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.
A week before Mr. Bush's inaugural speech was delivered, Rick Shenkman had a good idea of what he would say. Professor Shenkman, a historian at George Mason University and editor of the History News Network Web site, had concluded that inaugural addresses sound so much alike because America has a" civil religion" that forces presidents to recite tenets from"a national template first cast at the time of the founding fathers."
Professor Shenkman helpfully published a scorecard for the speech, a list of the recurring themes in previous addresses. Sure enough, by our count, yesterday's speech touched on seven of the themes: deference to God; America's mission to spread freedom, democracy and peace around the globe; America as an example for the world...
Descendants of the Moors expelled from Spain 500 years ago failed to receive an apology from King Juan Carlos as he toured Morocco yesterday.
Residents of Tetouan, many of whose ancestors were driven from the Iberian peninsula by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, said an opportunity had been lost to heal an historic wound, which has become all the more sensitive in recent years.
Osama bin Laden has often talked of the tragedy of the loss of al-Andalus, the Moorish region of Spain. The terrorists who attacked Madrid last year, killing 192 people and wounding 1,900, spoke of Spain with the same sense of historic vengeance. Three million Muslims were expelled in 1501.
The king, who is on his first state visit to Morocco since 1979, cancelled his visit to Tetouan at the last minute. The official reason was lack of time but unofficially it appeared that sensitivities had arisen...
Adolf Hitler's cousin was gassed under the Nazi policy of eliminating mental health patients, according to recently discovered documents.
The woman, identified only as Aloisia V, died in a room pumped full of carbon monoxide in December 1940 at a medical institute in Austria. A stamp on her file was proof of her killing, said Timothy Ryback, an American historian.
Historians say the discovery may explain why Hitler never wanted to talk about his family. Aloisia was 49, two years younger than Hitler, when she was murdered. She was related to him through his father's family, the Schicklgrubers.
The documents, discovered at the Vienna institution where she was treated, reveal that Nazi doctors diagnosed her as suffering from"schizophrenic mental instability, helplessness and depression, distraction, hallucinations and delusions".
She told doctors she was haunted by...
Robert Kennedy lies dead in the Ambassador Hotel, main picture, after being shot by Sirhan Sirhan, who was immediately arrested, top. Right: a recent picture of Sirhan, whose case has been taken up by the actor Robert Vaughn, above
It happened nearly 38 years ago, but doubts and suspicions have lingered on. Now the circumstances surrounding the assassination of Robert Kennedy are being resurrected and re-examined in an attempt to establish the truth of what happened that night in the cramped pantry of a Los Angeles hotel.
New evidence has emerged and pressure is mounting on authorities to reopen the case of Sirhan Sirhan, who was convicted of the assassination and who remains in the California state prison in Corcoran.
Celebrities and journalists are joining the campaign for a federal investigation, which has been sparked in part by a new book, Nemesis, by the British author Peter...
In 1882, Ernest Renan, the French historian, gave a lecture at the Sorbonne university in which he posed the question: what is a nation?
His answer was that nations were about far more than customs posts or geographical frontiers, or even races, religions or languages. They were, he claimed, the accumulation of shared glories and sacrifices and a common desire to achieve future goals."A heroic past, great men, glory . . . this is the social capital upon which one bases a national idea," he said.
Few individuals can have created so much national social capital so quickly as Napoleon. In two frenetic decades, the Corsican-born petit caporal (little corporal) drove France to the heights of glory and the depths of despair, leaving behind a rich legacy: the civil code, the Bank of France and the beauty of Paris.
Napoleon has remained a figure of huge fascination and...
Adolf Hitler ordered one of his generals to kidnap Pope Pius XII but the officer did not obey, Italy's leading Roman Catholic newspaper reported yesterday.
Avvenire, which is owned by the Italian Conference of Roman Catholic bishops, said new details of the plot had emerged in documents presented to the Vatican in favour of putting the controversial wartime pontiff on the road to sainthood.
Avvenire said the German dictator feared the pope would be an obstacle to his plans for global domination and because the dictator wanted to eventually abolish Christianity.
It said that in 1944, shortly before the Germans retreated from Rome, SS General Karl Friedrich Otto Wolff had been directly ordered by Hitler to kidnap the pope. The newspaper said Wolff returned to Rome from his meeting with Hitler in Germany and arranged for a secret meeting with the pope.
The newspaper said...
Deep within the limestone hills of the Auvergne in south eastern France lies the secret entrance to Chauvet, the 34,000-year-old grotto known as"the Sistine Chapel of Prehistoric art". For the lucky few who have been allowed inside Chauvet since a trio of amateur speleologists first discovered it in late 1994, almost everything is off limits. Nothing may be touched - not the 447 animal paintings on the walls, nor the 83 bear skulls littering the floor; not even the 4,000-plus footprints embedded in the ground.
In fact, conditions in the 1,500-foot cave are so ecologically fragile that there are even limits on breathing. In order to maintain the delicate equilibrium of carbon dioxide on which the cave has become dependant, no more than 10 people are allowed in, for a maximum of eight hours at a time.
One Chauvet researcher, Philippe Fosse, remembers initially asking himself:"How are we going to work...
They are known as the ders des ders, the last of the last, and they will soon be gone. Aged between 105 and 110 and with a life expectancy measured in months not years, 14 soldiers are all that remain of the vast French armies of the first world war. In the hills above Verdun, the fortress town near the German border, a sense of impending loss is palpable as the last guardians of living memory of the fighting that scarred this area disappear one by one.
Just how they will be remembered is a question troubling Jean-Louis Dumont, who represents the Verdun area in parliament. The Socialist deputy has provoked debate by proposing a law to turn the funeral of the last poilu (French infantryman of the 1914-18 war) into a"solemn national homage" to all who fought in that conflict. This memorial service for an entire generation could, he suggests, be held at Verdun or at Douaumont, where Francois Mitterrand...
Auschwitz is far and away the largest single site of the mass murders committed during the second world war. It is the largest cemetery in the world, containing the last remains of well over a million human beings - men, women and children, murdered in the name of a state ideology. The corpses were pushed into giant incinerators and their ashes dumped into nearby rivers and ponds, or simply strewn over neighbouring fields. The sheer scale of the atrocities, the horrific industrialisation of mass murder by poison gas, the systematic robbery of personal property - all this, and very much more besides, rightly confirms the name of Auschwitz as an indelible stain on the moral history of humanity and on the social and political history of Europe.
So it is not difficult to understand why the liberation of Auschwitz, on January 27 1945, is an event of singular importance deserving serious and thoughtful...
During the heady days a decade and a half ago when democracy first came to Poland, few faces were more visible, or more emblematic of the democracy movement than the movie star-like spokeswoman for Solidarity, Malgorzata Niezabitowska. Certainly, she would be the last person anybody would suspect of having collaborated with the Communist government.
But in the past few weeks, Ms. Niezabitowska -- like numerous other Solidarity veterans -- has been snared by allegations that under the code name Nowak she was a regular informer for the Communist security services. The allegation, supported by newly available documents from the Communist-era secret police, has both transfixed Poland and made a turmoil of Ms. Niezabitowska's life.
Among the former Communist countries of Eastern Europe, Poland is a relative latecomer to what has become know as lustration, so called because the bringing to light of...
With Edgar Ray Killen back on trial after four decades, a state struggles - again - with vestiges of its segregationist past.
Surrounded by tabby cats, under a canopy of oaks on his porch overlooking muddy cow country, Edgar Ray Killen grew old. His contemporaries remember gangs with sling blades and men in pointy white hats with holes for eyes. But most people in this town of 8,000 had forgotten the ordained Baptist minister who eked out a living on his backyard sawmill.
Forty-one years ago, state prosecutors say, Mr. Killen helped kidnap and kill three civil rights workers. Last week, a stooped Killen returned to court and barked a hoarse "not guilty" at the judge. So began the latest, and perhaps the biggest, in a series of recent reckonings of civil rights era crimes - a turn of events that some see as a hopeful sign of righting old wrongs, some decry as a pointless dredging of...
Spain is to honour one of Britain's greatest maritime heroes, Lord Cochrane, almost two centuries after he helped to defeat Napoleon's armies in the Peninsular War.
The town of Roses in Catalonia is to dedicate a plaque to the celebrated sea captain who was the inspiration for both Patrick O'Brian's Jack Aubrey and CS Forester's Horatio Hornblower, to commemorate his audacious defence of the town in 1808.
The tribute to Lord Cochrane, nicknamed Le Loup de Mer or Sea Wolf by Napoleon, has taken almost 200 years to come to fruition because of lingering Spanish animosity towards Britain.
"This is a superb idea to honour such a fine sea captain," said Pablo de la Fuente, a military maritime historian who lives in Roses. "It has taken so long because of Gibraltar. But it is time to acknowledge that we sometimes forget the huge collaboration of the Royal Navy and...
[Louis A. Pérez Jr. is a professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The most recent of his many books about Cuba is On Becoming Cuban: Identity, Nationality, and Culture (University of North Carolina Press, 1999). His next book, To Die in Cuba: Suicide and Society, will be published by the University of North Carolina Press this spring.]
No foreign head of state has defied U.S. efforts at regime change longer than Fidel Castro. Since 1959 he has survived an armed invasion, repeated assassination attempts, years of political isolation, and decades of economic sanctions. Forty-six years later, Castro is alive, if not so well, 90 miles away, still in power, still defying the United States.
Survival under such circumstances is tantamount to at least one kind of success, and success...
Adam Hochschild, in the NYT (1-17-05):
ACROSS the country today, parades, rallies and church services will mark the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Participants usually think of this national holiday - created against considerable opposition two decades ago - as this country's first widely celebrated commemoration of the long struggle for racial justice. Not so. For many decades, beginning well over 150 years ago, both black and white Americans celebrated another such day: Aug. 1.
The former slave and abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass called Aug. 1"illustrious among all the days of the year." At the Concord, Mass., courthouse on Aug. 1, 1844, Ralph Waldo Emerson gave a major speech against slavery that the writer Margaret Fuller, in the audience, described as"great, heroic, calm, sweet, fair ... tears came to my eyes." On that day in 1847, 10,000 people assembled in Canandaigua, N.Y., to hear Douglass and others speak. Seven thousand people...
The inauguration was a quiet affair. Sixty years ago this week, on Jan. 20, 1945—a cold Saturday in Washington—Europe had been at war for nearly six years, America for just over three. Three months away from death (he privately remarked that he felt like "boiled owl" much of the time), Franklin Roosevelt decided the fewer the festivities, the better.
There was no parade (the military was overseas), and so little chicken in the salad at lunch that most guests could be forgiven for thinking they were eating a celery dish. After taking the oath on the South Portico of the White House—one of the last times he ever stood, his steel braces locked in place—FDR delivered what has become an unjustly obscure fourth Inaugural Address, one long overshadowed by the majestic 1933 speech in which he told America that "the only thing we...
[Thurston Clarke is the author, most recently, of"Ask Not: The Inauguration of John F. Kennedy and the Speech That Changed America."]
AMERICANS watching John F. Kennedy's 1961 inauguration on television saw a scene worthy of Currier & Ives. The marble facade of the Capitol gleamed in the sun, dignitaries wore top hats and dark overcoats and the cold air turned Kennedy's breath into white clouds. When he said, "Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation," his words actually appeared to be going forth into the exhilarating air.
No one knew that Kennedy was wearing long underwear so he could remove his topcoat and appear youthful and energetic, or that he had received months of tutoring from a speech coach, or that there was so much animosity among the...
"The philosophers so far have only interpreted the world: the point is to change it." Marxist history has developed along parallel lines, corresponding to the two halves of Marx's famous thesis. Most intellectuals who became Marxists from the 1880s on, including historians, did so because they wanted to change the world in association with the labour and socialist movements. This motivation remained strong until the 1970s, before a massive political and ideological reaction against Marxism began. Its main effect has been to destroy the belief that the success of a particular way of organising human societies can be predicted and assisted by historical analysis.
Meanwhile what of "interpreting the world"? Here the story is about a double movement. This challenged the positivist belief that the objective structure of...
Roger Pulvers, in Japan Focus (January 2005):
[Roger Pulvers is an American-born Australian author, playwright and theater director, and a professor at Tokyo Institute of Technology. He translated all the Japanese writings quoted in the five-part Japan Times series"Revealing the Japanese Sensibility," that included the present article. A collection of his fiction and nonfiction writings,"Half and More," will be published by Shinchosha in 2005.]
What could be said for the human being after Nanking, Dresden, Auschwitz, Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Whatever the motivation, this is what we did to each other, and continue to do to this very hour. How can a writer write about goodness when people of all nations, autocratic or democratic, take up murder and torture with the same eager sense of merriment that they do an innocuous hobby?
For the postwar writer the dilemma was plain. How can you create a positive character...
Bob Dart, for the Cox News Service (1-16-05):
The best have spawned the phrases that defined an American president for the ages.
"With malice toward none, with charity for all ..."
"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself ..."
"Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country."
When President Bush delivers his second inaugural address on Thursday, his words may abide in textbooks for centuries to come. Or, as with such speeches by most presidents, his sentences may sink in history's cesspool of cliche and boilerplate.
Rarely have inaugural addresses ascended to greatness, historians agree.
"Inaugurations are heralded events but rhetorically disappointing," said Richard Vatz, a professor of political rhetoric at Towsend University in Maryland. "The historian...