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.
... There's no escaping the past in Berlin. An exhibition currently at the German Historical Museum on the Unter den Linden, the "Myths of the Nations,'' has attracted considerable attention with its displays of how people from different nations - Russians, Americans, Europeans - have formed and reformed the narratives of their experiences of World War II and the Holocaust over the past 60 years. The purpose is to impress on the visitor that national memory is really the past continuously reinterpreted through the present. "Nowhere have the memories of the war faded,'' the text declares. "On the contrary, they are constantly being renewed in ever-changing variations.''
Like much of what the Germans do with their past, the exhibition is open to the criticism of seeking to "relativize'' Nazi history. The display about the...
Michael Nelson, in the Chronicle of Higher Ed (Nov. 8, 2004) (subscribers only) :
According to Jon Stewart and the other Daily Show authors of the best-selling America (The Book), a presidential library consists of a tiny room of public records, a large room of sealed records, and a vast museum featuring exhibits like "The President as Young Man," "The President as President," and "The President as Angry Coot."
Apply the usual satirist's discount, and Stewart and Company are not wildly off the mark. Presidential libraries, including the new Clinton library, scheduled to open in Little Rock, Ark., on November 18, are more museums than records and, at least initially, more closed records than public ones.
Like the other libraries, Clinton's is sure to be criticized, although less for how it operates...
What does it mean to remember the First World War? Over the past few years I have been trying to get my students -- mostly 19- or 20-year-old Stanford English majors -- to learn about, think about, reckon with, remember the Great War. I have been spectacularly unsuccessful. My latest failure came just this spring, in an honors seminar on Virginia Woolf. We were reading Jacob's Room, the hero of which dies on the Western Front, and I suspected -- correctly -- that my students knew little about the war or its repercussions. (Make of it what you will, but all of the students except one were female.)
I set out to give them my usual nasty brutish overview, complete with some rough-'em-up Powerpoints to shock them into attention: Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife dead in their coffins...
Apologies for historical events are often ridiculous. Remember Tony Blair saying sorry for the potato famine, or Bill Clinton's expression of"regret" for slavery? Official apologies are only worth something when they signify a determination to behave differently. The only reason for an Irishman to go without potatoes today is the Atkins diet, and African- Americans long ago cast off their chains. These apologies were empty gestures and nothing more.
So why do I believe that Elizabeth Windsor should apologise - during her state visit this week - to the people of Dresden for the destruction of their city in 1945? Even the lunatic fringe of UKIP do not actually want to bomb Germany again. But the levelling of Dresden was a symptom of something much larger - a belief in the doctrine of total war - and that belief is creeping back into the practice of Britain and her allies today.
The doctrine of...
One June day almost 40 years ago, the United States privately informed the British government that it was about to push the war in Vietnam into a new phase by bombing Hanoi, the northern capital. This news caused anguish in London.
Downing Street's distress, as documents quoted in Unpeople - a new book on dubious British foreign policy by the historian Mark Curtis - make depressingly clear, was not prompted by any concern for the Vietnamese who would be killed, nor by the deliberate intensification of the conflict. It was because of its inability to give the Americans the wholehearted public endorsement it felt they deserved.
Harold Wilson, the prime minister, wrote apologetically to President Lyndon Johnson to say that his problem was the British public, who could not see the US point of view because they were"not suffering the tragedy of the losses which your people are suffering"....
Even when its 300ft cross is swathed in cloud and the granite flagstones gleam with rain, the coaches never stop arriving at Spain's most controversial tourist attraction -the vast underground basilica where Francisco Franco lies buried.
Most visitors come simply out of curiosity, but the Valley of the Fallen is also a pilgrimage for Spain's dwindling band of diehard Francoists. They will gather here on November 20 to commemorate the 29th anniversary of the Caudillo's death and recall the"good old days" before the restoration of democracy after his death in 1975.
Whether they will gather for the 30th anniversary in 2005 is less certain, for this emblem of dictatorship is expected to be transformed into a place from where the vanquished of the Spanish Civil War will no longer feel excluded. Emboldened by the Socialists' general election victory six months ago, proponents of change believe that...
Mention George Washington and the first image conjured up by most people is that of a stern, old white-haired man with a piercing gaze. Seeing him every day on dollar bills and quarters, it is hard to imagine that he was not born looking like that.
A group of scientists, historians, archivists and other experts has set out to change all of that. Working from forensic evidence, documents and all manner of historical sleuthing, they are on a quest to put life and youth back into Washington.
The curators of Washington's Mount Vernon estate in Virginia are starting his makeover by asking a basic question: What did George Washington actually look like? While there are hundreds of paintings of the first president, Washington posed for relatively few of them, and the image portrayed often was modified by the artist's style.
To uncover the ''real'' George Washington, the estate drafted...
Which would you rather live in: a priceless historic monument, or a bland modern apartment block that looks like something in Benidorm? In what may prove among the worst acts of cultural vandalism of modern times, Indian authorities have proposed to demolish entire swaths of Lutyens' Delhi, and replace the city's renowned classical bungalows with apartment blocks.
It has been a bad few weeks for India's cultural heritage. Archaeologists have admitted the minarets of the Taj Mahal have started to tilt dangerously. The famous lakes of Udaipur have dried up. And now the Central Public Works Division (CPWD) is intent on razing the capital's famous bungalows designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens.
Architecture lovers are up in arms. Art historians are in despair. But the CPWD has decided the revered bungalows have"gone beyond their lifespan" and"most of them should be up for demolition". The irony is...
Germany's biggest selling tabloid, Bild, yesterday called on the Queen to apologise for Britain's wartime destruction of German cities, ahead of her state visit to Germany today.
In a provocative double-page spread, the newspaper urged the Queen to utter a"few suitable words of regret" during her three-day trip for the thousands of German civilians killed during British air raids.
The tabloid's campaign has attracted no support from Germany's centre-left government but comes at a tricky moment in Anglo-German relations - and when the idea that Germans were also victims of the second world war is for the first time being more broadly debated.
Yesterday British officials said there was no prospect of the Queen apologising during her visit to Berlin, where she gives a speech this evening, and opens a major conference on climate change tomorrow. They pointed out that a concert hosted...
The Lady with the Lamp was myth -and Florence Nightingale rarely nursed the Crimea wounded. She was too busy fighting the government and revolutionising protocol. By Mark Bostridge
On the afternoon of October 29, 1854, the P...
Back east, for social cachet there is nothing like an ancestor on the Mayflower. In Texas, it is a Texas Ranger in the family tree.
Here at the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, a shrine to the frontier lawmen who set Lone Star hearts aflutter, some of the most avid visitors come in search of connections to the men who won the West and, it was said, would charge hell with a bucket of water and quell riots single-handedly (''one riot, one Ranger'') .
But Southern Methodist University in Dallas says new historical accounts are casting the long-revered outlaw and Indian fighters in a decidedly darker light.
The scholarship -- being gingerly acknowledged at the Hall of Fame -- involves investigations into massacres committed in an obscure border war against Mexican bandits and insurrectionists in 1915, a quagmire of its time. ''Not a bright period in the history of the Rangers...
George Bush's grandfather, the late US senator Prescott Bush, was a director and shareholder of companies that profited from their involvement with the financial backers of Nazi Germany.
The Guardian has obtained confirmation from newly discovered files in the US National Archives that a firm of which Prescott Bush was a director was involved with the financial architects of Nazism.
His business dealings, which continued until his company's assets were seized in 1942 under the Trading with the Enemy Act, has led more than 60 years later to a civil action for damages being brought in Germany against the Bush family by two former slave labourers at Auschwitz and to a hum of pre-election controversy.
The evidence has also prompted one former US Nazi war crimes prosecutor to argue that the late senator's...
President Nixon’s famous “silent majority” address was given at a crucial time in American history. As we remember the 35th anniversary of the November 3, 1969 address, it is important to reflect on its significance.
The speech was a departure in policy and practice regarding America’s involvement in Vietnam. By the time Richard Nixon was inaugurated President of the United States, the U.S. had been militarily involved for seven years. Some 31,000 Americans had already died in combat; over 540,000 members of the U.S. military were serving their country in Vietnam with no plans to bring them home; and negotiations in Paris with the North Vietnamese were stalled.
President Nixon’s speech took place following two years of political upheaval, including the assassination of political leaders, turmoil on college campuses, and growing dissent throughout the nation regarding America’s...
Seventy-five years after the great Wall Street crash, scientists and fund managers increasingly believe that they can profit from the psychology that prompted investors to run for the exits during that fateful October of 1929.
That, and subsequent slumps, notably the dramatic events of October 1987, have prompted many official and academic studies into the causes. But most people end up explaining these cataclysms on the strange herd mentality that occasionally overtakes human beings.
However, what was once written off as irrational exuberance is now being turned to investors' advantage by both academics and moneymen alike. One City investment firm is using the prejudices of analysts and fund managers to pick winning stocks.
And in America's earthquake state, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), thinks his expertise in predicting earth tremors can forecast when volcanic human emotions...
It was an historic and sensitive trip, planned with precision - and in secret - at a time of high tension in the cold war.
But Mrs Thatcher's visit to west Berlin in October 1982, during which she made a stand against communism in front of the Berlin wall, was a security fiasco from start to finish.
According to files from the archives of east Germany's notorious secret police, the Stasi, communist spies secretly photographed and closely observed Mrs Thatcher throughout her trip after managing to get hold of an advance copy of her itinerary.
Mrs Thatcher travelled to the border with east Berlin, close to Berlin's most famous monument, the Brandenburg Gate, and climbed up a viewing platform overlooking the Berlin wall.
The documents show that east German spies secretly photographed Mrs Thatcher from the other side as she travelled standing in an open-topped Land Rover, with Germany's new chancellor Helmut Kohl...
Up to 10 million pages of vital military secrets have been rendered unusable by exposure to asbestos - and experts say the contamination threatens the operation of the Freedom of Information Act.
The 63,000 files include many nuclear secrets and the official versions of events such as the sinking of the Belgrano in 1982 and the killing of IRA terrorists in Gibraltar by the SAS in 1988.
A decontamination expert said the cost of cleaning the files would run into tens of millions of pounds and could take years to complete.
The Ministry of Defence says the files have been removed from the basement of the old War Office building in Whitehall to a warehouse in west London while it works out how to deal with them.
It has known about the contamination at least since spring last year but the first meeting of a committee to decide how to make the documents safe for people to read was held only last month. The delay...
Exactly 150 years after the Charge of the Light Brigade more than 200 British ex-soldiers, enthusiasts and tourists will gather near Balaclava today to mark the Army's most infamous blunder.
Led by Prince Philip, who has spent the past two days visiting the Crimean battle sites with retired officers from the Queen's Royal Hussars, the party will hold a service to remember the dead.
Among them will be Lord Cardigan, a descendant of the commander of the Light Brigade, who complained yesterday that history had been unfair to his ancestor.
"I have been tarred with the same brush and misconception," he said yesterday, watching a re-enactment of the disastrous battle in the Valley of Balaclava.
"No military historian thinks Lord Cardigan was to blame for the foul-up," said the present earl, who is 51."Cardigan protested and said charging the Russian guns was suicide. It was not his fault. He was ordered to...
The Light Brigade charged into the"Valley of Death" because its soldiers were desperate to take revenge on the Cossacks sheltering behind the Russian guns, according to claims published today.
"Theirs not to reason why/ Theirs but to do and die" may have been Tennyson's verdict but Hugh Small, an historian and film-maker, asserts that far from the cavalrymen being the victims of their blundering aristocratic officers - as is popularly assumed - the commanders launched the attack to keep their troops happy.
Mr Small is a specialist on the Crimean War of 1854-56 in which Britain and France clashed with Russia for control of the disputed region of the Ottoman Empire.
He said accounts of the engagement, which took place 150 years ago today, written by the survivors, stress how they were desperate to avenge an insult from the Cossacks a month before when they had jeered at the Light Brigade for supposedly refusing...
The latest edition of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography has been described as"the intellectual equivalent of the Millennium Dome" after the discovery that it is riddled with errors.
A number of amateur historians have noticed glaring inaccuracies in several entries and say that the lax editorial process makes a mockery of the pounds 7,500 retail price.
The 2004 edition of the 60-volume reference book was published by Oxford University Press last month. It contains 54,922 biographies of people who shaped Britain's past and took 12 years to compile.
In spite of the time it took to produce, several hundred entries are thought to include incorrect dates, misspelt names and a" complete ignorance" of recent specialist research.
Charles Harrison Wallace, a lecturer and author who has spent 25 years researching the life of his ancestor, the 18th century marine artist Peter Monamy, said that the...
Britain's disastrous performance in the early years of the Second World War left Winston Churchill considering peace negotiations with the Nazis, documents unearthed by a Cambridge historian reveal.
Correspondence contained in a major new book on the war-time Prime Minister shows he believed Britain faced no alternative by the summer of 1940 - and contradicts his public declaration that he would never negotiate with the Germans.
It is not the only example of him glossing over potentially damaging details, according to Professor David Reynolds, who has examined thousands of documents in his new analysis of Churchill's wartime record and of his subsequent memoir, The Second World War. These include the true extent of his relationship with Stalin and his doubts about the D-Day strategy.
Published next month, the book argues that after Dunkirk, and before the Russians and Americans entered the war,"a...