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: New Republic (3-18-09)
Last winter, I was walking with my wife along Seminary Ridge on the Gettysburg battlefield when an odd detail drew into sight: piles of felled trees, stacked alongside a road. The cuts smelled as fresh as the trees looked strong. What happened to them, we wondered? I grew up in Gettysburg, and my mother still lives in the shadow of Lutheran Theological Seminary, low in the lap of the ridge it names. Seminary Ridge is one of a string of ridges surrounding the town; General Robert E. Lee stood there on July 2 and 3, 1863. The woods atop the ridge had made it a sublime place to stroll for as long as I could remember--until that winter walk, which ended with a logging truck lumbering by.
Asking around, I learned that parts of the battlefield were in "rehabilitation." In the hope of providing visitors with...
SOURCE: Huffington Post (Blog) (2-26-09)
Last week, when Michelle Obama invited several local Washington school groups to the White House for Black History Month, she used her unique podium as the first African-American First Lady to mention some of her husband's predecessors. She mentioned, for example, Lyndon Johnson who signed the Civil Rights Act in that very same room a half-century earlier, when the current First Lady was herself but a nine-month year old child.
The more hidden aspects of African-American history in the White House, however, have to deal with presidential wives and while they did not affect policy as did their husbands, their words and deeds had both a symbolic and tangible power.
Since the Obama Inauguration and continuing with the Lincoln Bicentennial, there's been intense focus on the political strategy of the Great Emancipator to end slavery by signing the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. In...
SOURCE: The Nation (2-25-09)
"For a long time there's been too much secrecy in this city," President Obama said on his first day in office as he announced new policies favoring openness in government. Ever since, reporters and others in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) business have been talking about their priorities for release of documents they have been seeking, in some cases for years. One group is compiling a list of the Ten Most Wanted Government Documents, and there are lots of suggestions.
"More important than anything, I want Treasury to tell us what they...
SOURCE: Huffington Post (2-25-09)
1) "Madame Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the First Lady of the United States: I've come here tonight not only to address the distinguished men and women in this great chamber, but to speak frankly and directly to the men and women who sent us here."
This rhythmic lead in echoes the one the most famous openers of all time: Mark Antony's monologue in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him." After mimicking Antony's direct address (a rhetorical device called apostrophe), Obama inverts the Shakespearean phrasing, placing the negation ("I've come here not") at the beginning of the sentence.
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Ed (2-27-09)
When I proposed a spring course on major topics in African-American history, drawing a large enrollment was my chief concern. I had previously taught the course under a different title at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a campus with a sizable African-American presence among students and faculty members. I now teach at a college whose African-American student population is about 2 percent and that continues to feel the impact of California's Proposition 209, which ended affirmative action in public education more than a decade ago.
Of course, I believe that African-American history is a topic that all students should find intriguing; but without a "built in" audience, I suspected that I would have to rename the course to capture the imagination of a broad spectrum of students. Hoping to draw students caught up in the general excitement of...
SOURCE: Newsweek (2-21-09)
As a Catholic schoolgirl I supplemented the obligatory "Lives of the Saints" with the biographies of famous women, searching for the possibility of a future that did not include an apron. The pickings were slim: Elizabeth Blackwell, Florence Nightingale. Some of the women I learned about then are still among my heroines, especially Elizabeth I. I remain a fan of world domination and red hair.
But it was difficult to escape the cautionary tales as well, the women of history who had hitched their fortunes to some man and suffered surrogate consequences. There was Elizabeth's mother, Anne Boleyn, who gets the blame for the end of the Catholic Church in England and the lack of a male heir when her fickle husband, the king, was the culprit. There was Marie Antoinette, who was detested by...
SOURCE: Frontpagemag.com (2-19-09)
[Humberto Fontova is the author of Exposing the Real Che Guevara and the Useful Idiots Who Idolize Him. Visit www.hfontova.com]
Most Americans applaud “parental involvement” in their children's education. But a recent New York Times editorial decries it.
In 2006, Miami parents discovered a children's book entitled Let's Go to Cuba, which depicts Stalinist Cuba as a combination of Emerald City and Willie Wonka's Chocolate Factory, stocked in the city's public school libraries. Some American parents of Cuban heritage in Miami, many of them former Castro political prisoners with the scars to prove it, filed a complaint with the Miami-Dade school board that the book was factually inaccurate. The school board ultimately voted to remove the book.
“Miami-Dade School Board Bans Cuba Book!” thundered a New York Times headline of the time. The ACLU filed suit to retain the book.
Last week, a federal appeals...
SOURCE: Times Literary Supplement (UK) (2-4-09)
What should we think of Henry VIII? This year we will all have to decide. For the 500th anniversary of his accession, the British Library and the Tower of London will host exhibitions, Channel 4’s Time Team will explore his palaces, and Hampton Court will make each of its many visitors a member of his court for a day. Henry will be hard to avoid.
We know more about Henry than about any previous English king. We have more portraits, painted, drawn and sculpted. We even have his suits of armour, so we can measure his expanding waistline from muscled youth to bloated age. We have more ambassadors’ reports, generated by the thickening web of resident embassies at the courts of Renaissance Europe. We have more state papers, hundreds of volumes in the National Archives and British Library, exhaustively calendared by Victorian scholars in the thirty-eight printed volumes of the Letters and...
SOURCE: Independent (UK) (2-19-09)
Even after 65 years, remembering how Vera Trotter was killed on a winter’s evening in 1943 as the Luftwaffe made one of its regular post-Blitz raids on London’s East End is still enough to bring Alf Morris to tears. Standing on the eastern steps of Bethnal Green Tube station, the 78-year-old dabs his eyes with a handkerchief as he describes the moment his father found his eight-year-old friend. “My dad was the person who eventually identified Vera,” he recalls. “Only the week before he’d taken a nail out of her shoe. That was the only way that he was able to recognise her.”
But Vera wasn’t killed by German bombs. She died in the worst civilian accident of the Second World War – or, indeed, since – a barely-reported crush of people that was kept secret for years. As the air raid warning sounded on 3 March 1943, Vera and...
SOURCE: Boston Globe (2-18-09)
HISTORICAL myth always has an advantage over truth by virtue of its head start. But the legend of Franklin Roosevelt's famous first 100 days has become so overblown that it may be crippling the ability of leaders to be effective, let alone achieve the instantaneous greatness for which millions are now pining. This may be a case when bad history makes for bad politics, to paraphrase the English historian Christopher Hill.
The problem with the 100 days paradigm is that it obscures the vital role played by Congress - Republicans as well as Democrats - in crafting the First New Deal. It's too FDR-centric, what with Roosevelt and his brain trust bending a pliant Congress to their will within months of taking power. No less an authority than Brookings Institution scholar Stephen Hess proclaimed that FDR had "everything ready...
SOURCE: WSJ (2-17-09)
Abraham Lincoln did great things, greater than anything done by Woodrow Wilson or Franklin Roosevelt. He freed the slaves and saved the Union, and because he saved the Union he was able to free the slaves. Beyond this, however, our extraordinary interest in him, and esteem for him, has to do with what he said and how he said it. And much of this had to do with the Union -- what it was and why it was worth the saving.
He saved it by fighting and winning the war, of course. But his initial step in this was the decision to go to war. Not a popular decision, and certainly not an easy one. His predecessor, the incompetent fool James Buchanan, believed that the states had no right to secede from the Union, but that there was nothing he could do about it if they did. Thus, by the time...
SOURCE: Columbia University Press (blog) (2-17-09)
The concept of nonviolence seems to have little power today. Barack Obama’s inauguration, followed quickly by Black History Month, inspired many stirring tributes to the civil rights movement. However, the nonviolent outlook and tactics of that movement have become museum pieces, not unlike the lunch counter from the famous 1960 Greensboro sit-ins that is now preserved at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Everyone admires nonviolence when it remains safely in the past, but it looks a little too exotic, too effete, and perhaps even too religious to be much help in our present moment. Does nonviolence really have anything to offer amid the violent crises exploding around the world today?
Seventy-five years ago, an American pacifist named Richard Gregg confronted an...
SOURCE: Britannica Blog (2-17-09)
Geronimo was a Bedonkohe, a member of a small band of Chiricahua Apaches that lived in the rugged country below the Mogollon Rim. As a young boy, he learned to farm crops of corn, beans, squash, and peppers in that fertile, well-watered country. But, early on, his fellow Bedonkohe recognized that he had a gift for seeing into the future in order to interpret the present, and he was trained as a shaman, learning songs to guide him between the spirit world and the...
SOURCE: http://pashagypsy.blogspot.com (2-15-09)
People never seem to tire of the Noah myth. It has it all: the hopeless depravity of mankind (always a popular theme) complemented by the contrasting goodness of Noah complete with flowing white locks and beard; the"I'm-fed-up-with-all-this-fornicating" pronouncement from God; the mighty cubit-stretching labor on the big round boat; then the parade of all those darling animal couples, plus the Flood itself. And ending it all, we get not a bang, not a whimper, but a wonderfully satisfying crunch as the Ark comes to rest on"Mt. Ararat," after which the survivors get to go forth, procreate, and become sinful all over again.
There must be something magical about this tale; why else would so many people spend so many years searching, wrinkling their brows, and stroking their chins in perplexity over the"Legend of...
SOURCE: Huffington Post (Blog) (2-13-09)
Under the right conditions, I would support the elimination of Black History.
I am quite certain that some are already asking themselves: "How can he possibly consider the elimination of Black History Month?"
This is not the first time I raised this possibility in a column so do me the service by at least reading the piece in its entirety before sending the predictable scathing rants via e-mail.
I recognize that it is a worthy tradition, but is it a tradition free from examination?
Black History Month began in 1926 as Negro History Week by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, as a way to bring attention to the positive contributions of black people in American history.
SOURCE: Newsweek (1-10-09)
Here's the view from the White House as the new president gazes gloomily out of its windows in 1861. The Washington Monument is an abandoned stump, surrounded by scattered blocks of stone. The Capitol has no dome. Slaves toil in the stinking heat, and the Potomac is an open sewer. The Union itself is dissolving like sugar in water. Furious men of god make violent speeches on both sides of the case. In correspondence and in conversation, the big, awkward, provincial politician sometimes observes that he always thought that the idea of a democratic republic would have to survive some kind of cruel ordeal before it could be proven.
To be remembered—to be really and truly and historically remembered and unforgettable—is to be terse and necessarily, sometimes, to be bleak: "And the war came …," "If slavery is...
SOURCE: NYT (2-15-09)
By JÖRG NAGLER
Germans admire Lincoln for his success in uniting a country.
AT least two dozen Lincoln biographies have been published in Germany. Streets and schools are named after Old Abe.There is one simple explanation for all this: Germans admire Lincoln for his success in uniting a country.
By KONOMI ARA
Lincoln, who rebuilt his nation, has inspired Japan's reformers as well.
Japanese children, after all, don’t know much about Lincoln’s political philosophy. They just like his life story: Lincoln was born to poor parents. He lived in a log cabin. He became a respectable statesman...
SOURCE: Stanford News Service (2-18-09)
In the case of a few artists in the decades prior to the Civil War, they lifted their pens and paintbrushes. They sketched black slaves being bonded, branded, whipped and auctioned.
Rhonda Goodman, a Stanford doctoral student in art and art history and a Geballe Dissertation Prize Fellow at the Humanities Center, has studied the little-known artwork for messages that reveal the social and political attitudes of the time. She focused her research on the way artists portrayed slave auctions, in particular.
The "sentimental culture" in the decades prior to the Civil War was a time when artists and writers "used their works to elicit a certain type of feeling and engender sympathy," said Goodman, a former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter. Significantly, the most popular book of the 19th century, after the Bible, was Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin....
SOURCE: Nixon Blog (2-14-09)
On the tax cuts, scholars and politicians differ. As for bringing down the Soviets without a nuclear war, a long line of postwar Presidents share the credit, with Richard Nixon perhaps due more than most....
SOURCE: Spiegel Online (2-13-09)
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Every year, thousands of peole show up to the demonstrations marking the anniversary of the Feb. 13, 1945 Allied destruction of Dresden. But it wasn't the only German city obliterated by Allied bombs. Indeed, the death toll from the July 27, 1943 bombing of Hamburg was likely even higher. Why is more attention paid to Dresden?
Frederick Taylor: Dresden was undoubtedly a particularly fine city, a tourist center well known to Germans and foreigners alike as a place where the arts flourished amidst architecturally distinguished surroundings. This gave rise to the myth that it was of no military or industrial importance. The high civilian death toll -- though current estimates of 25,000 are not as...