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: Seattle Times (6-1-08)
In the New York Times “Nixonland” review, conservative commentator George H. Will protested that “The nation portrayed in Perlstein’s compulsively readable chronicle, the America of Spiro Agnew inciting ‘positive polarization’ and the New Left laboring to ‘heighten the contradictions,’ is long gone.”
Maybe. But if you’re a boomer who lived through the 1960s, “Nixonland” (Scribner, $37.50) will induce scary flashbacks to that profoundly disorienting time, when university students protesting the Vietnam War were shot dead by the Ohio National Guard; when academic researchers working late were blown apart by bombs spliced together by anti-war radicals; when the Newark police force mowed down dozens of black residents with a hail of bullets; when Alabama Gov. George Wallace, referencing a protester who had lain down in front of President Lyndon Johnson’s limousine, promised that if he were elected president, “the first time they lie down in front of my limousine, it’ll be the last one they’ll ever lay down in front of because their day is over!”
Through this chaotic tapestry, Perlstein threads the story of Richard Nixon himself. Perlstein’s thesis: Nixon brilliantly exploited the country’s hates and fears in the service of consolidating his own political base.
Perlstein, in Seattle last week to read from “Nixonland,” described his obsession with a decade that was almost over before he was born (in 1969).
As a kid, he bugged his parents for stories of the 1960s. “I couldn’t believe the drama, the conspiracies,” he said. “I was fascinated, not by the minivan commercial version of the 1960s, the version where everyone grew their hair long, rioted, then moved to the suburbs,” but by the terrifying, violent reality, when the left and the right regarded one another with a kind of “murderous rage.”
“It wasn’t fun,” he says. “It was traumatic,” and its legacy shaped American politics the way the Civil War shaped U.S. history for decades to come.
SOURCE: Press Release--U. Connecticut (6-2-08)
He is the 2008 winner of the Norman and Laura Graebner Award from the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, the premier professional association for diplomatic history. The award will be given at the annual meeting of the society at Ohio State University on June 28.
The prize recognizes a senior historian of United States foreign relations who has significantly contributed to the development of the field through scholarship, teaching and/or service, during his or her career.
President Michael J. Hogan, also a historian, praised Paterson for his work.
“Over a long and distinguished career, Tom has been a prolific author of many books and articles, including a book we edited together,” Hogan says.
“He was an extremely popular undergraduate teacher, and the mentor of many successful graduate students, including one who now holds the professorship I used to hold at Ohio State. He has also been a leader in our professional association, which is now honoring him with its Distinguished Service Award.”
Paterson joined the UConn faculty in 1967 and retired in 1997. During that time he worked with more than 30 doctoral students who have become teacher-scholars and public servants.
SOURCE: KACIE GLENN in the Chronicle of Higher Ed (6-6-08)
In their essays, the scholars describe their careers and the determination that led them to claim history as their own — particularly the history of black women, for whom records, if they existed, often perpetuated racist and sexist misperceptions. As for their struggles for acceptance in academe, some of the authors say they continue to face them.
Deborah Gray White, a professor of history at Rutgers University at New Brunswick, introduces the essays (which she edited) with a brief account of those black women who, from the early 20th century to the civil-rights and feminist eras, studied, taught, and wrote history. "These women," she says, "understood how history functioned not only to oppress them but also to keep them from becoming historians, professional or otherwise." White hopes that the book will serve "as a sort of 'how-to' survival manual for those who are currently struggling against entrenched historical methods, historiographies, and faculties … whose very bodies stand in opposition to the conventional wisdom regarding academia."...
SOURCE: Charlotte Allen in the Weekly Standard (6-2-08)
Persels's paper didn't discuss the play simply as an example of Rabelaisian-style scatology, however. The perspective he used was the postmodernist discipline of "cultural studies," which means pushing works of literature (or movies or television shows or ad campaigns or whatever) through a Marxist cheesegrater as examples of the way society conditions its members to accept the views of a dominant class. In Persels's view, the wine-bottle farce marked a stage in the development of what he called the "bourgeois fecal habitus." Translated out of postmodern-ese into plain English, that means the tendency of uptight middle-class people not to want to talk in public about matters pertaining to the bathroom and to assume that those who do are kind of crude. "The excretory experience became associated with the proletariat," Persels explained. Although he seemed eager to demonstrate that he personally didn't share those uptight middle-class views, at least one of the academics in his audience remained unconvinced that a secret bourgeois habitus didn't lurk underneath his antinomian veneer. "Excretory?" she whispered to a fellow medievalist sitting next to her. "Why doesn't he just say shit?"
And you thought that the Middle Ages was all about jousting knights and damsels in distress. That's because you have never attended the medievalists' congress, the annual first-weekend-in-May ritual at Western Michigan where Persels read his wine-bottle theorizing and where it is definitely not your grandfather's Middle Ages. Persels's paper was part of a Thursday morning panel titled "Waste Studies: Excrement in the Middle Ages" and devoting a full hour and a half to human effluvia. The other two scholars that morning read papers dealing with excrement in Icelandic sagas and the theology of latrines.
Waste studies is a brand new academic discipline invented by Susan Signe Morrison, a dark-haired, extroverted 49-year-old professor of English at Texas State University's San Marcos campus and mother of two (her husband is also an English professor) who organized the session and admitted with good-humored candor in an email that her new field's disgust-provoking subject matter might be a "challenge" to scholars thinking about specializing in it. Morrison's own specialty as a medievalist used to be women on pilgrimages, but then she got the idea for her latest book, Excrement in the Late Middle Ages: Sacred Filth and Chaucer's Fecopoetics, forthcoming this September. In her email she explained that the idea for the fecal book came to her partly because she noticed that dung and privies played a role in the works of Chaucer, Dante, and other medieval authors, and partly because her "son was potty-training." And so a new scholarly industry was born.....
SOURCE: Steve Plaut at frontpagemag.com (5-29-08)
[Steven Plaut is a professor at the Graduate School of the Business Administration at the University of Haifa and is a columnist for the Jewish Press. A collection of his commentaries on the current events in Israel can be found on his "blog" at www.stevenplaut.blogspot.com.]
Whenever the media takes note of the antics of Norman Finkelstein, the former DePaul University professor and anti-Israel activist, a flood of disinformation seems bound to follow. Finkelstein’s arrest in Israel last week was no exception.
The facts of the case are clear. Finkelstein had attempted to enter Israel last Thursday to travel into the West Bank. There he would likely have lent support to Palestinian extremists. Unquestionably, he would have caused trouble. And while Israel generally does not prevent foreign trouble makers from entering the country (a highly naive and short-sighted policy), it made an exception this time: Finkelstein was detained at the Tel Aviv airport upon landing, kept under watch for a few hours, and eventually deported to Amsterdam.
The deportation served as a siren call for all Israel’s critics, both foreign and domestic, to protest this alleged "suppression of academic freedom of an academic critic of Israel." The leftist web sites and the liberal media were immediately filled with reports of how "Professor Finkelstein" was kicked out of Israel for, supposedly, having anti-Israel opinions.
Finkelstein’s supporters, like Peter Kirstein of St. Xavier University, cried "outrage” at Finkelstein’s eviction. Israel’s far-Left also got into the fray. Finkelstein's own web site broadcast his martyrdom in lurid terms.
As usual when Finkelstein is involved, the facts all got lost along the way.
First, Finkelstein is no "professor.” In fact, he never was an academic in any meaningful sense of the word. Finkelstein is a crackpot and an open admirer of Holocaust denier David Irving. Finkelstein claims that all Holocaust survivors are liars, hoaxsters, and thieves, extorting Germany. Finkelstein was fired last year from DePaul University in Chicago because he had no academic publications or achievements at all; he has yet to publish his first academic paper. He is regarded to be a Holocaust denier by the Anti-Defamation League, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and others. For all the whining of his supporters that in DePaul he fell victim to "outside interference" when he was denied tenure, the fact is that most of the outside interference there was actually in Finkelstein’s favor.
Second, Finkelstein was not denied entry into Israel because he holds anti-Israel opinions. Anti-Israel leftists come in and out of Israel all the time. For instance, the Jewish state has long put up with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), whose members enter Israel to engage in violent hooliganism and to assist Palestinian terrorism, sometimes assaulting Israeli police and soldiers in the process.
Some of Israel's own tenured professors, moreover, are even more extreme and anti-Israel than Finkelstein himself. As is clear from any fair-minded reading of Israeli media reports, Finkelstein was denied entry into Israel because he has spent the past few years serving as an all-but-official spokesperson for the Hezbollah terror group and was suspected of wanting to enter Israel for purposes of espionage and activities on its behalf.
Third, entry into Israel is not a universal entitlement. According to the official Israeli statement as reported in Haaretz, Israeli intelligence said Finkelstein "is not permitted to enter Israel because of suspicions involving hostile elements in Lebanon," and because he "did not give a full accounting to interrogators with regard to these suspicions." The last point is especially critical. While still in Israeli captivity, Finkelstein adamantly refused to answer questions about what he was planning to be doing while in the country, as well as who was paying for his trip. Given his refusal to cooperate, it’s difficult to see that Israeli authorities had any alternative but to deport him.
That’s not how Finkelstein sees it, of course. Moments after arriving in Amsterdam, Finkelstein sent out the following message to his fans (spelling and grammar uncorrected):
"Before rumors report my premature death, I was kept in a holding cell for 24 hours and then deported to Amsterdam. It wasn't a Belgian bed and breakfast but it wasn't Auschwitz either (although after six hours of abusive treatement (sic) I did call them "f**king Jewish Nazis," not taken well). It seems that to see Musa and his family again, I'll have to wait until the end of the occupation. I have been been (sic) banned for "at least 10 years." Another incentive to work towards ending the occupation."
Facts notwithstanding, some on the hard-Left were prepared to see Finkelstein as the victim. The so-called "Association for Civil Rights in Israel" or ACRI took the lead in this regard. The ACRI quickly dispatched once of its leaders, a lawyer named Michael Sfard, to serve as attorney for Finkelstein while he was being held at the airport. Sfard was then cited in the media as saying, "A country that starts to fear what its harshest critics write about it is a country that is already behaving in a manner reminiscent of the darkest days of the communist regime."
But Finkelstein is not a substantive "critic" of Israel. By his own admission, he is a supporter of a terrorist group – Hezbollah – that explicitly seeks Israel’s destruction. Contrary to the amen corner loudly commiserating with this disgraced academic, Finkelstein is not a victim of Israeli censorship, but of his own extremism.
SOURCE: Press Release--Washington College (6-2-08)
One of the largest book awards in the country, the George Washington Book Prize is sponsored by Washington College in Chestertown, Md., the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and George Washington's Mount Vernon.
A social historian, Rediker’s subject is not only the slave ships – vessels of such terror they had to be outfitted with special netting to prevent the desperate Africans from throwing themselves overboard – but also the kidnapped Africans and their many individual histories and attempts at resistance; the common sailors who were their prison guards, tormentors and sometime fellow victims; and the necessarily brutal ships’ captains who were the agents of a new global capitalism made possible by the trade in human life.
“One of the things I wanted to do in this book was to make our understanding of the slave trade concrete – hence, my subtitle, ‘a human history’ – because I think our capacity to live with injustice depends to some extent on making it abstract,” said Rediker, whose fierce opposition to the death penalty was the inspiration for The Slave Ship and its exploration of what he describes as the historic connection between race and terror. “The George Washington Book Prize is a tremendous honor, and a surprise. I grew up in the South, went to high school in Virginia, so George Washington and the Virginia aristocracy always loomed large in my mind. It’s where I first came to understand issues of race and class and I’ve been working on them ever since.”
The award was presented to Rediker at a black-tie dinner -- complete with fireworks and candlelit tours of Washington’s Mansion -- attended by some 300 luminaries from the worlds of book publishing, politics, journalism and academia. The Mount Vernon event also celebrated the works of the two other finalists: Woody Holton for Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution (Hill and Wang) and Jon Latimer for 1812: War with America (Belknap/Harvard). The books were selected by a three-person jury of distinguished American historians, including Robert L. Middlekauff of the University of California at Berkeley, chair; Elizabeth A. Fenn of Duke University; and Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy, director of Monticello’s International Center for Jefferson Studies and professor of history at the University of Virginia.
In their report on the winning entry, the jurors wrote that “Rediker shares one quality with the demographers who study the slave trade, he respects evidence and uses it in the telling of slave history. But it is not the numbers of people that interest him (though he reports the horrifying figures demographers give on the extent of the trade), it is the experience of these people. His is a ‘human history,’ his book’s subtitle that may seem redundant, but isn’t. Virtually every aspect of the story of where the slaves were from, how they were captured and imprisoned, transported to slave ships, and their treatment on board is covered….Along the way the reader learns much, not only about the slaves but also about the men who owned the ships and ran them….Rediker describes his book as ‘painful’; it was surely painful to write. Despite the emotional cost to its author, it is beautifully written. Indeed the book is, in its use of evidence and its determination to expose the bleakness of the slave experience, evocative and moving, and deeply instructive in unsuspected ways.”
Rediker’s book was named the winner by a panel of two representatives from each of the three institutions that created and sponsor the prize -- Washington College, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association – plus historian Patricia Bonomi of New York University.
“For more than 200 years, Americans have been engaged in an ongoing – and sometimes contentious – conversation about the meaning and significance of our founding era,” said Adam Goodheart, Hodson Trust-Griswold director of Washington College’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, which administers the prize. “The George Washington Book Prize honors books that contribute fresh insights to that national conversation, and that approach history as a literary art. Rediker’s book succeeds marvelously on both counts: it is a majestic, even poetic book, profoundly moral but never moralistic, and suffused with a sense of deep human sympathy.”
“Marcus Rediker's The Slave Ship is a brilliant, exhaustive and deeply humane work of scholarship, which, although it is a history that encompasses every country in the Atlantic World, nonetheless shaped the Founding Era in profound ways,” said James G. Basker, President of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. “The legacy of this history remains one of our challenges in America today.”
Created in 2005, the George Washington Book Prize was awarded in its inaugural year to Ron Chernow for Alexander Hamilton and in 2006 to Stacy Schiff for A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America. This is the second time it has been awarded for a book on the slave trade – last year it went to Charles Rappleye for Sons of Providence: The Brown Brothers, the Slave Trade, and the American Revolution.
About the Sponsors of the George Washington Book Prize
Washington College was founded in 1782, the first institution of higher learning established in the new republic. George Washington was not only a principal donor to the college, but also a member of its original governing board. He received an honorary degree from the college in June 1789, two months after assuming the presidency. The C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, founded in 2000, is an innovative center for the study of history, culture and politics, and fosters excellence in the art of written history through fellowships, prizes, and student programs.
Founded in 1994, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History promotes the study and love of American history. The Institute serves teachers, students, scholars, and the general public. It helps create history-centered schools, organizes seminars and programs for educators, produces print and electronic publications and traveling exhibitions, sponsors lectures by eminent historians, and administers a History Teacher of the Year Award in every state through its partnership with Preserve America. The Institute also awards the Lincoln, Frederick Douglass and George Washington Book Prizes, and offers fellowships for scholars to work in the Gilder Lehrman Collection. The Institute maintains two websites, www.gilderlehrman.org and the quarterly online journal www.historynow.org.
With its new Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center, the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association has created the equivalent of a presidential library for George Washington. “We want to be the first place people think of when they have a question about George Washington,” noted James Rees, Mount Vernon’s Executive Director. “The George Washington Book Prize is an important component in our aggressive outreach program to historians, teachers, and students.”
SOURCE: Thomas Fleming in http://www.chroniclesmagazine.org (5-30-08)
According to the myth of the World Wars, the United States entered World War I to stop two evil and militaristic German Empires from conquering and subjugating the peace-loving peoples of Europe. The noble Woodrow Wilson, at the end of the war, proclaimed the lofty principles of world peace and self-determination that were invoked to destroy the Prussian war machine and break up the Austro-Hungarian Empire into happy little states inhabited by contented peasants. Ignored in the blissful recitations of the myth are several inconvenient facts: Neither Slovak nor Croat peasants were especially content to be included in states run, respectively, by Czechs and Serbs; the Prussian war machine was no more a threat to world peace than the war machines created by their enemies; and many European and American statesmen viewed the Versailles Treaty as the direct cause both of the rise of Hitler and the second World War. Equally ignored is the Wilson administration’s shaky legal basis for entering into a conflict that appeared to concern the United States very little and in which both sides were guilty of violations of international law.
In this wonderful book, which should be read by all Americans who love their country, Patrick Buchanan has launched a devastating attack on the myth. Because the author makes no assumptions about the historical literacy of the United States, people who have not recently boned up on the history of 20th Century can use this volume as a refresher course that narrates the big events and portrays the leading figures. Buchanan makes the period come alive, as he highlights the ambiguous character of many eminent statesmen of the 20th century. The central figure, of course, is the brilliant and mercurial Winston Churchill, who changed sides so often that hardly anyone trusted him. Rejoining the Conservative Party in 1924, which he had abandoned for the Liberals 20 years earlier, Churchill quipped, “Anyone can rat, but it takes a certain ingenuity to re-rat.” Churchill was nothing if not ingenious....
SOURCE: Clark Hoyt in the NYT (6-1-08)
Under “Muslim law as it is universally understood,” Luttwak wrote, Obama was born a Muslim, and his “conversion” to Christianity was an act of apostasy, a capital offense and “the worst of all crimes that a Muslim can commit.” While no Muslim country would be likely to prosecute him, Luttwak said, a state visit to such a nation would present serious security challenges “because the very act of protecting him would be sinful for Islamic security guards.”
At a time when fears about Obama’s security keep bubbling to the surface and an online whispering campaign suggests that he is secretly a Muslim — call him by his full name, Barack Hussein Obama, some Times readers demand — the Luttwak thesis was a double whammy: Obama cannot escape his Muslim history, and a lot of Muslims might want to kill him for trying.
Many Times readers saw the article as irresponsible (“gasoline on the fire,” said Paul Trachtman of Tierra Amarilla, N.M.) or false (“Islam is not like our hair or the color of our skin, which we inherited from our parents,” said Ali Kamel of Rio de Janeiro). The blogosphere lit up with assertions that Luttwak did not know what he was talking about.
The Times Op-Ed page, quite properly, is home to a lot of provocative opinions. But all are supposed to be grounded on the bedrock of fact. Op-Ed writers are entitled to emphasize facts that support their arguments and minimize others that don’t. But they are not entitled to get the facts wrong or to so mangle them that they present a false picture....