This page includes, in addition to news about historians, news about political scientists, economists, law professors, and others who write about history. For a comprehensive list of historians' obituaries, go here.
Arnold Abrams, in Newsday (Sept. 19, 2004):
Once upon a time, roughly six decades ago, a teenage David Kahn, strolling the streets of his hometown, glanced into the window of Great Neck's public library and was attracted by a mysterious-looking book.
The title,"Secret and Urgent," was intriguing, but its cover - depicting a jumble of letters and numbers streaming out of the cosmos - captivated him.
Written by naval historian Fletcher Pratt, the book provided a broad history of codes and ciphers, focusing on the human secrets and battlefield strategies behind them.
"I found that stuff absolutely fascinating," said Kahn, who still lives in Great Neck, where the well-stocked library now holds five books - all dealing with codes - he has written."I didn't know it at the time, but it actually was interesting enough for a career."
With his career still blossoming at age 74, Kahn is widely considered a top historian of military intelligence. His books have shed light on the art and impact of secret communications, previously consigned to a dark, little-understood corner of world affairs.
Once largely limited to international diplomacy and military strategy, interest in cryptology has burgeoned dramatically in the past decade. It is a necessary part of electronic banking, e-mail, commercial transactions and Internet usage - all of which require high security.
Kahn's books - praised by reviewers as a mix of research, anecdotes, interviews and analysis - humanize the development of cryptology while describing the historic role played by codes and ciphers.
"He is the world's premier authority on code-breaking," Adm. Stansfield Turner, 80, director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 1977 to 1981, said recently of Kahn."His work is of tremendous help in understanding history - that of warfare and diplomacy, in particular - as well as the world we live in."
William Crowell echoed Turner. He is the former deputy director of the National Security Agency, which, as the largest component of Washington's intelligence community, monitors global communications.
"I learned a lot of my history from Kahn's writing," said Crowell, 63, whose 30 years of service in the secretive agency included a four-year stint as director of operations, overseeing the interception and deciphering of foreign communications and codes.
Crowell, now a board member of several companies involved with technological security, added:"David made the critically important subjects of cryptography and cryptanalysis understandable, interesting and even compelling. Before he came along, the best you could do was buy an explanatory book that usually was too technical and terribly dull."
Or as NSA historian David Hatch, 61, put it:"There is nobody comparable to Kahn. Many important figures have added to our scholarship, but nobody has written as widely, lectured as wisely and had his popular appeal."...
Jo-Ann Moriarty, in the Republican (Sept. 20, 2004):
... Friends and colleagues at both Smith College and Boston University described Weinstein as someone who is very bright, charming, controversial, an opportunist, a serious scholar and historian and as someone whose politics shifted from the liberal left in the 1960s to the right.
Still, colleagues at Smith who had close social and professional relationships with Weinstein believe that while his politics have changed dramatically, as a historian he is ultimately bounded by the truth and not party loyalty.
"I think Allen would do an absolutely first-rate professional job," says Howard Nenner, who taught the history of England at Smith and was close friends with Weinstein.
Nenner said that when Weinstein began researching the case of Alger Hiss, an American working for the State Department who was suspected of spying for the Soviets, he believed that Hiss was innocent.
In his book, "Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case," Weinstein documented the opposite, that Hiss was a Soviet operative, Nenner said.
The research and conclusion incited strong reactions from both sides of the political spectrum, Nenner said. Nenner added that his friend "has been a controversial figure for a long time."
Peter Rose, a professor emeritus of sociology and anthropology at Smith, said that as a colleague he believed Weinstein "was a superb historian of modern American history, a fine writer and a very good investigative historian."
"He was always interested in social issues," Rose said, explaining that Weinstein edited a book about slavery.
Durbin, during the committee's hearing on the nomination, told Weinstein: "I think I know where your heart is, but I want to know where your lawyers will be."
To which Weinstein answered: "You make a good point."
Stanley M. Elkins, a professor of history at Smith College from 1960 through 1994, hired Weinstein. Elkins, a lifelong Democrat, is aware that Weinstein's political views are now different than when they first met.
From what he understands of Weinstein's character, Elkins believes he will base his decisions on the way a historian thinks, not a politician.
"My own feeling about Allen is that he is a good researcher, and I can't see him repressing information because it is not to the advantage of the Republican Party," Elkins said. "If the Bush administration appoints him with that in mind, they are in for a disappointment."
Pamela Gould, at Fredericksburg.com (Sept. 11, 2004):
A vivid image came to John Hope Franklin's mind when then-Gov. L. Douglas Wilder approached him in the early 1990s about creating a museum to tell the story of slavery.
It should be built in Jamestown and the museum itself should be a slave ship, he thought almost immediately.
"This would be a dramatic presentation of the way in which slavery began in this country," Franklin recalled during a recent interview on the campus of Duke University, where he is the James B. Duke Professor of History Emeritus.
Franklin, a tall, thin man with an easy smile and a razor-sharp mind, saw the plan as ideal for one simple, practical reason: "You wouldn't have to imagine. That's where it pulled up."
Jamestown is where the first slaves came ashore, where they first tasted life in a land others saw as a beacon of freedom and opportunity.
When Wilder settled on Fredericksburg as his museum site in October 2001, Franklin--now a member of the museum's board of directors--was disappointed but accepting.
"I said, 'Well, it's pretty far up the river, but I hope the museum could be a slave ship,'" he said. "It's not going to be that now, I know. But I still think it was a pretty good idea."
Though Fredericksburg wasn't Franklin's first pick for the museum, the 89-year-old author and scholar does have fond memories of the city that sits on the shores of the Rappahannock River.
It was there that he and his wife Aurelia spent their wedding night--June 11, 1940--in the city's Rappahannock Hotel.
And it was there that Franklin knew of a gas station that would allow him to use the restroom as he journeyed between his home in North Carolina and points north in the days before Civil Rights legislation.
"In the black community, this was known--where you could and could not stop," he recalled.
So, with those memories, Franklin said Fredericksburg "has a special place in my heart." In his mind, it has just one problem as far as being the right home for the U.S. National Slavery Museum that Executive Director Vonita Foster said will open in three years.
"The alternative was attractive in every way but being in Jamestown," he said....
Franklin's vision for a slavery museum is a facility that keeps its focus squarely on American slavery in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.
To tell that story, the author of the seminal text on African-American history said a handful of subjects needs to be addressed. The first would be the slave trade and the expansion of slavery through the Colonies.
He would also show how American society was transformed as a result of slave labor. And he would teach visitors about the nation's internal strife over the extension and expansion of slavery.
Finally, he would address the end of slavery, brought about by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified on Dec. 6, 1865.
Unlike Jacob Dekker, another of the museum's seven board members, Franklin has no interest in addressing present-day slavery. He also has no interest in expanding the museum's focus to address other experiences of African-Americans.
Franklin believes a dramatic and factual telling of the story of American slavery will provide the prism through which visitors can understand other race-related issues.
"I think, if we do this right it will illuminate all these later struggles," he said.
Franklin has no doubt this nation needs a museum devoted to the institution of slavery and no doubt Virginia is where it should be built.
"It's long, long, long overdue," he said.
Franklin's focus isn't on fund raising. It isn't on the nuts and bolts of how to get a museum built and operating. His expertise is history and his intent is that the story told will be authentic, authoritative and on target.
When asked his biggest concern, Franklin's reply was immediate.
"We spread ourselves out too thin--and therefore become competitors with all the other museums," he said. "I want us to have a special mission."
Successfully telling the story of slavery is a mission that requires educating the public effectively and dramatically, Franklin said.
That is why he keeps coming back to the image of a ship.
He sees that as the literal and symbolic vehicle for the story because that is how the slaves arrived--first to Virginia and later to ports in cities such as Charleston, S.C., and New Orleans.
Architect Chien Chung Pei designed the three-story structure with a full-size replica slave ship as its centerpiece, but Franklin isn't certain that will be as powerful as his vision.
"I want to give some notion of what it meant to be wrenched away from your home and packed in like sardines and be dragged to an unknown world," he said.
"We talk about the ships from Europe coming in, and people coming in to the promised land. This was different."
Hillel Italie, in the Concord Monitor (Sept. 9, 2004):
Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., 86 years old and never more liberal, stares calmly from behind his large, clear-framed glasses and reviews the current stage of what he has called the "cycles" of American politics.
The historian has long theorized that the United States alternates between liberal and conservative eras, and the times now so favor the right that "liberal" has become an identity either avoided altogether or abridged to the tremulous "L-word."
But in Schlesinger's expansive, white-walled apartment, there is no rotation of power. "Liberal" is uttered in full, not sheepishly, but with a taut, vigorous smile worthy of a former aide to President Kennedy.
"If a candidate were to ask me if he should refer to himself, or herself, as a liberal, 'I would say, 'Yes, I'm a liberal, I'm an FDR liberal, a Harry Truman liberal, a JFK liberal,'" Schlesinger says during a recent interview.
A leading historian and political analyst for nearly 60 years, Schlesinger is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, known for such works as "The Age of Jackson" and "A Thousand Days," and he is a link to an era when government was regarded as more a solution than a problem.
While he is no longer actively involved in electoral politics and has written no full-length histories in years, he remains a kind of professor emeritus for both politicians and scholars. When John Kerry met with a group of Democratic writers and artists in New York last winter, Schlesinger was a featured guest. When historians speak of leaders in their profession, they inevitably cite Schlesinger.
"He's been a kind of role model who has showed that an academic historian can become a best seller and also become politically influential," says James McGregor Burns, a fellow historian and Kennedy supporter and a longtime friend.
"To me the test of a historian's greatness is whether his work will endure and Arthur Schlesinger's work, in my opinion, is going to endure," Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Robert Caro says.
"It's going endure because of the extraordinary depth and breadth of his historical knowledge ... and it's going to endure because of the insight and the precision and the drive and force of his writing."
Seated in a white armchair in his living room, late summer sun streaming in through French windows, Schlesinger is an aged, but sporty presence, wearing a seersucker jacket, pink shirt and light slacks. His voice - rumpled, sober, authoritative - suits the image of a "distinguished" historian, although it can turn unexpectedly boyish, even giddy, as when he confides that his recent mail included a signed copy of Bill Clinton's "My Life."
In "Robert Kennedy and His Times," published in 1978, Schlesinger offered a brief self-definition: "liberal, intellectual, professor, writer, agnostic." History is his creed, a source of both truth and consolation, and his new book, "War and the Imperial Presidency," is a critique of the Bush administration and an argument that the past contains solutions for the present.
"I think history is to the nation as memory is to the individual and an
individual deprived of memory doesn't know where he's been and where he's going,"
Reviewing events from the Sept. 11 attacks to the Iraq war, Schlesinger writes that unilateralism in foreign affairs, for which President Bush has been strongly criticized, is a tradition dating back to George Washington. He also dismisses wartime unity as a myth, noting that leaders from Lincoln to Truman have been harshly attacked in the midst of military conflict.
The news, Schlesinger believes, is Bush's advocacy of preventive war, attacking enemies before they can attack. Schlesinger says that supporters of such a policy were once regarded as "loonies" and quotes President Truman's remark that nothing is "more foolish than to think that war can be stopped by war."
"I think Bush has changed the whole basis of foreign policy," Schlesinger says. "It's a 180 degree shift and he's managed to do that without igniting a national debate about it, without most people being aware of it."
He is especially concerned by Bush's "serene but scary certitude," and his religious justification for his actions. "He is sustained by this enchantment that he is executing the will of the almighty, and that's very dangerous," Schlesinger says. "Ideology is the foe of reason and common sense."
Being an American liberal, Schlesinger once observed, means regarding man as "neither brute nor angel." He has long condemned both the far right and the far left, any system that denies the "perpetual tension" of a dynamic democracy. Whether discussing war, communism or the power of the presidency, Schlesinger has pursued the middle course, where experience coexists with ideals and reason counteracts emotion....
"History is lived forward but is written in retrospect," wrote the late British historian C.V. Wedgwood."We know the end before we consider the beginning, and we can never wholly recapture what it was to know the beginning only."
Good historians often cite the wisdom of Wedgwood. They know that all history is subjective --- human beings are involved, after all.
"Historians are prisoners of their own experience," says Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr."They are of their own times, like everyone else. . . . On one hand, you have to deal with irreversible facts: America declared its independence in 1776 and so on. But the arrangement of the facts --- the choice of priorities --- reflects the individual temperament of the historian and it reflects the times.
"In my own lifetime," he adds,"American history has been revised to include the role of women, the role of minorities, to do justice to the horror of slavery and so on."
At 86, Schlesinger bills himself as a"proud and unrepentant" liberal. Court historian for the Kennedys some 40 years ago, Schlesinger enters the contemporary political melee with a slim yet provocative book called"War and the American Presidency" (W.W. Norton, $23.95). It is a typically erudite history and a particularly impassioned argument against President Bush's concept of preventive war ---"a fatal change in the foreign policy of the United States," Schlesinger writes.
Bush"repudiated the strategy that won the Cold War --- the combination of containment and deterrence carried out through such multilateral agencies as the U.N., NATO and the Organization of American States. The Bush Doctrine reverses all that. The essence of our new strategy is military: to strike a potential enemy, unilaterally if necessary, before he has a chance to strike us. War, traditionally a matter of last resort, becomes a matter of presidential choice."
From his home in Manhattan, Schlesinger says he is prepared for the debate that surely will follow in this supercharged political climate.
"A great Dutch historian used to say, 'History is an argument without end,'" says Schlesinger."I enjoy intellectual combat."
A 1938 graduate of Harvard, Schlesinger has won two Pulitzer Prizes, for"The Age of Jackson" in 1946 and 'A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House' in 1966. He breathes rarefied air among American historians, partly because of his exceptionally elegant writing style and partly because of his sheer longevity.
"Arthur was publishing major books before I was born, and I'm over 50," says David J. Garrow, Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of Martin Luther King Jr.
Michael Powell, in the Washington Post (Aug. 29, 2004):
-- Utter three words -- George Walker Bush -- and watch eminent author Kevin Phillips, a longtime Republican, a former Nixon aide and past party theoretician, pucker like he has inhaled a pickle.
"I've never understood why we take Bush and his family seriously," he says. "They come from the investment-inherited-money wing of the Republican Party. They display no real empathy for anyone who is not of their class."
He pauses a few seconds as his fingers execute a tap dance on his picnic table.
"They aren't supply-siders; they're crony-siders. As far as I'm concerned, I would put Bush on a slow boat to China with all full warning to the Chinese submarine fleet."
Silence again. Phillips sits on his back porch and looks at you from under hooded eyes, with only the vaguest hint of a chipmunk smile. He's a curious cat, this 63-year-old Nixon-era Republican populist. His best-selling, muckraking book on the family that has held the presidency for eight of the past 16 years, "American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush," is a sustained rummage through the Bush family closet. He pulls out all manner of files on the early Bushes and the Walker branch of the family, and their dealings with post-World War I German industrialists and post-World War II Saudi princelings. And he draws a bright connecting line between those wheeler-dealer financiers and their Texas-lite descendants.
Phillips's bottom line is unsparing. He describes the Bushes as second-tier New England monied types who made the strategic move from Greenwich, Conn., to Midland, Tex., just as the nation's power pendulum took a southern swing. This was not a particularly daring strike into the interior. Rather, like proper Wall Street capitalists, the Bushes and many other financier families had sniffed the scent of sweet cash and sent a relative or two to investigate.
Texas, Phillips writes, "represented one of the century's great American wealth opportunities."
The Bushes settled in a west Texas city that, far from being the cowboy wildcatter's paradise of political myth, was a leafy enclave thick with Ivy League scions, street names such as Princeton and Harvard, and enough Wall Street gilt to keep everyone in country club fees.
As it happens, this state and that family have come to embody everything that Phillips can't stand about turn-of-the-century America. Texas is wealthy and obsessed with the accumulation of more. It's economically polarized and ranks 42nd in per-capita state spending. Its Republican elite seem splendidly immune to guilt.
"Texas civic culture," Phillips writes, "more akin to that of Mexico, Venezuela and Brazil, has accepted wealth and its benefits with minimal distraction by guilt and noblesse oblige."
Phillips elaborates on this critique during an interview. "George W. is the first president to come directly out of the oil industry, even if he was a failure at the actual business of looking for it," he says. "And who did he pick as his vice president? Another man from the oil industry. It's astonishing that nobody really questions the implications of this."...
Nobody picked on his Rosa Parks biography. Who would pick on Rosa Parks? Or sneered at his works on Jimmy Carter or Henry Ford.
But a few weeks before the Iowa caucuses, historian Douglas Brinkley published his eighth book,"Tour of Duty," an exploration of how Vietnam shaped Sen. John Kerry. A vet named Jim Rassmann, a Republican, thumbed through it in an Oregon bookstore, found the part that told how Kerry had saved his life, plucking him from enemy waters, bullets whizzing around them, and nearly burst into tears, right there in the Barnes & Noble. The drama! The reaction for which an author prays! Rassmann, who had had no contact with Kerry since that day in 1969, called the campaign, volunteered to help, and flew to Des Moines.
With Rassmann beside him throughout the primaries and the convention, Kerry made his battlefield leadership and the camaraderie of servicemen the central theme of his campaign. Brinkley's book, drawn primarily from Kerry's extensive journals and letters from the period, depicts a young naval officer who displayed unflinching courage, even as he agonized over the war's morality. But his admiring recounting of the Massachusetts senator's war record also helped lead to the current guns of August.
For the past three weeks, the dominant issue of the presidential race has been not the war we are in now, but the war of 35 years ago. A group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth has been running television ads accusing Kerry of inflating or lying about his war record. Several of the men in that group said"Tour of Duty" enraged them and prompted their campaign. A best-selling book about their recollections,"Unfit for Command," tries to refute Brinkley's conclusions, charging Kerry with calculation and cowardice during his four months in battle.
The escalating attacks and counter-attacks find Brinkley, a 43-year-old presidential scholar at the University of New Orleans, trying to avoid collateral damage.
His cell phone is too full to receive any more messages. Reporters, sometimes four from one newspaper, call him hourly, demanding help in sorting fact from fabrication. The vets against Kerry go on cable TV and mischaracterize his work, he says. His knee needs surgery from too much running, his baby needs rocking, boxes in his new house need unpacking. His book editor needs his next manuscript. His New Yorker editor needs his next article. And NBC needs him to stop thinking like an academic and start talking like a pundit when it puts him on camera during next week's Republican National Convention.
All this public busyness, and Brinkley's eagerness to expand it, has brought some sniping: Other historians in the notoriously snobbish world of academia sniff -- with a"please don't attribute this to me, of course" -- that Brinkley is a"popular" historian, so voracious for media attention that he lacks the rigor to make significant contributions to scholarship. So he is paying a price for the notoriety of this book, but also reaping a benefit."Tour of Duty" has sold 95,000 copies so far, making it Brinkley's first bestseller. The paperback, with a new introduction, comes out next month.
Amiable and driven, he has maintained a frenzied pace for years. But when the nuance of history collides with the sloganeering of the political present,"this is a whole different world," Brinkley said in an interview this week."I compartmentalize. I try not to deal with the Swift boat wars until mid-afternoon. It's unpleasant. I feel frustrated."
The effort to discredit Kerry's war heroism is"an outrage," said Brinkley."There is just no evidence that John Kerry did not win his medals properly. It's a smear campaign, just as Democrats smeared Bush back in the spring" regarding his service in the Texas Air National Guard."I treasure facts. When you have facts being distorted for a political agenda, I mind."
The Kerry campaign has refused to release Kerry's personal Vietnam archive, including his journals and letters, saying that the senator is contractually bound to grant Brinkley exclusive access to the material. But Brinkley said this week the papers are the property of the senator and in his full control.
"I don't mind if John Kerry shows anybody anything," he said."If he wants to let anybody in, that's his business. Go bug John Kerry, and leave me alone." The exclusivity agreement, he said, simply requires"that anybody quoting any of the material needs to cite my book."
Brinkley has made corrections and revisions to the paperback version, he said, but most of those are minor, spelling errors and the like. A new introduction includes a fuller version of the Rassmann story; Brinkley said that Kerry couldn't recall the spelling of Rassmann's last name during their interviews, and the historian was unable to locate the Green Beret before his deadline. He also said he was unable to locate and interview Stephen Gardner, the lone member of Kerry's Swift boat crew who claims that the senator lied about his combat experience.
Kerry repeatedly said in the past that he was ordered illegally into Cambodia during Christmas 1968. His detractors claim he never entered that country at all. In"Tour of Duty," Brinkley does not place Kerry in Cambodia but, quoting from Kerry's journal, notes that Kerry's Swift boat was"patrolling near the Cambodian line." Later in the book, Brinkley writes that Kerry and his fellow Swift boat operators"went on dropping Navy SEALS off along the Cambodian border."
"I'm under the impression that they were near the Cambodian border," said Brinkley, in the interview. So Kerry's statement about being in Cambodia at Christmas"is obviously wrong," he said."It's a mongrel phrase he should never have uttered. I stick to my story."...