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.
Every once in a while, I read an op-ed piece and say to myself, "Wait a second, that's not true." I just read such a piece in the Jerusalem Post; "Neither rejoice, nor lament" by Michael B. Oren, the best-selling author of Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East, (OUP 2002). A longer version of his article ran on November 14, 2004, entitled "Arafat Without Tears," in the Washington Post.
What is it that Oren said that got me so disturbed that I would bother to write about it?
Commenting about the Israeli public's lackadaisical response to Arafat's recent demise, Oren wrote "Ironically, the only Israelis who regret Arafat's passing are those from the radical Right who believe that Arafat was Israel's greatest asset - the man whose intransigence relieved the Jewish state of the necessity of making any painful sacrifices. Yet the far Right need not worry. It seems highly unlikely that any Palestinian figure will be capable in the foreseeable future of marshaling the legitimacy needed to make peace with Israel, or the military power to impose that peace on the Palestinian terrorist groups that will certainly oppose it."
Pure Hogwash. An inversion of logic. Oren's skewed view of things outshines his "scholarship" on this one. According to Oren, the far Right wanted Arafat to continue killing Jews so that the "peace process" would be wrecked, it's a virtual blood libel.
Just after Arafat's death, Manhigut Yehudit (the Jewish Leadership faction within Likud) held their annual convention in Jerusalem. It was reported in the press that Manhigut Yehudit supporteras raised a toast in celebration of the death of "PLO leader and arch-terrorist" Yasser Arafat. Manhigut's leader, Moshe Feiglin, asked the audience to be an island of sanity in a sea of madness and reversal of values, as reflected in the condolences expressed in the media on the death of the archenemy of the Jews, Yasser Arafat. Feiglin declared before 2,500 people, "We pray for the death of all of God's enemies."
Similarly, it was reported that an assorted group of "right-wing extremists" and "Kach supporters," drank a "L'Chaim" (a toast) in downtown Jerusalem a couple days earlier, when it was prematurely reported that Arafat had kicked the bucket. ...
Right-wing Israelis were overjoyed with Arafat's demise, not regretting it as Oren claims. But why did Oren claim this?
It struck me as odd when I read his op-ed piece. My initial response was "another leftist trying to blur the facts and twist them around to attack the right." But, Oren's bio at the foot of the page said he "is a Senior Fellow at the Shalem Center, a Jerusalem-based institute for Jewish social thought and public policy. He is also the head of the Middle East history project," and I know the Shalem Center is a conservative think-tank, I was intrigued, so I did some research.
A few facts I found out about Oren include, he was born in 1955 in America, belonged to the far-left Marxist Hashomer Hatza'ir youth movement and, at the age of 15, spent a brief period in Israel on two kibbutzim, Gonen and Gan Shmuel. He moved to Israel in 1977, at the age of 22, and after a stint in the Israeli Army during the Lebanon War, returned to the United States. He went to Princeton University, where he did his Ph.D. in the history of the Middle East.
During a very favorable interview in the left-leaning Israeli newspaper Haaretz in 2002 (after the publication of his book), Oren admitted, "I did my doctorate in order to become a policy adviser, but when I returned to Israel, I decided not to join the Foreign Ministry. I wanted to get into the government, but they didn't accept me." He then worked on his post-doctorate at Sde Boker (the kibbutz David Ben-Gurion retired to). Oren still has an apartment there and returns there to write. "In 1992, I came back to Jerusalem as an adviser to Yitzhak Rabin, who I got to through Shimon Shetreet [a law professor and a cabinet minister in the Rabin government]."
In fact, he served as director of Israel's department of interreligious affairs in the government of the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and as an adviser to the Israeli delegation to the United Nations.
So it's true, he has "solid" leftist credentials, and a personal reason (given his involvement in Rabin's administration) to skew the facts.
Oren's book, Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East, won him much acclaim. Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak heaped praise on the book; and it was even reported that Vice President Dick Cheney was "staying up nights to plow through the 446-page tome." It was a New York Times and national bestseller, and won several awards including the Washington Post Book World Best Book of 2002, the "National Jewish Book Award for best book of 2002," and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.
In his book, Oren claims that Nasser really didn't want a war with Israel in 1967, but to win a "bloodless political victory," in spite of his rants to "throw the Jews into the sea". In fact, according to Oren, in his earlier research that he did on the secret peace process between Egypt and Israel in the 1950s, he found that "between 10 and 15 years before 1967, Nasser was secretly writing letters to Israeli leaders and saying, 'Listen, I'd love to make peace with you, but if I do they're going to chop my head off, so I can't do it.'"
About the 1967 war, Oren feels, "it created a division with Israeli society that has widened over years, that really for the last 30 years, the major issue dividing Israelis has been the future of these territories almost to the distraction of any other issue--our economy, our society, religious, secular relations. And in that way the impact of '67 was deleterious and was injurious to Israeli society."
It's clear to me that Oren has an ideological ax to grind; his apologetics for Nasser, about the 1967 war more generally, the "peace process" and the Israeli Right.
When interviewed on National Public Radio's show "Fresh Air" on June 11, 2002 (during his US book promotion tour), Oren was asked, "Do you think that the Israeli incursions into the territories are an effective way of stopping the terrorist infrastructure?" Oren answered, "Oh. Well, first I don't think you can stop the terrorist infrastructure. I don't think anybody reasonably thinks that you can stop terrorists solely through military means..."
Oren clearly missed it, on that one. Israel has been reasonably successful in decapitating Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the other terror groups. Then he spewed the standard Israeli leftist line, "Obviously the only long-term solution to terror is a diplomatic political solution..." Yes, let's have Oslo 3, Oslo 4, Oslo More More More....
In 1970 The Chronicle published an article on the status of women in higher education. Female scholars, it reported, were "discontent," and were challenging both overt and subtle discrimination. Their salaries were lower than men's, and they were concentrated mostly in smaller colleges.
But there were bright spots, and The Chronicle also highlighted women who were succeeding in academe. Here's what has happened to them, and how their attitudes about the professoriate have changed.
[Re: Anne Firor Scott]
Then: Associate professor of history at Duke University.
Now: Professor emerita of history at Duke.
In 1970 she said: "The only common denominator in my life has been that whenever anyone opened a door, I walked through it. I just did what seemed interesting at the time."
Now she says: Higher education "has changed just remarkably" for women. "When I got to be chair of the history department, in 1980, I was the only woman in the department. I checked up on the figures, and at the moment in our department at Duke there are 21 men and 13 full-time women."
Ms. Scott, considered a pioneer in women's history, was also an overachiever -- earning a bachelor's degree from the University of Georgia at 19 and a doctorate from Radcliffe College while starting her family. She landed a temporary job at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and became a professor at Duke by happenstance. While she was living in Italy with her husband, and their three young children, Duke's history department sent her a letter. "One of our young men has had an offer that we do not wish to match," she recalls the letter saying. "It is too late in the year to set up a search. We wondered if you could come to teach until we can find somebody." She adds: "I never left."
Her 1970 book, The Southern Lady: From Pedestal to Politics (University of Virginia Press), is still in print. And Ms. Scott, who is 83, is working on another book, tentatively titled, An Unlikely Friendship, about the letters between a white woman and a black woman who corresponded for 40 years.
Her daughter Rebecca J. Scott is now a distinguished professor of history at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. The elder Ms. Scott still teaches occasional history courses at Duke and lectures elsewhere now and then. She exercises daily, swimming 30 laps or working out at a gym.
Two days before people crowded into the Pease House in Edgartown to hear historian Mary Beth Norton discuss In The Devil's Snare (Alfred A. Knopf, $30), her new, much acclaimed book about the 1692 Salem witchcraft trials, the author relaxed with a visitor in her contemporary West Tisbury home.
A distant relative of convicted witch Mistress Mary Bradbury, the Cornell University professor traces her own ancestry to the 1600s in Salisbury. Smiling broadly, she said,"There were many times when I worked on this book that I wanted to summon up the ghosts of my own ancestors to ask them about the events because they lived through it." She laughed and added,"And I really wish that, just for 10 minutes, I could have communed with my genes."
A Vineyard summer resident since the mid-1970s, Ms. Norton did much of the work on In The Devil's Snare at a folding card table on her screened porch. A lively and articulate speaker, she describes Island summers of writing in the morning, afternoons at Lambert's Cove Beach and evenings with a close group of"academic, summer-crowd friends," an informal group she refers to as the"Uppity-Up Academic Women's Group," who regularly meet for dinner.
But her attention lately has been focused on the results of 15 months of writing."One of the things I wanted to accomplish in the book was to tell the story of Salem as it would have been experienced at the time," she said. It was a topic she had contemplated for about 20 years,"ever since I read a book that showed me how different the Salem episode was from other witchcraft episodes in 17th-century New England," she said, adding,"Because the 17th century was a pre-Enlightenment period and before the scientific revolution, many things were not understood. All kinds of events could not be explained by what people knew, so witchcraft became a kind of default explanation."
Further fueling her interest was the central role women played in the events."If you think about it," she said,"it's the most important public event in American history before the rise of the women's suffrage movement in the 19th century in which women played the central role."
Ms. Norton, a practiced researcher (her 1996 Pulitzer-nominated book, Founding Mothers & Fathers: Gendered Power and the Forming of American Society, is based on legal records), spent almost five years in this country and abroad investigating the witchcraft trials.
"I am the only person who has ever worked on the Salem Witchcraft crisis who read 8,000 other 17th-century court cases first," she said."And I think that gave me an insight into the dynamics of what went on in the courtrooms and an understanding of the unspoken subtext behind a lot of the questions and the interrogations. It gave me a different way of reading the records and enabled me to put them together in a different way."
Her research exposed the role of Sir William Phipps, the governor of the colony, who lied about his complicity."The research I did in London at the public record office was very important for me," she said,"in recognizing the importance of the Indian War because letters that came to the colonial office in London included not just official reports but excerpts from letters written by private individuals in Massachusetts to friends in London, one of the ways to get information about the colonies."...
This evening, the participants in the annual Middle East Studies Association (MESA) conference in San Francisco will assemble in plenary session, to hear an address by MESA's president, Laurie Brand. The title: "Scholarship in the Shadow of Empire." (Presumably that's the American empire, not the Abbasid.)
When Brand delivers her address, she'll be preaching to the choir--the very people who elected her two years ago. MESA's members show a marked propensity for electing political activists to lead them. Indeed, MESA elections have become a kind of referendum, by which members express their political views indirectly. Brand's election is a case in point. She has all the credentials of an activist academic: a Columbia Ph.D. (Edward Said on the dissertation committee), published work dealing largely with the Palestinians, and a five-year stint at the Institute of Palestine Studies before her hire by the University of Southern California. Her election in late 2002 was MESA's way of endorsing the Palestinian cause in the midst of the intifada.
That said, Brand didn't have a reputation as an over-the-top propagandist--until the lead-up to the Iraq war. In the spring of 2003, Brand was in Beirut on sabbatical leave. As Operation Iraqi Freedom got underway, she penned an anti-war letter (scroll to last item) addressed to Secretary of State Colin Powell, on behalf of "Americans living in Lebanon." The letter cited various far-out predictions (e.g., over a million Iraqis might die because of damage to Iraq's water supply), added that "'regime change' imposed from outside is itself completely undemocratic," and ended in these words: "We refuse to stand by watching passively as the US pursues aggressive and racist policies toward the people around us. We reject your claim to be taking these actions on our behalf. Not in our name." Seventy Americans signed it.
Brand and a dozen of her colleagues then scheduled a meeting with Vincent Battle, U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, to deliver their letter. But on the appointed day, the road to the embassy was closed because of raucous anti-American demonstrations by Lebanese students. Brand and five other Americans would not be deterred. "Intent upon doing something, we took to the median strip of the Corniche," Beirut's seaside boulevard. "We stood near Beirut's International College with our protest signs identifying us as Americans and calling for an end to the war." According to Brand, passersby greeted them with thanks and blessings. It must have been quite a spectacle: the president-elect of MESA, literally walking the "Arab street" at the head of a honk-if-you-hate-U.S.-policy protest.
There's irony here too, since Brand may be the most taxpayer-subsidized academic in Middle Eastern studies. She's held four Fulbright fellowships, for research in Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, and Tunisia, and she's received at least three major U.S. government regrants, mostly for work in Jordan. She's been on government-funded lecture junkets to Kuwait, Jordan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Oman. And her own bio lists her as a past consultant to the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Department of State, and the U.S. Information Agency. Support for U.S. policy isn't a prerequisite for any of these subsidies and perks, and Brand didn't sign away her rights when she took them. But it does make one wonder what she said on those lecture tours, what sort of benefit Washington derived from her consultancies, and what sort of process plied this one academic with so many Fulbrights. That looks like a case of incestuous peer review run amuck; Congress should insist that Fulbright diversify its investments.
To return to Brand's pounding the Beirut pavement in a sandwich board: she admitted she was surprised when an elderly gentleman drove by and told her, in English, "You are so gullible." "I have given this sentence some thought," wrote Brand, "wondering exactly what ideas or beliefs prompted it....Perhaps this gentleman thought our gullibility lay in an expectation that our protests would end the war." Now old gentlemen in Lebanon who speak English are quite likely to use the language with precision (unlike most American professors), and he didn't say naive. He said gullible. Yes, it would have been naive to think that protests would end the war. But to be gullible is to be subject to easy manipulation by others, and I'll bet the old man meant this: you're a dupe, for standing in the median strip of the "Arab street" to demonstrate in defense of the Arab world's most despicable regime.
And this brings me back to the title of this evening's MESA presidential address, "Scholarship in the Shadow of Empire." In fact, the Middle East has languished in the shadow of despotic regimes, intolerant nationalists, and religious extremists for as long as MESA has been in the business. Regrettably, none of this ever troubled MESAns to the point of bringing them out into the street. When they weren't looking away, they were explaining away, claiming that the benighted state of their region was really the fault of the West. In a profound sense, then, the entire guild of Middle Eastern studies has been gullible--an easily-manipulated fifth column for the most retrograde forces in the Middle East. That's also why the guild has been stuck in an epistemological median strip. The MESA presidential address that will bear these tidings won't be delivered tonight.
So MESA is full of the gullible, but Washington shouldn't be, at least when it comes to Laurie Brand. At a Beirut conference three months after Baghdad was liberated, Brand announced that the Bush administration had lied more than any other administration, and that it showed a "systematic disregard for democratic institutions and values." From Beirut, she e-mailed her campus newspaper: "Americans have been seduced by the Bush administration's lies about its reasons behind this war." She's recently written of U.S. policy that "I cannot remember when I have been more continuously outraged." Well, it's a free country, but I'd like an assurance from the Department of State that she won't be sent off on any taxpayer-funded speaking junkets over the next four years. Not in our name--and not on our nickel.
Chancellorsville, VA - It's a brisk fall morning, the sun battling to break its way through leaden clouds, as the man in the wraparound shades pops out of a thicket of trees. Thirty-five people trail in James McPherson's wake as he ambles down a brush-covered hillside toward a clearing below, but he casts nary a glance to the rear. The general's job is to keep his eyes on the battlefield, you see, to keep looking ahead. The troops just have to keep pace.
Like any good leader, McPherson has canvassed his terrain before. One of America's pre-eminent Civil War historians, the Pulitzer Prize-winning 68-year-old has walked the battlefields at Chancellorsville, Va., many times. The author of Battle Cry of Freedom, a best-selling overview of the Civil War, doesn't have to work up idle theories as to why an impetuous Union general, Joseph Hooker, came here 141 years ago and tried to outflank the South's greatest military commander. Seeing the place, walking its distances, feeling its contours beneath his feet, McPherson almost knows the reason in his bones.
Hooker's gambit was one of the war's most infamous, and if McPherson has his way, his troops will know, by the end of the day, what made it so. St. Mary's College of Maryland has made McPherson the first visiting professor in its new program, the Center for the Study of Democracy, and today's 10-hour, four-battlefield tour will exemplify its goal of immersing students in the problems of early democracy in America.
McPherson strides to the center of a clearing, a place called Hazel Grove, and the panting detachment surrounds him. He takes off the wraparounds.
"Right here, where you're standing," says McPherson, his sky-blue eyes aglow in the morning sun,"the first shots were fired in anger. May 3, 1863, was probably the second-worst day of fighting, in terms of casualties, of any in the Civil War.
"Look up along the clearing; for three-quarters of a mile, in the open and in the trees, they fought. Why did it happen, and why did it matter?"
Hazel Grove is an odd name for a place that is actually one of the few open areas in a densely wooded region. McPherson stands in that hillside clearing amid a circle of cannon, gesturing with his hands."I'll tell you what was happening at 5:30 on the afternoon of May 2," says the man who wrote his Ph.D. dissertation at Johns Hopkins 42 years ago."The Union fellows had been working hard. They were feeling good about what they'd accomplished. They'd come a long way in a very few days."
He points to a thicket a hundred yards to the west."Over there, in that line of trees, they'd already stacked arms for the night," he says."They were relaxing, beginning to cook supper. They had no idea what was coming next."
If the hallmark of a good teacher is bringing clarity to the complex, McPherson is a fine commander. The Battle of Chancellorsville, like every Civil War engagement, was an immensely complicated enterprise, its roots going back months and years. To grasp its causes, it helps to know that by early 1863, Confederate generals from Robert E. Lee to Thomas"Stonewall" Jackson had made their Union counterparts look like amateurs; that the South had secured the all-important lines to Richmond, and that Northern morale was so low that 200 men a day were deserting.
When the Union chose Joseph Hooker to spearhead its southward progress, the general's charge included boosting his side's confidence. He drilled his men in the field. He instilled discipline. He pondered the psyches of his foes. By the spring, McPherson says, he was itching to go on the attack.
On April 27, Hooker led three corps - about 40,000 men - on a campaign to"turn the Confederate left flank." He drove his men eastward, toward Fredericksburg, Va. By mid-afternoon on April 30, they had forded two rivers, gained key bridges and, to their surprise, met no serious Confederate resistance. They arrived at a place where the Orange Turnpike and Old Plank Road converged, a crucial site called Chancellorsville.
What Hooker did at that point was a study in squandering one's advantage. Whatever the reason - exhaustion, overconfidence, maybe both - he decided to entrench his position rather than keep on pressing.
"Don't worry," the general told Darius Crouch, a corps commander."I have Lee right where I want him. He has to fight me on my ground." In a letter he boasted:"We have the greatest army on the planet."
Back in the 21st century, McPherson, like all good storytellers, sees the bigger themes in the details."(On May 1 and 2), Union scouts were in these trees here, keeping watch," he says, snapping a salutelike nod in the direction of a thicket to the west."All afternoon (of May 2), they felt something was the matter. They kept saying (to their superiors), 'Colonel, you know, there's an awful lot of noise and motion out here in the woods. I think the Rebels might be building up to something.' But basically, they were ignored."
[Editor's Note: This is only an excerpt of the original story.]
Perched in splendid isolation on a windswept coast, the Great House of Sker is a residence fit for the History Man.
Built by Welsh monks and dating back to the twelfth century, it was a dilapidated ruin until a few years ago. Now, restored at last to its former glory, it is the place which Niall Ferguson, the Scottish historian, and his family call home.
The grade-one listed building near Porthcawl, Glamorgan, has just won a prestigious housing design award from the Royal Society of Architects in Wales, competing against mostly newly-built properties.
The judging panel said the neglected ruin had been transformed over a period of 15 years, not into a museum piece, but into a substantial family house.
The building deteriorated over the centuries until part of it finally collapsed into rubble in 1977. Recognised as one of Wales's most important historic buildings, the Building at Risk Trust bought the ruins from the local authority - for £ 1 - in 1997 and restored it with £ 1.2m of Lottery cash.
It was placed on the market last year, at offers over £ 900,000, and eventually was purchased by the 40-year-old, Glasgow-born academic who, when he is not at his prestigious post as a professor at Harvard University, lives there with Sue Douglas, his wife, and Felix, Freya and Lachlan, their young children.
Michael Davies, the architect who led the restoration work, believes that, with the arrival of the Ferguson family, the magic has returned to Sker House.
"They are now creating the next chapter in its history because they are finishing off the bits we couldn't afford to do or didn't want to do because our purpose was to save the building and leave it to someone else to carry out the final restorations," he said.
Mr Ferguson could not be contacted yesterday but, in an interview recently, he said of his new home:"The view from Sker Point is breathtakingly beautiful. On a clear day, you can see across the Bristol Channel to Somerset and Devon."
In the space of just a few years, Mr Ferguson has earned himself the reputation of being a provocative and controversial historian. His somewhat revisionist Channel 4 series Empire, and the accompanying book he wrote, were together an analysis of nineteenth-century British globalisation.
Earlier this year, his warning that increased numbers of Muslim immigrants could lead to"the death of Europe" within 50 years was described as"alarmist" and"ridiculous".
Jonathan Sarna, a history professor at Brandeis University, took it upon himself to create an in-depth look at American Jewish history and published it in book form just in time for the 350th anniversary of American Judaism.
"There actually hasn't been a comprehensive history written on Judaism since Nathan Glazer," he said, referring to Glazer's 1972 book, "American Judaism (The Chicago History of American Civilization)." Sarna said that there have been plenty of histories of Jews, but not of Judaism as an entity. After consulting with friends who specialize in American religions, he discovered that there really hadn't been anything new in the category of Judaism, and that "people really had no idea how Judaism came into the larger story of American history."
Sarna said that as a historian, he was eager to do a book that wasn't a chapter-by-chapter
description of each individual Jewish sect, but rather a book that showed how
they all related to each other.
"I started work on the book in the mid-1990s, while I was on sabbatical," Sarna said. "I stopped for a long time because I had cancer, but I picked it up again when it finally looked like I was going to survive." He wrote quite a bit of the book in Israel during 2001 and 2002, and the book was published in March.
One of the points Sarna makes in the book is that American Judaism was influenced by American Protestantism. "It seems to me that Judaism has always been influenced by the surrounding cultures," he said. He noted that you could hardly write about Judaism in England without looking at the goings-on of the Anglican church. "One example," said Sarna, "is that American Protestantism is very denominational, and that helps explain why Judaism developed so many different strains." He said that in America, people are used to having many different ways of being a Christian, and now it's the same thing with being a Jew. "In other countries, it seems like there's only one way to, say, be a Catholic and one way to be a Jew," he said.
Sarna believes that one can only study religion in a comparative manner. He quipped: "They say in religion that if you only know one, you don't know any!"
Sarna spends some time in the beginning of the book delineating the decentralization of American Judaism, citing a movement from a synagogue-community (a community that revolves around a central synagogue) to a community of synagogues.
"In America," Sarna said, "where religion is so decentralized,
(forming new sects) was inevitable. In many ways, I think it's good that it
has been decentralized." He believes that the movement toward a community
of synagogues meant that religion became answerable to its members, rather than
to a governmental body. "It meant that the religion had to remain relevant
to the members, and not another body."
He also mentioned how little American Jews know about their own history. "Very few Jews have roots going back to the American revolution," Sarna said. "There are so many who came over from elsewhere. But I really think they can learn from American Jewish history, and that we can learn from them as well." He discusses in the book more recent immigrants who are interested in learning more about their community, saying that the history being built by American Jews today has been influenced by the history built during the American Revolution.
I HAVE JUST BEEN GUT-PUNCHED BY THE NEWS that a dear friend and intellectual soul mate over the last several years, Iris Chang, was found dead in her car near Santa Clara, California.
Iris's book, The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II, had immeasurable impact on a collective historical amnesia problem not only in Japan, but also in the United States and around the world. This brilliant and beautiful writer and thinker was, to me, a modern Joan of Arc riding into the nastiest of battles calling for honest and fair reconciliation with the past.
We met via email years ago. She joined a quest I was on some years ago to try and get people to look seriously at the contemporary legal consequences of back room deal-making by John Foster Dulles on the eve of signing the San Francisco Peace Treaty, formally ending Allied Occupation of Japan on September 8, 1951. I wrote a New York Times piece on this subject, which appeared on 4 September 2001.
Whereas I thought I had found an interesting historical tidbit that had been neglected by historians and lawyers, Iris Chang knew that I had just wandered unsuspecting into a raging battle between Chinese and Japanese warriors over memory and the historical record. She called me, and we had a two hour phone conversation where she helped prepare me for the onslaught of criticism that would fly my way from those who wanted to preclude any discussion of Japan's wartime responsibilities.
She followed up with her own New York Times articles on the debate about Japan, war memory, and what I called -- America's complicity in Japan's historical amnesia. Unfortunately, her articles are not available on the internet....
David Starkey is not your average history don. He's loud and opinionated and, to compound those crimes, he's a TV face and very, very rich. It's an explosive mixture that has had erstwhile colleagues and media pundits alike queuing round the block to stab him in the front. And right now Starkey may well have given them the perfect ammo to plunge the blade in still deeper.
For his latest TV series, Monarchy, Starkey has stepped outside his familiar territory of Tudor scholarship to tackle 1,500 years of English history. It's involved some frantic mugging up as he was forced to reacquaint himself with a few dozen kings and queens - and, in the case of characters such as Redbald and Penda, you rather suspect he was introducing himself for the first time.
"Oh, I'm sure I'm stepping on dozens of toes," he says with a characteristically bullish grin."I've tried to eliminate the really crass errors but I've no doubt that I've made huge numbers of mistakes. That's the name of the game when you're looking at the big picture.
"Historians have become far too precious. Their work has become ever more specialised and, as they steadily lose the context of their studies, they end up knowing more and more about less and less. It's a malaise that has now infected A-levels and GCSEs.
"The head of history at Manchester Grammar recently told me there was an A/S level question, 'Discuss Archbishop Cranmer's role in the formation of religious policy between 1534-39'. It's absurd. There's only two people in the country - myself and Diarmaid MacCullough - who could answer that question, and we would disagree."
You could argue that Starkey has a vested interest in defending the broad-brush approach, but even his opponents would have to concede that its ramifications stretch beyond taking history out of the classroom and raising the intellectual content of a Monday night's TV viewing by several dozen percentage points.
The central thesis of Monarchy is the relationship between those who govern and the governed, and the length of time it takes for a liberal democracy to evolve. Starkey wastes no time in drawing parallels with modern-day Iraq.
"The notion that you can duff up a country for three months, pacify it for a bit longer and then miraculously transform it into a liberal democracy is just ludicrous," he says."You might achieve some kind of democracy: it's the liberal bit I take issue with. How can you possibly telescope 1,500 years of history into a few months to create a representative parliamentary democracy?"
As a general rule, though, Starkey does not subscribe to the theory of history as a deployed memory to provide solutions for the present. He believes it should be first and foremost a pleasure, a source of great stories and a place where people can make associations with the past and present and find a sense of identity.
"Ideally, history should exist as a form of collective memory. Churchill may have made some horrendous mistakes - Gallipoli, for one - but he had a sense of the profundity and integrity of the English experience," he argues.
"By contrast, Blair believes he excised the past in 1997, though what no one on the left seems to have realised is that his historic mission was to destroy the Labour party, not the Tories. In fact, he just completed Thatcher perfectly. When he says he feels the hand of history on his shoulder, he thinks he will be hailed as a messianic figure who has remade history. In fact, it reveals him merely to be shallow and arrogant in equal measure."
With his outspoken views, his aggressive style - something he now rather regrets and is keen to tone down - and his provocatively camp persona, Starkey is a parodist's dream. And there have been no shortage of takers - most of them portraying him as a snobbish Tory-boy anxious to line up a knighthood for himself.
As the former rumpled hipster protégé to heavyweight historian Stephen Ambrose, Doug Brinkley has become the go-to pundit for all matters of instant history. Elections, celebrity deaths, literary scandals -- you name it, he's got the lowdown, get him on the evening news.
The director of UNO's Eisenhower Center for American Studies, Brinkley is often in the line of fire for counter-pundits -- perhaps because he's become so ubiquitous. From topics from JFK Jr. to the current election, critics find his commentary a little too, well . . . frequent.
His output, both verbal and written, is indeed prolific -- and varied. From recent biographies of Henry Ford and Rosa Parks to the editing of the diaries of Jack Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson, Brinkley keeps his keypad on the American pulse.
As the author of the recent pro-Kerry biography,"Tour of Duty," he has found himself vilified by conservatives; someone even bought a quarter-page ad in Sunday's Times-Picayune just to opine that Brinkley is full of it.
Tonight, Brinkley will be the point man in Boston for NBC News, reporting from Kerry headquarters on the making of our next president. We spoke recently at his Uptown home.
This is an Election Day interview. The reader needs to know where you're coming from in this interview. Are you a Republican, a Democrat or something else?
Independent, but someone who has been deeply invested in John Kerry for 2004.
So does that qualify you for the dreaded"L" word? And I'm not talking"lesbian" here.
No, I don't consider myself a liberal. I consider myself a centrist. On some issues -- like the need to cease border immigration -- I would find myself on the right, and on something like environmental protection, I would see myself on the left.
By what hour -- or date -- do you suppose we'll know when we have a president?
I think it will be decided by midnight on Election Night. I think there'll be a lot of court cases and a lot of rumbling about ballot boxes that didn't work properly, and chads that were dangling, but I think by and large there will be a clear victor. I don't think it will be like four years ago.
And who will that winner be?
There are three big swing states: Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Whoever gets two out of three will win. I think Kerry will win Pennsylvania, Bush will win Florida, and whoever wins Ohio gets to be president.
Let's go to the polls: In every poll, Bush wins hands down as the candidate most Americans would rather have a beer with. Which is weird, because Bush doesn't drink and Kerry does. What's up with that?
It's because he used to be a heavy drinker and he still gives the impression that he's a pickup-truck-driving Texas rancher/ZZ Top-listening kind of dude, which plays very well in the red states of the South. And it's amazing if you look at the electoral map right now, you can see that the Republicans control the entire South. Every state that had slavery is for George W. Bush.
Well, that's an interesting observation that I'll let fall to the ground between us like a lead balloon. If Ralph Nader gets elected, there'll be no first lady in the White House. What's up with that?
I suppose he'd appoint somebody first lady, someone from the Union Party or something like that.
If you listen to Bush and Cheney, they'd have you believe that if Kerry is elected, a terrorist attack is imminent. Is that the case, do you believe?
I don't think anything's going to happen in the coming days. Al Qaeda acts when we're not expecting it; not when we're expecting it.
Let's get to the important stuff: If Bush wins, what do you see as the role of the twins in the next administration?
Now that they've been exposed to the tabloids, their every move will be dissected and they will be courted by every new, up-and-coming Hollywood celebrity or pop singer that's going to want to be seen with them.
The newspaper in Bush's hometown of Crawford, Texas, endorsed John Kerry. The Chicago Tribune endorsed Bush. It sounds like a world gone mad. What's up?
The truth is, The Chicago Tribune was founded by Robert McCormick and has traditionally been a Republican-oriented Midwest isolationist paper. The Crawford paper was a small-towny progressive paper taking a punch at Bush and looking for publicity.
Of course, The Times-Picayune endorsed neither candidate. This raised some eyebrows. Would you care to weigh in on it and you can be brutally honest because if we don't like your answer we simply won't run it.
I think newspaper endorsements for president are overrated. The Washington Post endorsement of Kerry was so mealy-mouthed, after explaining why neither candidate was any good. Unless you're strongly behind someone, it's best to just stay out of it rather than just throw your weight in there because you can.
We will accept that answer. The Philadelphia Inquirer ran a 21-part endorsement for John Kerry. Twenty-one parts. I think that's enough reason to vote against him.
Newspaper endorsements are valuable on a local level, but I don't think they matter nationally.
Frankly, I'm really sick of this whole topic. All of it. What's the best escape -- liquor, love or literature?
What do you recommend tonight when I go to bed and want to forget about it all?
I think you want to read biographies of people like Abraham Lincoln, to realize that our times aren't uniquely oppressive.
You chose literature over love and liquor and then told me to read a political biography to forget about politics. You know what? You ARE John Kerry. Last question: Who would Jesus vote for?
Whoever didn't raise the specter of his name in the campaign the most.
The history of England is, alas, also the story of her monarchy. Out of this equation have grown some of the most powerful English myths - those of national Blitz-like solidarity, of smoothly purposeful institutional evolution, and cheerfully harmonious relationships between the classes. This being so, monarchy is a good subject for a historian who asks the central question: how did Alfred's successors manage to get away with it and still be here?
The survival has involved adroit literary propaganda and use of the visuals. England's only clever queen taught her court and people to see her as a return of the Virgin. Elizabeth I was England's new protectress and was portrayed in those precisely calculated iconic terms for a newly Protestant population starved of the Catholic imagery it had once rather liked. Even as the skin sagged, so the white facial paste was layered on as she was wheeled before her audience. And it is to this terrain of royal power that David Starkey now returns with his 20-part television series, Monarchy.
His mission statement is that monarchy in England was always consensual. Forget rebellious barons and despotic kings. English rulers knew that they relied upon their subjects - and especially on those warrior-chieftains known to posterity as the aristocracy - in order to exercise their power. The fully evolved medieval parliament gave the nobility their formal constitutional role -but centuries before, in Anglo-Saxon England, this was already an informal governmental truth.
With 17 parts to go, the argument's evolution is already evident. We have returned to the land of the Whig interpretation of history, where England is seen as the subject of a kindly providential dispensation - peaceful and, either implicitly or explicitly, parliamentary. Basic to this success story is the survival of monarchy. If we recognise our luck then there will always be that kind of England. Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors, will continue to prevent the shedding of doctrinal blood on the streets.
While still an academic historian of Tudor court politics, Dr Starkey was finely iconoclastic about this stuff. He started as a pupil of the late Sir Geoffrey Elton, who had an immigrant's indulgence towards the land that made him. That great historian escaped from Prague to England in the 1930s, and his work was one long paean of praise to a country which saw property rather than the holding of correct ideology as the basis of liberty. But as Starkey established a necessary distance from his mentor, he concluded that Elton romanticised English continuity and served up Whiggery reheated.
History is always a raid by the present on the past - and so bears the personal imprint of that foray. Anglo-Saxon history lost its greatest scholar recently with the death of Patrick Wormald whose sublime scholarship showed that the common law of England was not the invention of Henry II's 12th-century reign but evolved in the reign of Alfred the Great in the ninth century.
In a way this was a highly intellectual version of late 20th-century Euroscepticism because it was so concerned with the tenacious roots of England. But Wormald's The Making of English Law (1999) also involved sustained analysis of how and why Alfred had to interpret his rule in providential terms - building on Bede's idea of the English as a chosen people. In that exercise Alfred could rely on Asser, the Welsh monk who came to court for a job and wrote the ruler's life in order to explain to his fellow Welsh why it was right to pay homage to the king of Wessex. Asser, the first great English biographer, is also the first important Welsh creep.
The real historian of England's exceptional royalism should truffle away in such facts of propaganda cunning and colonial power. For the royal survival is not the result of some national genetic necessity but a story of chance and luck (for them) - and any interpretation should expose its credentials.
If historical argument always reflects the present it is important to know which version of the present is being adopted. This series exists because there is an audience for it in a country still unhealthily obsessed by the Windsors - as there is also a reliable market in histories which show England's exceptional, and un-European, nature. Such partial truths of present power politics are then reified and presented as a"natural" national condition.
But what of the series that shows England as a land of blood and of conquest - the country which is only exceptional in its propagandists' ability to sanitise those facts. Or of the country that went to war over highly doctrinal issues of democracy and theology in the 1640s? What of the history of English heretics from Milton to Blake who thought monarchy stank and bishops polluted the air. And what of the history of English violence against Welsh and Scots and Irish in the name of a new Britain? All these are relevant histories too - but not ones I suspect that Starkey, the upwardly mobile Whig, will delight us with as he travels towards the knighthood which, I fear, is now all but inevitable.