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.
Steve Crawshaw, in the (London) Independent (July 13, 2004):
For 60 years, Germany has been feeling worried. Worried by its own criminal history, worried by the judgement of others - and worried that the lure of Adolf Hitler is not yet dead. Few Germans would seriously argue that modern German democracy is endangered. None the less, the just- in-case taboos remain in place, above all when it comes to the dictator himself.
Elsewhere in Europe, it is easy to find copies of Mein Kampf on the shelves. In the words of the English-language edition, "It remains necessary reading for those who care to safeguard democracy." In Germany, where it was once compulsory reading, it is considered too sensitive to put on sale. Even the dictator's image is subject to powerful taboos. English-language books on the Third Reich often have photographs of the Fuhrer on the cover. When those same books are translated into German, the pictures of...
Andrew Cunningham, in the Daily Telegraph (July 14, 2004):
[Dr. Andrew Cunningham teaches at Charterhouse.]
Fifty years ago, their names tripped off the tongue: Clive of India, Wolfe of Quebec, Captain Cook, Mungo Park, Livingstone and Stanley, Baden-Powell of Mafeking, Kitchener of Khartoum. Every schoolchild grew up knowing these imperial greats. On the wall of most classrooms was a map of the world, one-third coloured pink, as a reminder.
Now, 50 years of progressive education and misguided history teaching have done what these figures' opponents never quite managed - killed them off. Ask any teenager today about the illustrious names on this list and you'll meet with a complete blank. As far as history teaching in schools is concerned, the British Empire may as well not have happened. Our children are never taught about it.
These are the unsurprising findings of Ofsted, which complained this week that schools spend...
Richard Steven Street, in the Chronicle of Higher Ed (July 16, 2004):
[Richard Steven Street is a journalist and historian. This article is adapted from his book Photographing Farmworkers in California, just published by Stanford University Press. He is also the author of Beasts of the Field: A Narrative History of California Farmworkers, 1769-1913 (Stanford University Press, 2004).]
Scholars are sometimes vague about the exact origins of a book, especially when the research and writing span more than half their lifetime. Not me. Although I devoted 30 years to this study, I can still recall its violent and bloody birth.
On Tuesday, July 31, 1973, while beginning my career as an agricultural photographer, I followed the United Farm Workers Union (UFW) in the Coachella and San Joaquin valleys of California. The year had been a disaster for the UFW. In January, the...
In 1826, my great-great-grandfather, Robert Dimsdall Burr of Philadelphia, left the United States and traveled to Chile, where he settled on a remote southern island to make his fortune.
But even though I was born and grew up in South America, I knew from a very young age that I was part of an extremely old North American family and that I was associated with a very grand, very dashing character who had been a founding father, a hero of the American Revolution, a senator from New York and Thomas Jefferson's first vice president — but whose career had come to an ignominious end because he fought a duel with, and killed, Alexander Hamilton.
As a child in Chile, I didn't think very much about this story or about my fabled ancestor, Aaron Burr. I wasn't in touch with my North American family. It was all very distant,...
Those commentators who have recently proclaimed that Ronald Reagan's presidency was what sent communism into the dustbin of history seem to be over estimating the role that individuals play in history, and are also ignoring the role played by all American presidents from Harry Truman on who successfully contained the expansionist policies of the Soviet government.
One of the more intriguing...
The Western world is decadent. Its emphasis on individualism is corrupt. Its materialism is dangerous. Its vision of modernity reflects not progress but regress. The West will destroy itself. But if it doesn't, its destruction should be helped along. True salvation can be found only by returning to ancient disciplines and beliefs.
Such views may not seem totally unfamiliar. Similar doctrines are held by Islamist terror groups and by those finding common cause with them. Writers like Paul Berman have already shown a connection between Islamist ideas and 20th-century Western Fascism, with its own atavistic hatreds of modernity. Some of these ideas have emerged on the political left, as well, appearing in Marxist thought and inspiring the anti-globalization movement. Their impact on the political and religious landscape has been profound.
But how did such ideas...
On a recent bright, muggy morning in Manhattan, the screenwriter David Franzoni was reclining in a low-slung chair in the tapestry-strewn barroom at the Ritz-Carlton hotel, across from Central Park, talking about history. Franzoni, who writes big clanging period pictures like"Gladiator" and"Amistad," was wearing jeans, an open-collared shirt and a loose jacket, and waving about a mop of thick black-gray hair (the last time he seems to have put a comb to it was when he accepted the Oscar for"Gladiator").
He was cursing copiously. Reverence was nowhere in sight. Everything was up for revision.
Franzoni on former presidents:"Jefferson -- what a jerk that guy was. Jefferson was an animal." Years ago Franzoni wrote a biopic of George Washington in which he dismantles the third president.
Franzoni on famous battles of yore:"So I'm beginning to think maybe Scipio actually got the crap kicked out of him...
In its first academic year of operations, Students for Academic Freedom has become a nationwide campus movement dedicated to promoting intellectual diversity and to removing political partisanship from the classroom. SAF has inspired legislators in at least ten states and the U.S. Congress to take up the Academic Bill of Rights. Its website www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org has become a leading destination for college students across America. As the end of the school year approaches, it’s time to take stock of our record of accomplishment.
The creation of 135 chapters on as many college and university campuses across the country in just two school terms. Among the schools organized are Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Duke, Brown, UCLA, Berkeley, U. Wisconsin-Madison, Missouri, Emory, Georgia...
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you all very much. Thank you for that warm welcome. And, General, thank you very much for that introduction.
It's always great to see General Kelley, a man who has given so many years of dedicated service to America. Of course, now he's retired from active duty. But you don't want to make the mistake of calling him an ex-Marine - - there is no such thing. And, of course, P. X. is someone I'm very proud to call a friend, he is a great American. General, I want to thank you for the honor you do us today by being here with all of us. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
It's good to be back in New Orleans, and I bring you greetings from our Commander-in-Chief, President George W. Bush. (Applause.)
I'm also pleased to have the opportunity once again to visit the National D-Day Museum. The museum, of course, was founded by one of our nation's great historians, Stephen...
When beloved priests are revealed to be child molesters, Roman Catholic parishes, schools and dioceses face an uncomfortable choice: to remove existing tributes to the clerics and erase glowing references in local histories -- or explain to victims and critics why they continue to honor men who also were pedophiles.
This issue"taps into something that is very difficult for we humans to understand -- the tension that lies between the good that a person can do and the evil that we are all capable of," said Shirl Giacomi, a top administrator with the Diocese of Orange.
"People who have known only the good [the priest has done] have difficulty understanding the evil," she said."And people that have been hurt cannot, rightly so, understand the good."
Some church officials have opted to stick with the pre-revelatory status quo, arguing that history and achievements of the priests should not be obliterated by their misdeeds....
Geoffrey Roberts, in the Irish Times (June 24, 2004):
The 60th anniversary of D-Day has once again highlighted the contribution of Irish volunteers in the British armed forces to the allied victory.
The best estimate is that some 70,000 citizens of the Irish Free State served in the British forces during the war, together with 50,000 from Northern Ireland.
This was half the number that enlisted in Ireland during the first World War, with, thankfully, only 5,000 fatalities, compared to the 30,000 who died in the trenches. But the southern Irish enlistment was a significant contribution from the citizens of a small, neutral state.
On this, as on previous anniversaries, the Irish media lauded the service and sacrifice of the Irish volunteers of the second World War. There was general agreement that the volunteers were fighting for Ireland as well as Britain, and that the allied victory safeguarded Irish freedom and independence.
Max Hastings, in the Daily Telegraph (June 26, 2004):
At one extreme of the spectrum, the task of interpreting history for the media may mean writing a handsomely rewarded 2,000-word article for the Daily Mail, as I did the other day on the theme: "Why are history's great men so often four-letter men?"
I am not ashamed of what I wrote, but nor would I claim that writing of this kind represents any attempt upon the higher peaks of culture. The most that can be said of it is that it distributes modest crumbs of historical knowledge at tables where otherwise the past remains a very misty, remote place.
Work of this kind is, of course, incomparably easier than that which takes place at the scholarly end of the business, where a researcher might devote months to archival research, eventually to generate an essay for a learned journal on land tenure in Worcestershire in the 14th century, which will be read by fewer than 100 people.
Richard Garner, in the Independent (June 27, 2004):
Robert Harris, the best-selling author of historical thrillers, called on history teachers yesterday to embrace the techniques of novelists and television dramatists to bring the subject to life.
Speaking at a gathering of eminent historians, writers and teachers brought together by the Prince of Wales, the author of Fatherland and Enigma said: "We should restore the importance of the narrative when we approach the subject. The human brain latches on to stories, not disjointed facts. Students also have empathy with historical characters - get them to imagine being in a particular place at a particular time and they will understand it better than restricting themselves entirely to the facts."
The annual royal "summer school", held this year at Buxton, also heard from Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, who said that current...
Richard Garner, in the Independent (June 28, 2004):
THE CULT of the celebrity historian is destructive to the way the subject is approached in schools, the historian and broadcaster Dr David Starkey told a teachers' conference yesterday.
There was too much concentration on "new" theories of history, rather than a basic knowledge and understanding of the past, Dr Starkey said. Historical knowledge was more important "because D Starkey will go out of fashion as G R Elton a noted academic who focused on the Tudors will also go out of fashion".
Dr Starkey, who was speaking to a gathering of history teachers attending a weekend summer school organised by the Prince of Wales in Buxton, Derbyshire, said that the current GCSE syllabus was "content indifferent". He added: "This seems to me to be absolutely catastrophic."
Examiners had thrown out factual content and perceived study of defined...
George Cotkin, in the Chronicle of Higher Ed (July 2, 2004):
The state of cultural criticism today, in the view of many, is debilitated, perhaps even moribund. For Birkerts, Alvin Kiernan, Russell Jacoby, and others, there once existed a lively, deep, public, and engaged cultural criticism. Great critics -- Lionel Trilling, Philip Rahv, Clement Greenberg, Alfred Kazin, and Dwight Macdonald -- roamed the roadways of criticism, stopping to dispense sage or impassioned judgments and to uphold standards. What happened?
According to this line of thought, our present generation of cultural critics, arriving after the assault of postmodernism and the increasingly widespread commercialization of culture, has been cast adrift, without any firm basis for judgments. Publications and institutions to support serious criticism, in this view, either no longer exist or are few in number.
"If you knew what you were getting into, would you do it again?" That question was recently posed to me by one of the producers of the PBS series Colonial House, after I had just completed more than a year as a lead consultant for the show. A follow-up to such popular shows as Frontier House and Manor House, the series is an effort to blend reality television with history. A group of modern day" colonists" spent four months of 2003 experiencing the life of settlers in 1628 Maine. The colonists undertook a crash course in seventeenth-century living, were provided with historically accurate food, clothing, shelter, and other necessities, and had to carve out a colony on the harsh and unforgiving shores of a new land. They were filmed regularly, and the result was an eight-hour series that premiered May 17.......
David Waldstreicher, in Common-Place.org (July 2004):
Alan Taylor has remarked upon a certain trend in the recent profusion of books on the Founders. As the reputations of some, like John Adams, are raised, others are condemned. History becomes a parody of Wall Street: a bull market for Hamilton means it is time to sell your stock in Thomas Jefferson.
When the controversial matter of slavery in the nation’s past is added to the mix, the results can be still more dubious. Recently we have seen the emergence of Benjamin Franklin, champion of freedom, and opponent of all forms of slavery. ...
Oddly enough, the antislavery Franklin is claimed not only by both sides of the slavery-and-the-Founders debate, but also by those who, wisely enough, try to mediate between them. Joseph J. Ellis, for example, emphasized the bad faith of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison on slavery only to hold up...
Bruce Bartlett, in the NYT (July 1, 2004):
The death of Ronald Reagan led many of his liberal opponents to reassess his presidency, with some concluding that it was better than they thought at the time. The publication of Bill Clinton's memoir, meanwhile, has led many conservatives to reassess his presidency — and most have concluded that it was as awful as they remembered.
If they were honest with themselves, however, conservatives would view the Clinton presidency the same way many liberals now view the Reagan years. Just as Ronald Reagan was not as bad as many liberals thought, neither was Bill Clinton as bad as many conservatives think.
Like most conservatives, I thought Bill Clinton was a terrible president when he was in office. Especially after the Republicans won control of Congress in 1994, we all dreamed of the paradise that would be ours if we...