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.
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Education (3-7-07)
first met Arthur when I came to Harvard as a graduate student in sociology, in 1947, and I had the good fortune to see a lot of him. From 1949 to 1952, I was a resident tutor at Adams House, the residence hall with which Arthur was associated, and we were often together at lunch. We had good friends in common: the philosopher and historian of American intellectual life Morton White and his wife and co-author, Lucia. (Arthur was justly enthusiastic about Morton's splendid book on Charles Beard, John Dewey, Oliver Wendell Holmes, William James, and Thorstein Veblen -- Social Thought in America.)
Imperial Harvard in those years prided itself on two things. One was its closeness to power: Commuting to Washington gave members of the faculty great status. It was the period in which the similarity between the Harvard faculty and the Strategic Air Command was noted: One-third of each was airborne at any given moment. The second was academic and disciplinary rigor. What was missing, or distinctly underemphasized, were ideas. (I recall the skepticism, verging on derision, with which the cognoscenti at Harvard greeted Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism, with one later-eminent historian telling me: "She knows no history.") It was a time in which a clever undergraduate could manage very well for four years with a very limited reading list: Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Joseph A. Schumpeter's Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, and Melville's Moby-Dick. This last stood for a "tragic" approach to life -- something most people at Harvard had not entirely experienced.
Arthur -- with his combative involvement in politics, his public arguments over the nascent cold war with lively colleagues like H. Stuart Hughes and Perry G. Miller, his attentiveness to events abroad (he was at the founding of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, in Berlin), his realization of the importance of Marxism even as he denounced Stalinism -- conveyed the immediacy of the history we were living. He was, in short, no technocrat -- and that set him apart from most of the discreet counselors to Congress and the executive branch who populated the social sciences in Cambridge.
Arthur was, of course, a cultural and social historian. He later apologized for ignoring Andrew Jackson's racism toward African-Americans and American Indians -- indeed, Jackson's exterminationist views toward the latter. Arthur wasn't the only one to dodge such matters. In sociology, what I did not hear about were class, gender, and race in the United States. Per contra, there was a great deal of labored discussion about constructing a "science" of society or of "human action." (Morton White termed it "methodolatry.")...
SOURCE: Letter to the Editor of the NYT (3-4-07)
During the late 1930s and early ’40s, European Jewish refugees, among them the Frank family, who lived in terribly precarious circumstances, found that there were “paper walls” around America’s shores.
They faced horrendous bureaucratic obstacles, some of which were put in place by our government with the objective of preventing Jews from coming to this country.
If citizenship were granted to Anne Frank simply to make Americans feel good, it would indeed be pointless. But if the gesture were used to educate current and future generations about how America turned its back on these people, it would be an efficacious move.
Deborah E. Lipstadt
Atlanta, Feb. 26, 2007
The writer is a professor of modern Jewish and Holocaust studies at Emory University.
SOURCE: http://www.canada.com/ottawacitizen (3-6-07)
Mr. Katz, who previously taught at York University and the University of Toronto, co-wrote the 2006 book One Nation Indivisible: What America Was and What It Is Becoming. In the book, he and Mark Stern discuss his country's demographic, social and geographic trends over the past 100 years, with a focus on city life.
Mr. Katz, who will lecture today at 7 p.m. at the University of Ottawa's New Residence, recently spoke to the Citizen's Andrew Thomson from his Philadelphia office about the nature of riots, the historic roots of inequality, and the role of government in American life.
Q: The United States experienced widespread civil unrest and rioting during the 1960s. Today, Hurricane Katrina has thrown New Orleans and the Gulf coast asunder, but no similar uprisings have occurred. Why hasn't the communal violence we witnessed in France's low-income suburbs during the fall of 2005 been repeated stateside?
A: Part of the difference lies in the fact that the collective violence has been transmuted into individual violence against one another within inner cities. Mine is definitely not a cultural argument--it's structural.
Q: What are some of those structural factors in American cities that deter mass rioting?
A: There's been a changing demographic. For instance, when the riots took place in the 1960s, there was still a lot of racial diversity and cities were normally under the control of whites. But there's been a massive movement of whites out of cities ever since. It's a very different situation now.
Q: The United States has taken a different approach to assimilating immigrants than in Canada or Western Europe. How has this manifested itself?
A: On one side is the historical success of America in taking immigrant groups and permitting them to integrate. You would never find the kind of prohibition against, for instance, wearing head scarves, as you see in France. The other side is this schizophrenic side, which you see today through hostility towards undocumented immigrants.
Q: You write that a key factor toward the lack of "burning" American cities is the incorporation and control of immigrants into the general population. How does the controversy over illegal immigration from Mexico and Central America fit this trend?
A: They are in a very vulnerable position (without legal status). That's a pretty effective measure of controlling them militarily.
Q: Is there any possibility of American cities falling prey in the near future?
A: Historians are terrible predictors, but I don't expect it to happen. I've been surprised before, though. There may be episodes here and there, but it's not likely to recur on the same level of the 1960s....
SOURCE: http://www.journalstar.com (3-6-07)
UNL filed a lawsuit Friday in U.S. District Court asking a judge demand federal officials to consider the visa petition of Waskar Ari, a Bolivian professor hired by UNL in 2005 to teach courses on Latin American history.
Ari has been stuck at home in La Paz for nearly two years as officials stall approval of his work visa for security-related concerns.
His Washington, D.C.-based attorney, Michael Maggio, believes the delay may be thanks to a mistaken suggestion Ari is linked to Bolivian president Evo Morales, a frequent and harsh critic of the Bush administration.
Maggio, also one of two lawyers representing UNL in its lawsuit, says the idea is “preposterous.” And he’s not convinced homeland security officials were even authorized to conduct such an extensive background check on Ari — hence the basis for the suit....
PRESS RELEASE -- U. of Nebraska 3-6-07 UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA-LINCOLN SUES HOMELAND SECURITY CHIEF OVER UNLAWFUL SECURITY CHECKS FOR BOLIVIAN ACADEMIC
Washington, DC – The First Amendment, academic freedom, and an unlawful approach to background checks for foreign academics are at the heart of the lawsuit filed on March 2, 2007 by the University of Nebraska – Lincoln (“UNL”) against the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”). The suit, a complaint for writ of mandamus, seeks to compel the DHS to act on an H-1B employment visa petition that UNL filed 22 months ago on behalf of Dr. Waskar Ari, a Bolivian historian whom the university seeks to hire as an Assistant Professor of History and Ethnic Studies. Professor Ari, a member of the Aymara indigenous group of Bolivia, is an expert on the history of indigenous peoples, particularly in his native Bolivia, where populist indigenous President Evo Morales is viewed with suspicion by the Bush Administration. Professor Ari’s appointment was to commence in August 2005; UNL’s H-1B petition was filed under a DHS procedure that guarantees a decision within 15 business days. However, the University’s visa petition for Professor Ari has been pending for unspecified “security checks” – seemingly delayed indefinitely – since June 2005.
The American Historical Association, one of many national and international organizations that have urged the U.S. Government to issue the visa, laments that Professor Ari, “a fine scholar whose only apparent offense is his indigenous identity could be permanently excluded from U.S. academia.” These concerns over the chill imposed on academic freedom by the DHS’s conduct are echoed by numerous others. Professor Ari, who received his Ph.D. in history from Georgetown University in Washington, DC in May 2005, travelled to Bolivia for what he thought was a temporary visit because he expected to return in a few weeks to begin teaching at UNL. Instead, he remains in Bolivia, unable to even apply for his H-1B visa at the U.S. Consulate in La Paz. In the meantime, UNL, its faculty, and its students are deprived of Professor Ari’s unique contributions as a teacher, researcher, and colleague.
The lawsuit filed by UNL alleges that background checks being conducted by the DHS are not authorized by law. The suit contends that the only issue in this particular H-1B petition is whether UNL, the petitioner, has satisfied the requirements to classify Professor Ari as an eligible recipient of H-1B status. The lawsuit further alleges that the DHS lacks authority to withhold or delay action on UNL’s petition. Moreover, even assuming the DHS does have such authority, UNL maintains that 22 months is more than sufficient time to conclude background checks on a Bolivian academic who seeks merely to teach in the United States.
Professor Ari is one of a growing number of foreign scholars whose visas have been revoked or whose applications have been denied or delayed, thus barring their entry into the U.S. based on their ideology or political views. The highest profile case is that of Tariq Ramadan, a prominent Swiss Islamic scholar whose visa to teach at the University of Notre Dame was revoked by the government in 2004. When Ramadan applied for a visa that would have allowed him to enter the U.S. for speaking engagements and the government failed to act on it, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), along with other organizations, filed a lawsuit challenging the government’s inaction. Ultimately, a federal judge ordered the government to act on his visa request.
The ACLU is tracking many cases, including Professor Ari’s, in which it believes foreign nationals have been banned from entering the United States owing to their beliefs. Although the government rarely gives a reason for these exclusions, the ACLU reports that many exclusions appear ideologically-motivated and that academics increasingly are being interrogated about their political beliefs when they apply for visas. In this instance, Professor Ari may be wrongly linked to the indigenous movement led by Bolivian President Evo Morales. A supporter of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and the first Indian President of Bolivia, Morales also is an outspoken critic of the Bush Administration’s policies in the region.
The case is University of Nebraska v. Chertoff, et al., Case No. 1:07-cv-421, and was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. UNL is represented in this action by attorneys Michael Maggio and Thomas Ragland of Maggio & Kattar in Washington, D.C. Copies of the complaint and exhibits are available from Maggio & Kattar.
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The University of Nebraska at Lincoln is a state land-grant university and is Nebraska’s primary research and doctoral degree-granting institution.
SOURCE: Jewish Journal (3-6-07)
But Pipes' words are not so laid-back. The 57-year-old Harvard-educated Middle East expert is one of the most prominent scholars to have warned of the growing threat of fundamentalist Muslim terrorism to the West before the Sept. 11 attacks. He has become a lightening rod for some Muslims as well as other critics, in part because he predicts that radical Islam is a far greater threat than most people would like to imagine. The United States, he says, must gird itself for a protracted struggle against an enemy that wants nothing less than to transform this country from a beacon of democracy into a repressive Islamic state.
"You name it, radical Islam is anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, anti-female, anti-moderate Muslim and anti anyone who disagrees with it," said Pipes, who is Jewish. "Anyone in their way is their enemy."
Pipes calls himself a "soldier" in the war against Islamic fundamentalism; he is founder and director of the Middle East Forum -- a Philadelphia think tank that publishes Middle East Quarterly -- and he has written hundreds of newspaper columns, appeared countless times on Fox News and CNN and traveled the globe, including a recent trip to England to debate London Mayor Ken Livingstone with the purpose of warning of the growing danger. He soon plans to unveil Islamist Watch, a Web site which he describes as an attempt to monitor nonviolent radical Islam in the West.
Pipes gets nearly 3 million visits annually to his Web site, making him, if not exactly a household name, then at least one of the most prominent anti-Islamists on the scene.
"It used to be that people would ask him if he was related to me," said Pipes' father, Richard Pipes, professor emeritus of Russian history at Harvard and a former policy adviser to President Ronald Reagan. "Now, it's the other way around."
Like his father, Daniel Pipes has a reputation for bluntness and a willingness to go against conventional wisdom -- both in the academy and elsewhere. Whereas Richard Pipes sounded the alarm against appeasing the Soviets, Daniel Pipes preaches against working with radical Muslims, no matter how law-abiding, scholarly or open-minded they might appear.
Instead, "like David Duke and Louis Farrakhan," Pipes said, "Islamists should be ostracized socially and politically."
He favors the profiling of Muslims at U.S. airports.
Pipes has come to Pepperdine to teach a graduate seminar on "Islam & Politics." During his time in Southern California, he is also speaking about the war on terror and the Arab-Israeli conflict at a number of local institutions. In late February, Pipes gave a talk at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino; on March 29, he will speak at Sinai Temple.
His supporters believe that Pipes provides an invaluable service.
"Without Daniel Pipes, we would never be able to prepare ourselves to face the enemy," said Tashbih Sayyed, the editor in chief of Pakistan Today and Muslim World Today, weekly newspapers that oppose militant Islam. "We would be standing unprepared and unarmed, just like a sitting duck."
Pipes, said Robert Spencer, founder of Jihad Watch and author of the New York Times bestseller "The Truth About Muhammad," is "one of the most heroic defenders in the United States against global jihad." However, Pipes' detractors call him paranoid, prone to conspiracy theories and anti-Islamic, though Pipes has long said, "Radical Islam is the problem, and moderate Islam is the solution."
On Jan. 31, dozens of members of the Muslim Student Union interrupted a speech he was delivering at UC Irvine before they stormed out in protest. In 2003, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil rights group that Pipes has characterized as a Saudi-funded, pro-Hamas Islamist outfit, led efforts to block his nomination by President Bush to the board of the U.S. Institute of Peace.
After several senators opposed Pipes, including Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who said that Pipes' record "did not reflect a commitment to bridging differences and preventing conflict," the White House made a recess appointment, which allowed Pipes to serve for 16 months.
UCLA law professor Khaled Abou El Fadl, author of "The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam From the Extremists," and a presidential appointee to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, described Pipes at the start of his career as a "promising scholar" of Islamic history, who has since lost his perspective.
"Pipes has grown ... more suspicious and more alarmist," said El Fadl, whom Pipes has called a stealth Islamist. "His whole recent work has turned to a critique of Islam based on conspiracy theory."
Driven largely by a desire to discredit Muslim critics of Israel, Pipes is "clearly opposed to the interests of the American Muslim community and would do anything in his power, I believe, to prevent the political and social empowerment of American Muslims," said Ibrahim Hooper, national spokesman for CAIR.
Stephen Suleyman Schwartz, executive director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism, a Washington D.C.-based think tank that promotes moderate Islam, said groups such as CAIR "smear" Pipes, because he exposes the dangers they pose.
Yet, Pipes' critics have failed to derail him. With untiring zeal, he works to blunt what he sees as the threat of radical Islam wherever it crops up. A recent crusade involved a seemingly minor issue at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
For years, some Muslim cab drivers had refused to pick up passengers visibly carrying alcohol, typically in duty free bags, because of religious considerations. The situation had inherent frictions, as the cabbies who turned down the fares had to return to the back of the cab line, while the riders who had been denied service sometimes felt angry and confused as to why the drivers had bypassed them.
To resolve the problem, the Metropolitan Airports Commission came up with a proposal: Drivers unwilling to carry clients carrying alcohol could have a second light on the roof of their cabs that would indicate their intentions. The cabbies would no longer have to go back to the end of the line, and customers would be more informed.
After the national media picked up on the issue, however, the commission began to receive complaints that Muslim drivers were getting special treatment. Pipes ratcheted the pressure even further when he wrote an opinion piece for the New York Sun, published last Oct. 10 and posted on his Web site, blasting the proposed program.
"Why stop with alcohol?" Pipes asked in his op-ed. "Muslim taxi drivers in several countries already balk at allowing seeing-eye dogs in their cars. Future demands could include not transporting women with exposed arms or hair, homosexuals and unmarried couples."
In the end, the commission scrapped the plan. Instead of accommodating the Muslim drivers, who make up an estimated 70 percent of the airport's 900 drivers, the commission recently announced that it plans to conduct a public hearing to consider increasing penalties for taxi drivers who refuse service to customers at the airport.
"I'm sure [Pipes] helped bring attention to" the issue, said Patrick Hogan, public affairs director for the Metropolitan Airports Commission.
James Zogby, founder and president of the influential Arab American Institute in Washington, D.C., an organization that serves as the political and policy arm of the Arab American community, accuses Pipes of seeing threats where none exist, and said Pipes' "disinformation" fuels suspicions about American Muslims and Arabs.
"He is obsessed, in a not healthy way, with all things Arab and Muslim," Zogby said.
Pipes grew up outside of Boston, and as a child was reserved and bookish, devouring classics in his free time. As a student at Harvard, he experienced a political and academic awakening.
He initially hoped to become a mathematician, but said he found the material too abstract. Trips to Niger and Tunisia piqued his interest in the Islamic world, and he changed his major to Middle East history.
During his college years, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Harvard, like many universities nationwide, was a hotbed of protest and anti-war activism. After some students took over an administrative building, Pipes felt alienated by what he describes as their "wild-eyed, untenable views." Foreshadowing his later experiences as a professor, he found himself feeling isolated -- a conservative in a liberal, even radical, environment.
After graduating in 1971, Pipes spent nearly three years in Cairo. He learned Arabic and studied the Quran, which he said gave him an appreciation for Islam. His experience in Egypt led him to pursue a doctorate in early Islamic history at Harvard.
His parents, he said, initially questioned his career choice.
"They said, 'How will you ever make a living at that?'" Pipes said, with a laugh.
Yet in 1979, a year after he completed his doctorate, the overthrow of the Shah of Iran by radical Islamists made the field of Islamic studies seem more pertinent. Career opportunities opened up, and between 1978 and 1986, Pipes taught courses at the University of Chicago, Harvard and the Naval War College. But, even at this early date, his conservative politics, including his implacable anti-Islamist views, put him "at such odds with the consensus in the field that I would not have the kind of opportunities that I would have wanted," he said.
In 1986, Pipes moved to Philadelphia to run the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a conservative think tank. Eight years later, he founded the Middle East Forum, a pro-Israel, pro-Turkey think tank that today has an annual budget of about $1 million and a staff of 16.
In the 1990s, Pipes and terrorism expert Steven Emerson began publicizing the rising dangers of radical Islam. Few heeded their warnings. In 1998, Pipes wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal Europe in which he said that "a state of war exists between them [radical Muslims] and the West, mainly America, not because of the American response but because radical fundamentalist Muslims see themselves in a long-term conflict with Western values."
Post-Sept. 11, much more of the world began listening to what Pipes has to say. And what he is saying now might surprise those who accuse him of cynically fear-mongering for profit.
"I expect that before too long, Muslims will see that this is not the way for them and try something else," Pipes said. "Let's hope it's something more progressive and functional."
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Education (3-6-07)
Jacques Le Goff will receive the $1-million prize for achievements that benefit understanding of the past, in recognition of contributions to his discipline over the past half century. Mr. Le Goff, who is a chief editor of the history journal Annales: Histoire, Sciences Sociales (Annals: History and Social Science) has published more than 30 books and edited 15 others. He is also a former director and chair of the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences), in Paris.
Mr. Le Goff's ability to study the past "while keeping a constant eye on the great questions of the present ... helps explain why his abundant accomplishments as a scholar have been so widely received and why they continue to be so important today," the prize's committee said in a written announcement.
The awards for achievements that benefit the present and achievements that hold promise for the future each carry a $1-million prize as well...
SOURCE: Martin Kramer at his blog, Sandstorm (3-5-07)
The British historian Robert Irwin is the sort of scholar who, in times past, would have been proud to call himself an Orientalist.
The traditional Orientalist was someone who mastered difficult languages like Arabic and Persian and then spent years bent over manuscripts in heroic efforts of decipherment and interpretation. In Dangerous Knowledge, Irwin relates that the 19th-century English Arabist Edward William Lane, compiler of the great Arabic-English Lexicon, “used to complain that he had become so used to the cursive calligraphy of his Arabic manuscripts that he found Western print a great strain on his eyes.” Orientalism in its heyday was a branch of knowledge as demanding and rigorous as its near cousin, Egyptology. The first International Congress of Orientalists met in 1873; its name was not changed until a full century later.
But there are no self-declared Orientalists today. The reason is that the late Edward Said turned the word into a pejorative. In his 1978 book Orientalism, the Palestinian-born Said, a professor of comparative literature at Columbia University, claimed that an endemic Western prejudice against the East had congealed into a modern ideology of racist supremacy—a kind of anti-Semitism directed against Arabs and Muslims. Throughout Europe’s history, announced Said, “every European, in what he could say about the Orient, was a racist, an imperialist, and almost totally ethnocentric.”
In a semantic sleight of hand, Said appropriated the term “Orientalism” as a label for the ideological prejudice he described, thereby neatly implicating the scholars who called themselves Orientalists. At best, charged Said, the work of these scholars was biased so as to confirm the inferiority of Islam. At worst, Orientalists had directly served European empires, showing proconsuls how best to conquer and control Muslims. To substantiate his indictment, Said cherry-picked evidence, ignored whatever contradicted his thesis, and filled the gaps with conspiracy theories.
Said’s Orientalism, Irwin writes, “seems to me to be a work of malignant charlatanry in which it is hard to distinguish honest mistakes from willful misrepresentations.” Dangerous Knowledge is its refutation. An Arabist by training, Irwin artfully weaves together brief profiles of great Orientalist scholars, generously spiced with telling anecdotes. From his narrative, Said’s straw men emerge as complex individuals touched by genius, ambition—and no little sympathy for the subjects of their study.
Some of the Orientalist pioneers were quintessential insiders. Thus, Silvestre de Sacy founded the great 19th-century school of Arabic studies in Paris; Bonaparte made him a baron, and he became a peer of France under the monarchy. Carl Heinrich Becker, who brought sociology into Islamic studies, served as a cabinet minister in the Weimar government. But it was marginal men who made the most astonishing advances. Ignaz Goldziher, a Hungarian Jew, revolutionized Islamic studies a century ago by applying the methods of higher criticism to the Muslim oral tradition. Slaving away as the secretary of the reformist Neolog Jewish community in Budapest, Goldziher made his breakthroughs at the end of long workdays.
Some great scholars were quite mad. In the 16th century, Guillaume Postel, a prodigy who occupied the first chair of Arabic at the Collège de France, produced Europe’s first grammar of classical Arabic. Irwin describes him as “a complete lunatic”—an enthusiast of all things esoteric and Eastern who believed himself to be possessed by a female divinity. Four centuries later, Louis Massignon, another French great at the Collège, claimed to have experienced a visitation by God and plunged into the cult of a Sufi mystic. When lucid, Massignon commanded a vast knowledge of Islam and Arabic, but he held an unshakable belief in unseen forces, including Jewish plots of world domination.
Above all, many Orientalists became fervent advocates for Arab and Islamic political causes, long before notions like third-worldism and post-colonialism entered the political lexicon. Goldziher backed the Urabi revolt against foreign control of Egypt. The Cambridge Iranologist Edward Granville Browne became a one-man lobby for Persian liberty during Iran’s constitutional revolution in the early 20th century. Prince Leone Caetani, an Italian Islamicist, opposed his country’s occupation of Libya, for which he was denounced as a “Turk.” And Massignon may have been the first Frenchman to take up the Palestinian Arab cause.
Two truths emerge from a stroll through Irwin’s gallery. First, Orientalist scholars, far from mystifying Islam, freed Europe from medieval myths about it through their translations and studies of original Islamic texts. Second, most Orientalists, far from being agents of empire, were bookish dons and quirky eccentrics. When they did venture opinions on mundane matters, it was usually to criticize Western imperialism and defend something Islamic or Arab. In fact, it would be easy to write a contrary indictment of the Orientalists, showing them to be wooly-minded Islamophiles who suffered from what the late historian Elie Kedourie once called “the romantic belief that exquisite mosques and beautiful carpets are proof of political virtue.”
In other words, Edward Said got it exactly wrong. Other scholars said as much in the years after his book came out; Irwin’s critique echoes those made by Jacques Berque, Malcolm Kerr, Bernard Lewis, and Maxime Rodinson. These doyens of Islamic and Arab studies came from radically different points on the political compass, but they all found the same flaws in Said’s presentation. Even Albert Hourani, the Middle East historian closest to Said personally, thought that Orientalism had gone “too far” and regretted that its most lasting effect was to turn “a perfectly respected discipline” into “a dirty word.”
Yet the criticisms did not stick; what stuck was the dirt thrown by Said. Not only did Orientalism sweep the general humanities, where ignorance of the history of Orientalism was (and is) widespread; not only did it help to create the faux-academic discipline now known as post-colonialism; but the book’s thesis also conquered the field of Middle Eastern studies itself, where scholars should have known better. No other discipline has ever surrendered so totally to an external critic.
As it happens, I witnessed a minute that perfectly compressed the results of this process. In 1998, to mark the 20th anniversary of the publication of Orientalism, the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) invited Said to address a plenary panel at its annual conference. As Said ascended the dais, his admirers leaped to their feet in an enthusiastic ovation. Then, somewhat hesitantly at first, the rest of the audience stood and began to applaud. Fixed in my seat, I surveyed the ballroom, watching scholars whom I had heard privately damn Orientalism for its libel against their field now rising sheepishly and casting sideways glances to see who might behold their gesture of submission.
This may help us understand something in Irwin’s account that might otherwise leave a reader bewildered. Why should Said have singled out for attack a group of scholars who had done so much to increase understanding of Islam, and who had tirelessly explained Muslim views to a self-absorbed West? The answer: for the same reason that radicals usually attack the moderates on their own side. They know they can browbeat them into doing much more.
By exposing and exaggerating a few of the field’s insignificant lapses, Orientalism stunned Middle East academics into a paroxysm of shame. Exploiting those pangs of guilt, Said’s radical followers demanded concession upon concession from the Orientalist establishment: academic appointments and promotions, directorships of Middle East centers and departments, and control of publishing decisions, grants, and honors. Within a startling brief period of time, a small island of liberal sympathy for the Arab and Muslim “other” was transformed into a subsidized, thousand-man lobby for Arab, Islamic, and Palestinian causes.
The revolution did not stop until Said was universally acclaimed as the savior of Middle Eastern studies and, in that ballroom where I sat in 1998, virtually the entire membership of MESA had been corralled into canonizing him. It did not stop until he was elected an honorary fellow of the association—that is, one of ten select scholars “who have made major contributions to Middle East studies.” (No similar majority could be mustered to accord the same honor to Bernard Lewis.) It would not stop until it achieved the abject abasement of the true heirs of the Orientalist tradition.
This is the missing final chapter of Dangerous Knowledge. The established scholars in Middle Eastern studies never did deliver the crushing blow to Orientalism that it deserved. With the exception of Bernard Lewis, no one went on the warpath against the book (although, according to Irwin, the anthropologist Ernest Gellner was working on a “book-long attack” on Orientalism when he died in 1995). Going up against Said involved too much professional risk. He himself was famous for avenging every perceived slight, and his fiercely loyal followers denounced even the mildest criticism of their hero as evidence of “latent Orientalism”—or, worse yet, Zionism.
Still, the power of Said and his legions did begin to wane somewhat after the attacks of 9/11. Said had systematically soft-pedaled the threat of radical Islam. In a pre-9/11 revised edition of Said’s Covering Islam, a book devoted to exposing the allegedly biased reporting of the Western press, he mocked “speculations about the latest conspiracy to blow up buildings, sabotage commercial airliners, and poison water supplies.” After the planes struck the towers, Said declined to answer his phone. Irwin writes that when, unrepentant, he finally responded, “he put the terrorists’ case for them, just as he had put the case for Saddam Hussein.” September 11 broke Said’s spell. “Does this mean I’m throwing my copy of Orientalism out the window?” quipped Richard Bulliet, a professor of Islamic history at Columbia, in the week following the attacks. “Maybe it does.”
Since Said’s death in 2003, more doubters have found the courage to speak out. Some of Columbia’s own students did so in 2005, when they took on a number of Said’s most extreme acolytes, whom he had helped to embed as instructors in the university’s department of Middle East studies. Irwin’s Dangerous Knowledge is a challenge to that minority of scholars in the field who still preserve a spark of integrity and some vestige of pride in the tradition of learning that Said defamed. They won’t ever call themselves Orientalists again. But it is high time they denounced the Saidian cult for the fraud that it is, and began to unseat it. Irwin has told the truth; it is their responsibility to act on it.
SOURCE: Poughkeepsie Journal (3-3-07)
"Arthur Schlesinger is kind of unique," said David Woolner, a professor of U.S. history at Marist College in Poughkeepsie and executive director of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute.
"He's a historian who be- came much more than an historian. Because of his tremendous grasp of American history, he really shaped his times."
Schlesinger was one of the founding members of the Roosevelt Institute, which began in 1987. Based at the FDR presidential library and museum in Hyde Park, the institute is the nonprofit fundraising arm of the library as well as an advocacy organization for the Roosevelt ideals.
William vanden Heuvel, another founding member and chairman emeritus of the institute, said he lost a close friend of 50 years when Schlesinger died of a heart attack at 89 in New York City.
"He was a most cherished friend," vanden Heuvel said from his New York City office. He said he saw Schlesinger only two days ago.
"He was a towering figure of our times and it was an immense privilege to have known him."....
SOURCE: Tartan (Carnegie-Mellon University), "Pillbox" (3-5-07)
Lerner has not only devoted her life to raising awareness of women’s history in America; she’s lived through harrowing and challenging times herself. Born in 1920 in Austria, Lerner spent almost two months in a Nazi prison as a young girl. When she escaped to America in 1939, it was without her family. As a refugee, Lerner struggled alone to forge a life for herself. She later married Hollywood film editor and director Carl Lerner, and the couple fought to unionize the film industry and put an end to Hollywood blacklisting. Lerner also joined the Congress of American Women, a group devoted to economic and social issues facing American women, and worked for civil rights and education issues in New York.
At age 38, Lerner returned to school, eventually earning her Ph.D. in history from Columbia University. Her work in academia is geared toward gaining recognition for those overlooked in American history by promoting a deeper understanding of women’s history and expanding the profile of both African-American and lower-class women. Lerner taught courses on women’s history at Long Island University, Columbia University, the New School for Social Research, and at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where she now teaches as professor emerita of history. At Sarah Lawrence College, Lerner created the nation’s first master’s program in women’s history; she later created the nation’s first Ph.D. program in the same field at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
Lerner’s lecture last Wednesday night reflected her ongoing passion for women’s rights — not only as a field in academia, but as a concern in contemporary American society. The lecture addressed popular misconceptions about the backgrounds of women involved in the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, the first women’s rights convention held in the United States. Lerner praised the convention for its revolutionary impact, but thought many important details about its organizers have been glossed over in the public’s “long forgetting and short remembering of women’s history in America.” The organizers, Lerner stated, had more religious affiliation and far more previous organizational experience than is commonly acknowledged.
Sonya Barclay, a graduate student in Carnegie Mellon’s history department, reminisced about an inspiring experience she had with Lerner as an undergraduate. “This world-class historian, this big name, had a seminar with all these undergrads, and sat down at a table with a notebook and pencil and took down all of our names and interests,” she said. “That’s a model of a real scholar. Real scholars want to know what students have to say.”...
SOURCE: BBC (3-5-07)
He was the author of more than 100 works of fiction, history and biography - the most recent published a year ago.
Mr Troyat was born into an Armenian family in Moscow, but his businessman father fled the Russian revolution, and the family eventually settled in Paris.
He wrote in French but many of his works dealt with Russian subjects.
He won his first literary award at the age of 24, le prix du roman populaire. At the age of 27 he was awarded the prestigious Prix Goncourt.
His biographies of writers and monarchs included Anton Chekov, Catherine the Great, Rasputin, Ivan the Terrible and Leo Tolstoy.
At the time of his death, announced in the French newspaper Le Figaro on Monday, he was the dean of the Academie Francaise.
SOURCE: David Glenn in the Chronicle of Higher Ed (3-9-07)
He would like to carry his study forward into the Carter and Reagan eras, but he is daunted by the obstacles that lie ahead. Only 18 percent of the 44 million documents at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library have been processed.
If Mr. Mieczkowski wants to search for material in unprocessed documents, he can file a request under the Freedom of Information Act, but the average wait for such requests at the Reagan Library is estimated to be five years. A young scholar's tenure-review period could come and go in the time it takes to do a book's worth of research in the newer presidential libraries.
"An archivist told me that a book on Reagan like my book on Ford would be very difficult to do at this point in time," Mr. Mieczkowski says.
There are many reasons for the slow pace of presidential-archive research: The National Archives and Records Administration, which staffs the libraries, is chronically short of funds for hiring archivists. The amount of material in the recent libraries is so vast that it would take years to process even if the number of archivists were tripled. And the Presidential Records Act of 1978, which governs the libraries from Reagan's forward, requires many research requests to be filed through the Freedom of Information Act. Archivists complain that they spend most of their time complying with complex FOIA requests.
But there is another potential barrier that has infuriated many scholars: In 2001, President George W. Bush issued an executive order that gives ex-presidents and current presidents significantly more power to withhold documents from the public.
Only 11 documents totaling 64 pages have been withheld so far under the order, but scholars complain that the extra review adds an average of 240 days to the time it takes to release certain presidential papers. (The National Archives disagrees, asserting that the extra review process takes an average of 170 days.)...
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Education (3-9-07)
Mr. Naftali is not poised to unveil the next YouTube. He has not invented a better version of Wikipedia. He is not, in the usual sense, a businessman at all. He is a cold-war historian with degrees from Yale, Johns Hopkins, and Harvard.
And as of October 2006, he became the first federally appointed director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum — or rather the director in waiting, because the library has not yet formally come under federal oversight.
Sometime this summer, if all goes according to plan, it will become the 12th institution to be accepted into the system of presidential libraries run by the National Archives and Records Administration. The exact date depends on the completion of facilities for Mr. Naftali and his staff. How smooth a transition the library makes from privately controlled shrine to public archive — and whether it can get past a legacy almost as controversial as that of its namesake — depends, in part, on how convincing a salesman Mr. Naftali proves to be.
He signed on for the job with the understanding that he "couldn't run a shrine," he says. "I'm a professional historian. I'm an empiricist. I'm not a Republican. And I see these institutions, these presidential libraries, as a place of learning and debate and discussion."...
Because of the legal roadblocks Nixon was able to throw up, as recently as 1991 the public had access to only 60 of the roughly 3,000 hours of White House tapes that exist. In the early 1990s, a frustrated University of Wisconsin historian named Stanley I. Kutler and the public-interest group Public Citizen sued the National Archives to force it to open the remaining tapes. As a result of that lawsuit, settled in 1996, some 2,019 hours of tape have been released, according to John Powers, supervisory archivist at the Nixon Presidential Materials Project.
But for researchers eager to get their hands on fresh material, the pace can feel glacial. The archivists are working their way through the final group of tapes — more than a thousand hours' worth, Mr. Powers reports — but no newly processed tape has been released since 2003.
Mr. Naftali believes that"it's important to get back in the tape-release business," and that he has a role to play."I can set priorities," he says."I can set goals for processing materials that the National Archives controls."...
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Education (3-5-07)
But as it turns out, Essjay's story was a bit too good to be true. In fact, the Wikipedia editor doesn't even hold a doctorate: He's a 24-year-old named Ryan Jordan, and he has never taught a class in his life, according to WebProNews. (Mr. Jordan was recently hired by Wikia, a for-profit Web venture associated with Wikipedia.)
On his own Wikipedia "user talk" page, Mr. Jordan apologized, but said he created the false identity to protect him from critics who make a point to publicize the names of Wikipedia contributors. Some Wikipedians were quick to offer support to Essjay, but others were harshly critical. A few people even suggested Mr. Jordan be banned from posting to the encyclopedia.
But Jimmy Wales, the Wikipedian whose opinion matters the most, strongly defended the beleaguered editor. "EssJay has always been, and still is, a fantastic editor and trusted member of the community," wrote Wikipedia's chief. "He has been thoughtful and contrite about the entire matter, and I consider it settled."...
SOURCE: Independent (UK) (3-5-07)
It may have been produced when Lady Jane, the queen who ruled for nine days, was living in royal lodgings at the Tower of London where, instead of being crowned, she was executed in February 1554.
The tiny picture will go on display tomorrow as part of an exhibition of newly discovered royal Tudor portraits organised by the London art dealer Philip Mould.
The remarkable discovery is likely to fuel speculation about a painting believed to be Lady Jane Grey, but painted after her death, which was acquired by the National Portrait Gallery for £100,000 last year.
SOURCE: Daniel Pipes at FrontpageMag.com (3-5-07)
Tariq Ramadan accuses me of lying, a charge I take seriously. But, as so often is the case with Islamists and other totalitarians, the accuser himself stands accused.
Ramadan sat in the audience during my debate with Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London, on January 20, 2007, and heard me call on Westerners to help build a moderate Islam. Addressing the mayor, I suggested (as can be read in the transcript,"Radical Islam vs. Civilization") that moderate Islam
can be achieved not via the get-along multiculturalism that you propose, but by standing firm with our civilized allies around the globe, and especially with liberal voices in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with Iranian dissidents, and reformers in Afghanistan.
I also propose standing with their counterparts in the West, with such individuals as … Magdi Allam, an Egyptian who is now a leading Italian journalist; Naser Khader, a parliamentarian in Denmark; Salim Mansur, a professor and author in Canada, and Irfan Al-Alawi, an activist here in Britain.
Professor Daniel Pipes spoke about moderate Muslim and by the way, he mentioned this morning about an Egyptian Copt as moderate Muslim in his debate. Professor Ramadan said,"The fact he was mentioning was wrong. He was lying. By the way, he is a Copt. He is an Egyptian Christian. But he has an Arab name."
Note two initial points here: (1) Ramadan does not say I was mistaken in identifying Allam as a Muslim, but that I"was lying." He thus implies I know Allam to be Christian but deceptively called him a Muslim. Strong words on Ramadan's part. (2) Strange words, actually, given that I did not, either in the above excerpt or anywhere else in my London talk, identify Allam as a Muslim, only as a one of several" civilized allies." Ramadan gratuitously inserted me into an obscure argument over Allam's religious adherence.
And Magdi Allam himself, a leading figure at the Corriere della Sera newspaper, what does he say about his faith? (I thank Lorenzo Vidino for help with the following information.) Allam published an autobiography Vincere la paura. La mia vita contro il terrorismo islamico e l'incoscienza dell'Occidente ("Winning Fear: My life against Muslim terrorism and Western innocence") in 2005 in which he wrote at length (pp. 18-52) about his childhood in Egypt, where he was born to parents who both identified themselves as Muslims and was raised a Muslim. A few quotes make this point evident:
"The Islam that I have lived, the Islam in which I was born and raised..." ("L'islam che ho vissuto, l'islam in cui sono nato e cresciuto..."), p. 27.
"My mother, who has always been a practicing Muslim, ..." ("Mia madre, che e' sempre stata una musulmana praticante, ..."), p. 32.
"My parents were both Muslims, they believed in the same God and shared the same set of values and culture" ("I miei genitori erano entambi musulmani, credevano nello stesso Dio e condividevano il medesimo sistema di valori e culturale"), p. 37.
Allam acknowledges thinking about conversion to Christianity on moving to Italy so as to fit in better, but he never took this step. He has no links to the Copts. The publisher's blurb for Vincere la paura sums up Allam's self-presentation:"Magdi Allam describes himself as a secular Muslim born and raised in Nasser's Egypt" ("Magdi Allam racconta se stesso, musulmano laico nato e cresciuto nell'Egitto di Nasser)."
Whence, then, Ramadan's calumny about Allam being a Copt? Because of bad blood between the two men, both Europeans of Egyptian origin. For example, Allam's autobiography includes an"Open Letter to Tariq Ramadan" ("Lettera aperta a Tariq Ramadan") that exposes Ramadan as an extremist and because Allam refused to appear with Ramadan, the latter was denied an award from the PEN American Center.
Ramadan has allies in this claim, such as the Unione delle Comunità ed Organizzazioni Islamiche in Italia ("Union of the Communities and Organizations Muslims in Italy") and one Miguel Martinez, a polemicist engaged in a sustained campaign to malign and discredit Allam.
At minimum, casting Allam as a Copt blunts his important anti-Islamist voice. Maximally, identifying him as an apostate from Islam endangers his life. It is no secret that Allam makes no move without his multiple, around-the-clock, state-supplied bodyguards by his side. Ramadan, to his permanent shame, is party to this endangerment of a brave and creative Muslim thinker.
So, to review: Magdi Allam was born a Muslim, grew up a Muslim, and identifies today as a Muslim. But Ramadan deems him a Christian. I called for standing by Allam. Ramadan says I"was lying."
Dear Reader: Who do you consider the liar here?
A hint: This is not Ramadan's first public entanglement with the truth. Two other cases include:
SOURCE: Britannica Blog (3-2-07)
In examining Arthur’s brilliant accomplishments, it should be recognized that his attachment to his father—a magnificent historian, too—was complete all his life. Not long after Kennedy’s assassination I had occasion to ask Arthur Sr. if his son was going to return to Harvard. (Arthur Sr. and I were serving together at the time on the National Historical Publications Commission, he having been appointed by President Truman and I by President Johnson.) “No,” he replied, “Arthur has always regarded Cambridge as a backwater.” I told this to Arthur one day at lunch a few years ago when he was working on the second volume of his autobiography. He seemed considerably distressed to hear that his father had reported this about him.
Arthur will be missed sorely not only by historians but by all who love good books–and liberalism.
SOURCE: Jewish Press (2-28-07)
By now just about everyone in the Jewish world has heard about the blood libel affair that has emerged from Bar Ilan University in Israel. It involves a professor of history there, Ariel Toaff, who claims that Jews used gentile blood for ritual purposes in Italy in the Middle Ages.
Last week, The Jewish Press ran a letter by Prof. Toaff in which he wrote inter alia:"In light of the false and distorted interpretation given to my recently published book, I have requested the Italian publishing house El Molino to immediately stop further distribution of the book in order that I may re-edit those passages which comprised the basis of the distortions and falsehoods that have been published in the media. I was astounded by the sheer force of these misrepresentations, which turned what is a research book into a vehicle used to harm Judaism and the Jewish people and, God forbid, as a justification for blood libel."
He added that he apologizes to those who have been offended by his"research" and offered to donate royalties from this book to the Anti-Defamation League.
All very nice, except that Toaff has not really repudiated any of his false claims. The real scandal in all of this has to do with academic fraud, pseudo-scholarship and lies. Toaff's posturing notwithstanding, the problem is not that the media have"distorted" Toaff's claims, but rather that Toaff made fraudulent claims in the first place, based largely on" confessions" made by Jews being tortured in Inquisition courts.
It was Toaff who assigned the decidedly undistorted title to the book that states everything needed to know about it: Pasque di Sangue, or Passover of Blood. His promise to send any royalties to the ADL that he may or may not receive is a worthless gesture.
To put this matter into perspective, let me emphasize that Toaff would not be the first academic in Israel to produces anti-Jewish materials that are picked up and utilized by anti-Semites. Israel has scores, if not hundreds, of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel radical faculty members. Many of these are documented at www.israel-academia-monitor.com. What is unusual in the Toaff affair is that it comes out of Bar Ilan University, a school established mainly to serve Orthodox Jewish student and that is now refusing to take disciplinary action against a professor publishing fraudulent material about Jews.
There are numerous precedents from all over the democratic world of universities firing tenured professors for fraud and for open promotion of lunatic, obviously false"theories." Several Holocaust deniers have been fired from tenured jobs, with France's Robert Faurrison perhaps the most notorious. (Of course, there are open Holocaust deniers who have been allowed to retain academic jobs.)
Professors promoting offensive ideas or exhibiting behavior offensive to their employers have been fired in the U.S. Professors have been stripped of tenure for the mere expression of crackpot ideas in American universities. The University of Colorado's Ward Churchill, who justified the 9/11 attacks and called the victims inside the WTC towers"Little Eichmanns" was removed from a number of campus positions and may well be fired altogether.
Similarly, academics caught committing explicit fraud have been fired and dismissed from academic positions. Luk van Parijs was fired from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for fraud, as were a professor in the UK and an economics professor in Northern Kentucky. Even people willing to defend the most offensive campus opinions in the name of"academic freedom" generally agree that a professor should be fired if he commits fraud. Professors in Western countries who have endorsed or collaborated with terrorism have also been fired.
Within Israel, there have been some well-known cases of blatant fraud in research by Israeli academics. The most famous is the notorious Tantura story pushed by Dr. Ilan Pappe and his MA student Teddy Katz. Katz fabricated a massacre of Arabs in the town of Tantura south of Haifa, supposedly perpetrated by the Palmach Jewish militia in 1948.
Not a scrap of evidence of any such massacre exists. Katz was sued for libel by the veterans association of the Palmach unit in question. In court and under counsel from his attorney, Katz confessed that he had fabricated the massacre, but later renounced his own confession. Pappe, for his part, continues to tout the non-existent massacre in anti-Israel propaganda outlets all over the world.
There is some precedent for firing tenured faculty in Israel when fraud has been committed. An associate professor of anthropology was fired by the Hebrew University when it was discovered that she'd published fraudulent research. A half-hearted but unsuccessful attempt was even made within the University of Haifa, where Ilan Pappe is employed, to get Pappe stripped of his tenure and fired.
All of which brings us back to the case of Toaff. Had these merely been the charlatan claims of an Islamist extremist or some other garden variety anti-Semite, no one would have paid them any attention. But as every neo-Nazi website on the planet has already publicized with jubilation, here we have an Italian-Israeli"scholar" who has published a book that claims Jews in the Middle Ages engaged in ritual murder and used Christian blood for religious rites.
True, Toaff says the Jews in question were heterodox sectarians from outside the established Jewish community, but that is not exactly a serious reason for treating Toaff with any leniency.
Toaff's book is a complete fraud, at least the sections in it about blood rituals (and they raise serious doubts about all the rest of Toaff's"research"). Of course, no Jew has ever used blood, human or animal, for ritual purposes, other than animal sacrifices in the Temple of Solomon. Nevertheless Toaff writes:"Over many dozens of pages I proved the centrality of blood on Passover. Based on many sermons, I concluded that blood was used, especially by Ashkenazi Jews, and that there was a belief in the special curative powers of children's blood. It turns out that among the remedies of Ashkenazi Jews were powders made of blood."
Toaff claims that"a black market flourished on both sides of the Alps, with Jewish merchants selling human blood, complete with rabbinic certification of the product - kosher blood." Here is the son of a rabbi who apparently does not know that blood of any sort can never be kosher.
Toaff's fraud has been universally denounced by Jews and Christians. Even Israeli secularists were outraged. Writing in Yediot Aharonot, Sever Plocker (a leftist) wrote: 'Professor Toaff's book has nothing whatsoever to do with academic freedom.
The man raised an unfounded argument, which was rejected outright by the world's finest historians and experts on the period the book refers to. The blood libel against the Jews has remained an evil plot."
Meanwhile, Bar Ilan University officials, facing a worldwide explosion of rage, have politely distanced themselves from Toaff. But they have not taken any serious action against him, have not stripped him of his tenure for fraud nor fired him, and in fact have been going out of their way to circle the wagons and defend Toaff's"academic freedom." Suddenly lies and fraud are protected academic scholarship at Bar Ilan.
As noted, Toaff has offered to pull the book off the shelves for a little while in order to insert some" clarifications." The problem is not deficient clarity but rather all-too-clear anti-Semitic lies. His duplicitous"apology" aside, Toaff is sticking to his guns about his main claims, and told the Jerusalem Post he would not repudiate them even if it means"he gets crucified" (his words). Accusing Jews of being behind crucifixion is of course entirely consistent with his brand of scholarship.
Toaff's shenanigans illustrate perfectly why Israeli universities are sinking into a quagmire of mediocrity and how the unwillingness to act against charlatans and fraud is destroying Israeli academia.
SOURCE: NYT (3-4-07)
With the death last week of Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., at 89, America lost its last great public historian. The notion may sound strange, given the appetite, as voracious as at any time in recent memory, for serious works of history, and in particular the vogue for lengthy, often massively detailed biographies of the founders and of presidents.
But Mr. Schlesinger performed a different function. He stood at the forefront of a remarkable generation of academic historians. Richard Hofstadter, who died in 1970, and C. Vann Woodward, who died in 1999, were its other towering figures. All three, reciprocal admirers, wrote classic works that reanimated the past even as they rummaged in it for clues to understanding, if not solving, the most pressing political questions of the present. As a result, new books by these historians often generated excitement and conveyed an urgency felt not only by other scholars but also by the broader population of informed readers.
“The Vital Center,” which Mr. Schlesinger expanded from an article he wrote for The New York Times Magazine in 1948, began with a ringing series of declarative sentences.
“Western man in the middle of the 20th century is tense, uncertain, adrift,” Mr. Schlesinger wrote. “We look upon our epoch as a time of troubles, an age of anxiety. The grounds of our civilization, of our certitude, are breaking up under our feet, and familiar ideas and institutions vanish as we reach for them, like shadows in the falling dusk.”...
Why do current historians [David McCullough, Gordon Wood, et al.] seem unable to engage the world as confidently as Mr. Schlesinger did?
One reason may have to do with an obvious but easily overlooked fact about Mr. Schlesinger’s sizable oeuvre. He wrote less often about the past than about the present — or the nearly present. His three-volume opus, “The Age of Roosevelt,” described events that occurred when Mr. Schlesinger was in his teens and 20s. His volumes on the Kennedys — “A Thousand Days,” about President Kennedy, and “Robert Kennedy and His Times” — were more current still, indeed full of news, since Mr. Schlesinger knew and worked intimately with both men....
But in truth Mr. McCullough and others as talented, or nearly so, don’t command the broad cultural authority that Mr. Schlesinger and his contemporaries did. Nor, for that matter, do academic historians like Gordon S. Wood and James M. McPherson, though their books resonate beyond the university.
The problem is not one of seriousness, intelligence or skill. It is rather one of reach. Mr. Wood’s “Radicalism of the American Revolution” is a major contribution to our understanding of its subject, and Mr. McPherson’s “Battle Cry of Freedom” enthralled readers. But neither work can be said to have affected how many of us think about current issues....
SOURCE: Sean Wilentz in the Guardian (3-1-07)
He was an extraordinary historian both as narrator and interpreter. A scholar is considered fortunate if one or two of his or her books gets recognized, and if that scholarship opens anew a particular field of study. Arthur's score of books earned much more recognition than that, and set the terms of study for three entire eras of American history, in the times of Andrew Jackson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy. But Arthur was also an extraordinary public citizen, a patriot in the sense of sacrificing his precious time and energy for the good of his party, his country, and the world. He would have written even more history had he not devoted so much of his time to writing speeches (for his favorite candidates as well as himself) and other citizenly duties. But then, without his political activity - defending liberalism from all comers, right and left - his historical writings would have suffered. Our politics would have suffered as well.
Many of Arthur's critics complained that his political opinions tainted his writing about the past, and robbed it of objectivity. The criticism was unfair. Arthur knew that objectivity is not the same thing as neutrality. He presented his historical arguments with abundant research and powerful logic, bidding others to challenge his conclusions. And he was always willing (with a graciousness uncommon among professors) to admit when he was wrong. He often quoted the great Dutch historian Pieter Geyl, that "history is argument without end". Historical truth, or its closest approximation, does not arise perfected from the writings of all-knowing, objective historians, but from those unceasing arguments....
SOURCE: National Review (3-2-07)
A week or two back, Schlesinger acknowledged to someone that he wasn’t quite on a par with his old self, his old self having been just fine until about age 86, three years ago, after which the decline began. He walked more slowly and, he said, his speech was not as fluent as usual.
Any reduction in his productivity must have been shattering to him, as to his many clients, beginning with Clio, the muse of history, which he served so diligently beginning with his first all-star history, The Age of Jackson, and going up to his last book, published a couple of years ago, deploring President Bush for one thing and another.
Schlesinger wrote serious studies, of the age not only of Jackson but also of Roosevelt and of Kennedy, for whom his enthusiasm was uncontainable. Arthur proceeded to write not one but three books on John F. Kennedy, whom he venerated. He lived with the risk entailed in following so uncritically the careers of his favorites. Professor Sidney Hook dismissed one of his Kennedy books as the work of a "court historian." Schlesinger minded the derogation not at all, so much did he cherish public controversy which cast him as maintaining the walls of the fortresses that protected his idols.
He was, I record regretfully, not very deft at close-up political infighting. I say this as the survivor of a half-dozen encounters designed, by Arthur, to kill, which failed. In one of them he hurled a sarcasm, saying of me, “He has a facility for rhetoric which I envy, as well as a wit which I seek clumsily and vainly to emulate.” I thought that so amusing, I copied the words exactly on the jacket of my next book as though they were a great, generous compliment. If you see what I mean about Arthur’s awkwardness in combat of this kind, he actually sued me and my publisher, drawing much attention to his careless use of sarcastic praise, and, of course, to my wit.
But we kept on bumping into each other with less than mortal exchanges, and I had to endure my wife’s huge affection for him, which unhappily did not quite effect a personal rapprochement. He died in New York on February 27, after being struck by a heart attack at dinner in a restaurant, and I think back on the lunch we shared after the funeral of Murray Kempton, and of the sheer jolliness of the great and productive historian when he didn’t feel that his gods were being profaned....
SOURCE: WaPo (3-2-07)
At lunch, he said he was planning to write the second volume of his autobiography. Yesterday, a spokesman for the publisher of the first part, Houghton Mifflin, said that as far as she knew a manuscript does not exist. The working title for Volume 2 was "Unfinished Business."
Maybe he did write one too many opinion pieces and appear on one too many interview shows. But, according to his son Robert, who lives in Alexandria, there are more works of Arthur Schlesinger Jr. that might be of interest to historians and history: years and years of personal diaries.
SOURCE: Vernon Horn at the AHA blog (3-2-07)
Beginning with the publication of The Age of Jackson in 1945, his work was often cited as a defense of New Deal politics, and he considered himself an unreconstructed liberal. He wrote extensively and often admiringly on Franklin Roosevelt and the Kennedy brothers. In the 1970s his The Imperial Presidency strongly criticized the presidency of Richard Nixon. In recent years he also wrote much against the war in Iraq, including the 2004 publication of War and the American Presidency and many articles in diverse publications from the New York Times and The New York Review of Books to Arianna Huffington’s Huffingtonpost.com blog.
He also served the profession and the Association, though not by elected office. In 1961 Schlesinger was instrumental in having President Kennedy join the Association and eventually become a life member (see related article in Perspectives). Thereafter the Association was able to generate a bit of positive publicity based on the affiliation.
In 1954 Schlesinger benefited from the advocacy assistance of the AHA when the American ambassador in London sought to derail Schlesinger’s nomination to the prestigious Harmsworth Visiting Professorship at Oxford.
Schlesinger was the recipient of many awards and honors including the two Pulitzer Prizes (in history for The Age of Jackson and in biography for A Thousand Days), two National Book Awards, and the 1998 NEH National Humanities Medal. In 2004 the AHA awarded him its Award for Scholarly Distinction.
The New York Times has published a lengthy obituary as well as extensive list of articles and reviews of his work that it has published over the course of his career. The Washington Post has published an interesting article as well.
SOURCE: Slate (3-1-07)
The first meeting I ever attended of the American Historical Association included a session about Oliver Stone's 1995 film Nixon. The panel included Stone, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., and George McGovern—the only one, as it happened, with a history Ph.D. (Schlesinger did his graduate work as a member of the Harvard Society of Fellows, which then forbade the pursuit of PhDs.) The audience filled a ballroom at the Hilton in midtown New York. McGovern said nothing critical about the film, and it fell to Schlesinger to dissect its bizarre, psycho-conspiratorial reading of history. Given the roughing up that Stone's JFK had gotten, I expected the academics in the crowd to follow Schlesinger's lead. Instead, during the question time, they went after the historian himself, grilling him about Cold War intrigues from the assassination of Ghana's Patrice Lumumba to U.S. political meddling in British Guyana. Though Schlesinger parried well, he seemed relieved when time expired, and, as he and McGovern huddled afterward, Stone exited, unbowed, past a gauntlet of autograph-seeking Ph.Ds.
The scene at the AHA captured the unusual place in the world of historical scholarship occupied by Schlesinger, who died Wednesday at 89. The audience he commanded at the Hilton showed that he remained as much a luminary within the profession as he was outside it. And for those of us who have always believed that historians should write for lay readers and fellow scholars, Schlesinger will remain an incomparable model. Yet for all his renown, many academics viewed Schlesinger with disdain—only a portion of which could be attributed to the snarls of professional jealousy that greet any colleague who writes best sellers, let alone consorts with the Kennedys.
Like his peer Richard Hofstadter, Schlesinger wrote history that was popular, without writing"popular history." He once said he regretted writing so many articles on current events and not enough books. That claim seems plausible if you consider his journalistic output—opinion-journal think-pieces, New York Post and Wall Street Journal columns, book reviews by the ream, film criticism and celebrity profiles for the glossies—as well as the sad fact that he never published the long-anticipated fourth volume of his Age of Roosevelt (1957-1960) or the second part of his memoirs. But if you take the books themselves—at least eight of which, by my count, stand as classics or near-classics—the comment seems falsely modest. Surely, Schlesinger must have been tossing off his op-ed pieces during his downtime, when less industrious writers might watch TV or work overtime to hone the kinds of sterling sentences that came so easily from Schlesinger's dazzling mind.
The literary merit of these works was inseparable from their intellectual achievements. I once came across a statement by Schlesinger explaining his approach to writing history, and the passage is worth taping to the office wall:
It has always seemed to me that the trick of writing history is to fuse narrative and analysis in a consistent literary texture. The history which is purely narrative … I find … ultimately unsatisfactory. It's not enough to describe the events … without giving some indication why they were happening. … Purely analytical history … by leaving out the emotions and the color and the atmosphere … is dehydrated history …. . [I]t doesn't recreate the mood in which the choices were made. [What] one must try to do … is to write a combination of narrative and analytical history.
Schlesinger's genius, in part, was to find that precise combination as assuredly as any historian I've read.
This stylistic brilliance wouldn't earn him greatness, of course, if his ideas didn't still matter. But they do. The Age of Jackson (1945) is the starting point for understanding how American liberalism began to inch away from the anti-statism of Tom Paine and Thomas Jefferson and toward the embrace of a strong government. A Thousand Days (1965) and Robert Kennedy and His Times (1978), while open to the charge of court history, nonetheless loom large before anyone who wants to write about the Kennedys. The Imperial Presidency (1973), though in some ways an artifact of the Nixon era,stands as the best history of the growth of presidential power since World War II. And The Vital Center (1949)—a political argument rather than a work of history proper—mines the past in search of insight for the present in the best way, finding strains to lament as well as to admire in the liberal tradition that Schlesinger loved. Today, the book is inspiring a new generation of tough-minded liberals.
Schlesinger's undisguised political commitments—not only his polemics but his role in founding Americans for Democratic Action, his speechwriting for Adlai Stevenson, his service in the Kennedy White House—invited the charge that he"writes as he votes." When I was in graduate school, I still heard the generations-old quip that The Age of Jackson is a wonderful work of history—about the New Deal. (The book credits Andrew Jackson with vitalizing the idea of using presidential power on behalf of ordinary folk.)
Interestingly, though, comparatively few of Schlesinger's peers denied his greatness. The challenge came, rather, from younger scholars in the 1960s who found him insufficiently radical, too scornful of left-wing utopianism (a chief target of in The Vital Center), too enamored of power, and too closely attached to the Kennedys and the Democratic Party. Christopher Lasch, one of Schlesinger's harsher critics, accused him—and other like-minded liberal intellectuals—of having been seduced by JFK's style. Others said that Schlesinger whitewashed the administration's actions in episodes from the Bay of Pigs to the Cuban Missile Crisis. As the New Left generation gained influence in the profession, Schlesinger's stock in academia fell.
The root of the academic left's unhappiness with Schlesinger, I think, was his steadfast realism—his willingness to accept (without fully endorsing) the limits on social change imposed by democratic politics. He likened critics such as Lasch to the sentimental progressives who had backed Henry Wallace's 1948 presidential campaign and other exemplars of what he called the"doughface" tradition of preferring ideological purity over concrete results."The left-wing critique of the Kennedy administration," he wrote at the time, was"a new expression of the old complaint by those who find satisfaction in large gestures of rejection against those who find satisfaction in small measures of improvement."
Indeed, Schlesinger's own decision to join the Kennedy team and forsake his old hero Adlai Stevenson resulted from his recognition that Stevenson lacked the comfort with politics and power that would be necessary to govern well. Schlesinger concluded by mid-1960 that Stevenson was showing too much"frivolity, distractedness, over-interest in words and phrases," while Kennedy"gives a sense of cool, measured, intelligent concern with action and power. … [Though] less creative personally, he might be more so politically." Yet when asked which figure in his lifetime he would have liked to have seen in the White House, he invariably answered,"Adlai Stevenson." Hope and realism coexisted.
Schlesinger favored liberal realism over left-wing utopianism because the latter philosophy posited the existence of a future free from struggle, whereas Schlesinger, deeply influenced by Reinhold Niebuhr, subscribed to a secularized idea of original sin that considered human nature inherently flawed. (He joked that he and his fellow admirers of the midcentury theologian called themselves"Atheists for Niebuhr.") And from John Dewey he took the insight of democracy as a practice that won't ever coast to a halt in some well-functioning steady state but must continually be renewed through purposeful engagement and action.
It made sense, then, that Schlesinger found stories of dramatic struggle throughout the American past, from the Age of Jackson to the Age of Roosevelt, and he told them with insight, commitment, and panache. But it made sense, too, that he also found implacable conflict in his own age—in the indifference of the Eisenhower years, the dedication to reform of the Kennedys, the power lust of Nixon, and the unthinking willfulness of George W. Bush. If Arthur Schlesinger spent rather too much time, by his own lights, joining the battles of a given day, it was because he believed that the state of American democracy, not just in the future but in the present, was worth it.
SOURCE: Commentary (3-1-07)
There are three things to say about the work of Arthur Schlesinger, who has just died at the age of eighty-nine: (1) He was an exceptionally good writer, commanding a lucid, vivid, and often elegant prose style. (2) He was an exceptionally bad historian: incapable of doing justice to any idea with which he disagreed, and so tendentious that he invariably denigrated and/or vilified anyone who had ever espoused any such idea. Like the so-called “Whig interpretation of history” in England, Schlesinger’s voluminous work as a historian amounts to the proposition that the story of freedom in America is the story of the Democratic party, and specifically of its never-ending struggle against the sinister bastions of privilege, oppression, and ignorance represented by the Republicans of the modern era and their forebears. (3) This unshakable conviction not only made his wonderfully readable accounts of the past unreliable and in many cases even worthless; it also warped his political judgment in the present, leading him in the last forty years of his life to support the forces that were pushing the Democratic party to the Left. In becoming an apologist for these forces, he betrayed the liberalism that he himself, in The Vital Center, had earlier espoused and whose banishment from the Democratic party has been, and will continue to be, a calamity for this country.
As a historian who knew Arthur Schlesinger personally, and disagreed with him a lot, I’m afraid I have to differ with your response to his life.
It is true, as many of used to say, that “he writes as he votes,” which is the straight Democratic Party line, regardless of what Democrat is in office. Nevertheless, I would not say that he was a bad historian whose work was completely worthless.
Let me give you one example. His book on the cycles of American history (a theory I do not accept) he wrote a devestating critique of the works of my own mentor, William Appleman Williams. He accurately described Williams’ analysis of US foreign policy, and tore it apart rather mercilessly. Reading his words, he helped convine me that much of Williams argument was in fact faulty.
Finally, I would agree that politically, he did betray much of the tradition he stood for. He both gave Gorbachev total claim for ending the Cold War--Reagan, to his eyes, had nothing to do with. Most egregiously, he came back from a trip to Cuba and a visit with Fidel Castro a few years back, singing the dictator’s praises as a great man. His old boss, JFK, would have been shocked had he lived to hear this.
My point is that although he did in fact, as you say, move to the Left and away from his old concept of The Vital Center, he was not a man of the far Left, and was in fact often its critic. Let us not forget his book attacking multiculturalism when it was in its heyday, which was roundly condemned by most left-wing academics in the field of American history. You may not have read this work, but I would dare say you would agree with most of what he said in it.
SOURCE: American Heritage (2-1-92)
SMOLER: You’ve pointed out that the forging of a multicultural American identity is not a question suddenly put on the agenda by some iconoclasts in a comp lit department but in fact preoccupied the Founders and has interested a lot of people ever since.
SCHLESINGER: That’s true. We’ve always been a multiethnic country. Americans have been absorbed by diversity from the eighteenth century on. Melville conceived our future as a federation to be compounded of all tribes and people, Emerson talked about constructing a new race, used the phrase “smelting,” and explicitly included “all the European tribes … the Africans & the Polynesians.” John Quincy Adams spoke of the necessity of “casting off the European skin, never to resume it.” Foreign visitors—Crèvecoeur, Tocqueville, Bryce—were fascinated by the project of building a new nation and a new nationality without a common basis of ethnicity or history; even the national motto, E pluribus unum (making one out of many), explicitly refers to it.
SMOLER: Multiculturalists claim that we’re now in an unprecedented situation because the character of American society is suddenly being so largely determined by immigrants and racial minorities. But in fact, isn’t it true that at the turn of the century the percentage of foreign-born in this country was twice what it is now?
SCHLESINGER: Right. Still there are differences between then and now- especially with regard to racial composition. In the past there was a high degree of ethnic diversity, but the nation was mostly white and mostly European. At the turn of the century the Indians were on reservations, the blacks were segregated, and the Asians kept to themselves. White America faces a new situation today, with the new visibility of black Americans and the new influx of Latinos and Asians. One of the pleasing oddities of it is that thus far there has not been the kind of nativism that we’ve had in the past. The Irish and Chinese migrations both provoked violent nativist reactions. In the 185Os we had the Know-Nothing party. In the 1890s we had the American Protective Association. In the 1920s we had the Ku Klux Klan, which was then as much anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish as anti-black. Thus far, there hasn’t been the kind of (outside Louisiana) organized nativism you might expect. I’m not clear why.
SOURCE: Robert B. Semple, Jr. in a signed editorial in the NYT (3-2-07)
Mr. Schlesinger died on Wednesday night at the age of 89. He had managed an active social life until the end — he suffered his heart attack in a Manhattan restaurant — and every morning he rose and did some serious writing.
But he had grown frail and bent, so in December a lunch in New York was organized in his honor. The room was thick with tributes to his monumental works on the New Deal, his Bancroft and Pulitzer Prizes (one, for “The Age of Jackson,” awarded at the ripe old age of 27), and his service in the Kennedy administration.
All this, though, was a mere prelude to Mr. Schlesinger’s own brief reflections, as he put it, on the “relevance of history. ” His first point was that historians themselves are prisoners of their own experience, committed “to a doomed enterprise — the quest for an unattainable objectivity.” It was a disarming way of acknowledging the critics who had suggested that he, at times, had shaped history to fit his own liberal agenda. It was also a summons to other historians to be willing to concede error and revisit the past.
But a far more grievous failing, he said, is to ignore history altogether, especially in a nation that has so often demonstrated imperial appetites. “History is the best antidote to delusions of omnipotence and omniscience, ” he said, forcing us “to a recognition of the fact, so often and so sadly displayed, that the future outwits all our certitudes.”
Is there a better description of the arrogance that has led to our current predicament? Mr. Schlesinger did not mention anyone by name, partly because it was unnecessary, but also because Mr. Bush was hardly alone in his indifference to the ironies of history.