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.
David Talbot, founder of Salon, at Salon.com (Sept. 15, 2004):
Forty years after the Warren Report, the official verdict on the Kennedy assassination, we now know the country's high and mighty were secretly among its biggest critics.
Once again, we find ourselves in the season of the official report: the 9/11 Commission Report, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report, the Schlesinger inquiry on Abu Ghraib, among others. And once again the official version is under fire....
So it is only appropriate, in this stormy season of the official version and its discontents, that we observe the 40th anniversary of the Warren Report -- the mother of all such controversies. The vast, 26-volume report was delivered by the commission chairman, Chief Justice Earl Warren, to President Johnson on Sept. 24, 1964. The Warren Report concluded that President Kennedy was the...
A study conducted in 2002 by the American Enterprise Magazine at the request of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture showed that of 394 faculty members whose party registrations could be identified at four University of California campuses (Berkeley, UCLA, San Diego and Santa Barbara), 371 were registered Democrats or Greens, as compared to only 23 Republicans or Libertarians. This was true not only for sociology, a traditionally leftwing field, but political science where 94% of party registrations were also on the left.
Such extreme lack of intellectual diversity suggests a problem in the hiring process throughout the U.C. system. There is no possibility that in a nation as evenly divided between liberals and conservatives such a distribution would be statistically possible if there were no bias in the hiring process itself....
Victoria Safford, in the Nation (Sept. 2004):
In his book On the Rez, Ian Frazier tells a story about South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reservation. In the fall of 1988 the Pine Ridge girls' basketball team played an away game in Lead, South Dakota. It was one of those times when the host gym was dense with anti-Indian hostility. Lead fans waved food stamps, yelling fake Indian war cries and epithets like "squaw" and "gut-eater." Usually, the Pine Ridge girls made their entrances according to height, led by the tallest seniors. When they hesitated to face the hostile crowd, a 14-year-old freshman named SuAnne offered to go first. She surprised her teammates and silenced the crowd by performing the Lakota shawl dance--"graceful and modest and show-offy all at the...
Kevin Meade, in the Australian (Sept. 9, 2004):
A PROMINENT Queensland archeologist entered the "history wars" debate yesterday, accusing controversial historian Keith Windschuttle of using statistics to hide the suffering of Aborigines in colonial Australia.
The principal archeologist with the Queensland Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy, Mike Rowland, said Mr Windschuttle had a right to take historians and others to task for errors in research.
But he said Mr Windschuttle and others also must be taken to task for reducing the debate to questions of numbers and semantics, and hiding "the enormous and wide-ranging suffering of the people behind the numbers".
Mr Windschuttle ignited the so-called history wars debate by accusing Henry Reynolds and other historians of exaggerating reports of large-scale massacres of Aborigines during colonial times.
Speaking at the Queensland Museum as...
Danny Westneat, in the Seattle Times (Sept. 8, 2004):
Count me as a new fan of Bainbridge Island Principal Jo Vander Stoep.
Recently some parents contended it is "propaganda" to teach sixth-graders that the internment of Japanese Americans was a mistake. But Vander Stoep held firm that Sakai Intermediate School would teach that the internment was a bad move. And then the 25-year veteran of public schools said this: "There are some things that we can say aren't debatable anymore."
That's quite a sweeping statement. Coming from an educator, some will say it reeks of close-mindedness.
But I salute her. In one sentence she voiced an important principle: that not all ideas are equal. It's a notion that seems increasingly lost in a society more smitten with spin than fact-based argument.
Take the World War II internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans that began in 1942. For some reason we are arguing, 62...
In the first of two features, BBC News Online looks at the legacy of the V-2 rocket - how the Americans and the Soviets raced to exploit the German technology and expertise they had captured at the end of WW II.
In the early 1930s, rockets were considered successful if they travelled several metres from their launch site.
But Germany's thirst for re-armament after World War I spurred an ambitious programme of rocket development that would produce a ballistic missile (the world's first) with a range of 320km (200 miles): the V-2.
"Launching a rocket is much more difficult than, say, taking off in an aeroplane," says Konrad Dannenberg, 92, a propulsion specialist who worked on the V-2, originally designated the A-4.
"With a rocket, especially a space rocket, you need to launch vertically. And in order to do that, your thrust has to be larger than the total weight of your vehicle.
"Unfortunately, rockets are at...
Spymaster William Melville in 1906 (right), MI5 members in 1918 (left) and Judi Dench as M in the 1995 Bond film Goldeneye' One of the great espionage mysteries has finally been solved - the identity of the real-life inspiration behind M, James Bond's fictional boss.
A new biography, drawing on previously unseen government files, will unmask William Melville as"the Godfather of MI5" and the inspiration for Ian Fleming's M. Like all good spies, Melville carefully hid his true identity. Few outside the world of espionage have ever heard his name. But next month - more than 85 years after his death - Britain's first modern spymaster will get the credit he deserves.
Melville is referred to in the files as M, and it is now being claimed that Fleming used him and his epithet for the character in his James Bond novels. The new book, written by the historian and intelligence expert Andrew Cook, draws on family...
WHO WAS HITLER? The question may seem ludicrous, given the vast outpouring of books, television programmes and films about the man. Amazon offers no fewer than 32,000 books about the Nazi dictator; only Jesus has more literature devoted to him, while Stalin merits half as much. We have learnt, variously, that Hitler was a vegetarian teetotaller, a racist demagogue, an opera nut, a drug addict, a bore, and possibly homosexual. And yet this most massive of 20th-century figures has always seemed to me strangely cardboard: a manic, air-pawing ranter in flickering black-and-white propaganda movies, a one-dimensional monster and, finally, a caricature, a goose-stepping Basil Fawlty, the Fuhrer as freak, an abomination with a funny moustache. Whatever else he was, Hitler wasn't quite real, or human.
That is how most popular culture has chosen to represent Hitler in the postwar years, as an extraordinary, unrepeatable symbol of...
Richard Holmes is editing a new series of classic English biographies. The first titles cover three centuries: there is Defoe on the criminals Jack Sheppard and Jonathan Wild, representing the early 18th century. There is Southey on Nelson. And there is a curious rarity, The Portait of Zelide, by Geoffrey Scott, first published in 1925. This is about a highly educated Dutch woman with whom both Boswell and (later) Benjamin Constant fell in love. The titles to follow are Johnson on Savage (the celebrated life of the hopelessly self-destructive poet, itself the subject of a book by Holmes), Godwin on Wollstonecraft and Gilchrist on Blake. The publisher is Harper Perennial.
Biography in English has a long and rich tradition, much more extensive and interesting than many of the standard accounts would have you believe. The other day I turned to Bishop Burnet's life of the poet Rochester, expecting it to be dull with piety....
Just a few yards inland from a tired, lonely beach on the southern coastline of India, a modest monument stands in honour of a landing that took place some 500 years ago and which changed the world. The inelegant, unwashed piece of stone marks the disembarkation of the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama on the shores of Calicut in 1498. The words on the monument are pithy, almost to the point of rudeness. The plaque itself is sandwiched by a couple of old posters that nobody has bothered to scrape off. There is no air of celebration, no serious commemoration.
Yet the landing of da Gama was an event of monumental importance. It was by no means the first contact between the peoples of Europe and India. There had been plenty of exchanges along the silk route between east and west, which had led to settlements of European traders in the Indian sub-continent. But the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453...
East Asia just can't get over the past. Japan's refusal to fully explore its brutal World War II behavior has led to an undercurrent of anti-Japanese sentiment throughout the region -- which manifested itself last month when enraged Chinese soccer fans protested Japan's victory at the Asian Cup match in Beijing.
While the rabid soccer fans' behavior was unpardonable, Japan's unwillingness to acknowledge the dark side of its history bears some blame for such behavior.
It is thus astonishing that some Japanese would want to add more fuel to the fire. Plans to introduce a controversial textbook with important historical omissions at a public school next April have sparked outrage from not only China and South Korea but even from other Japanese as well.
The textbook was compiled by members of the nationalist Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, and approved by the...
Michael Hill, in the Balt Sun (Aug. 29, 2004):
CLOSE YOUR EYES and conjure up what comes to mind when you hear the words "American Indian." No matter your political correctness, the dominant image is probably one of feathers and war paint, bows and arrows, buffalo and teepees, beads and skins, wisdom and warfare.
It is an image derived from adventure movies and childhood books, from sepia-tinged photographs and museum exhibitions, from exploitative television shows and earnest documentaries. Even recent publicity about Indian casinos cannot blemish its iconic power.
Whether the Indian in your image is villain or victim, it is likely some exotic "other," a more primal being somehow in touch with elemental nature which can be a source of savagery and spirituality.
Next month, the Smithsonian Institution - which had as much to do with cementing the image of the Indian in the American mind as any...
[Steve Jones is professor of genetics at University College London.]
Plenty of scientists are religious and even more are not, but whatever their beliefs, most have the common sense to separate their moral universe from their daily work. George Bush might deplore stem-cell research and doubt evolution in order to placate the born-again, but Richard Dawkins, who often takes ferocious swipes at him, does so on grounds of loathing rather than by using a spurious scientific argument.
Not everyone is so careful. Historians at Imperial College London are well into the project of putting one great scientist's neglected views about religion on to the web. They are lengthy indeed, adding up to almost three million words, with writings such as"Observations upon The Power of the Eleventh Horn of Daniel's fourth Beast to change times and laws" and"Of the Kingdoms represented in Daniel by the Ram and the He-Goat"....
Joshua Spivak, in Roll Call (Aug. 30, 2004):
[Joshua Spivak is an attorney, writer and media consultant with the firm Ripp Media.]
As Republicans from all over the country descend on New York City, most voters are aware that the conventions are simply made-for-TV pageantry.
Presidential candidates are no longer made at this quadrennial relic of the past, which has been surpassed by the more democratic institutions of the primary and caucus. However, when the conventions were first started, they were actually a distinct improvement on the previous method of selecting our nation’s top leader. At their adoption, conventions were a blow for democracy.
In the first decades of the 19th century, candidates were selected by the Congressional caucus — a meeting of Congressional leaders held every four years to put forward nominees....