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.
[Frank L. Holt is a professor of history at the University of Houston and author of Alexander the Great and the Mystery of the Elephant Medallions (University of California Press, 2003).]
This year fortune favors the old. The earliest war in Western civilization came roaring back in a Greek revival that pitched Brad Pitt into Bronze Age Troy. From another Greek text, Mel Gibson pulled a grisly portrayal of the Passion so disturbing that many watched with one eye closed, not to mention their minds. The Olympic Games returned to Greece for the first time in more than a century, and just the second time since the dying days of the Roman Empire. And who could miss the ubiquitous Alexander, whose history has become the holy grail of Hollywood's A-list directors? Oliver Stone's film, starring Colin Farrell in the title role,...
What I admire most about the new movie"Kinsey" is its re-creation of a world in which Victorian attitudes enshroud human sexuality in taboos, ignorance and repression. It shows how badly mid-20th century Americans really needed Alfred C. Kinsey.
No scientist has polarized Americans more than this pioneer sex researcher. Nearly 50 years after his death, critics revile him as a charlatan and a fraud, while his many admirers lionize him as the architect of the sexual revolution, the patron saint of gay liberation and the archetype of a new postmodern American icon: the scientist as cultural hero.
Kinsey's findings on Americans' sexual...
Kevin Toolis, in the London Times (11-27-04):
How many words does it take to say sorry?
In 1998, as the newly-born Irish peace process began, Tony Blair bowed to Irish republican demands and ordered a new investigation into the events of Bloody Sunday in Londonderry in January 1972, when British paratroops shot dead 13 protesters during a civil rights march.
At the time I supported the creation of such an inquiry. Naively, it seemed to be the right thing to do. After all Bloody Sunday was a historical fountainhead, a key event in Ulster's descent into madness.
What happened so long ago on a cold winter Sunday morning during a civil rights march in Londonderry was a crime of some sort. And the British State had compounded that wrong by employing Lord Widgery, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, to whitewash the actions of its paratroops. Infamously, the Widgery tribunal contrived and contorted the evidence to absolve the wrongdoers...
Re: Ending the Cold War: Interpretations, Causation and the Study of International Relations
edited by Richard K. Herrmann and Richard Ned Lebow
Palgrave Macmillan, 256 pp., $24.95
IT CAN'T BE SAID that Ronald Reagan ever had many fans in American academia. After he declared the Soviet Union an "evil empire," Henry Steele Commager sneered: "The worst presidential speech in American history, and I've read them all." Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., in full wise-man mode, decried the president's "crusading anti-communism," his "messianic conviction," and his view of the Soviet Union "as unchanged, unchanging, and unchangeable."
More than a decade has passed since the Cold War ended, with America's rival of a half century, to the astonishment of even the most optimistic Cold Warriors, slipping into oblivion with barely a struggle, melting to the...
Picture yourself in the mid-1840s. It's an exciting time. Fifteen years earlier, railroads barely existed. In 1830 there were only 23 miles of track. By 1840, there were 2,818; by 1850, 9,021. Steamboats ply major rivers—another recent development. In 1844 Samuel Morse had introduced the telegraph by sending this message from Washington to Baltimore:
"What hath God wrought!" For some, it was all too much. "The world is going too fast," wrote one old-timer, a 69-year-old former mayor of New York named Philip Hone. "Railroads, steamers, packets, race against time ... Oh, for the good old days of heavy post coaches and speed at the rate of six miles an hour!"
Hone apparently coined the phrase "good old days"—and we've been chasing them unsuccessfully ever since. It's not simply that you...
The First Thanksgiving is one of those heartwarming stories that every child used to know, and some up-to-date teachers take special delight in suppressing. Many teachers approach children nowadays with the absurd presumption that they are triumphalist little bigots who must be taken down a notch and made to grasp that their country has made mistakes. In fact they are little ignoramuses who leave high school believing that their country has made nothing but mistakes, and they never do learn what revisionist history is a revision of.
It is especially sad when children don't learn the history of Thanksgiving, which is that rarest of anomalies -- a religious festival celebrated by many faiths. The story of the first Thanksgiving would inspire and soothe this nation if only we would let it -- this nation so deeply divided between Christians and non-Christians or nominal Christians, where Christians are a solid...
An authoritative new biography of Oskar Schindler, the German businessman who saved more than 1,000 Jews from the Nazis, clashes sharply with his idealized portrayal in the Oscar-winning 1993 Steven Spielberg movie ''Schindler's List'' and the 1982 historical novel by Thomas Keneally that inspired it. The Schindler who emerges in this latest account -- based on interviews with Holocaust survivors and newly discovered papers, including letters stored in a suitcase by a mistress -- is far more flawed than the one depicted in the movie and novel. Even so, scholars say, the fresh revelations about Schindler's darker side cast his moral transformation and heroism into starker relief.
To begin with, there was no Schindler's List.
''Schindler had almost nothing to do with the list,'' said David M. Crowe, a Holocaust historian and professor at Elon University in North Carolina, whose book, ''Oskar...
[Editor's Note: The original article is much longer.]
It's not something you see every day on a Civil War tour: Two guys with deep southern roots, one black, one white, gazing side by side into their shared, violent past.
Then again, this isn't actually a Civil War tour -- yet. Asa Gordon and Robert Freis are just starting to put one together. They're looking to tell the underreported tale of the African American soldiers who fought and died in Virginia a couple of lifetimes ago. Right now, on the first day of a two-day scouting trip, they're standing beside the thick stone walls of old Fort Monroe, looking for a place to begin.
What Gen. Benjamin Butler did here in May 1861 seems to fit the bill.
Early in the war, as the introductory video at the Fort Monroe museum explains, the old fort -- which remained in Union hands throughout the conflict --"provided the setting for a...
Two Hong Kong evangelists have become the latest in a long line of explorers claiming to have discovered the remains of Noah's Ark.
Andrew Yuen Man-fai and Pastor Boaz Li Chi-kwong said they found parts of the biblical vessel embedded in ice at the top of Mount Ararat in Turkey. But they claimed a"mysterious force" made their video camera malfunction, so they were able to bring back only blurred images and no specimens.
The site is about 18km from the"official" resting place of Noah's Ark, where there is a boat-like formation said to have been mentioned by historians as long ago as 90AD. That location was declared a national park by the Turkish government about 15 years ago.
The new site is in a location where a mysterious wooden structure was said to have been spotted sticking out of the ice in the 1940s but which has yielded no positive discoveries, despite checks by orbiting...
The theory that Napoleon was murdered in a conspiracy orchestrated by his British captors in collusion with French monarchists just refuses to die.
Ben Weider, the Montreal- based millionaire, fitness guru and longtime Napoleonic historian, says he has the final proof of Napoleon's"assassination."
New tests carried out by European toxicologists, including Pascal Kintz, president of the French society of analytical toxicology, reveal that arsenic found in Napoleon's hair got there through the bloodstream, not external contamination.
"This is the absolute, final proof that the high level of arsenic in Napoleon's hair was due to somebody feeding him arsenic," says Mr. Weider.
This is the most recent in a long line of historical revisions brought about by forensic technology. Academics and historians have been testing alternatives to the long-accepted truth that Napoleon died of...
Egypt - Out of the blinding light of a fall morning here in the Valley of the Kings, American archeologist Kent Weeks led the way down a narrow, stone passageway and into the entrance of a tomb.
Weeks peered his flashlight into the enveloping darkness of"the hidden tomb," as he calls it, and pressed on through the damp, winding passages toward what may be his archeological team's most significant find after years of methodical digging, scraping, and brushing.
At the end of a long hallway a human skull rested, propped up in a wooden box, and framed in the bleak light of a bare bulb powered by a generator that rumbled through the stony silence of the tomb.
This skull Weeks believes, and new scientific evidence suggests may be that of the oldest son of Rameses II, the pharaoh who most historians agree was the ruler of ancient Egypt more than 3,000 years ago at the time of the biblical...
Stephen Pincock, in the London Financial Times (Nov. 20, 2004):
The idea that Napoleon died after being given one too many enemas is a mental image too far for me. But for Dr Steven Karch, an American forensic pathologist, coming up earlier this year with a new theory on the strange death of the emperor represented his chance to take a turn playing a kind of scientific parlour game.
The caper involves assigning causes of death to historical figures on the basis of sometimes very skimpy evidence, and Karch's suggestion that Bonaparte died as a result of a medical misadventure, as he wrote in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, was a classic contribution.
Most historians think Napoleon died of stomach cancer, which his personal physician recorded in an autopsy report. But Karch added a twist: suggesting that the deadly event was the fault of his doctors. In trying to treat the emperor's intestinal pain, they treated him with a whopping daily...
I think Edward Rothstein's New York Times review of the Alexander Hamilton exhibition at the New-York Historical Society is right on target: the show is seriously flawed and deeply condescending.1 But I'm not convinced it's correct to lay the lion's share of responsibility for the exhibition's failings at designer Ralph Applebaum's door. Applebaum's client wanted a "blockbuster" - mammoth crowds, lines around the block - and the designer sought to oblige. He provided a format heavy on audiovisual gimmicks - "straining for sensation" (as Rothstein puts it) - and light on explanatory text, as if a more reasoned presentation would alienate attendees. James Traub essentially concurs with Rothstein's assessment, suggesting in his Times Magazine review that the exhibition - which he finds by turn baffling and...
From the Guardian (Nov. 18, 2004):
How dull the list of greatest Britons looks now. Churchill top, followed by Brunel, Princess Diana, Darwin, Shakespeare . . . What a conventional view of "greatness" - winning battles, making scientific advances, writing King Lear. Princess Diana and John Lennon added a welcome touch of lunacy to the poll that started a worldwide trend in searching for the "nation's greatest" back in November 2002, but where were King John, Richard III, Oswald Mosley, the Krays? Where was that more imaginative notion of greatness that other nations have managed?
The Dutch have just held their own poll and, unlike the British, eschewed the obvious. Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Anne Frank, Erasmus, Spinoza. Bosh! In fact, Hieronymus Bosch! The winner of the poll, organised by TV station KRO (the Dutch equivalent of the BBC) was Pim Fortuyn, the far-right, anti-immigrant politician who was murdered two years ago. Choosing a racist...
When the Bank of Canada unveiled its new $50 bill last month, it seemed that the so-called Famous Five got all of the attention. Today, as the bill finally goes into circulation, perhaps it is the person on the front of the bill who we should be noticing: William Lyon Mackenzie King.
When most Canadians think of Mackenzie King -- if they do at all -- it is usually about his crystal balls, his obsession with his mother, or his dog, Pat.
The basis for all this was King's voluminous diaries, which first entered the consciousness of the public in a meaningful way with the publication in 1976 of A Very Double Life, by C.P. Stacey, one of Canada's greatest historians.
Today, anyone with Internet access can read all 50,000 pages of King's diary online at the National Archives website located at www.archives.ca . The site is easily navigable, and the perusal of any page provides for some of...
Waterloo is many things. Waterloo was, first of all, and still is, a village, south-east of Brussels. Or, rather, it is no longer a village but a smart international suburb, with posh restaurants, a big shopping mall and a drive-in McDonald's. Waterloo is also a railway station; and a pop song (Abba, 1974). Most of all, of course, it is a battle, fought on 18 June 1815, in which many thousands of Germans, Dutch, and soon-to- be Belgians, helped by a minority of Britons and Irishmen, defeated the French.
Surely not? Surely it was a great British victory? Yes and no. One of the two victorious generals: the Duke of Wellington, was British. Kind of. He was, in fact, born in Dublin. However, as Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke) used to say:"Just because you were born in a stable, it does not mean you are a horse."
Wellington also said, famously, that Waterloo was a"damned near run thing". In...
November 16, 2004, Tuesday
SECTION: First Edition; NEWS; Pg. 6
HEADLINE: MOD UNLAWFULLY KILLED RAF GUINEA PIG'
BYLINE: CAHAL MILMO
HIGHLIGHT: Lillias Craik, sister of LAC Ronald Maddison, with his picture, taken more than half a century ago PA
A 51-YEAR search for the truth about the death of a young serviceman during secret nerve-gas experiments ended yesterday when an inquest jury decided that he had been unlawfully killed by the British Government.
Ronald Maddison, 20, died in 1953 at the Porton Down research complex in Wiltshire after he and 348 other volunteers were exposed to massive doses of the sarin nerve agent during tests to establish its lethal dose.
His death resulted in one of the most enduring cover-ups of the Cold War after an initial inquest, held behind closed doors for"reasons of national security", returned a verdict of death by misadventure: it...
A series of spectacular discoveries at three sites in central and eastern Bulgaria has highlighted the exotic lifestyle of the ancient Thracians as never before.
Georgi Kitov, a veteran Thrakologist who has excavated more than 30 tombs built for the ancient warrior elite, says that the Thracians were known for drinking undiluted strong red wine and were famous for their martial skills. They were the most successful gladiators in ancient Rome.
As a result of the latest finds, the Thracians, who excelled at constructing elaborate tombs and rock-cut shrines, have seized the popular imagination.
Under communism research into the culture of the Thracians, a warrior caste who amassed wealth in the form of gold and silver artefacts, took second place to Slav history, reflecting Bulgaria's close political ties with the Soviet Union.
Dr Kitov, wearing a battered solar...
[Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from a much longer piece.]
Perhaps no figure is more closely bound to the American consciousness with what Abraham Lincoln called ''the mystic chords of memory'' than Lincoln himself. Now, nearly a century and a half after his death, his hometown is honoring him with what promises to be a spectacular and perhaps controversial museum.
The museum and adjoining library will house one of the finest collections of Lincoln documents and memorabilia. There will also be cannons that emit smoke, a theater whose seats will shake when battle scenes are shown on screen, and dozens of life-size figures of Lincoln and his contemporaries.
''The quality of these exhibits is light-years ahead of anything you'll find in other presidential libraries,'' said Richard Norton Smith, director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. ''I really don't think there's...
The president of Columbia University, Lee Bollinger, has been quietly making the rounds in town, reassuring key figures in the Jewish community - and in other communities - that he deems unacceptable the kind of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel behavior recently uncovered by documentary filmmakers on the Columbia campus. He assigned the university's provost, Alan Brinkley, to look into the matter. But Mr. Brinkley's early statements are already sending a ripple of concern through the key parties watching this dispute that what is going to be done will be a whitewash of a serious situation.
The provost has blundered at the outset by saying, as our Jacob Gershman reported Wednesday, that he was primarily concerned with incidents inside the classroom, as opposed to what professors say or write beyond their teaching. This comes amid pressure from guilt-ridden professors who do not want standards enforced in their...