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.
Computer history is carefully stored at a US university.
I am writing this in the reading room of the Charles Babbage Institute at the University of Minnesota, perched above the Mississippi River in the suburbs of Minneapolis. The institute, founded in 1977, is one of the few organisations in the world devoted to the history of the computer industry and information technology.
Over the past 25 years the institute has collected an archive of more than 600 cubic metres of documents on the history of computing. I have come to Minneapolis to visit this fine collection. It contains the private papers of many of the pioneers of the computer industry and a lot of internal company records. These include the entire corporate archives of Burroughs, one of the two companies that merged to form Unisys in 1987.
There are hundreds of thousands of brochures, reports, market research analyses and other documents either not...
When people think of Greece they often think of the ancient civilisation that built the Parthenon, created many of the sciences and established the original Olympic Games. There are many reminders of the age when Greece was possibly the most advanced civilisation on Earth. It was at the height of Ancient Greek civilisation that we saw some of the first serious attempts to understand science and the world without reference to magic or gods. The Ancient Greeks made some major contributions to modern society, many of which have spread to the entire world.
The word democracy was coined by the ancient Greeks from the words demos, meaning people, and kratos, meaning rule. Even though forms of shared power had existed in many forms before, particularly in small farming communities, it was the Greek city states that recognised people - as long as they were not slaves or women - as citizens and...
The Justice Department has advised the White House that President Bush (and those who follow his orders) may contravene treaties, U.S. law and international law under the broad doctrine of"necessity."
This advice contrasts sharply with that of an earlier White House, under Lyndon Johnson, during the Vietnam War. In that war, the decision was made to employ the full powers of the commander in chief to buttress and reinforce the Geneva Conventions and the criminal sanctions under the U.S. Code that followed from these conventions. Attorney General John Ashcroft and others in the administration have suggested that the recent disclosures about abuses at Abu Ghraib prison are simply a reflection of the universal"hard side" of war. It was ever thus and will forever be is the implication. Yet the record of the U.S. military in...
The battle of ideas is a major front in the war on terrorism. Images on Arab satellite television vie with sound-bites on United States cable news. But at a deeper level, the battle is also over history.
Addressing US Air Force graduates on June 2, US President George W. Bush recalled a historic message received by Allied soldiers during World War II. US General Dwight Eisenhower's Great Crusade speech had rallied Allied forces to the liberation of Europe. Although President Bush quoted General Eisenhower's D-Day address, he diplomatically omitted his phrase 'Great Crusade'. These words would only have played into the hands of militant Islamists. After all, Osama bin Laden's preferred title for Al-Qaeda is the 'World Islamic Front for holy war against Jews and Crusaders'.
How and why has an episode in mediaeval history become so important in today's war on terrorism? For elements of the ummah, the worldwide community...
No one can prove whether our earliest ancestors swore, but it's dang likely.
Linguists have traced some of Americans' favorite four-letter words to the 11th century. Over the next 600 years, many other profane terms were incorporated into the lower-class vernacular of most languages. By 1785, an English scholar, Captain Francis Grose, had enough material to assemble a Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. According to Grose,"fusty luggs" referred to a"sluttish woman," and a man's sexual organ was known as a"plug tail." Women's breasts were variously referred to as"apple dumplin' shop" and"Cupid's kettle drums." An exclamation of surprise was"zounds!"; a foolish fellow a"nincumpoop."
Immigrants brought their oaths to America. In the country's early years, most cussing involved religious, rather than sexual, taboos. Taking the Lord's name in vain was a sin, but throughout the ages people coined substitutes considered slightly...
Of all the stirring images from this month's farewell and funeral for Ronald Reagan, none may be more enduring than this: five presidents, bent into church pews, in prayer for one of their own.
The death of a president is always a poignant moment. It is the rare time in our civic life when remembrance trumps recrimination, when reflection and reconciliation prevail. It is a reminder, too, of the special burden of the presidency, and of how the 43 men who have shared that burden have shared a special bond as well.
Presidential reunions are rare, coming only at the opening of presidential libraries and at funerals. One of the most striking glimpses of the Kennedy years comes from a picture taken at the funeral of House Speaker Sam Rayburn. Crammed into a North Texas church were three presidents (Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy) plus a man who, on another day in Texas in another year, would...
Historians have often cited the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863, as the turning point of the Civil War. Historians and history buffs remain perplexed by this question: What if Gen. Robert E. Lee's chief scout, Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, and his 4,500 cavalrymen had arrived on time for the first day of battle, rather than tired and on the afternoon of the second day? Would Stuart's presence have assured a Confederate victory?
The story behind his tardy arrival begins at the Fauquier County village of Rector's Crossroads (now Atoka) on June 22, 1863, and ends at the Loudoun County ford across the Potomac River called Rowser's (or Rowzie's) on June 27.
On June 22, Stuart received a directive from Lee, whose more than 80,000 troops were trekking north in the Shenandoah Valley or had already crossed the Potomac River. Lee told Stuart to send three of his five cavalry brigades across the Potomac to guard the right (east)...
Facing an estimated 800 sexual-abuse lawsuits in California, Roman Catholic officials have argued that the church learned only in recent years that it had a widespread problem with priests molesting children.
A report in February by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, for example, said Cardinal Roger M. Mahony and other bishops didn't realize until 1985 that sexual abuse by clergy was"more than a matter of tragic but isolated incidents."
But a North Carolina priest and two former monks who live in Southern California say they have scoured ancient Vatican records and forgotten Latin texts to show just the opposite: that the church has recognized the problem of abuse by priests for at least 1,700 years and has failed to address it successfully.
"The contention that the present scandal is isolated to this era is completely debunked by the Roman Catholic Church's own documents," concluded Father Thomas P. Doyle and former monks...
Love and lust, friendship and betrayal, action and romance, heroes and villains, right and might -- all are parts of the legend of King Arthur.
And the History Channel adds the element of mystery as it tries to determine the truth behind the legend in"Quest for King Arthur." The special debuts on Sunday at 9 p.m. and is narrated by Patrick Stewart.
Was the legend ever true? Were the heroes ever real? These are just two of the many questions investigated by the two-hour program, which was filmed in England and uses reenactments of battles and other events to delve into what's history and what's myth.
In its sleuthing, the documentary also uses maps, art, historic writings, and interviews with experts who discuss archaeology and medieval warfare as well as history and literature.
"Quest for King Arthur" began about two years ago in a brainstorming session, said Beth Dietrich Segarra, vice president of historical...
Spiro T. Agnew's monkey skin cape haunts its keepers.
A gift to the vice president of the United States from the president of Kenya in 1971, the cape now rests folded in a long yellow box at the University of Maryland archives, along with an unusual assortment of other objects from Agnew's political life.
There's a painting of Agnew that archivists refer to as"beaver teeth," because of the woody hue the artist chose for his subject's incisors. It hangs next to another portrait of the former vice president made entirely of tiny bird feathers -- a gift from Suharto, the former president of Indonesia. Then there's the painting of Agnew as a circus clown with orange hair and a cocked top hat.
An inflatable Agnew punching bag, a set of"S-T-A" branding irons and a plaque from the 1972"Salute to Ted Agnew Night," featuring special guest Frank Sinatra and master of ceremonies Bob Hope, are also entombed in the 10-by-17-foot...
In the summer of 2002, an elderly woman named Gladys Watt walked into the Historical Society in Greenwich, Conn., with a weathered leather-bound notebook. The notebook had belonged to her neighbor, Lydia Turnage Connolly, who died in 1984 at the age of 99. When Mrs. Connolly moved into a nursing home in the early 1980's, she asked her friend to keep her things.
Mrs. Watt had known her neighbor for years, but had not known that Mrs. Connolly was black, the daughter of a former Alabama slave, Wallace Turnage, who at some point in the late 19th century wrote an account of his years in slavery and his escape. (Mrs. Connolly never told her neighbors that she was black, instead describing herself as"Portugee.")
Her father's notebook, along with another recently surfaced narrative by a former Virginia slave, John Washington, is being studied by a Yale...
RONALD REAGAN'S legacy as a party builder has gotten short shrift. The Republicans were able to win a majority in the House in 1994 for the first time in 40 years, and then keep that majority in 1996 for the first time since 1928, because we were close students of Reagan. When House Republicans stood on the Capitol steps in 1994 and announced our Contract With America, we were standing on President Reagan's shoulders. This is not merely a nice phrase. It was true in the issues highlighted, in voter appeal, and in the actual staging of the event.
The issues in the Contract With America were almost entirely derived from Ronald Reagan's speeches dating back into the 1960s. Welfare reform--look at Governor Reagan in 1970 at the National Governors' Conference as the start of a 26-year effort that culminated when President Clinton...
Ronald Wilson Reagan, the 40th president of the United States, who was buried last week, had an often-adversarial relationship with higher education, both as president and as governor of California.
To achieve one of his major goals as president -- the reduction of federal spending -- Mr. Reagan proposed numerous cutbacks in funds for colleges, although most of his proposals were rejected by Congress, and he abandoned the effort late in his presidency.
The Reagan era also saw the publication of a major federal report that criticized the state of American education; the first significant efforts to crack down on abuses in student-aid programs, especially at for-profit colleges; conflicts between government secrecy during the cold war and the free exchange of scientific ideas; a foreign invasion conducted in part to rescue American medical...
ANCHORS: STEVE INSKEEP
REPORTERS: JUAN WILLIAMS
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Here in the United States, former President Bill Clinton releases his memoirs next week after years of anticipation and a carefully controlled publicity campaign. Publisher Alfred A. Knopf has kept the book away from reviewers and controlled the release of advance information--all part of an effort to build up anticipation for the book itself. Here's NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams.
JUAN WILLIAMS reporting:
The book is titled"My Life," but anyone who remembers the years 1992 to 2000 knows that President Clinton's life set the beat for much of the nation's political and cultural arguments. The former president has written his version of those years and his political upbringing in a 957-page tome that will be released as the clock strikes 12:01 AM Tuesday.
Unidentified Man: Please join me in welcoming President William Jefferson Clinton...
Michael McGough, in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (June 14, 2004):
...Reagan was raised in his mother's Protestant faith rather than in the Catholicism of his father. What, one wonders, would his mother have thought about a funeral for her son at which an Irish tenor sang "Ave Maria" as well as "Amazing Grace"?
Of course, it would be too much to credit Ronald Reagan with a convergence in forms of worship that began even before the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s. As the church historian Owen Chadwick points out in "The Christian Church in the Cold War," after World War II both Protestants and Catholics "altered their way of worship, radically and almost simultaneously, and the result was to make Protestants feel more at home in Catholic worship and Catholics feel more at home in Protestant worship."
Reagan may or may not have won the Cold War, but he had nothing to do with the innovation...
Michael Ollove, in the Balt Sun (June 13, 2004):
Alger Hiss won't go away.
No matter that his conviction was more than half a century in the past. That the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union have vanished. That Hiss himself -- traitor or martyr -- is nearly eight years dead. Somehow, some way, Alger Hiss manages to slip back into the public conversation.
So here he is again, this time as sideshow in the debate over the Bush administration's nomination of Allen Weinstein as the new national archivist, the executive who oversees preservation and access to historic government records.
The fight involves issues far removed from whether Hiss, the debonair, Baltimore-born diplomat and New Dealer, was really a spy in the employ of the Soviets, as Weinstein has written. But it nonetheless has brought out old Hiss antagonists, including Weinstein and The...
Steve Rubenzer, in the Boston Globe (June 13, 2004):
Harry Truman said that being dumb was just about the worst thing for a president. Was he right? Or are there other personality traits that can predict the success of the occupant of the White House?
We recently examined the personalities of all 43 presidents; we asked 120 authors of presidential biographies to complete personality assessments of the men they studied. These ratings were correlated with assessments of presidential greatness by historians. Using our data, University of Minnesota professor Deniz Ones, an expert on the relationship of personality to job performance, identified nine personal qualities that can be counted on...
Philip Dray, an historian and co-producer, with Hank Linhart, the chairperson of media arts at Pratt Institutue, of "Fearful Visitation: New York's Great Steamboat Fire of 1904"; in Newsday (June 15, 2004):
A city still determining how best to memorialize the terror attacks of 9/11 may find special meaning in today's 100th anniversary observance of the worst previous disaster in New York City's history: the burning of the steamboat General Slocum in the East River on June 15, 1904, which killed 1,021 people.
The Slocum tragedy challenged the city's ability to adequately respond to an emergency, decimated the Lower East Side's German-American community, and brought an outpouring of public grief and several official inquiries. Yet by the end of the 20th century the incident had been almost entirely forgotten.
Examining why the Slocum has faded from consciousness forces us to ponder the way history works - the reasons we remember some...
Ahron Bregman, the author of Israel's Wars: A History Since 1947, in Newsday (June 16, 2004):
...Mixing facts and fiction and rewriting the history of the Holy Land is part of the Palestinians' struggle against Israel and part of their negotiating tactics. In fact, quite recently, during the July 2000 Camp David summit, Arafat, who during the summit failed to put on the table a single constructive plan for peace, did come up with an interesting suggestion. U.S. envoy Dennis Ross, who was present when Arafat spoke, explained that Arafat "did offer one new idea, which was that the Temple didn't stand in Jerusalem but in Nablus."
But Arab and Palestinian propaganda does not stop there, for it goes on to challenge not only Jewish and Israeli rights to the ancient parts of Palestine but also to the more modern parts of it. Thus, in school textbooks and other publications it is often claimed that the land of modern Israel was in fact "stolen...
Bill Adair, in the St. Petersburg Times (June 14, 2004):
After a week of tributes and eulogies to President Ronald Reagan, his admirers plan to move quickly with a proposal to put his face on coins or currency.
Putting Reagan on the $10 or $20 bill has the strongest backing right now. But that could prompt an unusual battle pitting Reaganites against supporters of Andrew Jackson, the populist president on the $20, or against the fans of Alexander Hamilton, the Founding Father on the $10 who has had a resurgence in popularity.
On Capitol Hill last week, there were discussions of dollar-bill musical chairs: Reagan to the $10, Hamilton to the $50, while Ulysses Grant, the face on the $50, would be eliminated. That approach is based on the belief that Grant doesn't have as much lobbying clout in the nation's capital as Jackson or Hamilton.
Others would like Reagan on a coin.
Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Chumuckla, introduced a bill to put him...