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 Chronicle of Higher Education (1-11-05):
In 1497, when Europeans first encountered the Khoikhoi people, popularly known as "Hottentots," of present-day South Africa, an important chapter in the cultural history of racism began, says Nicholas Hudson, a professor of English at the University of British Columbia.
European explorers initially were repulsed by the Hottentots, who had very different ideas about how to dress, cook, and conduct courtships than were current in Europe. The Hottentots, early reports indicated, smeared their light skin with dirt and oil to appear darker, preferred barely cooked tripe to animal muscle, and looped greasy cow intestines about their beloveds' shoulders to celebrate engagements.
By the 18th century, "Hottentot" was a common insult in Europe for an ill-mannered, filthy, or otherwise uncivilized person. The Hottentots also became a popular subject for...
... Bush assuredly takes comfort that the critics of another visionary -- President Ronald Reagan -- also called him a simple-minded warmonger. While Democratic contender John Kerry gave a phony salute to Reagan during one of the presidential debates, in 1988, Sen. Kerry condemned the "moral darkness of the Reagan-Bush administration." When Reagan gave his "Evil Empire" speech, Columbia University historian Henry Steele Commager wrote (and was widely quoted in many media outlets) that this was "the worst presidential speech in American history, and I've read them all." Anthony Lewis of The New York Times denounced the speech as "primitive." "What is the world to think," wrote Lewis, "when the greatest of powers is led by a man who applies to the most difficult human problem a...
At noon on Jan. 20, in the shadow of the Capitol, George W. Bush will raise his right hand, place the other on the Bible and swear to faithfully execute the office of president and preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.
It will be the 55th quadrennial presidential inauguration, an event steeped in history and marked by all the pomp and pageantry with which Americans have come to associate the oath-taking ceremony. Heightened security, a constant in this age of terrorism, also will be part of the first inaugural since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Here, in question and answer form, is a look at the inauguration:
Q: Why is the inauguration on Jan. 20 at noon?
A: The Constitution's 20th Amendment, passed by Congress March 2, 1932, and ratified by the necessary states on Jan. 23, 1933, set the date and...
I want some red-hot government secrets, and I want them now. Using the new Freedom of Information Act I intend to wrench open filing cabinets that have been locked for decades, expose the briefing notes we were never meant to see, nail the rumours that will make or break the reputations of the highest in the land. If the law means what it says, then this is a new dawn for journalists. For the first time, we have the legal right to acquire any records that are held by public authorities on any topic, including documents, e-mails, computers, cassettes, microfiche, maps, and even handwritten notes. Never before has the"right to know" been given such tangible form.
That is the theory. The reality, I suspect, will be more mundane. The headlines this week, as the Act came into force, did little to set the adrenalin coursing through the veins. The battle to allow civil servants to use soft toilet paper in the 1970s...
In 1940, after Nazi troops marched into France, the future Pope John XXIII, darling of liberal Roman Catholics, took up his pen to comment. Did he, as one might expect, warn of the dark shadow of the jackboot spreading over Europe? Did he fret over the fate of the Jews who had just fallen into Hitler's grasp? No. What he wrote was that German society was made up of"alert, strong" men, who fully deserved their victory over a"worn-out French democracy".
Skeletons have been rattling in the Roman Catholic church's wartime cupboard for years. In particular, the Vatican's inaction over the Holocaust, its failure to condemn openly and specifically the Nazis' attempted genocide, has cast a long shadow over the reputation of the austere wartime pontiff, Pius XII.
Now, however, a new row is threatening to engulf a man of a very different sort - his benign successor, John XXIII. The man Italians call"il papa...
The death of Cleopatra from an asp bite is one of history's greatest romantic tragedies. But, asks Richard Girling, can the verdict of suicide, accepted for 2000 years, stand up to a modern-day investigation by a forensic expert?
For 2000 years, the death of Queen Cleopatra VII has worked like a mind-altering drug in the bloodstreams of painters, poets, playwrights and historians. Tragedy and romance have never been so irresistibly entwined: the beautiful young queen, maddened by grief, hastening to join her dead lover, Mark Antony, through the kiss of an asp.
We believe it because we want to. What we don't do is pass the story through a filter of modern, proof-seeking inquiry in which questions have to be matched with answers. Is it likely -- is it even possible -- that the testimony of Plutarch, written more than 100 years after the event, could be true? Yet thanks to him,...
Jared Diamond, in th NYT (1-1-05)
[Jared Diamond, who won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction for "Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies," is the author of the forthcoming "Collapse: How Societies Choose or Fail to Succeed."]
NEW Year's weekend traditionally is a time for us to reflect, and to make resolutions based on our reflections. In this fresh year, with the United States seemingly at the height of its power and at the start of a new presidential term, Americans are increasingly concerned and divided about where we are going. How long can America remain ascendant? Where will we stand 10 years from now, or even next year?
Such questions seem especially appropriate this year. History warns us that when once-powerful societies collapse, they tend to do so quickly and unexpectedly. That shouldn't come as much of a surprise: peak power usually means peak population, peak needs, and hence peak vulnerability....