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.
"Who is defending Ward Churchill, may I ask?" That was the question posed by John Holbo, a philosophy professor and contributor to the leftwing academic blog Crooked Timber, when news broke that the University of Colorado was harboring a leftist extremist in its midst. The gist of Holbo’s question was that no respectable person on the Left could come to the defense of someone so demonstrably in leave of his senses as the former Weatherman accomplice, academic fraud, and faux-Indian.
One can only hope that the professor’s academic acumen is better than his news judgment. In fact, no sooner had the media picked up on Churchill’s now-notorious essay than his leftwing enablers rushed to rescue his reputation.
Carrying the flag of the pro-Churchill campaign was the academic community. Colorado University President...
[Max Boot is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a contributing editor to the Weekly Standard, and a foreign-affairs columnist for the Los Angeles Times.]
I FIRST BECAME AWARE of Thomas E. Woods Jr.'s Politically Incorrect Guide to American History when the New York Times Book Review took note of its rise on the paperback bestseller list and described it as a "neocon retelling of this nation's back story." A neocon retelling? What would that be, exactly? Curious to find out, I cracked open The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History.
It gets off to a slow start with a recitation of civics-text nuggets. Bet you didn't know that the Constitution "established three distinct branches of government--executive, legislative, and judicial--and provided 'checks and balances' by which each branch...
Virginia Anderson, in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (2-22-05):
... The story of the death of George Washington, who was born on Feb. 22, 1732, gives a chance to ask a health question as pressing now as then: Can you really get sick from being outdoors in bad weather?
While in Washington's case the answer was a resounding "yes," the answer for most of us is "no." A little bad weather does not make a person sick.
His case was extreme, however.
Washington, 67 at the time, rode his horse in a sleet and snowstorm for five hours on Dec. 12, 1799. He came home from his ride, stayed in his wet clothes, and greeted guests at Mount Vernon.
He died two days later. Historians believe the cause of death to be epiglottitis, an inflammation of the small flap of cartilage at the entrance of the larynx.
On the morning of Dec. 12, a driving sleet storm had iced Mount Vernon. But Washington, who had a taste...
In the sprawling palace of Tervuren, in a leafy suburb of Brussels, Leopold, King of the Belgians has finally been dethroned. A daunting statue of the hook-nosed monarch has been heaved from centre stage in the royal museum that was his brainchild and built with the proceeds of his African adventure.
The avatar of the former national hero now skulks in a distant corner; in his place are a series of antique black and white photographs of mutilated bodies in turn-of-the-previous-century Congo. One of the stark and disturbing images shows a father from the Nsala tribe contemplating the chopped-off hand and foot of his daughter in front of him. The sepia-tinted horror show is part of "Memory of Congo, The Colonial Era" a remarkable exhibition that has set off a critical re-examination of Belgium's grisly record...
Rummaging through Yale University's library shelves in early 2001 to prepare a talk on news media and genocide, I came across a study of nineteenth-century Colorado newspapers by Ward Churchill. His research steered me to a chilling 1891 editorial in the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer by L. Frank Baum, future author of The Wizard of Oz, calling for "the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians."
In the small fields of Native American history and genocide studies, Churchill is a figure respected enough to have contributed to the authoritative Encyclopedia of Genocide and divisive enough that fellow scholars debate his conclusions. It is no discredit to Churchill's scholarship to say that his broader political writing--including the now notorious 9/11 essay that became On the Justice of Roosting Chickens--is uniformly hackneyed and filled with...
In 1993, Deborah E. Lipstadt's "Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory" dissected a fringe, relatively isolated phenomenon of hard-core deniers. By the time she walked into a British court in 2000 to defend herself against a libel suit filed by one of those deniers, David Irving, Holocaust denial had been so transformed as to have become a critical part of the mushrooming global anti-Semitic movement. The trial was an event, covered around the world.
Lipstadt was online Tuesday, Feb. 22, at 3 p.m. ET to discuss her book and her six-year legal battle.
Lipstadt is Dorot professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies and director of the Institute for Jewish Studies at Emory University.
Join Book World Live each Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET for a discussion based on a story or review in each Sunday's [...
In the fall of 1961, unknown to the American public, John F. Kennedy was weighing a crucial decision about Vietnam not unlike that which George W. Bush faced about Iraq in early 2002--whether to go to war. It was the height of the cold war, when Communism was the "terrorist threat," and Ho Chi Minh the era's Saddam Hussein to many in Washington. But the new President was a liberal Massachusetts Democrat (and a decorated war veteran), not a conservative Sunbelt Republican who claimed God's hand guided his foreign policy. JFK's tough-minded instincts about war were thus very different. Contrary to what many have come to believe about the Vietnam War's origins, new research shows that Kennedy wanted no war in Asia and had clear criteria for conditions under which he'd send Americans abroad to fight and die for their country--criteria quite...
The Desert Island Question ("If just one book, which?") has no universal answer, but most readers with authentic judgment would choose among the Authorized English Bible, Shakespeare complete, and "Don Quixote" by Miguel de Cervantes. Is it an oddity that the three competitors were almost simultaneous?
The King James Bible appeared in 1611, six years after the publication of the first part of "Don Quixote" (whose 400th anniversary was just upon us). In 1605, Shakespeare matched the greatness of Cervantes's masterwork with "King Lear," and then went on rapidly to "Macbeth" and "Antony and Cleopatra." James Joyce, when asked the Desert Island Question, gloriously answered: "I should like to say Dante but I would have to take the Englishman because he is richer." A...
From the Toronto Star (2-20-05):
More questions about the authorship of the Dead Sea Scrolls are being asked today than any time since the documents were discovered 57 years ago.
The ruins of Qumran, where many scholars theorized that a Jewish monastic brotherhood known as the Essenes copied the books of the Old Testament, have yielded new evidence that casts doubt on the Essene theory.
Itzhak Magen and Yuval Peleg, Israeli archaeologists who spent 10 seasons in the digs at Qumran, announced last summer that the evidence they found all but proves that the Essenes didn't live there and didn't write the Dead Sea Scrolls.
What they uncovered in the course of digging and sifting at Qumran included jewellery and imported Italian pottery - not the sort of things that an order of poor monks would have.
Magen and Peleg also came away from their work believing the Essene theory should have died decades ago based on evidence that one...
Hans Blom, in the Financial Times ( London, England) 2-20-05):
When Simon Kuper wrote that proportionately many more Jews survived in Denmark than in the Netherlands during the last war, he was right ("Delivered from Evil", FT Magazine, January 22). The differences are striking. As the German occupiers of Denmark prepared to round them up and deport them, the Jews were first hidden and then ferried over the Sound to Sweden in a fleet of small boats. Almost all of Denmark's 7,500 Jews thereby escaped the Holocaust. By contrast, in the Netherlands - despite the safe, assimilated lives, with relatively little anti-Semitism, that Dutch Jews had led before the war - nearly 75 per cent were transported and killed.
Of the 140,000 Jews living in the Netherlands at the start of the occupation, 102,000 were murdered, a larger proportion than in any other west European parliamentary democracy.
Brad Crouch, in the Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) (2-20-05):
It was the greatest weapon of mass destruction of the time, built by the leading superpower of the era. Then, in a puff of wind, it was gone.
The sinking of the Swedish supership Vasa within minutes of its launch in front of assembled dignitaries in 1628 was a monumental disaster.
In terms of Great Duds Through History, it has to rank in the top 10.
But almost 400 years after the embarrassment of seeing the pride of the fleet go under, Sweden is rejoicing in Vasa as one of its top tourist drawcards.
The Vasa was ordered by the ambitious King Gustavus II Adolphus as a show of power to intimidate his regional rivals.
The largest warship of the era stood almost 70m long and more than 50m high, with ornate carvings of gods, kings, monsters and much more to scare opponents. There were also two levels of 64 cannons.
The unprecedented amount of cannons...
If all goes according to plan, Iraqi political leaders will gather this year to forge a new national constitution. It is easy to imagine many things that might shipwreck the process. Near the top of that list: Will Iraq's political forces manage to find a consensus about what role, exactly, Islam should play in the public sphere?
That question has created deep tensions within Islamic reform movements for more than a century. Certain persistent strains of Muslim thought insist that an authentically Islamic nation must enforce Shariah -- traditional religious law -- in all spheres of life, from banking to inheritance to the performing arts. Muhammad Kamaruzzaman, the assistant secretary general of an Islamist party in Bangladesh, recently wrote an essay celebrating democracy, but adding that "Islam does...
It has been 40 years since gunmen killed Malcolm X as he was about to address supporters in a Harlem ballroom.
His assassination on Feb. 22, 1965 - just before his 40th birthday - was part of a season of violence that sent many national leaders and civil rights workers to early graves, and also a murder with a peculiar set of circumstances.
When he died, few knew much about Malcolm beyond the fact that he could deliver a speech and stir up controversy.
Malcolm would become more important in death than he was during his life, both as a commodified pop culture symbol of defiance - the black counterpart to Che Guevara - and as someone who saw the limitations of the civil rights movement and called for an approach that would demand more fundamental changes.
For most on both...
Today commemorations are scheduled across the country.
In New York, the Center for Contemporary Black History and the Institute for Research in African-American Studies at Columbia University are sponsoring "Malcolm X: Life After Death -- the Legacy Endures" an educational forum and radio broadcast. The program will be chaired by historian Manning Marable, founding director of the Institute for Research in African-American Studies.
The historic Abyssinian Baptist Church is also hosting a national commemoration of Malcolm X with Percy Sutton, Sonia Sanchez, Haki Madhubuti, Dr. James Turner, Gil Noble, Rev. Herbert Daughtry and M-1 of Dead Prez.
Later this year, the Audubon Ballroom is scheduled to reopen as the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial...
Otis Granville Clark is a wonder. At 102, the former butler of Joan Crawford - who served Clark Gable and Charlie Chaplin - still drives, lives on his own and twice a week attends church in his home city of Tulsa, Oklahoma. He has been a church-goer for decades, ever since he heard the call and, surprising Crawford and himself, became an evangelist preacher. Today his blue eyes have gone milky but they still sparkle, his wiry frame remains agile, and his most painful memories are still fresh - even after 83 years.
Coiled on the edge of an understuffed sofa, Clark leans back and screws his eyes tight to summon up "that day". It remains the most vivid of his life. "That was the day I saw blood," he says. He was a young black man of 18, scarcely aware of the world beyond his neighbourhood on that warm spring morning...
THANKFULLY, HISTORIANS HAVE COME A LONG WAY from the late Hugh Trevor-Roper’s dismissive barb made in 1963: “Perhaps in the future there will be some African history to teach. But at present there is none, or very little: there is only the history of Europe in Africa.” Despite an avalanche of scholarship over the last four decades, however, questions remain about how adequately the history of Africa is being handled by and integrated into the field of world history and—as these pages suggest —into the discipline of history at the epistemological level.At the 2003 meeting of the African Studies Association, prominent Africanists along with a few invited world historians gathered to discuss the relationship of African and world historians. Opinions ranged from outright skepticism...
THREE DECADES AGO, TWO designers came up with ideas for memorials for Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The concepts shared a common core: an outdoor room, open to the sky and enclosed by primitive stone walls. To date, only one of these has been built: Lawrence Halprin's abysmal Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C., finally completed in 1997. The other, Louis I. Kahn's memorial for the southern tip of Roosevelt Island in New York City, has languished in the archives.
That's a shame. Halprin managed to distill just about everything that can go wrong with a modernist memorial scheme. But Kahn's design shows that modernism at its best--in the hands of a master--doesn't have to produce the kind of dysfunctional memorials with which Washington has lately been cursed.
The Roosevelt Island project came to a halt amidst New York's financial troubles in the 1970s. A new exhibition mounted by the architecture school at the...
Justin Ewers, in US News & World Report (2-21-05):
He was an up-by-his-bootstraps man of the frontier. Born in a log cabin, he taught himself to read and hacked his way out of the Kentucky backwoods into the national spotlight. At political rallies, posters showed him splitting rails with ax in hand. He was the prairie lawyer who would become the Great Emancipator: Honest Abe--the man who freed the slaves and won the Civil War. When an interviewer asked him about his early days, he summed it up in a phrase: "'The short and simple annals of the poor.' That's my life, and that's all you or anybody else can make of it."
With the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, on April 14, 1865--less than a week after the end of the Civil War--this gilded image became gospel. A thorough accounting of Lincoln's early years seemed to die with him. He left no autobiography. There are fewer than 10 pages of personal reminiscence in his Collected Works. And so his...