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: American Heritage (11-1-11)
Edward G. Lengel, the senior editor of The Papers of George Washington and an associate professor of history at the University of Virginia, is author most recently of To Conquer Hell: The Meuse-Argonne, 1918 (Henry Holt and Co. 2008).
As the editor of the papers of George Washington at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, I have the privilege of intersecting with many people who come bearing documents supposedly signed by the first president. More often than you might think, I have the unenviable task of informing them that their letter‚ often lovingly framed and passed down for decades in their family is a fake. An office file, which we've marked "Forgeries," overflows with dozens of similar examples. Individuals and families are not the only ones duped by what I've discovered has been a robust 150-year-old market in Washington forgeries. Recently a well-meaning alumnus sold a multipage letter...
SOURCE: NYT (3-6-12)
Frank Jacobs is a London-based author and blogger. He writes about cartography, but only the interesting bits.
“I think I’ll write a book today,” the writer Georges Simenon was said to tell his wife at breakfast. “Fine,” she would reply, “but what will you do in the afternoon?” Winston Churchill was similarly prolific, and not just in the field of letters . In his later years, he liked to boast that in 1921 he created the British mandate of Trans-Jordan, the first incarnation of what still is the Kingdom of Jordan, “with the stroke of a pen, one Sunday afternoon in Cairo” .
Also like Simenon, Churchill wasn’t averse to the odd tipple, and according to some, that Sunday afternoon in Cairo followed a particularly liquid lunch. As a consequence, the then...
SOURCE: AHA Perspectives (3-1-12)
William Cronon (Univ. of Wisconsin–Madison) is the president of the AHA.
...Given the immense public appetite for history, and the essential contributions history can make to public understanding of all manner of problems in the present, the risks associated with too narrow and academic a definition of "professional history" could not be more clear.
This is why, I would argue, we should keep a close watch on boredom if we want to make sure history continues to reach beyond our professional circles to a public that includes not just an educated citizenry, but intellectuals in other disciplines and historians in other fields. If professional history is sometimes boring, let's ask what it is about our professionalism that makes it so.
This is also why professional historians who work in the academy should be immensely grateful when they are joined in an organization like the AHA by professional historians who make documentaries, design web sites,...
SOURCE: Spiegel International (3-6-12)
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan.
Ten days before Christmas, the German Interior Ministry acquitted itself of an embarrassing duty. It published a list of all former members of the German government with a Nazi past.
The Left Party's parliamentary group had forced the government to come clean about Germany's past by submitting a parliamentary inquiry. Bundestag document 17/8134 officially announced, for the first time, something which had been treated as a taboo in the halls of government for decades: A total of 25 cabinet ministers, one president and one chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany -- as postwar Germany is officially known -- had been members of Nazi organizations.
The document revealed that Chancellor Kurt Georg Kiesinger, a member of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) who governed Germany from 1966 to 1969, had been a member of the Nazi Party...
SOURCE: National Interest (2-28-12)
Robert W. Merry is editor of The National Interest and the author of books on American history and foreign policy.
Of all the U.S. presidents since Franklin Roosevelt, none stands taller in history or exercises a greater lingering influence on American politics than Ronald Reagan. Republican politicians invoke his name as example and lodestar, and Democrats have granted him increasing respect as the passions of his presidential years have ebbed with time. Surveys of academics on presidential performance, initially dismissive, now rank him among the best of the White House breed. Even President Obama has extolled his approach to presidential leadership.
This veneration poses a dark danger—that Reagan will become associated with philosophies he never held and policies he never pursued. This is happening today with increasing force as neoconservative intellectuals and...
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (3-5-12)
David Smith is the Guardian's Africa correspondent.
'Nature was our playground," writes Nelson Mandela in his memoir Long Walk to Freedom. "The hills above Qunu were dotted with large smooth rocks which we transformed into our own rollercoaster. We sat on flat stones and slid down the face of the rocks. We did this until our backsides were so sore we could hardly sit down."
Walking down the grassy slope into a breeze, I came upon it: Mandela's "sliding stone". The big granite boulder has an unmissable track worn smooth and shiny by his childhood sport. It is one of the rocky outcrops overlooking the bucolic valley of Qunu, where South Africa's first black president grew up and which, at 93...
SOURCE: The Age (AU) (3-2-12)
Christopher Bantick is a Melbourne writer and senior literature teacher. He was formerly head of history at Trinity Grammar in Kew, where he taught Australian History and Revolutions.
BRITISH historian Simon Schama once observed of contemporary students, "What of history do they know?" It's a good question. A more immediate one is why don't Australian undergraduates want to know about their own country?
The blunt fact is that Australian history, once the gold standard of university history courses, is dying. This year, La Trobe University does not have any undergraduate Australian history subjects. The University of Melbourne is winding up its Australian Studies Centre. Why? Both La Trobe and Melbourne are universities with enviable records in the study of Australian history. So how can the decline in undergraduate demand be explained?
A lack of interest in Australian history undergraduate courses does not begin at university. It starts far earlier. Look...
SOURCE: WSJ (3-5-12)
Mr. Galambos, professor of history at Johns Hopkins University and an editor of The Papers of Dwight David Eisenhower, is the author of The Creative Society—and the Price Americans Paid for It (Cambridge, 2012).
SOURCE: NYT (2-25-12)
Ross Douthat is a columnist for the New York Times.
...In a 2011 Gallup poll on the greatest president, Eisenhower came in a lame 12th, in a tie with Jimmy Carter. He performs solidly in scholarly surveys, but he’s frequently ranked behind his prominent 20th-century rivals.
In part, this underestimation is a result of the political persona Eisenhower cultivated — an amiable, grandfatherly facade that concealed a ruthless master politician. In part, it reflects the fact that his presidency has always lacked an ideological cheering section. Liberals (who preferred Adlai Stevenson) generally remember the Eisenhower administration as a parenthesis between heroic Democratic epochs, while conservatives (who favored Robert Taft) recall a holding pattern before their Goldwater-to-Reagan ascent.
But ultimately Eisenhower is underrated because his White House leadership didn...
SOURCE: NYT (2-25-12)
THE French empire is back — this time, though, rather than coming to you, you will need to go to it.
Earlier this month, Yves Jégo, the mayor of a small town southeast of Paris, officially announced his plans for the Bivouac de Montereau, better known as Napoleonland — an amusement park commemorating French history, with an emphasis on the emperor’s achievements, that will rival nearby EuroDisney....
Against the background of a dispiriting presidential campaign, an anemic economy and a deepening social divide — not to mention this year’s 200th anniversary of Berezina, a word long synonymous in French with “disaster” — now seems...
SOURCE: Philadelphia Inquirer (3-1-12)
Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history at New York University and lives in Narberth. He is the author of "Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory" (Yale University Press). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In March 1942, a few months after America entered World War II, the U.S. Army issued its first official regulation designed to screen out gay men. The directive listed three supposedly telltale signs of homosexuality: "feminine bodily characteristics," "effeminacy in dress and manner," and a "patulous rectum." For those who don't have a dictionary handy, patulous means "expanded." And, yes, the Army regulation really said that.
I thought of this shameful history as I read a recent Inquirer story about the mass murderer Howard Unruh, whose case files were released by the Camden County Prosecutor's Office after persistent requests by the newspaper. Nobody will ever know what exactly led Unruh, a...