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.
SOURCE: Atlantic Monthly (11-29-06)
History can hinge on sequence. Germany’s announcement of unrestricted submarine warfare on January 31, 1917, making targets of U.S. merchant vessels, caused Wilson to break diplomatic relations with Germany in February and eventuated in the mayhem he described in his address to Congress:"Vessels of every kind, whatever their flag, their character, their cargo, their destination, their errand, have been...
SOURCE: Slate (11-29-06)
This anniversary fixation makes it all the more baffling that one particularly significant anniversary recently went unnoticed: the 20th anniversary, on Nov. 25, of the Iran-Contra scandal. On that day in 1986, Attorney General Ed Meese confirmed press reports that the Reagan White House had sold arms secretly to Iran and, defying legislation passed by Congress and signed by the president, gave...
SOURCE: Boston Globe (11-29-06)
Nobody knows what caused police officers to kill Sean Bell, a 23-year-old African-American, outside a Queens, N.Y., nightclub last weekend. Not the Rev. Al Sharpton, who met with Mayor Michael Bloomberg to demand"fairness and justice." Not the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, who called the episode part of a"pattern of police abuse." Not Councilman Charles Barron, who warned that African-Americans would not remain"peaceful" while"they are being murdered."
Not me. Not you.
But we pretend we do know, thanks to a common error of logic. Call it the historical fallacy. The historical fallacy works like this: Because something happened in the past, it is happening in the present. Consider the buildup to the war in Iraq, our most egregious recent example of the fallacy in action. As President Bush repeatedly reminded us,...
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Education (12-1-06)
SOURCE: Times Online (UK) (11-27-06)
The transatlantic slave trade stands as one of the most inhuman enterprises in history. At a time when the capitals of Europe and America championed the Enlightenment of man, their merchants were enslaving a continent. Racism, not the rights of man, drove the horrors of the triangular trade. Some 12 million were transported. Some three million died.
Slavery's impact upon Africa, the Caribbean, the Americas and Europe was profound. Thankfully, Britain was the first country to abolish the trade. As we approach the commemoration for the 200th anniversary of that abolition, it is only right we also recognise the active role Britain played until then in the slave trade. British industry and ports were intimately intertwined in it. Britain's rise to...
SOURCE: Independent (UK) (11-28-06)
That's not exactly an apology
No, it's more an expression of regret. These historical/political apologies often are. Part of the problem is that, philosophically speaking, you can only properly apologise for something you have done. And these public statements are often on behalf of people other than the speaker, or even those he - and it's usually a bloke - represents. Mr Blair's last big public expression of regret was for English indifference to the plight of the Irish people during the potato famine of the 1840s.
No saying sorry over Iraq, then?
You're missing the point. Look at Bill...
SOURCE: International Herald Tribune (11-27-06)
One of the surest ways to bring a certain type of dinner party to a halt is to speak piously about God. Earnest reference to sinners, apostates or blasphemers, or to the promise of salvation offered in evangelical churches, is likely to produce the same effect.
Among the cosmopolites who live in secular enclaves, religion is automatically associated with darkness, superstition, irrationality and an antique or pre- modern cast of mind. It has long been assumed that religion is opposed to science, reason and human progress; and the death of gods is simply taken for granted as a deeply ingrained Darwinian article of faith.
Why, then, are the enlightened so conspicuously up in arms these days, reiterating every possible argument against the existence of God? Why are they indulging in books -...
SOURCE: http://www.northjersey.com/ (11-19-06)
Step off Plymouth Rock and follow me to southern Virginia's James River, home of the Berkeley Plantation, when history says a few dozen men celebrated their arrival in the New World in 1619 -- the first true Thanksgiving.
That is, if their neighbors in Jamestown, just down the river, didn't throw some kind of party after establishing the first American settlement 399 years ago. Or if you don't count the celebrations of French Huguenot colonists in what is now Florida, in 1564, or Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado and his men in what is now Texas, in 1541.
Or maybe we're all wrong.
"The first Thanksgiving was probably celebrated by native people thousands of years before Europeans arrived. We seem to have this Eurocentrist stance," said Kathleen Curtin, a food historian with the Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Mass, the Pilgrims' home. (Plimoth/...
SOURCE: http://www.thenorthernlight.org/ (11-15-06)
What most kids learn in school, though, has little to do with fact or history. Thanksgiving is more of an invented holiday, a la Valentineâ€™s Day, than second-grade teachers let on.
The holiday itself wasnâ€™t created until 1863, and the Thanksgiving story was later developed as a way to teach immigrants about â€œAmericanism.â€
With the day of gorging and subsequent door-buster sales drawing near, itâ€™s time to debunk some of the myths of Thanksgiving and see what the country is actually celebrating.
SOURCE: Chicago Tribune (11-19-06)
It's time to talk turkey about Thanksgiving.
While long immortalized in painting, poetry and song--and annually reinforced by chocolate turkeys, buckle-hatted Garfields on Hallmark cards and school re-enactments of the blessed banquet--the "First Thanksgiving" that gave rise to America's holiday tradition never occurred, at least not in the way most of us picture and understand it.
There is no historical link between the harvest meal in 1621 and America's Thanksgiving narrative. It is, quite simply, a "myth," albeit a...
SOURCE: Guardian (11-26-06)
Seeing his profits slip away as the deaths mounted, Collingwood resorted to an insurance scam. With each African covered at £30 apiece (over £2,000 at today's prices), he decided to jettison parts of the cargo to 'save' the rest. The Zong's maritime insurance would cover the cost of each lost slave. Citing a lack of drinking water, the captain had 133 slaves thrown overboard. Some went to their death with arms still shackled; others jumped into the ocean themselves.
But the Zong's insurer didn't buy Collingwood's story and in 1783 his damages claim ended up in a London court, not as a murder trial...
SOURCE: NYT (11-26-06)
Robert Kennedy was dining at home on Nov. 22, 1963, when J. Edgar Hoover called. “I have news for you,” Hoover began coldly. “The president’s been shot.” Kennedy turned away from his lunch companions, his hand to his mouth and his face twisted in pain.
In the ensuing months, he was devoured by grief. One of his biographers, Evan Thomas, writes: “He literally shrank, until he appeared wasted and gaunt. His clothes no longer fit, especially his brother’s old clothes — an old blue topcoat, a tuxedo, a leather bomber jacket with the presidential seal — which he insisted on wearing and which hung on his narrowing frame.”
But during March 1964, he visited Bunny Mellon’s estate in Antigua, and spent the vacation in his room, reading a book Jackie...
SOURCE: NYT (11-26-06)
MOST of us know what conformity is. We know what individualism is. We understand at some level that civilized society is based on a continuing tension between them. And many of us look back at the second half of the 20th century as a drama about that tension: the conformist, white-bread 1950s yielding to the individualist rebellion of the 1960s, and to the eccentricities of the baby boom generation that dominated the two decades after that.
These things are conventional wisdom now, but they didn’t always seem so obvious. Most Americans of the 1950s didn’t even think of themselves as conformists — until William H. Whyte Jr. came along, 50 years ago today, and explained it all to them in “The Organization Man.”
Whyte didn’t invent the terms he used — “organization man,” “yes man,” “togetherness” — but he assembled them...
SOURCE: First in a 2-part series in the Boston Globe (11-22-06)
King also wrote this: "One of the great weaknesses of liberal theology is that it becomes so involved in higher criticism, in many instances that it fails to answer certain questions. . . . the weakness lies in its failure to connect the masses. Liberal theology seems to be lost in a vocabulary. Moreover, it seems too divorced from life."
It is not amazing that King wrote of concern for the poor yet criticized liberals who voiced only lip service. What is stunning is that he wrote the above in 1948. He wrote them in seminary school before the age of 20.
SOURCE: AlterNet (11-23-06)
Instead, we should atone for the genocide that was incited -- and condoned -- by the very men we idolize as our 'heroic' founding fathers.
One indication of moral progress in the United States would be the replacement of Thanksgiving Day and its self-indulgent family feasting with a National Day of Atonement accompanied by a self-reflective collective fasting.
In fact, indigenous people have offered such a model; since 1970 they have marked the fourth Thursday of November as a Day of Mourning in a spiritual/political ceremony on Coles Hill overlooking Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts, one of the early sites of the European invasion of the Americas.
Not only is the thought of such a change in this white-supremacist holiday...
SOURCE: Democracy Now (11-22-06)
Flores Forbes, author of "Will You Die With Me? My Life and the Black Panther Party."
AMY GOODMAN: William Lee Brent was the oldest member to join the Black Panther Party. Flores Forbes first joined the Black Panther Party when he was 16 years old. He became the youngest member of the Black Panther Central Committee and ended up spending nearly five years in prison for an attempted assassination. Flores is now chief strategic officer at the Abyssinian Development...
SOURCE: NYT (11-23-06)
LAST week, I went to see Bob Dylan at the Nassau Coliseum. It turned out to be a terrific rock ’n’ roll show. I must admit, however, to being somewhat distracted by how Mr. Dylan and his band were dressed. They wore hats and rather elegant suits, and it was in the midst of “Like a Rolling Stone,” as Dylan stood before the keyboard howling out the refrain, that I had what I’ll call a Thanksgiving epiphany.
I don’t know if it’s because I’ve spent the past four years researching the history of Plymouth Colony, but at that moment Mr. Dylan and his band reminded me of the Pilgrims. Not the actual Pilgrims, but the cardboard caricatures we come to know in elementary school, dressed in dark suits, with buckles on their hats and shoes. It was then that I remembered that almost precisely 31 years before, in 1975,...
SOURCE: WSJ (11-22-06)
On Nov. 19, 1863, Abraham Lincoln delivered the dedication remarks at the opening ceremonies of a cemetery for soldiers of the Civil War in Gettysburg, Pa. This "Gettysburg Address" -- a gem-like model of conciseness, passion and political eloquence -- quickly became a fixed feature of McGuffey's Eclectic Readers and triple-decker Fourth of July orations, even the soundtrack of the first "talking" motion picture in 1922. It was read once again to dedicate a block of burnt earth in Manhattan during the solemn first anniversary of 9/11 at Ground Zero.
Lincoln wrote a great many other memorable speeches, from his two inaugural addresses to the proclamation that, a week after the Gettysburg Address, made Thanksgiving a...
SOURCE: http://www.newsobserver.com (11-17-06)
On Nov. 10, 1898, heavily armed columns of white men marched into the black neighborhoods of Wilmington. In the name of white supremacy, this well-ordered mob burned the offices of the local black newspaper, murdered perhaps dozens of black residents -- the precise number isn't known -- and banished many successful black citizens and their so-called "white nigger" allies. A new social order was born in the blood and the flames, rooted in what The News and Observer's publisher, Josephus Daniels, heralded as "permanent good government by the party of the White Man."
The Wilmington race riot of 1898 stands as one of the most important chapters in North Carolina's history. It is also an event of national historical significance. Occurring only two years after the Supreme Court had sanctioned "separate but equal" segregation in Plessy v....
SOURCE: Broadside, the Newsletter of the American Revolution Round Table (11-21-06)