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: National Security Archive (1-24-08)
Blanton participated in the premiere showing on January 18 in Park City, the follow-up showing on January 19 also in Park City, and the noontime showing on Sunday January 20 at the screening room in Robert Redford's Sundance Resort.
The reviewer for Zoom-In.com remarked that "Mr. Blanton comes off like a philosopher of national security, waxing downright poetic about the myriad issues of information control and even the erotic allure of secrets. He has so much to say that one suspects that Galison and Moss could have just as easily filmed his monologue--a classified information cousin to An Inconvenient Truth's environmental lecture would have emerged."
Reviewers from Hollywood Reporter and Reuters this week report that "Documentaries stole the show at the Sundance Film Festival over the weekend" and that "Peter Galison and Robb Moss' national security expose 'Secrecy'" was among the "documentaries creating late acquisitions buzz."
SOURCE: David Bosco in the American Scholar (winter issue) (2-1-08)
Halleck’s correspondent was eager to help. Francis Lieber (1798–1872) was then a professor of history at Columbia College. A Prussian immigrant, he was a military veteran who had recently devoted himself to studying the conduct of war. What’s more, he was a passionate supporter of the Union cause and was keenly ambitious to influence national policy. Less than a year after that first exchange, a short paper Lieber wrote for the general on how international law regards insurgents and guerrillas had blossomed into America’s first code regulating the conduct of its army in warfare.
“Lieber’s Code,” as it soon became known, was widely disseminated, and it deeply influenced the later Hague and Geneva conventions. It is no exaggeration to say that this émigré professor with longstanding connections to the Southern aristocracy made one of the most substantial contributions to the modern law of war. Lieber was acutely aware of the novelty of his project. “It is an honor of the United States that they have attempted, first of all nations, to settle and publish such a code,” he wrote to Halleck.
The code achieved its stature with remarkable speed. Lieber completed the text in March 1863, and it was cursorily reviewed by a panel of generals and quickly approved by President Lincoln. Dispatched to military commanders in May 1863 as General Orders No. 100, it circulated through the army ranks and within a few years had been lauded by a United States Supreme Court Justice as an authoritative expression of the law of war.
But the deeper one delves into the details of this seemingly inspiring tale, the muddier it becomes. Lieber’s life and thought embodied some of the most serious contradictions in the struggle to humanize warfare. Those contradictions became painful as the Civil War grew more intense, and whether the gifted scholar restrained the conduct of the fighting in any way is uncertain at best. He certainly did not resolve the tensions he confronted; 150 years after his death, his adopted country is still struggling to reconcile the competing demands of security and humanity, principle and pragmatism.
SOURCE: Harold Henderson in a profile of Perlstein in the Chicago Reader (1-24-08)
And the kid is hooked. “Freedom, autonomy, authenticity: he has rarely read a writer who speaks so clearly to the things he worries about, who was so cavalier about authority, so idealistic.”
This mesmerizing book isn’t by Che Guevara or Abbie Hoffman. It’s Barry Goldwater’s ghostwritten The Conscience of a Conservative.
The story Perlstein began to tell in Before the Storm, and will continue telling in May with its sequel, Nixonland, isn’t what you might expect. It’s not the story of how hippies and radicals turned America upside down, because they didn’t. Perlstein is telling the story of the other major grassroots movement of the 1960s, the one that grew up and elected 20 years’ worth of presidents. Holden Caulfield, meet George W. Bush.....
SOURCE: LAT (1-23-08)
These days, we so urgently require a better understanding of Islam and its origins that it would be edifying to report that the distinguished historian David Levering Lewis' new book is an example of the former. Unfortunately, "God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215" falls into that second category with a nearly discernible thud.
Lewis, 71, is a distinguished social historian, particularly of the 20th century United States. Both volumes of his magisterial biography of W.E.B. Du Bois won the Pulitzer Prize for history. However, he is neither a medievalist nor a scholar of Islam origins, and some -- though not all -- of this book's shortcomings originate there.
The more fundamental problem is that "God's Crucible" is as much the product of an enthusiasm as it is an idea. Like many a writer and artist before him, Lewis is in thrall to an idealized Umayyad Spain, that island of comparative tolerance and intellectual freedom, undoubted prosperity and physical beauty that ornaments the medieval landscape. Even now, al-Andalus seems more poem than place, site of the Alhambra, the great Mosque of Cordova, the patio houses of Granada and home to Averros and Maimonides. The problem is that Lewis is intent on making a general case with a society that stands as such an exception to other states of its era, whether Muslim or Christian. In fact, Umayyad Spain benefited from any number of unique factors: the extraordinary statecraft of its founder, Abd al-Rahman I, and some of his more able successors, the necessity of maintaining a balance of power in an unusually polyglot population and Spain's physical distance from contemporary centers of Muslim and Christian power.
Lewis sets out to show that the failure of what he calls "the jihad east of the Pyrenees" is "one of the most significant losses in world history." He argues that the Frankish defeat of the Islamic invaders at Poitiers in 732 and the subsequent poetic glorification of Roland's sacrifice to cover Charlemagne's retreat from his own incursion into Spain were "pivotal moments in the creation of an economically retarded, balkanized and fratricidal Europe that, by defining itself in opposition to Islam, made virtues out of hereditary aristocracy, persecutory religious intolerance, cultural particularism and perpetual war . . . 'winning' at Poitiers actually meant that the economic, scientific and cultural levels that Europeans attained in the 13th century could almost certainly have been achieved more than three centuries earlier had they been included in the Muslim world empire."
In other words, the West would be better off if it had been incorporated into an all-conquering Islamic empire in the early Middle Ages.
Still, it's fair to wonder why, if that's true, the West ended up with the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution and the Scientific Revolution and the Islamic world got chronic underdevelopment, a pervasive religious obscurantism, Al Qaeda and the trust fund states of the Arabian peninsula?...
SOURCE: HNN Staff (1-23-08)
But rooms sold out so quickly that on Tuesday the organization had to arrange to book more rooms.
As of Wednesday afternoon the Hilton still had rooms to rent, but they're going fast.
Hilton Tel: 1-212-586-7000
SOURCE: Network of Concerned Historians (NCH) (1-23-08)
The Network for Education and Academic Rights (NEAR), London, and several press agencies reported that Mehrnoushe Solouki was released. A 38-year-old graduate student, she was arrested in February 2007 and prevented from leaving Iran for nearly a year after discovering a mass grave of regime opponents summarily executed during the 1988 Iraq-Iran war. Please see the summary below. Many thanks to all of you who campaigned on ms. Solouki’s behalf.
With best wishes,
Antoon De Baets
(Network of Concerned Historians)
In December 2006, Mehrnoushe Solouki ([1970-]), a French-Iranian citizen residing in Canada, and a filmmaker and journalism graduate student at Quebec University, Montréal, Canada, entered Iran in order to film her third documentary, on the subject of the burial rites of religious minorities. The Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance granted her a research license and officials were told in advance of locations where she would film. In February 2007, Solouki stumbled upon a site that was reportedly a mass grave of regime opponents summarily executed in the summer and fall of 1988. Following this incident, she was arrested and imprisoned. She was reportedly held in inhumane conditions and subjected to daily interrogations. On 28 March 2007, she was released when her parents posted bail, but authorities confiscated her French passport. In breach of Iranian law limiting travel bans to six months, she was not allowed to return to France. On 17 November 2007, Solouki was tried in closed-door proceedings on charges of “intent to commit propaganda” against the Iranian regime. She had neither edited nor broadcast any film taken during her stay. The trial was adjourned to an unspecified future date. On 18 January 2008, she was allowed to leave Iran for France.
Associated Press, “Iran Allows Filmmaker to Leave Country” (WWW-text; 22 January 2008).
Index on Censorship, 3/07: 118.
Scholars at Risk, “SAR calls for letters on behalf of detained graduate student Mehrnoushe Solouki” (4 December 2007).
SOURCE: NYT (1-22-08)
Now a recently published compendium of his personal notebooks is coming under attack from two critics who say that the editor of the volume, Robert Faggen, mistranscribed hundreds, if not thousands, of Frost’s words.
Mr. Faggen, a professor and chairman of the department of English at Claremont McKenna College in California, published his book, “The Notebooks of Robert Frost,” last January. In the 809-page volume from Harvard University Press, Mr. Faggen collected the contents of 47 of Frost’s notebooks as well as some loose pages that are stored in archives at Boston University, Dartmouth College and the University of Virginia.
The volume, which represents the first time the notebooks have been published in their entirety, was widely praised by reviewers. For scholars and fans of Frost’s work, the notebooks, filled with poetry fragments, lists, lecture notes and tangential musings, provide insight into his thinking and creative process. In a review published last February in The New York Times Book Review, David Orr, who writes frequently about poetry, wrote, “Any Frost reader will benefit from Faggen’s thoughtful introduction and be intrigued by the way in which concepts from these largely aphoristic journals animate the poems and vice versa.”
But in a review published in October in Essays and Criticism, a British literary journal, James Sitar, who recently completed his Ph.D. in editorial studies at Boston University and is now the archive editor at poetryfoundation.org, the Web site of the Poetry Foundation in Chicago, said he reviewed four of the original Frost notebooks housed in Boston University’s archives and found “roughly one thousand” errors in Mr. Faggen’s work.
“Broadly speaking, then, publication of this edition is a great occasion, and readers and scholars should be grateful,” Mr. Sitar writes, “but their excitement about this new material may be lessened when they notice, as early reviewers have not, that the transcription is untrustworthy.”...
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Ed (1-22-08)
... I first became aware of the problem when one of my graduate school friends discovered that a more senior scholar had reproduced large sections of his dissertation. Later I learned of the allegations of plagiarism in the field of history that were well publicized in the press. Still later I had the deeply troubling experience of discovering that a trusted graduate-student colleague had copied whole chapters of her dissertation from a published work. It is hard for me, and I expect for most of us, to imagine what sort of desperation drives a person to betray professional trust in such a manner. But whatever the cause, the result is an egregious violation of professional ethics.
Of course, I am also aware that there are difficult borderline cases, in which scholars of good will cannot agree as to whether an ethics violation has occurred. And here both universities and professional associations struggle to promulgate definitions that will define a “bright line” between the permissible and illegitimate use of other’s words and ideas. The historians, in a field more commonly involved with public accusations of plagiarism than most, have certainly struggled with the issue — most recently in an AHA panel on plagiarism in historical journals at the January meeting of the Association (The Chronicle of Higher Education, 18 January). Richard Byrne covered the story nicely in “Hot Type,” and I will not rehearse the general arguments here.
But I do want to note that my friend Tony Grafton, currently the AHA vice-president for the Professional Division (which has jurisdiction over professional ethical matters), is quoted as saying that the AHA had given up the adjudication of plagiarism charges several years ago because “The process of adjudication was unable to yield a usable result,” but holding out hope that a more effective process might be found. I think I was in a very small minority of AHA members who publicly regretted the abandonment of jurisdiction over plagiarism, and I hope that Tony’s Division will revisit the question. For me, the willingness to identify ethical violations and penalize transgressors is at the very core of the definition of a professional organization. The fear of the law of defamation should be enough to intimidate professionals into doing what is right. If we are so quick to punish our students for their transgressions, why not out our wayward peers? Shame has a distinguished history in criminal law, after all, and it is probably the appropriate response to most professional ethical violations.
SOURCE: http://www.fredericknewspost.com (1-22-08)
"Martin Luther King Jr. truly was a leader and should be celebrated, but he didn't create the movement. He stepped into it and broadened it."
Thompson earned his doctorate in history from the University of Maryland College Park in 1996.
Thompson teaches history and coordinates the honors program at Frederick Community College. He will present highlights of his research on the civil rights movement 7 p.m. today at C. Burr Artz Public Library, 110 E. Patrick St., Frederick.
He hopes to show how the work of Maryland activists enabled King to expand the civil right movement's reach.
Although the 1865 passage of the 13th amendment ended slavery in the United States, segregation denied black people the benefits of full citizenship, Thompson said. In the 1930s, Charles Houston, dean of the Howard University School of Law approached a group of young rights activists in Baltimore with a new strategy to end segregation in daily life.
"He said, 'We can sue Jim Crow out of Maryland,'" Thompson said. "That set a new tone that was going on the offensive."
Prior to that time, most legal challenges had been reactionary in nature.
Houston and his protge, Thurgood Marshall, kicked off the campaign with a case known as Murray v. Pearson....
SOURCE: NYT (1-21-08)
But in his first in-depth interview since settling into his new office, Mr. Gover, 52, seemed unconcerned about the scrutiny he might now encounter about his own spending habits, or about the long-term effects on the museum.
“This isn’t my first rodeo,” he said last week. “I took a few poundings in the past.”
Spending by Mr. West, the institution’s founding director, who retired last month after 17 years, has provoked two senators to call for independent investigations. Mr. West spent more than $250,000 on travel and hotels during his final four years in office and paid $48,500 to a New York artist to paint his museum portrait.
“I felt bad for Rick,” said Mr. Gover, who practiced in two of the same law firms as Mr. West. “I felt that it was unfair.”
The Smithsonian said in December that all of Mr. West’s travel had been approved and that he had raised $51 million in that period. In a Jan. 11 letter to Indian Country Today, a weekly newspaper, Mr. West disputed reports first published in The Washington Post, calling them mischaracterizations of travel that was within the scope of his duties. "I traveled as required by the job I had to do," he wrote....
SOURCE: Guardian (1-21-08)
Guido Knopp, who has written a number of books on Hitler and his inner circle, said the video, which surfaced on YouTube last week, "inevitably" recalled Goebbels' speech in a Berlin sports stadium when he asked "Do you want total war?" and the crowd thundered "Yes!"
The Scientology footage shows Cruise, wearing a large medallion and speaking from a podium. "So what do you say, we gonna clean this place up?" he asks. He is greeted by zealous cheers.
"It may be the case that Cruise's delivery style is not uncommon in certain religious movements in the US," Knopp told Bild am Sonntag in an interview. "But for Germans with an interest in history, that scene where he asks whether the Scientologists should clean up the world and everyone shouts 'yes' is inevitably reminiscent of Goebbels' notorious speech."
SOURCE: NYT Book Review (1-20-08)
But “Night” had taken a long route to the best-seller list. In the late 1950s, long before the advent of Holocaust memoirs and Holocaust studies, Wiesel’s account of his time at Auschwitz and Buchenwald was turned down by more than 15 publishers before the small firm Hill & Wang finally accepted it. How “Night” became an evergreen is more than a publishing phenomenon. It is also a case study in how a book helped created a genre, how a writer became an icon and how the Holocaust was absorbed into the American experience.
Raised in an Orthodox family in Sighet, Transylvania, Wiesel was liberated from Buchenwald at age 16. In unsentimental detail, “Night” recounts daily life in the camps — the never-ending hunger, the sadistic doctors who pulled gold teeth, the Kapos who beat fellow Jews. On his first day in the camps, Wiesel was separated forever from his mother and sister. At Auschwitz, he watched his father slowly succumb to dysentery before the SS beat him to within an inch of his life. Wiesel writes honestly about his guilty relief at his father’s death. In the camps, the formerly observant boy underwent a profound crisis of faith; “Night” was one of the first books to raise the question: where was God at Auschwitz?...
SOURCE: NYT Book Review (1-20-08)
The idea was inspired, though perhaps not surprising, given Aly’s background. He is the author of “Hitler’s Beneficiaries: Plunder, Racial War, and the Nazi Welfare State,” in which he argued that ordinary Germans supported the Nazi regime not because they were inherently anti-
Semitic, or blinded by Hitler’s charisma, but for the relatively mundane reason that the Reich’s policies raised their standard of living. To buttress his argument, Aly mined a staggering amount of data — a method he uses again to great effect in “Into the Tunnel: The Brief Life of Marion Samuel, 1931-1943.” In his quest to learn about Marion, who was 11 when she was killed, Aly draws on every imaginable source: He places an article in a German newspaper and scours municipal records, old Berlin telephone books and even switchboard.com — to dig up what is quite probably every recorded word and artifact relating to Marion and her family. He finds exact schedules for the train that transported several of Marion’s relatives to their deaths, and discovers that her own deportation cost six and a half Reich pennies per mile. Among other sources, this slim volume reproduces the Gestapo decree concerning the expropriation of the Samuel family’s property and the listing of Marion’s name in the German national archive’s memorial book of murdered German Jews...
SOURCE: Press Release--Oxford University Press (1-21-08)
Oxford University Press and the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute are pleased to announce that after ten years of work, the AFRICAN AMERICAN NATIONAL BIOGRAPHY is complete and will be published on February 4, 2008.
“The AFRICAN AMERICAN NATIONAL BIOGRAPHY is a rescue and recovery project, retrieving the life stories of African Americans that have, until now, been glossed over by the academy,” explains co-editor Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. “Famous, infamous, and little-known lives will be included in what promises to be the most important reference work in African American studies in the past quarter century.”
The AFRICAN AMERICAN NATIONAL BIOGRAPHY fills 8 volumes in print, and will continue to grow online thereafter as more life stories are researched and written. It is the largest repository of black life stories ever assembled with more than 4,000 biographies.
These 1,000–3,000 word biographies illuminate African American history through the immediacy of individual experience. From Esteban, the earliest known African to set foot in North America in 1527, right up to rising careers of Denzel Washington and Barak Obama, these stories of the renowned and the nearly forgotten give us a new view of American history. Our country's past is revealed from personal perspectives that in turn inspire, move, entertain, and challenge the reader. The lives included here are slaves and abolitionists, writers, politicians, business people, musicians and dancers, artists and athletes, victims of injustice and the lawyers, journalists, and civil rights leaders who gave them a voice. Their experiences and accomplishments combine to expose the complexity of race as an overriding issue in America's past and present.
“This is the biggest research project within the academy on African American studies since the 1970s,” says Casper Grathwohl, Reference Publisher, Oxford University Press, “and Oxford is committed to working with the editors and contributors to keep it fresh and up-to-date. The editors are determined to uncover lost life stories, and hundreds of scholars are helping to write biographies of thousands of interesting and celebrated men and women who have impacted the African American experience. The coverage is broad—from the first slave ships to the 21st century.”
Unlike other biographical encyclopedias such as The American National Biography and The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, the AFRICAN AMERICAN NATIONAL BIOGRAPHY recognizes living as well as deceased people who have made a significant contribution to African American history, including:
• Harriet Tubman, Thurgood Marshall, and Rosa Parks—famous leaders in the struggle for freedom and equality
• Richard Wright and James Baldwin—great American writers
• Jackie Robinson and Tiger Woods—sports heroes
• Bill Cosby and John Coltrane—renowned entertainers
But the AFRICAN AMERICAN NATIONAL BIOGRAPHY also includes thousands of people whose names may not come readily to mind, though their stories are both fascinating and important for understanding American history. Among the life stories revealed in this project are:
• Henry Box Brown—the slave who mailed himself to freedom in a wooden box
• Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable—the first resident of Chicago, of whom one memoirist noted, “The first white man who settled here was a Negro”
• Oliver Lewis—the winning jockey in the first Kentucky derby
• Toni Stone—the first woman to play professional baseball in the Negro leagues
• Stagolee—the true story of the “bad man” immortalized in song
• Marie Laveaux—New Orleans's voodoo queen and one of the city's most powerful political figures of the nineteenth century; hers is the second most visited grave in the United States behind Elvis Presley
Making it a powerful resource for righting the imbalance that history has created, the AFRICAN AMERICAN NATIONAL BIOGRAPHY offers a deeper and subtler exploration into lives that have been previously overlooked until now.
SOURCE: David Crist in the NYT (1-20-08)
The following April, the frigate Samuel B. Roberts was blown nearly in half by an Iranian mine, leading American forces to retaliate by attacking two Iranian oil platforms that had been used as staging areas. The Navy destroyed nearly half the Iranian Navy and put a temporary end to the Revolutionary Guards’ waterborne presence.
Despite that humiliation, some in Tehran came away believing that a combination of mines, missiles and the fervor of the Revolutionary Guard members manning small boats could compete with the might of the United States Navy in the confined waters of the Persian Gulf. So, off and on for 20 years, the Iranians have been initiating small incidents, testing the limits of what America will accept.
Iraq's new de-Baathification bill, which awaits only expected approval by the presidency council before becoming law, is good news. During Saddam Hussein's day, if you wanted a professional job in Iraq, you basically had to join the Baath Party. For most of the 1 million-plus who did so, this hardly implied involvement or even complicity in crimes of the state. Hussein was so paranoid that only his very inner circles were entrusted with information or influence. The Shiite-led government now seems willing to recognize as much. Coupled with the pension law passed in late fall, this legislation means that many former Baathists will have a real stake in post-Hussein Iraq.
The legislation is one of half a dozen key political "benchmarks" we have expected Iraqi leaders to address. Others are hydrocarbon legislation; a provincial powers act; a law to facilitate the next round of local elections; a process for holding a referendum on the political future of Kirkuk, the disputed northern oil city; and a better process for purging sectarian extremists from positions of government authority. Apart from de-Baathification reform, major steps have been taken only on the last of these. But there has been real progress on other important matters, including Baghdad's sharing of oil revenue with the provinces, even without a hydrocarbon law; the hiring of Sunni volunteers into the security forces and the civilian arms of government; and improvements in the legal system, such as more trained judges and fewer indefinite detentions of prisoners. Iraq's political glass remains more empty than full, but trends are clearly in the right direction.
This progress resulted from a year's worth of substantial effort to reduce violence in Iraq. Proponents of the "surge" always said that getting violence under control was an essential prerequisite to reconciliation, not the other way around. The full surge has been in place and operating for just over six months, and already violence has fallen dramatically across the country. The achievement in such a short time of significant legislation requiring all sides to accept risk and compromise with people they had recently been fighting is remarkable....
SOURCE: Jonathan Schanzer at the website of Campus Watch (1-16-08)
When good news arrives from Iraq, most Americans celebrate. But not the Middle East studies professors who are often quoted in the mainstream press. For them, good news is bad news.
Testimony from General David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, is one of an increasing number of reports that the troop surge there has led to tangible improvements — so much so that even some of the most outspoken opponents of the war acknowledge that things are looking up.
Anti-war lawmaker John Murtha, fresh from a four-day visit to Iraq, recently admitted,"I think the surge is working." Newsweek's Rod Nordland wrote that,"things do seem to have gotten better...IED attacks across the country are at their lowest point since September 2004, down 50-percent just since the surge peaked last summer." The Red Crescent Society confirms that some 28,000 Iraqi refugees who fled Iraq have recently returned. Baghdad even hosted a vintage car exhibition, according to the ash-Sharq al-Awsat website.
Yet as positive reports roll in, many of America's most prominent Middle East Studies professors are discounting the good news. After saturating the media (TV, radio, newspapers, and the Internet) with predictions that Iraq will implode, their reputations as sages and prophets can only decline if the surge succeeds. In light of this, some of them appear to be hoping for a reversal of fortune and rooting for the surge to fail. Among these are Juan Cole, Rashid Khalidi, and Fawaz Gerges.
Juan Cole, a history professor at the University of Michigan, has been writing for years about the failures of Iraq on his blog,"Informed Comment." Despite the documented improvements, he wrote a recent piece at Salon.com asking,"How much longer can Iraq limp along as a failing state before it really begins to collapse?"
Even if one accepted the official Iraqi government statistics, the average number of Iraqi deaths directly attributable to political violence in the past three full months has been around 700 per month. That pace, if maintained, would work out to about 8,400 deaths a year…Perhaps only Somalia and Sudan witness killings on that scale, and no one would say that ‘good news' is coming out of either of those places.
Cole claims that,"the orgy of violence in Iraq has displaced 2 million persons abroad and another 2 million internally, and left tens of thousands dead." No mention of the some 28,000 Iraqi refugees who have returned home in the last two months, encouraged by the good news they receive from their families.
Cole concludes that,"The lack of virtually any good political news from around the country is what drives the war boosters to cite death statistics."
But, given that numerous good news stories citing other statistics and empirical data are filed from sources that would never be described as"war boosters," such as ash-Sahrq al-Awsat and the BBC, it would appear that Cole is hoping for the collapse of Iraq, or simply refuses to look at new evidence that might contradict his long-standing conclusion that the sky is falling in Baghdad.
But Cole is not alone. Columbia University's Rashid Khalidi, a professor of Palestinian history and one-time Palestinian Liberation Organization spokesman, also appears to be cheering for the insurgency to prevail. Khalidi has also made a name for himself as a scholar who thinks that American foreign policy is failing — particularly regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He is only too happy to point out possible failures in other parts of the region to bolster his long-standing arguments. He recently wrote in the Washington Post:
America is the greatest power in world history. But that will make not a whit of difference to the outcome in Iraq. We will not - we cannot - force the Iraqis to do what we want, any more than the British could toward the end of their own attempt to rule Iraq, although they managed to hold on for much longer than our doomed occupation will.
Ignoring the potential impact of the good news reported in recent weeks, Khalidi continues to insist that America has,"done incalculable harm to that tragic country and to our position in the world."
Fawaz Gerges of Sarah Lawrence College also insists that there is no way for America to win."The longer we stay in Iraq, the more we help al Qaeda spread its ideology and tactics," he said on PBS.
Gerges, a Lebanese who has appeared on Hezbollah's al-Manar television channel, insists that America will lose what he calls a"fight to subjugate… the Arab and Muslim world and control its resources."
We can count on Cole, Khalidi, Gerges, and other professors of Middle Eastern studies to continue to make dire predictions about Iraq. They have capitalized on the bad news in Iraq since 2003, and will likely continue to push that line in the face of changing data. If the surge works and America prevails, their reputations will almost certainly be damaged — and they can return to the relative obscurity from whence they came.
SOURCE: Daniel Larison at his blog (1-18-08)
This is rather amusing. Apparently I have become worthy of being denounced by Jamie Kirchick at Commentary for my sympathy for the Confederacy. Kirchick’s “discovery” that I have belonged to the League of the South for many years will come, I expect, as no surprise to anyone who has been reading this blog for very long. On my sidebar are links to the League of the South’s webpage and its blog, I have written several times for Chronicles, which also links to the League’s site, and I have repeatedly defended the principles of secession, decentralism and constitutionalism that I regard as being an inseparable part of the political tradition of the Antifederalists, Jeffersonians and the Confederacy. I still belong to the League, but I am not active in the group. My statements about Lincoln over the years should have left no one in any confusion about my views of the War or its negative effects on the Republic. In essence, Kirchick believes that it is somehow disqualifying or unacceptable to reject the acts and legacy of an executive usurper and that it is wrong to sympathise with the people who fought for their constitutional rights against this usurper.
I don’t consider my membership or my views on the War to be shameful or requiring any apology. I don’t defend the legacy of the man who ushered in a destructive, illegal war that killed hundreds of thousands. It does take a certain fanatical mindset to see mass destruction and violence as the correct solutions to morally repugnant institutions, and let me be clear that I believe slavery was such a morally repugnant institution. I reject the mentality that says that the ends justify the means, and that the slaughter of other people is acceptable for the sake of ideology and centralising power. I will gladly compare my views on this with anyone who defends illegal and aggressive wars and the intrusive reach of the central state.
I should say that some of the things I said in the post to which Kirchick refers were intemperate and at least one was wrong. The shot at Boot was excessive, and I shouldn’t have said that. In that I was being hot-tempered and wrong. However, the rest of my views are so “repellent and noxious” that they are shared by such conventional pundits as Walter Williams and even to some degree by no less than Democratic Sen. Jim Webb, who once said about the cause for which two of his ancestors fought:
I am not here to apologize for why they fought, although modern historians might contemplate that there truly were different perceptions in the North and South about those reasons, and that most Southern soldiers viewed the driving issue to be sovereignty rather than slavery. In 1860 fewer than five percent of the people in the South owned slaves, and fewer than twenty percent were involved with slavery in any capacity. Love of the Union was palpably stronger in the South than in the North before the war — just as overt patriotism is today — but it was tempered by a strong belief that state sovereignty existed prior to the Constitution, and that it had never been surrendered. Nor had Abraham Lincoln ended slavery in Kentucky and Missouri when those border states did not secede. Perhaps all of us might reread the writings of Alexander Stephens, a brilliant attorney who opposed secession but then became Vice President of the Confederacy, making a convincing legal argument that the constitutional compact was terminable. And who wryly commented at the outset of the war that “the North today presents the spectacle of a free people having gone to war to make freemen of slaves, while all they have as yet attained is to make slaves of themselves.”All of that states the matter very well. I remain convinced that the vast majority of Confederate soldiers were fighting for constitutional liberty, including one of my own ancestors, and I think that was, is, something worth defending. If that repels the Jamie Kirchicks of the world, I have to conclude that I am on the right track.
SOURCE: Peter H. Wood at Common-Place.org (1-1-08)
It was early December, the end of the fall semester, and I was sitting in my office, having just taught my last class. The usual mixed feelings of exhaustion and elation had given way to equally predictable and tangled emotions: relief and regret. Though the class had gone well, there were the inevitable pangs of disappointment over missed teaching opportunities and the regular resolves about how to make it all work a little better. Surely I could shake up more members of the cell-phone generation—reaching them sooner and challenging them more deeply—the next time around.
But there would be no next time. This wasn't just the last class of the 2006 fall term; it was the last course in my short and enjoyable thirty-two-year teaching career at Duke. With a knock on the door, a history department secretary asked in an off-hand way if I could "help move some furniture in the graduate lounge?" Even as we chatted going down the hall, I had no inkling that I was innocently being ushered into a retirement celebration cooked up by busy graduate students—the same kind of unpretentious and energetic young historians that I had been working with for more than three decades.
Peter Wood (at left), working at his dining room table with fellow textbook authors Elaine May, Jackie Jones, Vicki Ruiz, and Tim Borstelmann. Photo by Elizabeth Fenn.
After I mastered my total surprise, we toasted each other in champagne and cider and devoured a homemade cake. They even gave me a little clock, marked, "With Best Wishes and Thanks"—which sits on our mantel piece, the perfect gift for an early American historian. Before they dispersed to grade term papers, we chatted about the U.S. history text, Created Equal, which I was revising for its third edition, and the unusual class I had just finished, entitled One Nation-One Semester.
Since then, I have had a full year to think about both those topics and the surprising, satisfying way that they came together. I can now see more clearly, in retrospect, that working hard on a U.S. survey with four impressive American historians boosted me out of my engaging, comfortable "colonial" world. It gave me the renewed excitement about big-picture historical themes I needed to attempt such an unorthodox final fling.....
SOURCE: Franck Salameh at the website of Campus Watch (and Frontpagemag.com) (1-16-08)
The Middle East Studies Association has finally met its match. In a move long overdue, the doyen of Middle East Studies—Bernard Lewis—and its laureate poet—Fouad Ajami—have just joined forces to launch the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa.
One hopes that this new professional association will rejuvenate and mop clean a field that has long since shirked its obligation to academic objectivity to transform Middle Eastern studies into platforms for agitprop and partisanship. The complex and richly textured Middle East deserves far more than the bromides and reductionist commentary that have of late become the hallmark of some of our day's most influential scholars in the field. ASMEA promises to provide such critically needed diversity of perspective.
Yet, in its November 8th blurb announcing the establishment of the new association, the New York Sun mischaracterized the problem, as did a November 19thTime magazine blog entry. ASMEA's aim, the Sun claimed, was to" challenge the Middle East Studies Association, which is dominated by academics who have been critical of Israel and of America's role in the Middle East." Time predicted a"Mideast civil-war" in which ASMEA would rise"to the rescue of impressionable American minds that might be influenced by MESA."
While it is true that ASMEA might well offer an alternative to the monochromatic interpretations of the Middle East as upheld by MESA devotees, the issues at stake are more nuanced and complex than can be explained through platitudes and hackneyed"Arab vs. Israeli" stereotypes. Before understanding what ASMEA can do, it's important to know what the apparatchiks who run MESA have done.
The radical wardens at MESA exert a subtle, but stifling, grip over what kind of Middle East can be taught, thought, and written about in the American academy. But the grievances that many academics have against the major professional association representing them and their field stem not from the alleged predilections of MESA's luminaries for a Palestinian narrative to the detriment of a rival Israeli one, or from an overbearing American worldview.
They object instead to the lack of imagination and absence of perspective and openness in the study of the culturally, linguistically, religiously, and ethnically complex and variegated Middle East. The result is a scholarly neglect and contempt for Middle Eastern minority narratives, and a corresponding denunciation of professors opposed to the reductionist Arabist paradigm of Middle Eastern history championed by MESA's leaders.
Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami, for instance, are dismissed petulantly as"Orientalists and opportunists" by their MESA opponents in Time's blog entry. Such ahistorical, even anti-intellectual, preening presumes Orientalism to be the scourge that Edward Said's debunked Orientalism claimed, rather than the noble academic discipline that it truly is. It assumes that ad hominem scatology dissolves the fact that both Lewis and Ajami are two of our day's most eloquent, profound, and thoughtful interpreters of the Middle East.
Surely there's no shortage of scrupulous scholars and academics who disapprove of the MESA party-line. But the influence and clout of the mandarins who control MESA are such that few dissenting area specialists can afford to voice their discontent in the face of the pressure and intimidation that such upholders of a single, monistic Middle East history paradigm are able—and willing—to wield. Grants, appointments, promotions, publication, and one's general workplace atmosphere are all affected by whether or not one is willing to submit to exponents of select historical perceptions and attitudes regarding the Middle East and its allegedly monolithic peoples and cultures.
The Middle East is one of the world's most fractious and violent regions. The Arab-Israeli conflict has been a factor, as has Western"meddling," along with socio-economic factors—the cause celebre of MESA's leaders. But that's only half of the story.
The pathologies of the Middle East are largely homegrown, and Middle Easterners, as Ajami has noted, are quite proficient at cracking their whips at their own without the benefit of American assistance and Western interference. Still, MESA, the scholars it props up, and the specialists they churn out would tell us otherwise. Their narrative dictates that the our only concern should be the Arab-Israeli conflict: all else is ancillary.
Yet the Middle East is rife with endemic problems that not only predate the Arab-Israeli conflict, but will outlast it if specialists in the region continue to ignore them. The academy has an ethical and intellectual obligation to study the region in all its complexity, including its warts and blemishes, rather than forgo accuracy for pursuit of a single issue that is the obsession of too many scholars.
The Middle East is a hotbed of rivalries above and beyond that of Arabs and Israelis. To name only the most important: Iranian vs. Arab; Sunni vs. Shiite; Turkish vs. Kurdish; Arab vs. Kurdish; Islamist zealots vs. modernist secularists; nationalists vs. Islamist; dictators vs. democrats; pan-Arabists vs. sundry localisms.
Yet MESA's leadership would have students of the Middle East ignore complex historical data and adhere to approved lines of group-think. The treatment of historical information, be it flouted, suppressed, fabricated, or dismissed in classrooms and faculty lounges, depends entirely on the whims and ideological predilections of the academy's keepers and the dictates of their favorite narratives. They have ruled that the region can be interpreted meaningfully and equitably without reference to histories other than those of Muslims and Arabs.
Under this regime, what need is there of diverse perspectives or historical accuracy when one has an imposed orthodoxy? Heaven forbid one should dare advocate for Middle Eastern Jews, Christians, and non-Arabs and give airtime to their story and their epics of suffering, dispossession, triumph, and renewal! According to the official line laid down by MESA's leades, after all, they are not indigenous to the Middle East, but relics of the odious eleventh century Western colonialist enterprise.
Such are the fallacies intellectualized and taught in the American academy. Recently, a student I know of Palestinian Christian extraction argued that her Bethlehem family—the ubiquitous Khourys, a priestly patronym and a cognate of the Hebrew Cohens—were descendants not of some venerable Semitic autochthones, but of alien Crusader intruders! It's as if the Middle East had no Christians before ca. 1000 AD, and no history before the advent of Islam and the seventh century Arab conquest.
Surreal and ironic, perhaps, but the Arabist orthodoxy in the American academy teaches not only brash self-aggrandizement when one is of"proven" blue-blooded Arab pedigree, but also pathetic self-hatred when one's creed is not in obvious symbiosis with that of the accepted Arab norm.
The less one knows about the Middle East and its pathologies, the less one is apt to dig deeper, flush out facts, and see the region in all its contrariness and complexity. This is the major sin of MESA's keepers: their unwillingness to break out of a Middle East paradigm dictated by the Palestinian-Israeli obsession. And it's where ASMEA most needs to break ranks and present the diverse and richly textured Middle East, in all its complexities, gore, and glory.
SOURCE: WaPo (1-18-08)
Jan T. Gross, a Princeton University historian and native Polish Jew, has raised hackles here with the publication of "Fear," an account of Poland's chaotic postwar years in which Jews who barely survived the brutal Nazi occupation under the Germans often went on to suffer further abuse at the hands of their Polish neighbors.
The book was first published in 2006 in the United States, where reviewers found it praiseworthy. Gross's work, however, generated bitter feelings among many Poles who accused him of using inflammatory language and unfairly stereotyping the entire population as anti-Semitic. When the Polish-language edition of his book was released here last Friday, prosecutors wasted no time in announcing that he was under investigation....
SOURCE: Center for hHistory and New Media (CHNM) (1-15-08)
Roy Rosenzweig died from cancer on 11 October 2007. He was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and lectured as a Fulbright professor. As the AHA’s Vice President for Research, he urged the Association to open all book prizes to publications in new media form. The Rosenzweig Prize will be the first to specifically recognize contributions developed in digital form to the profession at large.
In 2005, Rosenzweig’s Web-based project, History Matters earned him and CHNM the James Harvey Robinson Prize of the American Historical Association. In 2003, he was awarded the second Richard W. Lyman Award for his work with CHNM, particularly History Matters and the September 11 Digital Archive.
The AHA and the CHNM together will select members of the prize selection committee and develop prize guidelines. The award winners will be announced at the AHA’s Annual Meeting.
The George Mason University Foundation, Inc. will manage the funds for the Rosenzweig Prize. Contributions may be tax deductible to the full extent allowable by the law.
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About the Center for History and New Media
Since 1994, the Center for History and New Media (CHNM) at George Mason University has used digital media and computer technology to democratize history—to incorporate multiple voices, reach diverse audiences and encourage popular participation in presenting and preserving the past. CHNM combines cutting edge digital media with the latest and best historical scholarship to promote an inclusive and democratic understanding of the past as well as a broad historical literacy. CHNM’s work has been recognized with major awards and grants from the American Historical Association, the National Humanities Center, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the U.S. Department of Education, the Library of Congress, and the Sloan, Mellon, Hewlett, Rockefeller, Gould, Delmas and Kellogg foundations.
About the American Historical Association
The American Historical Association (AHA) is a nonprofit membership organization founded in 1884 and incorporated by Congress in 1889 for the promotion of historical studies, the collection and preservation of historical documents and artifacts, and the dissemination of historical research. As the largest historical society in the United States, the AHA provides leadership and advocacy for the profession, fights to ensure academic freedom, monitors professional standards, spearheads essential research in the field, and provides resources and services to help its members succeed. The AHA serves more than 14,000 history professionals, representing every historical period and geographical area. As the only national association for historians studying all areas and fields of history, the AHA currently confers 25 prizes and awards, recognizing a wide variety of distinguished historical work in the form of books, distinguished teaching, and even film. Since 1896 the Association has conferred 1,276 awards that represent a catalogue of the best work of the historical profession over the past 111 years.
SOURCE: SHIMSHON ARAD in the Jerusalem Post (1-15-08)
In perspective, that picture probably reflected the actual marginal role that those concerns, so close to us, were perceived by Schlesinger and his interlocutors. Yet they are still highly illuminating.
The reader may be partly right, I suppose, in assuming that much more of these special preoccupations to us may be hidden in the 5,000 typed pages that were not included in the published Journals. From my personal experience I could testify that Schlesinger always showed keen interest in what was happening in Israel. Most of the 800-page volume reflects his profound and extensive involvement for almost half a century in American politics and manifests his intense preoccupation with US foreign policy. The extent of what was fit to be published was determined by the editors and the publisher. They may have not been indifferent after all to market considerations.
A personal note might be in order here: I was drawn to these Journals because I had known Schlesinger for almost 50 years. I valued his intelligence and enormous erudition and sustained friendship even when we occasionally disagreed on some matters. I first met him at Harvard when I served in New York as the consul assigned to cope also with Boston and Cambridge Mass. Later on, we met in Washington (when he was one of Kennedy's advisers). After Kennedy's assassination and Lyndon Johnson's succession, Schlesinger resigned and moved to New York to teach and write. From that point on, the Century Club became our meeting place for over 30 years. He passed away last February.
A MONTH after Kennedy's election, Schlesinger recorded in his diary a resume of his conversations with the president-elect. The central topic was the task of shaping the new administration. When they reached the subject of who would be secretary of state, the name of David Bruce, a veteran diplomat, was mentioned, but Schlesinger thought he would "not have too many ideas of his own."
Later, at Kennedy's house, the president-elect talked favorably about senator J.W. Fulbright. For Kennedy, the influence of Fulbright in the Senate "seemed a paramount consideration." Schlesinger asked Kennedy if Fulbright would not "alienate the negroes and the Jews?" and Kennedy said, "I don't care about the Jews" [in this connection].
A few days later, Schlesinger learned that the apparent candidate would be Dean Rusk, who was ultimately nominated. In early December 1960 Schlesinger noted that Harris Wofford (one of Kennedy's advisers) had "succeeded in stirring up the Negroes and Jews so effectively that the uproar killed Fulbright, who was apparently Jack's (Kennedy) first choice."...
SOURCE: AP (1-15-08)
He picked the title of his book _ "God's Crucible" _ as a figure of speech for a solid piece of geography: Spain, Portugal and a swath of southern France. It was an area invaded and partly occupied by Muslims from 721 to the end of the 1400s.
A crucible, for those who never took Chemistry 101, is a melting pot lined with material such as porcelain or platinum that can stand high temperatures without itself melting. The pot is used to liquefy metals and other solid stuff, to combine them in new and useful compounds.
In this particular pot the civilizations fostered by Christianity, Islam and Judaism sometimes fused with one another to produce valuable new compounds in art, science and government. Locals at the time gave the period the Spanish name of "convivencia." The word can be translated as coexistence, a prequel to the "peaceful coexistence" some optimistic Russians and Americans liked to foresee during the Cold War....
Lewis, who teaches history at New York University, pokes fun at colleagues who see the defeat of the Muslim advance into western Europe, near Poitiers in the year 732, as ending a threat to Western civilization. On the contrary, he sees it as a pivotal moment "in the creation of an economically retarded, balkanized and fratricidal Europe that, by defining itself in opposition to Islam, made virtues out of hereditary aristocracy, persecutory religious intolerance, cultural particularism and perpetual war."
The cultural and economic level that Europe achieved in the 1400s, he concludes, could have been gotten centuries earlier if Europeans had been part of the Muslim empire.
SOURCE: Eric Hobsbawm in the London Review of Books (1-24-08)
The cover of Eric Weitz’s excellent and splendidly illustrated Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy brings back memories.[*] It shows the old Potsdamer Platz long before its transformation into a ruin at the hands of Hitler and into Disneyland architecture in the reunified Germany. Not that daytime cafés full of men in trilbys like my uncle were the habitat of Berlin teenagers. We were more likely to think of boats on the Wannsee, a place not yet associated with planned genocide.
It is hard to remember, though Hitler made it the staple of his rhetoric in the ironic plethora of voting that took place in its last year, that the republic lasted only 14 years, and of these just six, sandwiched between a murderous birth-period and the terminal catastrophe of the Great Slump, had a semblance of normality. The massive international interest in it is largely posthumous, the consequence of its overthrow by Hitler. It was primarily this that raised the question of Hitler’s rise to power and whether it could have been avoided, questions that are still debated among historians. Weitz concludes, with many others, that ‘there was nothing inevitable about this development. The Third Reich did not have to come into existence,’ but his own argument drains most of the meaning out of this proposition. In any case, it was clear to those of us who lived through 1932 that the Weimar Republic was on its deathbed. The only political party specifically committed to it was reduced to 1.2 per cent of the vote and the papers we read at home debated what room there was in politics for its supporters.
It was also Hitler who produced the community of refugees who came to play a disproportionately prominent part in their countries of refuge and to whom Weimar’s memory owes so much. Certainly they were far more prominent, except in the world of ballet, than the much larger post-1917 Russian emigration. They may have made little impact on the old entrenched professions – medicine, law – but their impact on more open fields, and eventually on science and public life, was quite remarkable. In Britain émigrés transformed art history and visual culture, as well as the media through the innovations of Continental publishers, journalists, photographers and designers....
SOURCE: Email from Stephanie Coontz to HNN (1-17-08)
-A panel on the teen phenomenon of "hooking up" includes new research, and commentators from diverse perspectives.
-Another workshop asks the thorny question, "Is Transracial and Transnational Adoption the RIght Policy for Parents? Children? Society?"
-Still another includes demographers and clinical psychologists examining whether cohabitation is "good" for love or for marriage.
-And in an ongoing consideration of a complicated question, a session examines what are the latest thoughts on divorce versus "sticking it out."
Each year, the CCF conference has successfully created an environment of dialogue and participation. Presenters limit their prepared remarks to 10 minutes; this means that presenters and conference participants convene for focused, lively deliberation on provocative questions. The conference is geared towards addressing key policy and public issues of the moment and in moving beyond simple party-line solutions. The conference program is posted at http://www.contemporaryfamilies.org. Other features of the program include the CCF media awards: award recipients from national media will speak about their experiences covering family issues--and working with family experts; a networking and dance party; and an afternoon of hands-on workshops on writing op eds, pitching stories to the press, and other aspects of working with the media.
For more information, contact Stephanie Coontz, Director of Research and Public Education. Council on Contemporary Families at firstname.lastname@example.org