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.
From the newsletter of the Chronicle of Higher Education (1-14-05):
A glance at the current issue of "Historically Speaking": The professionalization of history
The field of history suffers from "mass professionalization," Bruce Kuklick, a professor of American history at the University of Pennsylvania, writes in the lead essay in "The American Historical Profession in the 21st Century: an Exchange," a section based on papers presented at the Historical Society's 2004 conference.
Too many people have doctorates in history, and there are not enough jobs in higher education to accommodate them, Mr. Kuklick says. The result is "a growing helot class of non-standing faculty, exploited and underpaid."
Publication has traditionally been the way for scholars to distinguish themselves from the pack, he writes, but the staggering number of journals and books being published now...
From the newsletter of the Chronicle of Higher Education (1-17-05):
A glance at the winter issue of "The Public Interest": Defending Western Civ
It may smack of the old school, but the Western Civ survey course still fills a serious void in undergraduate history education, says Steven Ozment, a professor of ancient and modern history at Harvard University.
Western Civ, Mr. Ozment says, is a time-tested antidote to what he perceives as a reigning, narcissistic absorption with all things contemporary.
"For the reading public," he writes, "the study of the past often seems a search for forerunners and blockers of modernity, a parade of people, ideas, and crises either lauded for having prepared the way to truths we hold to be self-evident, or excoriated for having opposed them -- history as self-confirmation."
"The great strength of the Western Civ survey within the history...
An ancient star atlas lost for centuries and a cutting-edge atlas of the modern universe were unveiled Tuesday by scientists at the American Astronomical Society meeting.
Hidden in plain sight for centuries, the star atlas was found on a statue in Italy's National Museum of Archaeology in Naples. Called the Farnese Atlas, the 7-foot-tall marble statue depicts one of the titans of Greek mythology, Atlas, holding a 2-foot-wide globe on his shoulders. The sphere is covered with 41 star constellations, from Aries the Ram to Andromeda.
"Here we have a real case where lost, ancient wisdom has been found," says astronomer Bradley Schaefer of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. Inscribed on the Farnese Atlas, he reports, is the lost star catalogue of Hipparchus, one of the great Greek astronomers who lived around 140 B.C. on the island of Rhodes. No copies of the atlas, a standard reference for ancient...
On the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, while half the country was asleep and the other half might just as well have been, Britain could finally claim to be a fully paid-up member of the world's democracies. After years of campaigning by pressure groups - not to mention governmental procrastination - the UK joined more than 100 other countries in allowing public access to some official records as its new Freedom of Information Act came into effect.
The Campaign for Freedom of Information had been working towards this moment for more than 20 years, and its director, Maurice Frankel, was understandably upbeat about the act."The new rights will help people ensure they are being treated fairly, learn whether they are being exposed to hazards, check that public authorities are doing their job and give people a better chance of influencing decisions," he said."They should also lead to more honesty in government....
The tests are the stuff of legend: Towns complaining to NASA because of the noise. Seismographs quivering hundreds of miles away. China cabinets disgorging their contents when all five first-stage engines fired at once.
You remember Saturn V. Maybe. If you're old enough. It was the Babe Ruth of rockets, bigger than life and way cool, a teeth-rattling, jaw-dropping, 363-foot, fire-breathing behemoth that could shoot three guys -- always guys -- at the moon and hit the target every time.
More than 31 years have passed since Saturn V last flew, but the legend lives on -- in decals, shoulder patches, stickers, photographs, videos, Web sites, scale models and stories that people tell their grandchildren. Even today, Saturn V symbolizes the pinnacle of U.S. space exploration.
But until relatively recently, retirement has not been kind. Saturn V's are enormous, awkward and not built for life on Earth...
Until last week, the world's most expensive coin was hidden in the world's most valuable gold vault.
That is to say, in the brilliantly lighted blue-and-white stronghold of E Level, the deepest sanctuary of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the city's bank of banks.
The coin was locked in a compartment at bedrock, 80 feet below Liberty Street in Lower Manhattan, surrounded by $90 billion worth of gold bars -- some 550,000 of them -- from 60 foreign institutions. That is more gold than at Fort Knox, and indeed, more than in any other repository.
This exceedingly rare United States $20 gold piece, the $7.59 million 1933 double eagle, will be placed on public display today in the ground-floor exhibition space of the Fed's massive iron-barred neo-Florentine fortress of a building at 33 Liberty Street.
For more than a year the double eagle had been on view there in a free...
Pittsburgh is a leading candidate to land a library and institute now located at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that would bring to this city one of the nation's pre-eminent collections on the history of science and technology.
The 50,000 rare books, 30,000 secondary titles and assorted other materials include one of the world's three greatest assemblages of works by and about Sir Isaac Newton. They are contained in the Burndy Library, which is weighing a move to another city now that an agreement that has kept it on MIT's Cambridge, Mass., campus since 1992 will end in August 2007.
The Burndy and an affiliated research institute need two years to plan their relocation.
Pittsburgh has emerged as a possible new home, partly because of academic and library programs available at the University of Pittsburgh and neighboring Carnegie Mellon University. Other...
In October 1946, just a year after the defeat of the Nazis, the Vatican weighed in on one of the most painful episodes of the postwar era: the refusal to allow Jewish children who had been sheltered by Catholics during the war to return to their own families and communities.
A newly disclosed directive on the this subject provides written confirmation of well-known church policy and practices at the time, particularly toward Jewish children who had been baptized, often to save them from perishing at the hands of the Nazis. Its tone is cold and impersonal, and it makes no mention of the horrors of the Holocaust.
Its disclosure has reopened a raw debate on the World War II role of the Catholic Church and of Pope Pius XII, a candidate for sainthood who has been excoriated by his critics as a heartless anti-Semite who maintained a public silence on the Nazi death camps and praised by...
[Editor's Note: Warning, a longer than normal article.]
Plagued by sluggishness, shortcomings and scandal, the United Nations limps toward its 60th birthday next week with many observers - including key supporters - questioning its effectiveness, and even its survival as a credible insititution.
Most significantly, it is under attack from the country that once was its greatest booster.
"As the U.N. approaches 60, it is getting creaky in its bones," admits former foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy, now Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special envoy on the Ethiopia-Eritrea border dispute."Many of its key institutions were formed in the post-World War II reality of the victors. It's stalemated in terms of decision-making reforms, and hindered in adapting to the new global networks and constellations that exist today."
The U.N.'s current crisis began when the trauma of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks...
[Editor's Note: Warning, longer than normal article.]
The welcoming image could not be more inspiring. Or more creepy. It is a ''glass man'' standing in an alcove, his red veins lining his transparent shell, his multicolored organs neatly stacked in his abdomen, his arms raised aloft like his gaze, reaching toward the heavens, glorying in the display of his inner self.
He was constructed in 1935 by the German Hygiene Museum in Dresden for an exhibition about genetic health that traveled to the United States. One of his clones was given to the Buffalo Museum of Science. But about 50 years later, with some belated embarrassment, the museum sent back the glass man, queasy over the company he once kept and the ideals he once represented. He even appears in a 1935 photo in Dresden, gazed at by admiring Nazi officials.
Guilt by association, perhaps? Not unfair, given that this powerful exhibition at...
Tutankhamun's mummified body has been removed from its tomb and subjected to a CT scan that may finally solve the 3,300-year-old mystery of how he died.
A team of doctors and archaeologists conducted the 15-minute test in a specially equipped van parked in the Valley of the Kings near Luxor.
They hope to establish whether the boy king, made famous by the discovery of his dazzling sarcophagus in 1922, was in fact murdered while still a teenager.
An X-ray photograph by anatomists from Liverpool University in 1968 first suggested that Tutankhamun may have been killed by a blow to the back of his head when it revealed bone fragments inside the king's skull.
Historians have subsequently identified several possible murder suspects with plausible motives in the turbulent Egyptian court of 1350BC.
Tutankhamun succeeded Akhenaten, who may have been his father, at about the age...
''Civilization exists by geologic consent, subject to change without notice,'' wrote the historian Will Durant. The tsunami that struck Asia last month, caused by an earthquake off the coast of Indonesia, is a reminder of the validity of Durant's thesis; so far it has left some 140,000 people dead.
Throughout human history, earthquakes have set in motion great economic changes and political revolutions. Last month's tsunami was devastating in its toll on human life, but its economic and political effects may be more modest.
The San Francisco earthquake in 1906 was an important catalyst for the financial shocks that led to the creation of the Federal Reserve in 1913. Because British insurance companies underwrote the majority of the city's insurance policies, millions of pounds of insurance claims were soon presented in London. The insurance claims generated a huge outflow of gold from London, which...
Some say it has mystical powers derived from its ancient origins as an Aztec symbol of death. Others believe it is one of 13 crystal skulls that will foretell the destiny of humankind when brought together in the same place.
Whatever legends are attached to the crystal skull of the British Museum in London, one fact stands out. No other object in the museum's extensive collection has acquired such a cult following from New Age devotees.
Now, however, science can finally set the record straight and, in doing so, shatter one of the most enduring myths of an object steeped in historical fantasy. The crystal skull is a fake.
A detailed analysis of the skull's surface has revealed that it was cut and polished with the sort of rotating wheel common in the jewellery houses of 19th-century Europe but absent in pre-Columbian America.
Historians and scientists believe that the...
[Editor's Note: Warning - This is a longer than normal piece.]
Two works of Christian art predating the Holocaust raise questions about whether they intentionally contributed to anti-Semitism.
At first glance, a 20th-century mural and a 12th-century altar cross have little in common. But the controversy each has provoked reaches back into old Christian dogma itself, casting light on the role such art may have played in fomenting anti-Jewish feeling.
The issues mirror those being debated over the Ten Commandments - whether the US Constitution's First Amendment permits or prohibits the commandments from being displayed in public places such as courthouses - that will be taken up by the US Supreme Court in March.
The Boston Public Library, site of the mural"Triumph of Religion," and New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, which acquired the cross as part of its...
Preparations are nearly complete for President George Bush's second inauguration on January 20. Inauguration activities have grown considerably since the early days of the republic when a presidential inauguration consisted of a simple swearing-in ceremony.
Presidential inaugurations are mandated by the U.S. Constitution. It requires that the president repeat a 35-word oath in which the chief executive promises to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
The president must take the oath of office by noon on January 20th. Prior to 1937, Inauguration Day was March 4.
The first presidential inauguration took place in 1789 when the nation's first chief executive, George Washington, took the oath of office in New York City.
President Washington initiated a number of inaugural traditions that include taking the...
IN the pantheon of presidents, was Abraham Lincoln a queer eye among a bevy of straight guys?
Yes, claims a new book, "The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln," which has received the imprimatur of a major publisher (Free Press) and a distinctly supportive article in The New York Times.
The book's author, the late C.A. Tripp, was a longtime gay writer and former sex-researcher for Alfred C. Kinsey. And he insists that the case is beyond dispute: Lincoln was gay, he writes, naming several alleged lovers.
But the evidence is not just slim, it's nonexistent. Indeed, the case for a gay Lincoln rests on giving every possibly ambiguous statement or incident a sexual meaning - an extreme case of one of the worst sins of historical research: projecting 21st-century mores on earlier eras.
Which is why serious Lincoln historians - like two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David Herbert Donald, who's spent a lifetime...
Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Abraham Rabinovich, a reporter for the Jerusalem Post and a United States Army veteran. He is the author of the new book The Yom Kippur War: The Epic Encounter that Transformed the Middle East.
FP: Mr. Rabinovich, welcome to Frontpage Interview. It is a pleasure to have you here.
Rabinovich: Thank you for inviting me.
FP: What inspired you to write on this war?
Rabinovich: I covered the Yom Kippur War as a reporter for The Jerusalem Post. It lasted less than three weeks but was such an intense, monumental, event that I could not fully grasp what I had witnessed and heard. In the years that followed, I read everything available about it, both in English and Hebrew, and learned a lot of details but the story remained...
Richard Brookhiser, in the NYT Book Review (1-9-05):
This book is already getting noticed. In ''The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln,'' C. A. Tripp contends that Lincoln had erotic attractions and attachments to men throughout his life, from his youth to his presidency. He further argues that Lincoln's relationships with women were either invented by biographers (his love of Ann Rutledge) or were desolate botches (his courtship of Mary Owens and his marriage to Mary Todd). Tripp is not the first to argue that Lincoln was homosexual -- earlier writers have parsed his friendship with Joshua Speed, the young store owner he lived with after moving to Springfield, Ill. -- but he assembles a mass of evidence and tries to make sense of it.
Tripp died in May 2003, after finishing the manuscript of this book, which means he never had a chance to fix its flaws. The prose is both jumpy and lifeless, like a body receiving electric shocks. Tripp alternates shrewd guesses...
Top hat in hand, a beaming Woodrow Wilson is standing next to a smiling William Howard Taft. Captured for posterity by a photographer, the usually dour-looking Wilson seems to be enjoying this moment on March 4, 1913, the day of his first inauguration.
Inaugurations are pleasant days for presidents and their supporters, and most of the time the hostilities of the campaign and the disappointment of the opponents are muted or, in contemporary times, fenced behind the barricades. Generally, the protocol is to let the winner have his day.
The Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., has mounted a special exhibition titled "I Do Solemnly Swear" on several inaugurations that opened to the public Thursday. It shows how the day has been marked by lofty speeches and much pomp, and it underscores that...
How gay was Abraham Lincoln? By asking the question that way, it's perhaps possible to avoid the historically futile, binary question of "gay" versus "straight." Futile, because we are talking about a man who lived well over a century ago, at a time when the very concepts of gay and straight did not exist. And C.A. Tripp, author of The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln was, despite the crude assertions of some reviewers, a Kinseyite who believed in a continuum between gay and straight. If completely heterosexual is a Kinsey zero and completely homosexual is a Kinsey six, Tripp puts Lincoln at five. Reading his engrossing, if uneven, book, I'd say you could make a case that Lincoln was, in fact, a four. It's going to be a subjective judgment, and I'm no Lincoln scholar. In any particular piece...