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: Media Research Center (7-2-09)
Many years ago, when Bill Maher’s comedy show was hosted by Comedy Central and he was funny, his formula for success was truly unique. Every week two sets of political and/or cultural opposites were pitted against each other, and he refereed with humor. It was all designed for a good laugh and succeeded because once upon a time Bill Maher was truly funny.
Some producer really thought in extremes when they pitted Oliver Stone and Brent Bozell for one episode. I have to say that you were gracious, charming, engaging, and we enjoyed ourselves – except for that moment when I chastised you for claiming you’re an historian. You bristled and denied ever claming that moniker. I cited the source, an interview in some West Coast paper (I can’t recall which one now). "I’m a filmmaker, that’s all," you told me.
Problem is, Oliver, you’re an historian whether you believe it or not. You make films about history and historical figures. You...
SOURCE: NYT (7-2-09)
Tomorrow night, as you watch the fireworks, don’t forget to raise a toast to George III. After all, it was the annual celebration of that king’s birthday on June 4 that gave Americans the habit of summer “illuminations.” After 1776, the ritual was cleverly rebranded to commemorate the republic’s birthday, just one month later.
That was just one example of the founders’ uncanny ability to cast British traditions in a new mold. Another example is the document we celebrate today: the Declaration of Independence. Little noticed today is that the Declaration co-opted the very language of English law to reject the mother country.
Four members of the committee assigned by Congress to write the Declaration were lawyers (Ben Franklin was the odd man out). As lawyers do, those draftsmen began by looking for a suitable precedent: was there a handy document available to...
SOURCE: NYT (7-2-09)
From the perspective of 2009, democracy in the United States is a great success. This makes it is easy to imagine that the march to democracy was the only path — that there is a clear line from the Declaration of Independence to the presidency of Barack Obama, and that democracy is the only fair society. But republican government was a risky choice at the time of the Revolution, and democracy was almost out of the question. There were more proven alternatives for running a society fairly. A look at two other contenders for control of the continent in 1776 — American Indians and Spaniards — reveals that democracy’s supremacy in promoting human rights was far from inevitable.
There were Indians fighting on both sides of the...
SOURCE: Politics Daily (7-3-09)
Martin Luther King Jr., in his famous 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech on the National Mall, memorably described the Declaration of Independence as a "promissory note" that had guaranteed freedom to Americans of every color. Redeeming that note required a bloody Civil War. Redeeming it fully required a Second American Revolution -- the civil rights movement.
A century and a half ago, the logic and morality of that great struggle for equality was framed indelibly by a black man who asked a haunting question that challenged a nation's conscience, and rang through the decades. Frederick Douglass spoke on July 5, 1852 to an audience of abolitionists who had come to Rochester, N.Y., to hear the acclaimed orator – himself a runaway slave – address the meaning of America's great national holiday. In reference to its most memorable line, the speech is usually called "...
SOURCE: WSJ (7-3-09)
Monday, July 1, was heavy and hot, and a full-scale summer storm passed through the city late in the morning. John Dickinson of Pennsylvania rose to speak. He knew he was endangering the respect in which he was broadly held, his "popularity," but he once again counseled caution: Slow down, separation from Britain is "premature," to declare independence now would be "to brave the storm in a skiff made of paper." When he sat down, "all was silent except for the rain that had begun spattering against the widows."
Then John Adams rose. He wished he had the power of the ancient orators of Greece and Rome, he said; surely they had never faced a question of greater human import.
He made, again, the case for independence. Now is the time, the facts are inescapable, the people...
SOURCE: National Review Online (7-2-09)
Ramesh has a smart piece in the latest NR on the right and wrong lessons to draw from Ronald Reagan. “When invoking Reagan,” he writes, “conservatives are prone to two characteristic vices: hero-worship and nostalgia. To hear some conservatives talk, you would forget that Reagan was a human being who made mistakes, including in office. You would certainly forget that movement conservatives were frequently exasperated with Reagan’s administration.”
Indeed, during Reagan’s final years in the White House, many conservatives became disillusioned with his...
SOURCE: H-German (7-1-09)
Reviewed by Mara Lazda (Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts)
Fascism Past and Present, West and East invites readers to take part in an international debate with thirty-one German- and English-speaking experts on fascism. On the surface, some of the key questions that frame the discussion are familiar, long-discussed ones: is German National Socialism best studied as a unique phenomenon or a form of fascism? Is fascism a strictly European phenomenon, confined to the period between 1918 and 1945, or are today's extreme right groups also "fascist"? But the ensuing discussion is hardly a simple revisiting of past questions and debates. Rather, the volume takes important steps in reshaping the study of fascism and in suggesting...
SOURCE: Excerpted from Inside Higher Ed with permission of the author (6-24-09)
Sad to say, much of what comes out of university gay studies programs these days is altogether too precious, artificial and written in an academic jargon that is indigestible to most LGBT people. Reclaiming our own history is still not getting enough attention from these programs (witness Larry Kramer's long and ultimately failed fight to have the Larry Kramer Initiative he and his brother endowed at Yale become more history‑oriented and relevant).
The OutHistory website -- founded by superb, pioneering gay historian and scholar Jonathan Ned Katz -- desperately needs more institutional financial support to continue and expand...