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: WaPo (12-3-06)
Shortly after Thanksgiving I had dinner in California with Ronald Reagan's best biographer, Lou Cannon. Like many historians these days, we discussed whether George W. Bush is, conceivably, the worst U.S. president ever. Cannon bristled at the idea.
Bush has two more years to leave his mark, he argued. What if there is a news flash that U.S. Special Forces have killed Osama bin Laden or that North Korea has renounced its nuclear program? What if a decade from now Iraq is a democracy and a statue of Bush is erected on Firdaus Square where that famously toppled one of Saddam Hussein once stood?
There is wisdom in Cannon's prudence. Clearly it's dangerous for historians to wield the "worst president" label like a scalp-hungry tomahawk simply because they object to Bush's record. But we live in speedy times and, the truth is, after six years in power and barring a couple of...
SOURCE: WaPo (12-3-06)
After the 2004 election, a number of terribly depressed people at my university told me what a shame it was that President Bush had been reelected. If only people knew history, they lamented, they would never have voted for him.
It must be a comforting thought that this abstract thing called "history" can give us the wisdom to choose the right president, as if history books were Ouija boards and historians were modern-day oracles.
Certainly, some historians see themselves that way. In early 2004, just three years into the Bush administration, an "informal, unscientific survey of historians" by the History News Network found that more than 80 percent believed that the president was already a failure. And a miserable one at that.
Earlier this year, Princeton University historian Sean Wilentz took to the pages of Rolling Stone to ponder...
SOURCE: http://www.spiegel.de (11-22-06)
As has so often been in the case in history, there was little separating victory and defeat, joy and fear, euphoria and depression. And yet there couldn't have been a greater difference between the events in Berlin and in Moscow in October 1990.
The Presidential Council...
SOURCE: Atlantic Monthly (12-1-06)
It's a nebulous concept, influence: you know it when you see it, but definitions are hard to come by. Still, when we talk about history in America, it’s often to make arguments about influence, about the way the characters from our national past shape the virtues and flaws of our own era.
Thus, depending on whom you believe, George W. Bush is either the rightful heir to Harry Truman or the bastard child of Richard Nixon and Lyndon Baines Johnson. His critics are the successors of Walter Duranty and Jane...
SOURCE: Counterpunch (11-25-06)
It is tempting to celebrate the creation of Israel as a great triumph, perhaps the greatest in Jewish history. Indeed, the history of Israel has often been read as the heroic saga of a people marked for extinction, who emerged from Nazi death camps--from Auschwitz, Belzec and Treblinka--to establish their own state in 1948, a Jewish haven and a democracy that has prospered even as it has defended itself valiantly against unceasing Arab threats and aggression. Without taking away anything from the sufferings of European Jews, I will insist that this way of thinking about Israel--apart from its mythologizing--has merit only as a partisan narrative. It seeks to insulate Israel against the charge of a devastating colonization by falsifying history, by camouflaging the imperialist dynamics that brought it into...
SOURCE: Christian Science Monitor (11-30-06)
"The poetry of history," wrote British historian George Macaulay Trevelyan, "lies in the quasi-miraculous fact that once, on this familiar spot of ground, walked other men and women, as actual as we are today, thinking their own thoughts, swayed by their own passion, but now all gone, one generation vanishing after another...." That's why I love history - for its transience.
There's a belief in some circles that history is a branch of science, that there is some sort of objective truth out there that can be parceled out, inventoried - and, most important, assessed by the ultimate guardian of truth, the school exam.
Nonsense. History is poetry, as Mr. Trevelyan said - illusion, imagination, a whiff of what might have been as elusive as wood smoke on an...