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: The Daily Beast (11-21-12)
Oliver Stone is a director, screenwriter, and producer. His most recent film is Savages; and among his other films are Platoon, Wall Street, Born on the Fourth of July, JFK, and Nixon. He is a three-time Academy Award winner for Midnight Express (Best Adapted Screenplay), Platoon (Best Director), and Born on the Fourth of July (Best Director). Peter Kuznick is a professor of history at American University.
When we began our documentary film and book project The Untold History of the United States more than four years ago, we knew we would encounter our share of mean-spirited and dishonest reviews. What has been remarkable and encouraging is that aside from a few far-right diatribes, that hasn’t been the case. As Michael Moynihan disappointedly notes in his...
SOURCE: WSJ (11-30-12)
I read somewhere, not long before my first book was published, that being a published author would ruin the experience of going to a bookstore. I scoffed, but I soon learned that it was all too true. A bookstore will have no copy of your precious baby. Or it will have one or two copies, buried so deep in the back that nobody will see them. Or the store has a few copies well-placed, but nobody seems to be paying any attention to your book, much less buying it.
I fear that being the author of a new biography on William Henry Seward, a book that deals with the first few months of 1865, similarly ruins the experience of Steven Spielberg’s new movie on Abraham Lincoln, depicting the same months. As...
SOURCE: NYT (11-30-12)
Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore is an editor at Time Out Beijing.
BEIJING — On Thursday, China released Feng Xiaogang’s “Back to 1942,” a blockbuster film about the 1942-43 Henan famine, during which roughly three million people starved to death following a drought exacerbated by the Japanese invasion. The film made over $480,000 on its first day and is tipped to break box-office records....
...[T]he censors allow “Back to 1942” but hardly tolerate any account of the largely manmade Great Famine that took place under Mao in 1958-62 and left tens of millions dead....
The Chinese Communist Party (C.C.P.), as the Chinese journalist Yang Jisheng has masterfully shown in “Tombstone,” is terrified to confront its...
SOURCE: WaPo (11-30-12)
Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, N.C., has worked at The New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter: @mcurtisnc3
After Nov. 6, listening to all the explanations for President Obama’s win, I was surprised at the surprise in some quarters about the enthusiastic participation of certain voters, and troubled by the way those votes were marginalized. It goes something like this: Look at all those blacks and Hispanics and Asians and women and young people who put President Obama over the top. How and why did this happen?
It happened because Americans...
SOURCE: NYT (11-29-12)
Gary Gutting is a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, and an editor of Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. He is the author of, most recently, “Thinking the Impossible: French Philosophy since 1960,” and writes regularly for The Stone.
Movies are the source of much of what we know — or think we know — about history. Currently, Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” is being recommended as a source of knowledge not just about Lincoln and the Civil War but also about politics in general. For example, Ruth Marcus, writing in The Washington Post, has praised the “instructional value” of the film for both President Obama and the current lame-duck Congress. “It presents,” she says, “useful lessons in the subtle arts of presidential leadership and the practice of...
SOURCE: NYT (11-29-12)
Philip Zelikow is a professor of history and an associate dean for the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Virginia.
Having worked before at the intersection of Hollywood and history, helping a tiny bit with a respectable movie about the Cuban missile crisis called “Thirteen Days,” I approached the new movie “Lincoln” with measured expectations. I had seen how a film could immerse viewers in onscreen time travel without messing up the history too much. But that was the most I hoped for.
“Lincoln,” however, accomplishes a far more challenging objective: its speculations actually advance the way historians will consider this subject.
The movie, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Daniel Day-Lewis as the 16th president, makes two especially interesting historical arguments.
The first is to explain why the passage of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, was overwhelmingly important to Lincoln in January 1865.......
SOURCE: FrontPageMag (11-29-12)
Steven Plaut is a native Philadelphian who teaches business finance and economics at the University of Haifa in Israel. He holds a PhD in economics from Princeton. He is author of the David Horowitz Freedom Center booklets about the Hamas and Jewish Enablers of the War against Israel.
...Part of their problem was that Marx and Engels were themselves wrong with regard to just about everything. They were wrong, first and foremost, with regard to the claim that there exists some sort of monolithic “working class” with some sort of uniform set of “class interests.” Urban workers share no common interest, as the above example involving shoe prices illustrates. Urban workers indeed were a “class” with a common interest only in the most tautological sense, only in the sense that all those assigned to any “class” would favor increases in the incomes...
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Ed (11-26-12)
When John Ford first asked Henry Fonda to play Lincoln, the actor said no. "I can't play Lincoln. That's like playing God," he explained. "You're thinking of the Great Emancipator," responded the director. "This is the jack-legged lawyer from Springfield." Fonda relented, and the result was Young Mr. Lincoln (1939), the best film ever made about Lincoln—until now.
Steven Spielberg's Lincoln both overturns a century of cinematic portrayals of the 16th president of the United States and challenges a decades-long scholarly, if not popular, vision of him as halfhearted and reluctant in his efforts to eradicate slavery. Daniel Day-Lewis doesn't just portray...
SOURCE: Foreign Policy (11-23-12)
James Verini is a Foreign Policy contributor based in Nairobi.
The first sign of officialdom you see when you drive from the Kabul airport parking lot is a government billboard looming above a traffic jam. It's the size of a highway billboard in the United States, but closer to the ground, so that you can make out every nuance of the faces on it. Those faces belong to, on the right of the coat of arms of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai, and on the left, slain Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, dead some 11 years. With...
SOURCE: American Spectator (11-29-12)
Michael Barone is senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.
SOURCE: The Nation (11-20-12)
Robert Caro has been tracking his great white whale for thirty years now. As with any undertaking of this scale, an aura of legend attaches to the labor. First there is the Ahab-like devotion with which he has pursued the life of Lyndon Baines Johnson. In 1977, not long after publishing his epic biography of Robert Moses, New York City’s master builder, Caro decamped to Texas Hill Country for three years to take in the air of LBJ’s childhood. He spent a night outdoors in a sleeping bag to better fathom the desolation of the territory. Along with his wife, Ina, he has combed through...
SOURCE: Independent (UK) (11-27-12)
Tom Rollins is a freelance journalist.
SOURCE: Special to HNN (11-26-12)
Lee Ruddin is Roundup Editor at HNN. He lives in England.
The state of the American economy, not surprisingly, dominated the recent presidential election. What was surprising, though, was the fact that the state of relations with Britain likewise featured, albeit less prominently. Headlines like ‘Romney would restore “Anglo-Saxon” relations between Britain and America’ (July 15, Telegraph), ‘Would a President M[itt] Romney do the special relationship better than Obama?’ (July 27, Birds on the Blog), and ‘Can ... Romney rescue the special relationship?’ (October 15, The Daily Caller) certainly made readers think about a Republican administration.
Now that Obama has been re-elected, however, sentimental Anglophiles are best to tune into -- before reading the history of Anglo-American relations to understand that a President Romney would only have, at best, affected the Whitehall-Washington relationship stylistically and not...
SOURCE: Salon (11-24-12)
Excerpted with permission from “The Eve of Destruction: How 1965 Transformed America,” by James T. Patterson. Available from Basic Books, a member of The Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2012.
Late 1964 was a buoyant time for the majority of Americans: a prosperous year that promoted extraordinarily high expectations about the future. As in the previous twenty years, large numbers of people were flocking to buy houses in the suburbs and climbing into the middle classes.
If there could have been a nationwide soundtrack for late 1964, it would have been especially upbeat, featuring hit songs by the Supremes (“Baby Love,” “Come See About Me”), the Beatles (“A Hard Day’s Night,” “I Feel Fine”), and the Beach Boys (“I Get Around”).
John F. Kennedy’s eloquent calls for a New Frontier had raised expectations his death could not dim. Liberals, led by President Johnson, redoubled their efforts...
SOURCE: Spiegel Online (11-21-12)
Michael Sontheimer is a German historian and journalist.
One might be tempted to draw comparisons, but it can also become an obsession. Still, that's exactly what Berliners tend to do, at least when it comes to their city.
Whenever it happens, Berlin suddenly isn't good enough for them, and they constantly feel compelled to draw comparisons -- not with just any old cities, but with the crème de la crème. "Berlin, the German metropolis, can once again measure up to the likes of London, Paris and New York," the city's then-mayor said shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The die-hard residents of the German capital don't like to aim any lower than that. They see Berlin as the sassy little sister of London, Paris and New York, a city that successfully contended for a spot in the exclusive family of cosmopolitan cities in the 1920s.
Berlin went into decline during the Nazi era and after it was divided into a free west and communist east. But...
SOURCE: WaPo (11-22-12)
Walter Isaacson is chief executive of the Aspen Institute. He has written biographies of Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, Steve Jobs and Henry Kissinger.
When he was a young man, Benjamin Franklin wired together a set of batteries he had just invented and used them to shock turkeys slated for a Thanksgiving feast. Thus he added yet another invention to his list: the fried turkey. "The birds killed in this manner eat uncommonly tender," he wrote.
After election seasons such as the one past, and when facing "fiscal cliffs" like the one looming, it’s therapeutic to gaze back through history’s haze and catch the eye of Franklin, the Founding Father who winks at us. The twinkle behind his bifocals reassures us that things will turn out all right.
Franklin’s optimism about the American experiment is reflected in an essay he wrote about our first Thanksgiving. The early settlers, "their minds gloomy and discontented," frequently fasted to seek relief from...
SOURCE: Foreign Policy (11-21-12)
Frank Jacobs is a London-based author, journalist, and blogger.
Few U.S. folk customs are as popular and as quintessentially American as Thanksgiving. A rich thread of tradition connects the First Feast, famously celebrated almost four centuries ago by Pilgrims and native Americans at Plymouth Plantation, with the modern president's annual pardon of a turkey, officially the Luckiest Bird in America.
But not only is the annual turkey-fest wholly American in origin, it is also -- like American football and the Fahrenheit scale -- as ubiquitous at home as it is rare overseas. Compare that to, say, Halloween or Santa Claus, two holiday phenomena that have struck deep roots in global culture in a still-recognizable American format.
Perhaps why Thanksgiving hasn't become globalized is because it is the festive celebration of American exceptionalism -- a marker of the country's unique position in the world. How much, really, can other nations have to be...
SOURCE: Slate (11-20-12)
Madeleine Johnson is a science writer and former neuroscientist.
Rat urine. As we feast on succulent turkey, moist stuffing, and glistening cranberry sauce this Thanksgiving, the furthest thing from our minds is probably rat urine.
Yet it’s quite possible that America as we know it would not exist without rat urine and leptospirosis, the disease it spreads. The disease conveniently cleared coastal New England of Native Americans just prior to the Pilgrims’ arrival and later killed the helpful Squanto. It still lurks among us, underdiagnosed, an emerging menace.
In the winter of 1620, the Mayflower happened to dock at an abandoned village. It had been known in the local Wampanoag language as Patuxet. Pilgrims rejoiced; the land "hath been planted with corn three or four years ago, and there is a very sweet brook runs under the hillside." In fact, the French explorer Samuel de Champlain had observed what would become Plymouth harbor 15 years earlier...
SOURCE: American Conservative (11-20-12)
Scott McConnell is a founding editor of The American Conservative.
Nearly 40 years ago, Daniel Moynihan and Nathan Glazer wrote that "the immigration process is the single most important determinant of American foreign policy." Immigration determined the ethnicity of the electorate to which our foreign policy responds. "It responds to other things as well, but first of all to the primary fact of ethnicity."
The two scholars did not elaborate, but probably had in mind the ferocious political conflicts over American intervention in World Wars I and II, in which an Anglo-American establishment eventually prevailed over fierce opposition to intervene on Britain’s side. They might have been thinking of the German, Irish, and Scandinavian immigrant communities’ intense efforts to keep America out of the Great War (I explored this subject in more detail ...
SOURCE: New Statesman (11-8-12)
Michael Newton is the author of Age of Assassins.
It was a grey January day in St Petersburg in 1878 when Vera Zasulich, a young nihilist, made the short journey to the office of the city’s governor, General Fyodor Trepov. Here the general listened to petitions and examined complaints. A crowd of people had gathered in the cold. Zasulich waited in line for her turn to approach the great man. At last they spoke, and just as Trepov was turning from her to deal with the next supplicant, she pulled a gun from under her cloak and fired at him at point-blank range. The bullet burst into his pelvis, wounding but not killing him. Zasulich threw down the gun, stood quite still, and waited to be arrested. They beat her, of course, and then bundled her into a room, and then wondered a little feebly what to do with her next.
As they deliberated in the immediate aftermath of her deed, Zasulich moved from moments of dissociation and strangeness to an honest desire to...