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: Gwinett Daily Post (Georgia) (3-17-07)
So now we have a full-blown brouhaha brewing in the General Assembly over a proposal by Georgia state Sen. Jeff Mullis to set the month of April aside as Confederate History and Heritage Month.
Holy 1950s, Batman!
Now when I first heard about Mullis’ proposal, my very first thought was, “Good luck with that.” Honesty compels me to admit that I thought — and said aloud — that O.J. would have more luck finding the “real killer” on the golf courses of America than Jeff Mullis would have getting the Georgia Legislature to admit that there had ever even been a Confederate States of America — much less set aside an entire month to honor its heroes.
That is just so out of date, don’t you know — not to mention politically incorrect. The trend, in fact, has been heading in the exact opposite direction for a long time now, and any mention of the recent unpleasantness between the North and South can...
SOURCE: NYT Magazine (3-18-07)
... Beginning around 1700, Kumasi was the capital of the Ashanti empire as it rose and fell. At some point in my education, I was taught that the empire had been the center of a great trading system, with roads radiating from Kumasi in every direction, connecting us with the Atlantic trading system along the coast and with the trans-Saharan trade to the north. Gold, everyone knew, was one of the commodities we exported: the empire of Ashanti covered most of what was once called the Gold Coast.
What I don’t remember hearing much about was the role of the slave trade in the growth of Ashanti. More than a million slaves were sent to the Americas through the British, Danish and Dutch forts along the Gold Coast, mostly in the course of the 18th century. Next Sunday marks the 200th...
SOURCE: NYT (3-18-07)
Examples abound. In 1917, H. L. Mencken perpetrated a famous hoax by claiming, in a newspaper column, that Fillmore had installed the first bathtub in the White House. In the comic strip “Sally Bananas,” the cartoonist Charles Barsotti depicted the characters celebrating “Millard Fillmore’s Birthday Eve.” Mad magazine once touted the Millard Fillmore Book Club, with volumes like “The Day Millard Fillmore Didn’t Shave.”
The latest snipe is “The Remarkable Millard Fillmore: The Unbelievable Life of a Forgotten President,” by George Pendle, to be published next month by Three Rivers Press, part of Random House. Despite the title, the book is no hagiography; rather, it is a satiric biography. Early on, Mr. Pendle suggests that “Millard” could rhyme with either “dullard” or “retard.” Later he writes, “...
SOURCE: Foreign Policy Research Institute (3-14-07)
The European Union has told Turkey that in order to become a “true democracy” worth joining it, it must acknowledge responsibility for the 1915 Armenian “genocide,” even if the Republic of Turkey as such did not exist until 1923.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has now decided to bring to a vote a non-binding resolution declaring the events of 1915 in Eastern Anatolia a “genocide.” Despite its moralistic claims, this is a dangerous—indeed, in the present circumstances, a highly irresponsible—assault on U.S. national interests in Iraq and elsewhere.
The issue is both clear in terms of whose interests are at stake and complex as to the events themselves. For many Armenians in the U.S. (concentrated in California—Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., was the bill’s sponsor), the issue is hate for...
SOURCE: Japan Focus (3-15-07)
As the slow and difficult negotiations on North Korean denuclearisation unfold, one small group of a hundred people or so in Japan are watching proceedings with a unique personal interest. Some are Japanese, others ethnic Koreans. All are survivors of one of the modern world's most bizarre, tragic and utterly forgotten "humanitarian" projects.
Between 1959 and 1984, these few were among the 93,340 people who migrated from Japan to North Korea in search of a new and better life. There were several particularly ironic features of this migration. First, it took place precisely at the time of Japan's "economic miracle...
SOURCE: Reason.com (4-1-07)
John Horse's story feels like an answer to every Hollywood studio's wish list: a mix of Spartacus, Braveheart, Amistad, and Glory, with just a pinch of Dances With Wolves. A sweeping tale of a decades-long struggle against oppression, the movie would show how Horse and the Black Seminoles created the largest haven for runaway slaves in the American South, led the biggest slave revolt in U.S. history, won the only emancipation of rebellious North American slaves before the Civil War, and formed the largest mass exodus of slaves in U.S. history. In the 1830s Horse's people journeyed from the Florida Everglades to what is now Oklahoma and then across the border to Mexico, where they ultimately secured title to their own land....
SOURCE: LAT (3-14-07)
ALTHOUGH THE 110th Congress has brought to Capitol Hill 43 Jews, two Buddhists and a Muslim — Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who took his oath of office on Thomas Jefferson's Koran — Washington remains a disproportionately Christian town. More than 90% of federal legislators call themselves Christians, making Congress more Christian than the United States itself. The president is an evangelical Protestant. Catholics enjoy a majority on the Supreme Court. Biblical references — from the Jericho Road to the golden rule to the promised land — permeate political speech. Yet U.S. citizens know almost nothing about the Bible. Although most regard it as the word of God, few read it anymore. Even evangelicals from the Bible Belt seem more focused on loving Jesus than on learning what he had to say.
SOURCE: USA Today (3-13-07)
For too many African-Americans, black history has become a twisted mix of urban legend and pop culture. And for more than a few whites, the truth of the treatment their racial ancestors meted out to blacks is buried beneath a mountain of denied history.
What am I talking about? To begin with, there's Juneteenth. For years it has been hawked by black advocates as a "commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States." It was on June 19, 1865, that blacks on Galveston Island, Texas, were told of the Emancipation Proclamation, which actually freed few slaves.
Abraham Lincoln's wartime proclamation, which took effect Jan. 1, 1863, freed slaves in parts of the South controlled by the Confederacy where the order could not be enforced, and left in bondage slaves in places under Union army control.
By the time blacks on...
SOURCE: WSJ (3-13-07)
... When women who survived the sex-slavery camps sued Japan in federal court six years ago, they alleged that the whole sex slavery scheme functioned as commercial activity. Faced with this charge, Japan denied it had acted as a business. The D.C. district court agreed, holding in effect that the fact that the women were abducted and enslaved pursuant to a Japanese government "master plan" distinguished their case from routine commercial prostitution. The court concluded that this "barbaric" conduct was more like a war crime or a crime against humanity than a commercial venture, and so Japan could not be held liable under the provision of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act that allows governments to be sued when they act like businesses.
It is particularly pernicious that, having benefited from...
SOURCE: Telegraph (UK) (3-12-07)
It should come as little surprise, then, that there are more than one million buildings in America covered by the National Register of Historic Places.
Some of them would barely warrant a second look, others are so "historic" you can imagine them being branded "modern monstrosities" by Prince Charles and his ilk.
Among them are the Buena Vista Vineyard in Sonoma Valley, the Bertuccini Barbershop in Mississippi and the Hamm Brewery in Minnesota. And now Wall Street.
This week a 36-block area of downtown Manhattan, better known for its sleek modern skyscrapers than its historic houses, was added to the list.
To be fair, Wall Street probably deserves its designation more than most. In the 17th Century the wall...
SOURCE: LAT (3-11-07)
THE NAME Borgia is synonymous with Renaissance decadence, treachery and ruthless realpolitik. The tales of the handsome and bloodthirsty condottiere Cesare Borgia; his father, Pope Alexander VI, and his sister, the beautiful Lucrezia, who may (or may not) have also been his lover, have spawned an endless number of tales, poems, novels, operas and movies.
Leaving aside the stuff of legend — that Borgia held a ritual orgy, known as the Banquet of the Chestnuts, in the Vatican palaces, cloaked himself in black to hide the ravages of syphilis on his face and murdered his sister's husband out of jealousy — there is enough in the historical record to make a great novel.
He was one of four illegitimate children born to Roderic Borja, then a...
SOURCE: Japan Focus (3-8-07)
In August 2000, the German Foundation Act established a fund to compensate tens of thousands of survivors of Nazi slave labour. The 5.1 billion Euro fund was financed jointly by the German government and companies which had been involved in the use of wartime slave labour, and by 2005, over 70,000 claims for compensation had been...
SOURCE: Newsweek (3-12-07)
It was, naturally, a poet (Shelley) who declared that "poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world." Wishful thinking, that, but Plato took poets so seriously as disturbers of the peace that he wanted them expelled from his republic. And Longfellow was, in a sense, an American Founder, a maker of this Republic's consciousness.
Time was, children learned—in schools; imagine that—the origins of what still are familiar phrases: "Ships that pass in the night," "Life is real! Life is earnest!" "footprints on the sands of time," "the patter of little feet," "the forest primeval," "Let the dead Past bury its dead!" "In this world a man...
SOURCE: NYT (3-11-07)
THOMAS ALVA EDISON is the patron saint of electric light, electric power and music-on-demand, the grandfather of the Wired World, great-grandfather of iPod Nation. He was the person who flipped the switch. Before Edison, darkness. After Edison, media-saturated modernity.
Well, not exactly. The heroic biography we were fed as schoolchildren does have its limitations, beginning with the omission of other inventors who played critical roles — not just Edison’s gifted assistants, but also his accomplished competitors. What’s most interesting about the standard Edison biography that we grew up with is not that it is heroic but that it is outsized, a projected image...
SOURCE: Journal of American History (3-1-07)
Millis's piece was the first in a succession of articles published over the following...
SOURCE: Kansas City Kansan (3-8-07)
The Dred Scott case took several years to work its way through the courts, and the issues involved were many and complicated. In sum, however, although the jury in a lower state court ruled the Scotts legally free, upon appeal the Missouri State Supreme Court reversed the decision. The judges ruled that Scott’s presence in a free territory did not overrule the laws of Missouri to which he returned. Writing for the majority, Justice William Scott (not related to Dred Scott) praised God for instituting slavery, whereby men like Dred Scott could be elevated above the level of “miserable” Africans. “The introduction of slavery amongst us,” he continued, was “in the providence of God, who makes the evil passions of men subservient to His own glory, a means of placing that unhappy race within the pale of civilized nations.”
SOURCE: Mother Jones (3-1-07)
1."We can do it if we believe it": FDR, LBJ, and the invention of growth it was the great economist John Maynard Keynes who pointed out that until very recently,"there was no very great change in the standard of life of the average man living in the civilized centers of the earth." At the utmost, Keynes calculated, the standard of living roughly doubled between 2000 B.C. and the dawn of the 18th century—four millennia during which we...
SOURCE: International Herald Tribune (3-9-07)
You can hardly turn around in the Bordeaux area without bumping into a plaque, a statue or some other reminder of Montesquieu, a great thinker whose books inspired the American Constitution. The Lycée Montesquieu is around the corner from my home and I often have business on the rue Esprit des Lois, a street named for his masterwork, "The Spirit of Laws."
Montesquieu is alive and well, 252 years after his passing. A French modernist composer, Jean-Paul Noguès, recently wrote a cantata based on "The Spirit of Laws," a unique source text for a work of music. And a new book, "Montesquieu: The Women and the Wine," brings warmth and humanity to this venerated figure from the French Enlightenment.
His Château de La Brède survives as an imposing monument and the site for gatherings of Montesquieu admirers. His last direct descendant, Countess Jacqueline de...
SOURCE: Chicago Tribune (3-8-07)
Does America need another Robert Moses?
Moses, an unelected official who ran a bewildering array of New York public agencies for 44 years, built bridges, expressways, parks, playgrounds and housing developments that continue to define the way people move around and live in the nation's largest urban area. He is commonly reckoned America's greatest builder.
"We can learn from what he did," said Hilary Ballon, a Columbia University architectural historian who is the curator of three popular new exhibits at New York museums that are drawing renewed attention to the staggering scale of Moses'...
SOURCE: Chicago Tribune (3-9-07)
Fourteen years after Japan issued a halfhearted apology for the sexual enslavement of 200,000 women, some noodges in the U.S. House are working on a non-binding resolution urging Japan to apologize better. Abe says no. There's no proof the "comfort women" were coerced into providing sex for the emperor's soldiers, he says. And they were recruited by private contractors, he insists, not the military.
The surviving women, most now in their 70s and 80s, remember it differently. Some tell of soldiers storming villages and rounding them up at gunpoint...