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: Newsweek (1-21-09)
Very few people remember the first speech that Martin Luther King Jr. gave from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. It wasn't "I Have a Dream," and it took place more than six years before the famous 1963 March on Washington.
The date was May 17, 1957—three years to the day since the United States Supreme Court had held racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional in the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education. King and his civil-rights-movement colleagues wanted to use the Brown anniversary to bring the broader goals of the Southern black freedom struggle to the attention of the nation's political leaders.
Hardly five months had passed since the triumphal end of the Montgomery bus boycott when the...
SOURCE: TheDailyBeast.com (1-19-09)
When George W. Bush steps aboard Air Force One on Tuesday, beginning the journey back to Texas, his presidency will officially be in the past tense. But during those few hours in the sky—the last ride of the leader of the free world—strange things tend to happen. Reagan cried on his plane. Carter made one last stab at getting in on the hostage crisis. George H.W. Bush, dealt a humiliating loss in the 1992 election, regaled his friends with country music.
THE DAILY BEAST talked to more than a dozen intimates of five presidents who rode on the farewell voyage. Their recollections suggest that while the presidency may be over, the triumphs and hurt feelings are still working themselves out.
By tradition, the outgoing president greets...
SOURCE: Slate (1-19-09)
In 1932, the parents of a 4-year-old went to court to change his legal name. Christened Herbert Hoover Jones in 1928, when the commerce secretary and Republican presidential nominee was a national hero, the boy deserved relief, said his parents, from "the chagrin and mortification which he is suffering and will suffer" for sharing a moniker with the now-disgraced chief executive. His new name: Franklin D. Roosevelt Jones.
No president has ever suffered a reversal of political fortune as sudden and complete as the fall from glory to ignominy that was the sum and substance of Herbert Hoover's presidency. Elected in a landslide in 1928 to nurture the prosperity of the buoyant Coolidge era, Hoover proved unable and unwilling to lift America out of the Great Depression. Worse,...
SOURCE: NYT (1-18-09)
Barack Obama’s election as president had a thousand fathers in the long history of the struggle against American racism. But three events stand out as decisive in creating the possibility of an African-American president.
The first, in 1863, was Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which promised freedom but was followed by a century of harsh discrimination. The second was the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education, signaling the end of legal tolerance for discrimination. The third was the speech the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave at the March on Washington in 1963, 100 years after Lincoln’s proclamation.
“I have a dream” is the refrain by which the speech is known — better known to Americans today than any other speech, even the Gettysburg Address. (In 2008, according to one study, 97 percent of American teenagers recognized the words as King’s.) But for all its...
SOURCE: http://www.culturekiosque.com (1-16-09)
As the son of an African immigrant prepares to assume the highest office in the land, Tom Buk-Swienty’s portrait of muckraking journalist and reformer Jacob Riis is both instructive and inspiring. Through his ground-breaking articles, lectures, books and — most famously — photographs, Riis exposed the abysmal living conditions suffered by tens of thousands of immigrants in New York in the early 1900s and played a pivotal role in efforts to reform the city’s obsolete housing and health codes.
Riis knew all too well the harsh realities of immigrant life. A native of Denmark, he came to the United States in 1870, at the age of 21, to escape a disastrous love affair and quickly fell upon hard times. At his lowest ebb, he was no better off than the "unwashed poor" he would later write about — a vagabond who slept in alleyways and begged for food at the back...
SOURCE: HNN Staff (1-16-09)
The key paragraph was his claim that the federal government was powerless to intervene in the South to protect black voting rights"so long as the statutes of the States meet the test of [the Fifteenth] amendment and are not otherwise in conflict with the Constitution and laws of the United States." Bluntly he announced:"it is not the disposition or within the province of the Federal Government to interfere with the regulation by Southern States of their domestic affairs." At the time he spoke blacks were being lynched weekly and sometimes daily. Yet Taft claimed that great progress was being made.
I look forward with hope to increasing the already good feeling between the South and the other sections of the...
SOURCE: WashingtonDecoded (website run by Max Holland) (1-11-09)
Fidel Castro looms large in fewer than a dozen books among the hundreds written about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Two of them are the work of irrepressible conspiracy theorist and researcher Gus Russo. In his 1998 book, Live by the Sword, and now in Brothers in Arms, written with Stephen Molton, Russo labors to implicate Castro in the murder in Dallas.
It is not an unreasonable postulation. No one had more compelling motive to eliminate the president than the Cuban leader who had known of CIA and White House plots against his life since at least 1961. His regime was the target of unrelenting American assaults—sabotage operations, assassination plots, support for...
SOURCE: Texas Observer (1-9-09)
... In The Dynamite Club, Yale historian John Merriman describes the historical setting and background of what he argues is the first modern act of true terrorism. At 9:01 on the evening of Feb. 12, 1894, 21-year-old French anarchist Émile Henry, who earned his baccalauréat in science from the Sorbonne in 1888, threw a dynamite bomb he had made into the crowded Café Terminus in Paris. A small orchestra had just started playing “the fifth piece of their first set” when Henry threw his bomb.
Merriman’s account enables us to identify the false stereotypes in Sargent’s cartoon. This is no small gain in what we, as citizens, need to know about terrorism.
The chief European anarchist proponents of violent “propaganda by the deed” who influenced Henry—the Russian Peter Kropotkin, fellow...
SOURCE: Perspectives, the magazine of the AHA (1-1-09)
Students come into our history classes well versed in the mantra that “those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it,” that history is “useful” in teaching lessons for today. Whether they truly believe this idea is a separate question, and many of us devote a lot of energy trying to make our lectures, discussion questions, and reading assignments “relevant” to the present. But the quest for “relevance” has its own pitfalls, in the overly simplistic analogies that students—and policymakers—make between past and present. Indeed, one of the textbooks that I use when I teach “Theory and Practice of History,” a required course for history BA majors at my university, states boldly in its opening chapter: “Many who believe the proposition that history is relevant to an understanding of the present often go too far in their claims. Nothing is easier to abuse than the historical analogy or...
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (1-14-09)
Life for me as I had come to understand it ended on 15 November 1977. Standing next to a group of young elementary school children from one of Washington DC's inner-city schools on the Ellipse facing the South Lawn of the White House, I was one of a thousand greeting the visit of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi and his Queen to the United States. The children were waving the US flag and I, a university student, the lion and sun flag of Iran.
Within seconds of the 21-gun salute sounding, hundreds of white-hooded and masked protestors viciously charged into us with brandishing sticks with nails that used to hold their placards and shouting "Khomeini come back" and "Down with Imperialism". The streets around the area turned into a bloody battleground with club wielding anti-shah protestors felling peaceful...
SOURCE: Daily Mail (UK) (1-15-09)
Want to know what Britain would be like if ruled by extreme Left-wingers? Then you would only have had to visit Liverpool while Derek Hatton was deputy leader of Liverpool City Council in the early Eighties.
He was expelled from the Labour Party as a member of Militant Tendency, but not before turning Liverpool, once the proud port of the mightiest empire in the world, into a bankrupted, slum-ridden, crimeridden dump.
And Margaret Thatcher? Well, ask any working-class person who, during her premiership, was suddenly able to buy their own council house.
Ask the liberated people of the Falkland Islands. Ask the peoples of Eastern Europe. They would say she was undoubtedly the greatest political leader Britain had after Winston Churchill.
Yet Hatton has delivered a verdict on Margaret Thatcher which reflects his own repulsive character far more than it tells us anything about her....
SOURCE: Telegraph (UK) (1-13-09)
On the Origin of Species remains a stunning intellectual achievement. It widened the boundaries of knowledge and changed society and the world.
Yet there are also less obvious, but perhaps more instinctive, reasons for remembering Darwin. We still live in a society that was in large part made by the Victorians. We may affect to despise them, ridicule them, even condemn them. We certainly misunderstand them. Part of this misunderstanding is that we mistake their confidence for arrogance; for we misunderstand the paradoxical nature of that confidence. It was built in nearly equal measure on an unshakeable belief in God and on a growing awareness (and this is the debt perhaps most owed to Darwin) that God might not be the explanation, and new or alternative ones had to be found.
We imagine the Victorians as stuffy and orthodox; yet they were the most questioning, most radical and most open-minded...
SOURCE: http://www.historyandpolicy.org (1-1-09)
... My own practice as a historian has always been informed by an awareness of the social and political purchase of historical knowledge - first as an Africanist naively aspiring to equip a new nation with part of its history, and later as a British gender historian concerned to historicize the essentialist notions of masculinity which were current in...
SOURCE: Britannica Blog (1-13-09)
The evening after New Year’s Day, 1870, President Ulysses S. Grant wrapped himself in his winter cloak, strode out of the White House, and walked across Lafayette Square, alone, to call on Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts. Sumner had first come to Congress in 1851; now, 19 years later, he was not only one of the most powerful, most influential men in the Senate, but he was revered among Abolitionists and African American freedmen as a living martyr.
In 1856, during a heated debate in the Senate on the proposed Kansas-Nebraska Act, Sumner was attacked by Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina. Using his cane, Brooks beat Sumner over the head until he fell bleeding and unconscious to the floor. Sumner’s injuries were so severe it took three years for him to recover.
SOURCE: New Republic (1-12-09)
In no small part because of Hal Holbrook's goggle-eyed, cotton-mouthed...
SOURCE: Britannica Blog (1-12-09)
In 1790 the federal government was saddled with an $80 million debt, the cost of America’s war for independence from Great Britain. It was a staggering sum; President George Washington’s secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, insisted that the only way to pay off the liability was to raise taxes. Thomas Jefferson opposed virtually every idea Hamilton ever had, but this time he sided with his greatest political rival — the debt was crippling the government, introducing a new tax was the only solution.
Hamilton recommended a ten-cent tax on every gallon of domestically produced spirits. At a time when the majority of Americans were farmers and some if not all of these farmers distilled their own whisky or bourbon, this seemed to Hamilton a fair tax, one that would be spread out evenly...
SOURCE: Nation (1-7-09)
Lincoln is important to us not because of his melancholia or how he chose his cabinet but because of his role in the vast human drama of emancipation and what his life tells us about slavery's enduring legacy. The Nation, founded by veterans of the struggle for abolition three months after Lincoln's death, dedicated itself to completing...
SOURCE: Democracy Now (1-9-09)
Welcome to Democracy Now!
ADAM COHEN: Thank you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you with us. Well, you say in this book it’s not just FDR himself.
ADAM COHEN: That’s right. The story of the Hundred Days is often told as an FDR story. And he did do amazing things. That speech we saw was beautiful, mobilized the nation. He did fireside chats. He was very effective in working with Congress. But there was a second level of people underneath him, his inner circle, that really developed the policies that came out of the Hundred Days, and these are critical policies: the first federal welfare program we ever had, the first major public works program, things like that....
SOURCE: City Journal (12-24-08)
At the National Gallery in...
SOURCE: Independent (UK) (1-9-09)
On a sweltering afternoon 90 years ago in April, a squad of Gurkha and Baluchi troops under the command of British officers marched into an enclosed park in the city of Amritsar and levelled their weapons. The park was densely crowded and there was only one way in and out. The officer in charge – General Reginald Dyer, whose name will forever be cloaked in infamy – then gave the order to fire.
Within 10 minutes the soldiers had fired 1,650 rounds, and hundreds of people lay dead, dying or wounded in the city's Jallianwala Bagh. General Dyer could not have realised that the massacre, and the outraged response it triggered, marked a crucial landmark in India's struggle for independence. Yet, despite the importance of the atrocity in the freedom struggle, the people who died there have never been officially recognised by the Indian government. Until now.
After a decades-long campaign by the...