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.
WITH FAT BIOGRAPHIES of sundry Founding Fathers appearing every other month and bookstore tables still piled high with odes to the Greatest Generation, the public's appetite for the American past appears as healthy as ever. But according to University of Georgia historian Peter Charles Hoffer, we're being sold a bill of goods.
In his new book, "Past Imperfect: Facts, Fictions, Fraud -- American History from Bancroft and Parkman to Ambrose, Bellesiles, Ellis, and Goodwin" (PublicAffairs), Hoffer contends that his profession "has fallen into disarray" and aims a polemical blast at his fellow historians for condoning sloppy scholarship and an anything-goes ethical climate.
A specialist in Colonial history and American jurisprudence, Hoffer is a respected scholar whose previous work has generally earned the esteem of...
"I think something extremely important is happening on our campuses. They are now turned into sites for cultivation of critical judgment for responsible citizenship in what we hope will remain a free republic. Even as late as five years ago no one would have dared stand on the steps of the Law Library on Columbia Campus and condemn the military thuggery of people like Ariel Sharon. Innocent people in Jenin, Kandahar, Shalamcheh, or Baghdad are brutally massacred and no one would have dared to condemn these acts publicly. But not anymore."
- Hamid Dabashi, speaking to the Electronic Intifada online magazine, September 30, 2002
Professor Hamid Dabashi, chairman of Columbia's notorious Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures department, is quite correct to point out that "something extremely important...
The presence of large numbers of immigrants will continue to pose intractable policy questions for Ireland and Europe, a conference in Paris was told yesterday.
The symposium on The Multi-cultural Society, held at the Centre Culturel Irlandais, heard how Muslims in the US today are subject to prejudice and suspicion similar to what the Irish experienced in Britain in the 1970s.
"The majority of immigrants come from countries that have experienced colonialism," Ms Carol Coulter, legal affairs correspondent of The Irish Times, said. "Language, culture and religion assumed special importance for them. They take this with them into exile."
Prominent historian of Algeria, Prof Benjamin Stora, said Algerians began emigrating to France in the 1920s. Early opponents of the French presence in Algeria often referred to Ireland in explaining the need for an anti-colonial...
... Americans in the main do not know whether the guy working in the next cubicle is Armenian or Turkish or Guatemalan, and they do not care. What matters is, can he meet a deadline? Can she make a payroll?
Americans believe unswervingly that the future is theirs for the making.
Unfortunately, they sometimes think the past is just another empty canvas and can be remade as they wish too.
The American politician and former ambassador to India, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, once said that everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.
Once upon a time, he was right.
Now historical fact is just selected and snipped away and packaged into whatever form its manipulators want it to be - whether it is Oliver Stone's...
Religion is playing a major role in the 2004 campaign for the presidency. Conservative faiths are growing rapidly, in the United States as well as abroad. While a clash of civilizations may not be taking place, religious conflict -- primarily, but not exclusively, in the Middle East -- is a major cause of global instability.
All of those statements are not only true but testify to the importance of religion in the contemporary world. They also raise the question of whether scholarship on religion is up to the task of offering Americans insights on the controversies that surround them.
Thirty years ago, the answer to that question would have been negative. Religion had been instrumental in the founding of at least two academic disciplines: sociology, because of the focus of Max Weber and Émile Durkheim on the...
[Diane Ravitch, author of The Language Police, is a research professor at New York University and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. She is a member of the boards of trustees of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and Institute.]
The Mad, Mad World of Textbook Adoption, released today by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, is a splendid survey of what's wrong with textbooks today and how they went awry.
The main problem besetting textbooks, we know, is their quality. They are sanitized to avoid offending anyone who might complain at adoption hearings in big states, they are poorly written, they are burdened with irrelevant and unedifying content, and they reach for the lowest common denominator. As a result, they undermine learning instead of building and encouraging...
We have all laughed at Basil Fawlty's panicky injunction: "Don't mention the war." And it made some sense when the TV series was shot in the 1970s. There were middle-aged Germans then whose personal experiences between 1939 and 1945 were, one felt, more tactfully left unexamined.
But now? Next May it will be 60 years since Adolf Hitler shot himself while his vile regime crumbled and Berlin fell to the Red Army. One of the last photographs of Hitler outside his bunker shows him reviewing members of the Hitler Youth, some no more than 12 or 13, about to engage in the desperate defence of the city.
Even the youngest of any survivors among them is now over 70. There are German pensioners who had just started at primary school in 1945. We are a long way from the war. The Nazis are history,...
Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg is meticulous in his planning. It is 12.37pm on 20 July 1944, and the Nazi officer makes absolutely sure that his briefcase is placed right under the spot where his leader, Adolf Hitler, is poring over a huge map of Europe in his briefing hut at his Eastern Front headquarters, the Wolf's Lair in Rastenburg, East Prussia. >P> But a few minutes later, another German soldier, Colonel Heinz Brandt, accidentally bumps into the briefcase and, thinking it must be in the Fuhrer's way, thoughtfully moves it to the other side of a thick oak table leg. That one, apparently inconsequential act is to have monumental significance.
Moments later, the 2lb bomb contained within the briefcase explodes, kills the four people nearest to it and seriously injures 11 other bystanders. As fate would have it, however, the robust table leg protects Hitler from the worst of the blast and he is but superficially...
From Bill Clinton's use of Fleetwood Mac's"Don't Stop" to Bob Dole's unlikely choice of Gary Glitter's"Rock'n'Roll Part Two", a key feature of every US presidential campaign is the pop or rock tune adopted to gee up supporters. But there's only ever been one candidate who wrote his own tune and had the great bebop vocalist Jon Hendricks create the lyrics:"Your politics oughta be a groovier thing, so get a good president who's willing to swing. Vote Dizzy! Vote Dizzy!" And he's the same candidate who wanted to change the name of the White House to the Blues House, install Duke Ellington as Secretary of State and revoke the citizenship of the racist southern governor George Wallace and deport him to Vietnam.
Forty years ago Lyndon Johnson didn't just beat Barry Goldwater for the presidency. He faced another challenger, a man whose puffed cheeks blew a musical revolution through his 45 degree-tilted trumpet: John Birks"...
Ulysses S. Grant is widely remembered as a great general and a poor president. In his new biography of the 18th president, historian Josiah Bunting III notes that pundits and historians have tended to write of Grant the president with" condescension." Bunting sums up this view of Grant:"There may be strength in his soul, but no fineness in it, no grace; little culture, small learning . . . meager evidence of the capacity to learn and reflect; no felt obligation to explain himself; no evidence of self-doubt."
If those words strike you as remarkably similar to the view of President Bush that is dominant in academia, much of the media and urban-oriented blue-state America, then you see one of the parallels between Grant and Bush that fairly leap off the pages of Bunting's fascinating book.
These similarities struck me with particular clarity during the recent round of debates between the president and his Democratic opponent,...
Letters and photographs recalling the lasting bond between Oscar Wilde and his Canadian patron Robert Ross -- the man believed to have sparked Wilde's embrace of a homosexual life and the eventual saviour of his literary reputation -- are to be auctioned next week in Britain.
Ross was a grandson of Robert Baldwin, co-founder of responsible government in Canada, and was born in 1869 into a distinguished Toronto family.
He was educated in Britain and by 1887 had befriended Wilde, 13 years his senior and one of English literature's leading talents of the day. Ross is widely assumed to have been the novelist's first male lover after Wilde -- who was married with two children -- began feeling drawn to gay relationships.
Ross loyally defended Wilde when his homosexual activity later landed him in jail under Britain's 19th-century anti-sodomy laws.
The Canadian also comforted Wilde during his final illness in 1900, and an...
Authorities in the Spanish region of Aragon, whose kings helped evict the Moors from Spain 500 years ago, has stirred controversy by suggesting that the severed heads of four Moors should be removed from its heraldic shield.
The heads have upset the semi-autonomous region's growing population of Muslim immigrants, provoking its socialist administration to propose that the heads be erased from its bottom left-hand quarter.
"This is the ideal moment . . . to revise our symbols," the regional government's president, Marcelino Iglesias, said."We should think about one of the quarters that are on the current shield."
The Moors' heads are on the shield to mark the conquest of the northern Aragonese city of Huesca by one of the region's first Christian kings, Pedro I, in 1096.
That was in the early stage of the Christian reconquista that eventually saw the last Moorish king driven out of Spain in 1492, 700 years...
At least four skeletons, including a child, were discovered on a 20-hectare block between Mazengarb Rd and the Southwards Complex two weeks ago. The find stopped earthworks at the site.
The skeletons were first thought to be European because they were found buried in coffins constructed with nails and there was no iwi knowledge of burials in the area.
However, consultant archaeologist Mary O'Keeffe said that, based on an initial archaeological investigation, the skeletons appeared to show Maori physical characteristics.
The findings still had to be verified by a physical anthropologist.
Ms O'Keeffe said there was a potential for other archaeological sites in the immediate vicinity based on the Kapiti Coast's rich and diverse environment at the time.
"It was a very desirable place to live," she said.
The skeletons were believed to date back to the early 19th century. Ms O'Keeffe...
In a dark wood in northern Poland, up near the Russian border, something dreadful is happening: Hitler is being brought back to life. There have been resurrected Hitlers before, of course, on screen and in novels, but nothing remotely like this. Using "the most innovative computer animation techniques ever seen on TV", Hitler's face has in effect been superimposed on to an actor's body.
Although this hybrid Hitler is only partially flesh and blood, he struts, rants and gesticulates just like the real thing. But having breathed new digitalised life into the Fuhrer, what do you do with him? This being television, the answer is simple: you give him his own show.
Virtual History: The Plot to Kill Hitler is a cod documentary about the attempt to kill him in 1944 - "The July Plot". On July 20, 1944, a group of high-ranking German generals, led by Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, tried to blow...
Statewide textbook adoption, the process by which 21 states dictate the textbooks that schools and districts can use, is fundamentally flawed. Textbook adoption distorts the market, entices extremist groups to hijack the curriculum, enriches the textbook cartel, and papers the land with mediocre instructional materials that cannot fulfill their important education mission. The adoption process cannot be set right by tinkering with it, concludes The Mad, Mad World of Textbook Adoption, the latest release from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Rather, legislators and governors in adoption states should eliminate the process and devolve funding for and decisions about textbook purchases to individual schools, individual districts, even individual teachers.
The Mad, Mad World of Textbook Adoption is the first of a new Fordham Institute series, "Compact...
It's taken months of removing soot, tackling water damage, and reorganizing, but readers and researchers are back at Iraq's National Library.
Nearly a year and a half after one of Iraq's chief repositories of historical record was looted and burned, surviving archives and manuscripts are being cleaned and catalogued - while the director ventures out occasionally to scour book markets for lost treasures.
At the same time, the Iraq Museum remains closed. Its location near a hotbed of resistance puts it in the crossfire of frequent attacks on US forces. But its directors express high hopes of reopening amuseum - perhaps within a year - that far outshines that of the Hussein era.
Today both institutions, early symbols of postwar troubles, are looking toward a fresh start.
"We want to be not...
Tim Radford, in the Guardian (Oct. 14, 2004):
[What has medicine learned from the Nazis?] In the 1920s, German scientists correctly picked up on x-rays as a possible source of genetic damage. In the same decade they also launched a huge campaign against tobacco, condemning it as a "plague" and "lung masturbation", according to Robert N Proctor, the historian, in his book The Nazi War on Cancer. The catch is that these scientists were eugenicists and were worried about the corruption of German germplasm. Smoking, for instance, was "unGerman" and a vice propagated by Jews.
A decade later, Nazi scientists identified the dangers of organochlorine pesticides such as DDT before anyone else, and launched campaigns to discourage alcoholism. German scientists of the period made the link between asbestos and lung cancer and developed the first high-powered electron microscope. They also pro moted breast self-...
... contemporary attitudes toward inebriation mean that "it's hard for people to take the study of alcohol consumption seriously," says Richard W. Unger, a professor of history at the University of British Columbia and the author of Beer in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (University of Pennsylvania Press).
Mr. Unger says such attitudes stem from a failure to realize that brewed beverages were a necessity before the advent of dependable, clean water supplies or soft drinks.
In early modern Europe, "beer was a normal part of daily life," says Mr. Unger. With food often scarce, it was a nutritional godsend. It was also an all-purpose social lubricant, regarded with "neither suspicion nor awe," he says. Consumption per person far exceeded today's levels. For children as young as 4 years old, too, beer was a...
President Bush says the presidency is hard work and that the most important decisions are often not politically popular.
Sen. John F. Kerry replies that the president is devious and stubborn, most notably and tragically when he is wrong.
Both combatants should find comfort in"Decisions That Shook the World," a three-part Discovery Channel series that, starting tonight, dissects presidential decision-making at its most crucial and, at times, most devious and controversial.
Presidential historian Michael Beschloss, also co-producer of the series, notes in his introduction that in this presidential election season questions about the presidency and its enormous power are paramount.
"Decisions" looks at three cases of presidential leadership: Lyndon B. Johnson's decision to champion civil rights despite opposition from his fellow Southerners; Ronald Reagan's insistence on the"Star Wars" missile defense system when many...
The United States is always urging other nations to embrace its form of government. But although it is the world's oldest constitutional democracy - formed more than 200 years ago when some important countries of today did not even exist - not one foreign state has ever adopted the American system.
The reasons for this are simple, though they require a knowledge of history. Because the US form of democracy was decided in the late 18th century, important aspects are outmoded today. It is also extraordinarily complicated, so much so that many Americans still fail to understand it.
These citizens were shocked after the last presidential election in late 2000, when it became clear that although Vice-President Al Gore, the Democrat, had 530,000 more votes than his opponent, the Republican George W Bush, the latter was headed for the White House.
This November, a similar outcome is possible, perhaps with the...