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.
Clint O’Connor, in the Cleveland Plain Dealer (7-3-05):
It’s a pitch no Hollywood studio could refuse: “A ragtag gang of revolutionaries takes on the greatest empire the world has ever known – and wins!”
It’s backed by those five turnstile-turning words: “based on a true story.”
It has everything producers want: violence, epic scope, great characters and instant name-recognition, and achieves both anti-government aggression and teary-eyed patriotism.
So why has the American Revolution been such a zero in Hollywood?
Both world wars, the Civil War, the Cold War, and the Vietnam War all have a pantheon of great films reveling in their glorious deeds or decrying their insanity.
The Revolutionary War, 1775-1781, has . . . well, that Mel Gibson movie (“The Patriot”), and there...
Marc Leepson, in Newsweek (7-3-05):
[Marc Leepson is the author of the recently published"Flag: An American Biography."]
On July 4 Americans will fly Old Glory from our front porches to our Porsches and pickup trucks. We will wear star-spangled images on our T-shirts, baseball caps, headbands, earrings and boxer shorts. No country in the world matches the intensity of the American citizenry's attachment to its national flag.
So it's more than a little ironic that the origins of the flag are shrouded in mystery and legend. Just about the only thing we know for certain is that on June 14, 1777, the Second Continental Congress, without a word of debate, chose 13 stars"white in a blue field representing a new constellation," and 13 stripes"alternate red and white" to honor the 13 original states.
We do not know the identity of the individual who came up with the 13-star, 13-stripe design or exactly why...
[Louise Mirrer, James Oliver Horton and Richard Rabinowitz are working on a forthcoming exhibition about slavery at the New-York Historical Society.]
STANDING before a gathering of the Ladies' Antislavery Society in Rochester, Frederick Douglass, newspaper editor and internationally known voice of abolition, moved his audience with the force of his argument. It was July 5, 1852, the day after the national celebration of American independence. This former slave confronted a hushed crowd and a nation with the stunning question:"What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July?"
Douglass followed his question, an indictment of America's commitment to the value of human freedom in the decades before the Civil War, with an equally challenging reply:"A day that reveals to...
Tom Standage, in the LAT (7-4-05):
[Tom Standage, technology editor at the Economist, is author of"A History of the World in 6 Glasses" (Walker & Co., 2005).]
American independence owes much to a dispute over a drink, but it wasn't tea.
Even someone with the most tenuous grasp of history will be familiar with the Boston Tea Party. The short version goes like this: In 1773, the British government imposed a tax on the tea shipped to its American colonies. The colonists objected, marched onto a ship in Boston Harbor and tipped its cargo of tea into the water in protest. Similar tea parties followed in other ports, and relations between London and the colonies soured, leading to the outbreak of the Revolutionary War in 1775 and ultimately to American independence.
The full story, however, is more complicated. For although the schism between Britain and its colonies did indeed begin over the taxation of a...
[Charles C. Mann is the author of the forthcoming "1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus."]
... So vivid were these examples of democratic self-government that some historians and activists have argued that the Great Law of Peace directly inspired the American Constitution. Taken literally, this assertion seems implausible. With its grant of authority to the federal government to supersede state law, its dependence on rule by the majority rather than consensus and its denial of suffrage to women, the Constitution as originally enacted was not at all like the Great Law. But in a larger sense the claim is correct. The framers of the Constitution, like most colonists in what would become the United States, were pervaded by Indian images of liberty.
SOURCE: Time (6-26-05)
David W. Blight is Class of '54 Professor of American History and Director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, Yale University. He is the author of the Bancroft Prize-winning Race and"Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory" (2001) and the forthcoming"What to the Slave is the Fourth of July? Frederick Douglass's Greatest Speech."
In March 1852 Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin was published in Boston. By June, 14 steam presses ran day and night to produce enough copies to meet the unprecedented demand for the antislavery novel that changed the imaginative landscape of America's struggle over slavery. It is in this context of the astonishing popularity of Stowe's great novel that Frederick Douglass, the 34-year-old black reformer and the country's most conspicuous former slave, delivered his speech, "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?" If Uncle Tom's...
... At the lectern, University of South Carolina history professor Clyde Wilson, who edited the papers of antebellum leader and states'-rights advocate John C. Calhoun, rasped through a declamation against Abraham Lincoln (the subject of a great American "fable"), the Republican Party ("It has never done and will never do anything for the South") and Northerners ("They don't have any identity except in kicking us around"). He wasn't joking. "Those who want to wipe out our memories want to wipe us out as well," he said. "They are like the Taliban."
Wilson and the rest of a small, scrappy band of like-minded professors see themselves as intellectual warriors. They teach history—and philosophy, religion and politics—from what they call the "Southern tradition," at top universities like Emory and...
... The nomination ritual as it is practiced today was set in motion by Richard Nixon's appointment of Chief Justice William Rehnquist--one of the Bush Five--which is the subject of John Dean's new book. In any context, Dean's book could claim to be the most detailed behind-the-scenes account ever written of a high court nomination. After Bush v. Gore, however, it serves even more significantly as a window into the contemporary nomination process and a study of the hardball judicial politics Rehnquist and his mentors have mastered.
Dean correctly judges Rehnquist's appointment to be "among the most significant [acts] of [Nixon's] presidency." The choice, Dean notes, "...
... The slave trade was two centuries ago. But here in this castle [ Cape Coast Castle in Ghana, west Africa] it remains more immediate than anywhere else on earth. The enlightened 18th-century Britons who drank coffee and tea with sugar harvested by African slaves on Caribbean plantations couldn't see the violence beneath the sweetness, until campaigners put images before them: "Am I not a man and a brother?" asks the chained slave engraved by the abolitionist Josiah Wedgwood. Even now, making global economics visible is difficult. Is it possible to see what cannot easily be represented - the hidden structures of exploitation?
With slavery, which is history, you can try to do this. You can map the hideous trade simply by visiting a transatlantic triangle of museums. I didn't quite complete the circuit by going to, say,...
[Harvey J. Kaye is the Rosenberg Professor of Social Change and Development at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. This article is excerpted from Thomas Paine and the Promise of America, to be published in August by Hill and Wang, a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.]
On July 17, 1980, Ronald Reagan stood before the Republican national convention and the American people to accept his party’s nomination for president of the United States. Most of what he said that evening was to be expected from a Republican. He spoke of the nation’s past and its “shared values.” He attacked the incumbent Carter administration and promised to lower taxes, limit government, and expand national defense. And, invoking God, he invited Americans to join him in a “crusade to make America great again....