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.
He writes that “the idea of self-government became feasible after the printing press.” With this machine, people suddenly had the ability to use the printed word to debate ideas and proceed logically to democratic conclusions. As Gore writes in his best graduate school manner, “The eighteenth century witnessed more and more ordinary citizens able to use knowledge as a source of power to mediate between wealth and privilege.”
This Age of Reason produced the American Revolution. But in the 20th century, television threatened it all. In Gore’s view, TV immobilizes the reasoning centers in the brain and stimulates the primitive, instinctive parts. TV creates a “visceral vividness” that is not “modulated by logic, reason and reflective thought.”
SOURCE: New York Sun (5-25-07)
Who was the greatest American president? According to the latest Gallup poll, 18% of Americans picked Abraham Lincoln. Second place goes to Ronald Reagan, 16%, followed by John F. Kennedy, 14%, Bill Clinton, 13%, and Franklin D. Roosevelt, 9%.
These numbers demonstrate that the public is woefully ignorant of history. That only 18% name Lincoln as the most significant president is strange enough. But to suggest that Reagan, Kennedy, and Clinton follow close behind Lincoln and were "greater" presidents than George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Theodore Roosevelt is bizarre. Certainly they were charismatic, but that wasn't the question. The question was about greatness, and greatness is defined by specific accomplishments.
When the Gallup organization looked at responses by party...
SOURCE: Wilson Quarterly (spring) (5-1-07)
Plagiarism, like infidelity, is a habit that few defend but many indulge. You can discern its frequency and covert acceptability in the ready excuses offered by and on behalf of eminent writers and professors periodically caught copying the work of less eminent writers or research assistants. Consider the group of famous novelists who rushed to defend British writer Ian McEwan for borrowing sentences from a memoir by the late Lucilla Andrews in his best- selling novel Atonement. McEwan and his advo cates stressed that he had acknowl edged a general debt to Andrews, and they asserted that fiction writers have creative license to borrow and embellish, especially when writing historical fiction. That principle is not terribly controversial, but it may not apply in this case. As Slate media columnist Jack Schafer suggested, while McEwan said he...
SOURCE: Maureen Ogle at the website of Historically Speaking (March/April) (3-1-07)
The historian reads an email, and then leaps out of her chair, whooping and hollering. According to the message, her new book has:
(A) won the Bancroft prize
(B) been chosen as book-of-the-month by Hustler magazine
(C) been shortlisted for the Pulitzer.
Correct answer: B. In October 2006 I learned that Hustler magazine had selected my new book, Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer, as its book-of-the-month for April 2007.
At this point, many of you are groaning, sneering, or rolling your eyes. (Or, like me when I heard the news, howling with laughter.) That’s okay. But stick...
SOURCE: WaPo (5-30-07)
n 1619, 12 years after Jamestown's settlement, two British privateers sailed into the James River with African captives for sale. The Africans had Portuguese names; they apparently knew Christianity, according to John Thornton and Linda Heywood, a husband-and-wife team of Boston University historians. Those first Africans came from the kingdom of Ndongo, now Angola, which had been penetrated by Portuguese missionaries and traders who soon stopped praying with the Africans and started selling them.
The settlement of Jamestown would ultimately wither and die, but the American form of slavery born with those first Africans would endure for nearly 250 years. Slavery and America grew up hand in hand, and the African imprint on the new nation is evident to this day -- a fact being highlighted in Jamestown events this weekend in the ongoing commemoration of the Virginia settlement's 400th anniversary.
Though 142 years...
SOURCE: WaPo (5-30-07)
While writing “Presidential Courage,” I discovered that one of the biggest hidden influences on the nine Presidents in my book was religious faith – a faith that most of them concealed.
One story I tell is of Harry Truman deciding whether or not to recognize Israel in 1948. He had the power to decide whether the new Jewish state would survive. Truman's Secretary of State, George Marshall, was threatening to quit. I discovered that Truman's wife Bess was privately so bigoted that she would not even let Jewish people into her house in Missouri. On the other side, Truman's old Jewish haberdashery partner, Eddie Jacobson, tearfully begged him to help his people resist another Adolf Hitler.
Truman never wore religion on his sleeve. His grandfather had warned him that if...
SOURCE: New York Sun (5-29-07)
One of the great enigmas of the modern Middle East is why, forty years ago next week, the Six-Day War took place. Neither Israel nor its Arab neighbors wanted or expected a fight in June 1967; the consensus view among historians holds that the unwanted combat resulted from a sequence of accidents.
Enter Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez, a wife-husband team, to challenge the accident theory and offer a plausible explanation for the causes of the war. As suggested by the title of their book, Foxbats over Dimona: The Soviets' Nuclear Gamble in the Six-Day War...
SOURCE: WSJ (5-29-07)
When the English-speaking peoples consider the forces that have made them the global hegemonic political culture since the mid-19th century--representative institutions, the rule of law, religious toleration and property rights among them--they look back to Britain's "Glorious" Revolution of 1688. What at first looks merely like a minor coup d'état that replaced the Catholic King James II with his Protestant Dutch nephew and son-in-law, King William III, was much more than that. It heralded nothing less than a complete realignment of worldview for the Anglosphere. It changed everything.
Michael Barone, the distinguished political commentator and co-author of "The Almanac of American Politics," demonstrates both an encyclopedic knowledge of late 17th-century European politics and a keen appreciation of their long-term...
SOURCE: BBC (5-25-07)
I have spoken more than once, in the course of these broadcasts, of my fascination as an historian with the survival of things from the past, and the way touching and handling objects, or fragments of material, can help us recall with particular vividness and intensity otherwise inaccessible moments in history.
So listeners will not be surprised to hear that the news to which I woke on Monday morning - that the 19 Century tea clipper, the Cutty Sark, was ablaze from end to end at Greenwich - filled me with absolute dismay. Currently undergoing a £25m restoration, the Cutty Sark is the kind of magnet draw for the general public which convinces them (to use the slogan cleverly coined last year) that "history matters".
One of London's best-loved...
... Among those who watched the progress of the ants with horror were officials at the United States Department of Agriculture. In 1957, the department decided to eradicate the insects. Its weapons of choice were the pesticides heptachlor and dieldrin, both of which concentrate as they move up the food chain. In 1958, a million acres were sprayed. Quails, woodcocks, wild turkeys, blackbirds, meadowlarks, opossums, and armadillos all began dying off. The U.S.D.A. responded by denying any problems and continuing to spray.
Among those who watched the progress of the U.S.D.A. with horror was Rachel Carson. She concluded that the department had never investigated the pesticides’ toxicity or, if it had, had ignored the results. (Heptachlor causes liver damage, and...
SOURCE: NYT (5-28-07)
Over the next 50 years, though, Memorial Day changed. It became a tribute to the dead on both sides, and to the reunion of the North and the South after the war. This new holiday was more inclusive, and more useful to a forward-looking nation eager to put its differences behind it. But something important was lost: the recognition that the Civil War had been a moral battle to free black Americans from slavery.
In “Race and Reunion,” his masterful book about historical memory, David Blight, a professor at Yale, tells the wistful story of Memorial Day’s transformation — and what has been lost as a result. War...
SOURCE: EdNews.org (5-24-07)
One of the most misleading aspects of the just-released National Assessment of Educational Progress report on American students’ knowledge of United States history in the schools, is the NAEP practice of reporting how many students performed at the levels of “Basic or Above.”
I am sure their figures are correct, but performing at the Basic level is not at all acceptable for students of history, unless we really do prefer the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” Mastery at the Basic level means the student knows very little U.S. History and understands even less. For example, the Korean War is truly the “Forgotten War” for U.S. 12th graders: 86% could not identify even one significant factor that led to U.S. involvement in Korea.
A more honest report...
SOURCE: Oregonian (5-27-07)
T oday marks Rachel Carson's 100th birthday.
She has been dead for more than 40 years, but the environmental movement she gave life to with her seminal book "Silent Spring" has evolved from the grass-roots movement to a politically expedient force embraced by mainstream Americans.
More than a movement, though, Carson inspired real change.
In my own backyard in Northeast Portland, I wonder how my narrow slice of the ecosystem would be different if not for Carson. Here, as late afternoon sunlight threads the tall grass and spring flowers, bugs dive and weave, bird songs pierce the din of a distant lawnmower. Without Carson, the world in my own backyard would look and...
SOURCE: National Review Online (5-25-07)
It is for all these reasons that books and TV programming on warfare are so popular; their subject is both fascinating and important, history at its most consequential and dramatic. Nonetheless, military history has been all but banished from college campuses. In an article on this strange deficit in National Review, John J. Miller chalks it up to “an ossified tenure system, scholarly navel-gazing, and ideological hostility to all things military.”
History departments are dominated by a post-Vietnam generation of professors for...
SOURCE: Nation (6-4-07)
The difficulty of solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict stems from more sources than one can comfortably count, but surely one of the most significant is our inability even to discuss it. The emotional intensity of so many people's investment in their own self-justifying story line censors the...
SOURCE: Weekly Standard (5-28-07)
When the design for the Flight 93 permanent memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, was first announced in September 2005, there was a minor eruption. The winning plan, titled "Crescent of Embrace," was remarkable. Like many modern monuments, it was intentionally antisymbolic. Nothing about it would evoke the heroism of the passengers who rushed the hijackers of their plane on September 11, 2001, likely sparing the U.S. Capitol or White House from a direct hit. The proposed monument, composed of trees, fields, and a wetland area, had more in common with Yellowstone National Park than, say, the Lincoln Memorial. Yet for all their studied indifference to symbolism, the designers inadvertently created one very large and inappropriate symbol: From the air, the red maple trees that dominated the memorial formed an enormous crescent, which, coincidentally, is the most common emblem of Islam. During the final...
SOURCE: No Loss for Words (blog) Click on SOURCE for embedded links. (5-24-07)
A few weeks ago, while reading responses to the teaching of the Holocaust in British schools, I came across the Conservative History Journal. CHJ's "Tory Historian" expressed an intriguing belief that "History teaching should start at the beginning and go forward in a chronological fashion." Back on May 13, Ralph Luker directed readers to a Kevin Drum post musing that "that history could be made more interesting to high school students if it were taught backwards." These musings are the opposite sides of the same coin and, as a result, share a number of shortcomings. Both Tory Historian and Kevin Drum envision history as The Story of the Past, with extra emphasis on the first the. History is a mess of many stories. It's a mistake to reduce it to a single narrative, either forward- or backward-...
SOURCE: NYT (5-25-07)
TOMORROW is the anniversary of the Battle of Tara Hill, fought on May 26, 1798, between 4,000 United Irishmen and 700 British yeomanry. The British carried the day. More than 200 years later, the hill of Tara, a little over 30 miles north of Dublin, is the scene of yet another battle, between the forces of modern Ireland, represented by the advocates of the M3 motorway, and those of us who believe that the routing of a busy road slap bang through the Tara-Skryne Valley represents an act of vandalism with not only national, but international, ramifications.
With the end of the Northern Ireland conflict and the power-sharing agreement of the Rev. Ian Paisley of the Democratic Unionist Party and Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein, this area of County Meath has rapidly become the most disputed terrain in the country. Even the nearby scene of the Battle of the Boyne, where in 1690 William of Orange...