution of the Kremlin's empire, culminating in the 1989 anti-communist revolutions in Eastern Europe and the breakup of the Soviet Union two years later. But for the media and Reagan's hagiographers to give the 40th president all the credit is like saying a late-inning relief pitcher had"won" a baseball game without mentioning the starting pitcher, the closer or the teammates who scored the runs that gave the team its lead.
Historians abhor the idea of attributing a vast, complex phenomenon to a single cause. No one person brought down the Soviet Union, but if I had to choose the one who mattered most, that person would not be Reagan, most of whose policies fit comfortably in...
Keith Windschuttle, in the Sydney Line (June 2004):
... [I]n the writing and teaching of history today, the views that are in the ascendancy are those that support a skepticism about the pursuit of objectivity and truth, and those that want to replace political and military history and their focus on great men, with social history and its focus on minority or disadvantaged groups.
I want to argue today that the direction history is now taking is a big mistake.
I'll start with the postmodernist view of historical truth and quote one of its advocates, the Manning Clark Professor of History at the Australian National University, Anne Curthoys, who has written:
Many academics in the humanities and social sciences … now reject … the notion that one can objectively know the facts. The processes of knowing, and the production of an object that is...
"Oswald Spengler," the pseudonym of a columnist, in Asia Times (June 22, 2004):
For serious devotees of torture, Washington's embarrassment about Abu Ghraib paled beside the Vatican's defense last week of the Spanish Inquisition. It turns out, reported church officials at a June 15 press conference, that the Spanish Inquisition burnt at the stake less than 1% of the 125,000 accused heretics brought before it. On the strength of this statistic they qualified Pope John Paul II's previous apology for the Inquisition."A request for forgiveness can only refer to facts that are true and objectively recognized. One does not ask forgiveness for some impressions widely held by public opinion, which contain more myth than reality," said Cardinal Georges...
Edmund Morris, in the New Yorker (June 28, 2004):
There they lie in their guttered drawers, projecting from the rosewood desk I had specially made for them: four yards of cards, each eight inches wide, five inches tall, most of them with his initials handwritten, headline style, in the top left-hand corner, from “rr’s birth zodiac—feb. 6, 1911” to “rr dies of pneumonia—june 5, 2004.” In between these two extremes, some eighteen thousand cards document whatever I was able to find out about thirty-four thousand of Ronald Reagan’s days. Which leaves sixteen thousand days unaccounted for. Lost leaves. “The leavings of a life,” as D. H. Lawrence might say.
I once planned to show Reagan this card file, just to see him...
Back in the days when it was socially important to keep up appearances -- of a happy marriage, a happy home, being happy-go-lucky -- everyone, it seemed, looked smashing. Before the now common public confessional, one's peccadilloes were swept under the rug and unorthodox behavior was engaged in discreetly. People worked hard to present a perfect veneer. Fashion was complicit in constructing that facade.
In the new movie"De-Lovely," about the life of composer Cole Porter and his wife, Linda, clothes serve as an apt metaphor for impossibly perfect glamour hiding complicated, troubled souls. In the film, which opens July 2, the Porters cut dashing figures on the social circuit. Yet their smooth, glib surface camouflages a private life that is painful and rocky. Cole Porter is gay, but he nevertheless marries Linda and creates -- for a time -- a...
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY said yesterday that suggestions the former Iraqi regime did not have a relationship with al Qaeda are"not accurate," and said he would like to see the U.S. government declassify some of the intelligence that supports Bush administration claims about an Iraq-al Qaeda connection.
"I think we should declassify as much as we can," Cheney said in a wide-ranging, 45 minute interview in the vice president's residence at the Naval Observatory in Washington. Cheney said the desire to make public some of the intelligence about Iraq and al Qaeda must be balanced against the need to protect sources and methods."There is always the temptation to respond to the pressures of the moment by putting as much stuff out there as possible. But you don't want to do so in a way that is damaging to our capacity to...
Does Islam’s holy book promote anti-Semitism? To discuss this issue with us today, Frontpage Symposium has assembled a distinguished panel:
Prof. Khaleel Mohammed, Assistant Professor at the Department of Religious Studies at San Diego State University. Bat Ye’or, the author of three major books on dhimmis, jihad, and dhimmitude (www.dhimmitude.org and www.dhimmi.org). On May 1, 1997-- after the publication of The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam. from Jihad to Dhimmitude (1996) -- she testified at a Hearing of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs on 'Religious Persecution in the Middle East' ("An Historical Overview of the Persecution of Christians under Islam. PAST IS PROLOGUE: The Challenge of Islamism Today"). Her latest study is Islam and Dhimmitude. Where Civilizations Collide (2002); see...
Pigeons fluttering through a hole in the ceiling of a Spanish cathedral led an art restoration team to discover a hidden Renaissance fresco of winged angels that had been covered by a false ceiling for more than 300 years.
The team had been working on the baroque dome of the cathedral in Valencia for more than a month, removing gray paint and fending off birds flying in and out of the hole, Valencia's regional government said Thursday.
Underneath, the experts had been hoping to find Renaissance artwork cited in centuries-old cathedral records, although they feared it might be ruined. Their stroke of serendipity came Tuesday when they were drawn to the hole by the pigeons and their cooing.
One of the team leaders, Javier Catala, stuck a digital camera inside, shot blindly and came back with partial but spectacular images of a well...
NEAL CONAN, host: Let's talk now with Michael Renov. Most people's idea of a documentary is more like"Control Room," one that lets the events unfold. But according to Michael Renov, that style is actually a relatively new phenomena in documentary film. He's associate dean of the School of Cinema-Television at the University of Southern California, author of a new about the history of documentaries called"The Subject of Documentary." He joins us from his office in Los Angeles. Thanks very much for being with us today.
Professor MICHAEL RENOV (University of Southern California): A pleasure.
CONAN: Some argue that Michael Moore's film"Fahrenheit 9/11" is not a true documentary. I understand you haven't had a chance to see it yet, but if we assume it's more or less along the lines of the techniques that we saw in Michael Moore's earlier movies, what would you say to that?
Prof. RENOV: The work of Michael Moore fits...
Former President Bill Clinton is reopening many of the bruising political debates of the last decade as he promotes his best-selling book,"My Life." The memoir is part confessional, part policy seminar and part political payback. Mr. Clinton sat down for an interview in New York this week with NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams.
JUAN WILLIAMS reporting:
It's no surprise that the former president is bitter towards prosecutor Kenneth Starr. The independent counsel's investigation of Clinton's sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky led to the president's impeachment. More surprising is Clinton's harsh take on former FBI Director Louis Freeh. Clinton appointed Freeh, but the president says that when the FBI chief ran into difficulty, Freeh turned on him.
Former President BILL CLINTON: Pure politics. Once he got in trouble with the Olympic bomber, when they lost some assets in a drug bust, they had the problems with...
Gwinnett County (Georgia) spent $242,000 restoring the 1840s Yellow River Post Office and nearby slave quarters, but some historians now suggest the historic integrity of the buildings has been compromised.
Richard Laub, director of the heritage preservation program at Georgia State University, said the structures, which were completed in November, may create"a false sense of history" because modern materials and techniques were used.
"It looks like they threw a lot of money at the project, but they made it look new; they lost a lot of the authenticity of the structures," Laub said."I'm glad the county did make some overtures to historic preservation, so it's not a total negative. But the way they carried the project out is not up to preservation standards."
Laub also serves as chairman of the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation awards committee.
Historic preservationist Tommy Hart Jones, who...
Since Sept. 11, television has done a decent job of explaining why they hate us. Tonight PBS reveals why they have always hated us."Rebels and Redcoats: How Britain lost America" is a wickedly revisionist view of the American Revolution, a"Fahrenheit 1776."
When American soldiers are fighting Iraqi insurgents under a besieged banner of freedom and democracy, some viewers may not relish a re-examination of the Stamp Act and Yorktown from the point of view of the British Crown. And certainly the narrator, the British military historian Richard Holmes, gets a bit carried away in the heat of battle re-enactment."Unsportingly," he says,"the Americans were picking off British officers who were easily identifiable by their scarlet rather than their faded red uniforms."
But the two-part documentary, being shown tonight and next Wednesday, is an engaging...
HEADLINE: SPECIAL STATE DEPARTMENT BRIEFING
PARTICIPANTS: SECRETARY OF STATE COLIN POWELL; COFER BLACK, COORDINATOR FOR COUNTERTERRORISM; JOHN BRENNAN, DIRECTOR OF THE TERRORISM THREAT INTEGRATION CENTER
SEC. POWELL: Well, good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Sorry I'm a few minutes late....
I'm here today to brief you on the corrections that we have made to our"Patterns of Global Terrorism" report for 2003.
Let me start out with an observation about the report. The report is mostly a narrative document which goes through patterns and trends of terrorist activities in countries throughout the world and what progress those countries have made and what the pattern looks like within that country.
On balance, it is a good report. The narrative is sound, and we're not changing any of the narrative.
Shortly after the report was issued in late April, it came to our attention, principally through the...
A federal court ruled Wednesday that files compiled by the East German secret police on former Chancellor Helmut Kohl must remain largely sealed, handing Kohl a boost in a years-long legal battle.
Kohl has long argued that wiretaps used by the Stasi to spy on him were illegally obtained and that he deserves protection from damage to his"human dignity." He took the case to the Federal Administrative Court after a Berlin court ruled last year that the files could be released.
The federal court ruled that the files could be released to media"only with the consent of the person affected," except in cases where the information contained is publicly available. Files containing personal information can be released only for research purposes, on condition"that they not fall into the wrong hands or be published," it said.
The decision means that"the Stasi files on former Chancellor Helmut Kohl must remain largely sealed in...
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
On April 15th, 1861, the (technical difficulties). With the start of the Civil War, newspapers became more important than ever. A new book called"The Most Fearful Ordeal" collects The New York Times' newspaper coverage of that war. It not only gives us an idea of how the battles were described in their own time, it shows the state of journalism in that year (technical difficulties). He's a professor of history at Princeton University and the author of several books about the Civil War, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning"Battle Cry of Freedom." Here's a short reading from the beginning of George Smalley's report on the Battle of Antietam which was written for the New York Tribune and was also published in The Times. Smalley was actually a volunteer aide for one of the generals at the battle.
Mr. JAMES McPHERSON (Author): 'Fierce and desperate battle between 200,000 men...
The New-York Historical Society, with a newly hired president and a conservative financier emerging as a board power, is shifting its focus from the city to more national concerns, stirring the objections of some historians and staff members.
Reflecting its new direction, the society has canceled an exhibition marking the centennial of Times Square and scaled back others with a local focus. It is mounting a $5 million exhibition on Alexander Hamilton, the most expensive in the history of the 200-year-old society, officials said.
The Hamilton exhibition, whose curator is Richard Brookhiser, a senior editor at the conservative National Review magazine, will be used for private receptions during this summer's Republican National Convention before opening to the public in September.
This shift in emphasis appears to signal the ascendance on the society's...
Bill Clinton's book release is giving him more chances to take shots at the man who spent five years investigating him, Kenneth Starr. Starr resigned in 1999. That same year the independent counsel law, under whose authority he worked, was allowed to expire.
Whatever you may think about the charges that Starr was asked to probe, or about the investigations themselves, the demise of the independent counsel law was a welcome event. The law had proved a classic case of reform gone awry, and when the time came to legislate its extension in 1999, few in Congress were willing to speak on its behalf.
Congress first passed the law in 1978, with fresh memories of Watergate and President Nixon's firing of the special prosecutor he had named to conduct the probe, Archibald Cox. Cox wanted tapes of the president's conversations with...
Like a scene from a nightmare, horsemen dressed in long white sheets and conical hats launched a reign of terror in the southern states of the US in the years immediately after the Civil War.
To newly emancipated slaves, the night riders represented the ghosts of Confederate dead, risen from their battlefield graves to take up arms again. From its early, primitive beginnings, few groups have generated such fascination, terror and mystery as the Ku Klux Klan. Dedicated to violence, bigotry, political intrigue and manipulation, the Klan encouraged Americans to protect themselves from those deemed to be"unacceptable". Falling into that category were blacks, Jews and Catholics.
The Klan also preached against"dope, bootlegging, graft, nightclubs and road houses, violation of the Sabbath, unfair business dealings and sex and scandalous behaviour". The fact that many of its key members broke several or all of...
The mythical homeland of Mexico's Aztecs – an island known as Aztlan – has eluded historians for centuries, and the quest to find it has become shrouded in political spin and scholarly speculation.
Like the lost Atlantis and Camelot, Aztlan may or may not have existed, but fervent believers have sought it from the desert of Utah to a mangrove swamp in western Mexico.
Academics agree that the Aztecs, a warlike tribe with a passion for human sacrifice, wandered the badlands of central Mexico for years before founding what is now Mexico City around 1325 and then forging the greatest empire of the ancient Americas.
But the original habitat of the people whose history and symbols are still invoked by modern Mexico remains a mystery.
Aztec legend says little about Aztlan, apart from that it was a small island on a lake...
NOT EVERY immigrant coming to America sailed past the Statue of Liberty. For many Europeans making the voyage in the 18th and 19th centuries, coming to America meant landing in or near Fell's Point in Baltimore.
But that city's role in"the peopling of America" is not widely known, says immigration historian Melanie Shell-Weiss. So the Baltimore Immigration Project, a group of interested citizens, business people and academics, is trying to" correct this hole in the story," according to Shell-Weiss, a postdoctoral fellow at the Johns Hopkins University.
One of its first efforts to publicize Baltimore's historic role is an immigration walking tour of Fell's Point, a joint project that the group developed with the Fell's Point Preservation Society. My husband and I, with our three daughters, ages 5, 7 and 9, took the two-hour tour last month...