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: NYT (3-28-09)
The cause was kidney failure, his son Derek said.
Mr. Green, a shipwright and carpenter by trade, drew on a childhood enthusiasm for cowboy songs and a devotion to the union movement to construct a singular academic career. Returning to college at 40, he began studying what he called laborlore: the work songs, slang, craft techniques and tales that helped to define the trade unions and create a sense of group identity.
“He countered the prevailing, somewhat romantic notion that folklore was isolated in remote, marginal groups,” said Simon Bronner, who teaches folklore at Pennsylvania State University. “He showed that each of us, in our own work lives, have a folklore that we not only perform but that we need.”
SOURCE: Brent Staples on the NYT editorial page (3-26-09)
Clearly, the car had no radio. But wouldn’t they have heard the news when they stopped to gas up and get something eat? No, he said; I had misunderstood the period. Black families motoring through the Jim Crow South packed box lunches to avoid the humiliation of being turned away from restaurants. They relieved themselves in roadside ditches because service-station restrooms were often closed to them. They worried incessantly about breakdowns and flat tires that could leave them stranded at the mercy of bigots who demeaned and wished them ill.
“You took your life into your hands every time you went out on the road,” he said. It was, of course, a relief to come upon a black-owned service station. But he said that you could drive from Charleston quite nearly to Baltimore before finding one.
We had that conversation in 2006, in connection with an article I wrote for this page on his powerful autobiography “Mirror to America.” I had known him for more than 30 years by that time. I had long been aware that he had reshaped the scholarship of the South and had given birth to African-American history with books such as “From Slavery to Freedom,” “The Militant South, 1800-1860” and his groundbreaking work on free Negroes in antebellum North Carolina....
SOURCE: Nation (3-27-09)
In his opening remarks, Caucus Co-Chair Raul Grijalva described the significance of this forum: "We felt that it's very important for staff, community organizations, and Members of Congress to begin to have this vital discussion onAfghanistan and Western Pakistan and the policy direction in which we're moving… One of the best ways [to do this] is to listen and allow ourselves to get information from very learned individuals…."
One of the "learned individuals" on yesterday's panel--which focused on a "Historic Perspective on Afghanistan, its People and their Cultures"--was Dr. William Polk, a former history professor and State Department Middle East expert who served in the Kennedy Administration. Polk traced his personal involvement with Afghanistan back to 1962 when he took a 2000-mile jeep trip around the country. He was on assignment to speak with the provincial governors and tribal chiefs about a series of programs under the Eisenhower Administration that had nearly all resulted in "disastrous failure." Polk said during the trip he "fell in love with" the country.
Polk described the population as living in "deep valleys and on high plateaus scattered along one of the world's biggest mountain ranges…. [A country] about the size of Colorado and New Mexico." He said Afghans are diverse, speaking many languages, "divided in many respects but united by one belief: they don't want foreigners--the British, the Russians or the Americans -- on their land." He also said that "Afghanistan is the perfect example of the land of the Hatfields and the McCoys. Every person is armed, every person is involved in protecting his local turf."
Through his intimate familiarity with Afghanistan, experience with Vietnam during the Kennedy Administration, and research on the history of insurgency and counter-insurgency, Polk has concluded that "we shouldn't be there at all."
"I look in vain for a place where we have succeeded militarily against guerilla warfare," he said. "… I think the more people we put in there, the more people are going to get shot at." He said Afghans who help Americans will be viewed in the same way as Loyalists during the American Revolutionary War--they were despised even more than the British.
Even more powerful, however, were the lessons Polk drew from his experiences with Vietnam. "Always the idea was with a few more troops and a little more time we will solve the problem," he said. "… We were so sure that we knew how to do everything in Vietnam." He said the extent to which we didn't know what we were doing was made abundantly clear when a Marine Corps Colonel informed Polk that one could purchase a tank in the marketplace in downtown Saigon.
"The government that we were trying to promote was so corrupt that they were selling their opponents all the arms to kill us with," Polk said. He noted the corruption today in the Karzai government--its involvement in the drug trade, for example--and the consequent willingness of more and more Afghans to once again accept the Taliban as an alternative that "doesn't steal."
Polk stressed that withdrawing troops from Afghanistan doesn't mean the US has no role in promoting security. He alluded to the 12 recommendations in the book he co-authored with George McGovern in 2006, Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now, and said some of those are applicable to Afghanistan as well. (He said he would provide a new list focused on Afghanistan--stay tuned.)
"We have to recognize that we have inherited an incredibly fragile, fragile position to try to build on…." Polk said. "We have to try to find ways to make that transitional period [of withdrawal] as smooth as we possibly can. But we have to be very straightforward in recognizing it's not going to be easy, and it's not going to be simple. And we're not going to end up with the kind of [government] that we'd like to have theoretically."
The next CPC Forum is on Wednesday--Defining American Strategic Interests in Afghanistan and the Northwest Border Area of Pakistan; Will the Policies and Goals of the Obama Administration Serve Our Strategic Interests? Testifying will be Clare Lockhart who worked as Chief Advisor for the Afghan Government and the UN on institution-building and reconstruction; Dr. Abdulkader Sinno, author of Organizations at War in Afghanistan and Beyond; and a representative from the Obama Administration has been invited as well.
I'm concerned that policy recommendations won't be made to the entire CPC until after the sixth and final forum on May 13th. That's a long time to wait when all signs are pointing towards US/NATO escalation. Nevertheless, this effort is off to a good start, and hopefully it will lead to more congressional leaders speaking out with a humane, smart and progressive (and, in the case of Iraq, prophetic) voice as Polk did once again yesterday.
With reporting from Capitol Hill by Nation Reporter/Researcher Greg Kaufmann.
Reprinted with permission from the Nation. For subscription information call 1-800-333-8536. Portions of each week's Nation magazine can be accessed at http://www.thenation.com.
SOURCE: Interview with HNN in Seattle (3-27-09)
SOURCE: Network of Concerned Historians (3-28-09)
Good news. Amnesty International reports that on 21 February 2009 history teacher Ma Khin Khin Leh was released, together with 23 other prisoners. In July 1999, she was arrested instead of her husband. Later, she was sentenced to life imprisonment. In December 2000, the Network of Concerned Historians launched a campaign on her behalf. Thank you for your efforts.
With best wishes,
Antoon De Baets
(Network of Concerned Historians)
In July 1999, history teacher Ma Khin Khin Leh (?1966–) was detained with eighteen others in Pegu, on suspicion that they were planning a prodemocracy march scheduled for 19 July (Martyrs’ Day, commemorating the 1947 assassination of General Aung San [1915‒47], independence leader and father of opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi). The local Military Intelligence arrested her and her three-year old daughter after officials from the State Peace and Development Council (military junta) attempted to detain her husband, Kyaw Wunna, a political activist and one of the march organizers, but could not locate him. The child was released after five days’ detention. In December 1999, a Special Court sentenced Ma Khin Khin Leh to life imprisonment. In January 2000, she was transferred to an unknown location. On 21 February 2009, she was released.
[Sources: Amnesty International, Myanmar: Imprisoned for Telling the Truth about Human Rights—Freedom of Expression on Trial in Insein Prison (WWW-text; London 1 March 2005) 14; Amnesty International, Report 2003 (London 2003) 181; American Association for the Advancement of Science, Human Rights Action Network, BU0009.Daw (5 December 2000).]
SOURCE: Telegraph (UK) (3-30-09)
Speaking shortly before the launch of a new Channel 4 series to mark the 500th anniversary of the Tudor monarch's accession to the throne, Dr Starkey said he found it "bizarre" that so much historical effort was now focused on the monarch's wives.
But he warned that the "soap opera" of Henry's personal life should come second to the political consequences of his rule, such as the Reformation and the break with Rome.
Dr Starkey went further, by saying that modern attempts to paint many women in history as "power players" was to falsify the facts.
Earlier this month Dr Starkey said he believed Henry VIII's handwriting showed he had an "emotionally incontinent" personality because he was brought up in a female-dominated household.
SOURCE: Rick Shenkman reporting for HNN (3-30-09)
Some 1800 people registered for this year's OAH annual meeting in Seattle, a lower number than would normally be expected for a convention on the West coast. (In 2007 1900 showed up for the out-of-the way Minneapolis convention.) There wasn't any mystery for the lower turnout. The recession has hit many historians hard as schools either cut positions or cut their travel budgets (or both).
Exhibitors complained that sales were extremely slow. Gallows humor was prevalent. One editor confided to HNN that she was upset when on Saturday her colleague succeeded in making a sale--the only sale of the day. It broke their chance to establish a record.
At the OAH Business Meeting there was further grim news. Officials reported that the organization's endowment is down some 30 percent. Contributions are down 40 percent. Income from the exhibitors was down $38,000, though this loss was offset by strong receipts from corporate sponsors. As it usually does, the annual convention is netting a substantial profit, some $95,000, but that's lower than is usual.
Last year to help put the organization on a sounder financial footing the OAH substantially increased membership fees. Officials say it is too early to say if the increases will result in more revenue as has happened in the past when fees were raised. One reason for the less than confident outlook: membership numbers are falling. Officials report that like other scholarly organizations the OAH is finding it difficult to attract and keep young members. The membership last year: 9,300. This year: 8,750.
While officials are projecting the OAH will end the year in the black they are preparing for hard times ahead. They are budgeting for just 1800 attendees at next year's conference in Washington DC, which normally would draw a huge crowd.
Members of the executive board are working on a Strategic Plan to address long-term challenges facing the OAH. A key goal of the plan is turning the OAH into a big tent for all people who work in American history: public historians, teachers, as well as scholars. In addition, planners want the OAH to exploit fully digital media. The plan was debuted at the conference. It will be voted on by the board in November. Officials say they welcome input from members.
*C-SPAN did send its bus. It dominated one end of the book exhibit.
SOURCE: OAH Press Release (3-26-09)
Joyce Appleby is one of America’s foremost historians. She is best known for her work on the political ideology of the Early Republic, with titles such as Capitalism and a New Social Order: The Jeffersonian Vision of the 1790s (1984), Liberalism and Republicanism in the Historical Imagination (1992), and Inheriting the Revolution: The First Generation of Americans (2000). She has also spoken to controversial issues of interest to all historians in books such as Telling the Truth about History (1994) written with Lynn Hunt and Margaret Jacob, Knowledge and Postmodernism in Historical Perspective (1996), and A Restless Past: History and the American Public (2005).
Beyond her scholarship, Professor Appleby has served the profession in a remarkable variety of ways. She chaired a history department (UCLA), worked on editorial boards (such as The American Historical Review and The William and Mary Quarterly), read her way through prize committees, and lavished attention on K-12 teachers of American History. She has occupied positions that are as time-intensive and demanding as they are honorific: presidencies of the Organization of American Historians (1991), the American Historical Association (1997), and the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic (1999). Her service to the OAH alone has included chairing the program committee, chairing the budget review committee, chairing the ad hoc Committee on International Initiatives, volunteering for the lectureship program, and editing the inaugural volume of an annual OAH series, The Best American History Essays (2006). While president of the OAH, she secured $2 million from Congress for establishing American Studies libraries in 59 universities outside Western Europe and the United States. With James Banner she founded and continues to codirect the History News Service. This informal organization distributes op-ed pieces written by historians to over 300 newspapers a week. Many of the pieces that it distributes put public policy in historical context, as do the op-ed pieces that Professor Appleby herself has written for the HNS. Time may prove that this is among her greatest contributions to the profession. It is with great pleasure that the OAH Executive Board bestows its Distinguished Service Award on Joyce Appleby.
Founded in 1907, OAH is the largest learned society and professional organization dedicated to the teaching and study of the American past. OAH promotes excellence in the scholarship, teaching, and presentation of American history, and encourages wide discussion of historical questions and equitable treatment of all practitioners of history. Members in the U.S. and abroad include college and university professors; students; precollegiate teachers; archivists, museum curators, and other public historians employed in government and the private sector.
SOURCE: HNN Staff (3-30-09)
She also announced the winners of the Roy Rosenzweig Distinguished Service Award: Joyce Appleby, Susan Armeny, and Stan Katz.
SOURCE: NYT Week in Review, front page (3-30-09)
“My mother and I used to have a game we’d play on our public,” Dr. Franklin said not long ago, his voice full of artful pauses, words pulled out like taffy. “She would say if anyone asks you what you want to be when you grow up, tell them you want to be the first Negro president of the United States. And just the words were so far-fetched, so incredible that we used to really have fun, just saying it.”
Even in a country where the far-fetched, for better and for worse, so often becomes reality, few historians achieved the stature, both as scholars and as moral figures — and as combinations of the two — that Dr. Franklin did. When he died last week, at the age of 94, an American epoch seemed to vanish with him.
Dr. Franklin was first and foremost a major historian, whose landmark book, “From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African-Americans,” first published in 1947, was a comprehensive survey that sold more than three million copies. The book also permanently altered the ways in which the American narrative was studied.
“What distinguishes his history or historiography is that he, like few other historians, wrote a book that transformed the way we understand a major social phenomenon,” said David Levering Lewis, the New York University historian, who like Dr. Franklin studied under Theodore Currier at Fisk University in Nashville.
“When you think of ‘From Slavery to Freedom,’ there’s before and there’s after, there’s the world before and then we have a basic paradigm shift,” he said. “Before him you had a field of study that had been feeble and marginalized, full of a pretty brutal discounting of the impact of people of color. And he moved it into the main American narrative. It empowered a whole new field of study.”...
SOURCE: MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL in the Nation (3-26-09)
I did my doctoral work at Duke University and had the the opportunity to encounter Professor Franklin many times during my graduate training. Each time it was a privilege because John Hope Franklin was a superstar intellectual who managed to be utterly open and personally humble with students. He made us feel like partners, rather than subordinates, in academic inquiry.
In an age when black public intellectuals are rewarded for pop-culture peppered verbal dexterity and aggressive self-promotion; Dr. Franklin maintained a mode of inquiry which exposed injustice and dismantled inadequate arguments with soft-spoken dignity. His gentle manner sometimes led interlocutors to underestimate him, but it was not a mistake made more than once, because Franklin's razor sharp intellect and quick wit were memorable.
John Hope Franklin had deep personal and professional knowledge of America's vicious racial legacy. Franklin researched America's story of slavery and freedom in segregated archives. He was relegated to separate tables and irregular library hours so that white patrons would not be exposed to a literate black man researching Southern history. Franklin uncovered the vicious legacy of our racial past and engaged in decades of the struggle to change our racial present: from marching in Selma to endorsing Barack Obama.
Though racism and racial inequality disgusted him, Franklin remained ever optimistic about the American democratic project. Perhaps because he'd lived through the age of racial terrorism John Hope Franklin routinely denied the insistence by his privileged students that "nothing has changed" in America's racial story. Franklin was clear that racism was not eliminated and inequality was not resolved, but America was undoubtedly a different country in the late 20th and early 21st century. Franklin pushed us to acknowledge change across time and he encouraged us to take some measure of comfort in that change.
Franklin was no post-racial theorist, but he helped us remember that it mattered that slavery was ended, Jim Crow dismantled, and a black man elected president. He asked us to remember that black women and men struggled along with their white allies to make America a country more true to her ideals.
John Hope Franklin was a giant. He will be greatly missed.
SOURCE: AFL-CIO blog (3-24-09)
Organized by University of Washington historian Michael Honey, who is president of the Labor and Working-Class History Association (LAWCHA), the petition includes the signatures of 100 historians from around the country. They’ve looked at our nation’s historical record and say that it’s clear we need to pass the Employee Free Choice Act.
Writing on behalf of these 100 historians, Honey makes a strong argument about what the lessons of history can teach us about our current economic straits and the need for workers’ freedom to bargain as a tool to help set our economy on the right track by addressing the long-term imbalances in power between workers and management....
SOURCE: NPR (3-24-09)
SOURCE: Lee White at the website of the National Coalition for History (NCH) (3-25-09)
SOURCE: http://www.tcpalm.com (3-21-09)
McCullough, who earned Pulitzer Prizes for his non-fictional accounts of former U.S. presidents John Adams and Harry Truman, as well as the National Book Award, has been acclaimed as a master of the art of narrative history.
Making his first visit to Vero Beach, McCullough noted that over the past three decades, American youth – including history majors at Ivy League colleges – have displayed “a widespread lack of understanding of history.”
“You can’t blame them for what they’re not being taught,” McCullough said.
“What’s the use of history? It’s who we are. And how do we know who we are if we don’t know where we’ve come from?” McCullough asked.
In defining what makes a historically eminent leader, McCullough said, “One common ingredient they all had was access to books as children. A leader must be a reader. We are what we read."
McCullough said that although most of the nation’s founding fathers were young in years and experience, a classical education imbued them with “character, integrity and honor which so many people are (now) conspicuously lacking.”
McCullough called for changes to America’s educational system.
“Go back to certain, basic required courses including history, science and a second language. Re-instate dinnertime conversations. Pay more recognition to teachers and give them respect. The more you learn, the more you want to know. That’s what separates us from cabbages,” McCullough said.
When asked to rate President Barack Obama, McCullough responded that Obama was the first president since Kennedy who has “so exhilarated me.”
“He’s most gifted, articulate and bright and I think the world of him. He personifies what we’ve long said we believe in – ambition to excel. And he has excelled all the way,” McCullough said.
SOURCE: http://news.columbia.edu (3-19-09)
The winners are Thomas G. Andrews for Killing for Coal: America’s Deadliest Labor War (Cambridge: Harvard University Press); Drew Gilpin Faust for This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf); and Pekka Hämäläinen for The Comanche Empire (New Haven: Yale University Press).
One of the most coveted honors in the field of history, the Bancroft is awarded annually by the trustees of Columbia University to the authors of books of exceptional merit in the fields of American history, biography and diplomacy. The 2009 awards are for books published in 2008.
Columbia Provost Alan Brinkley will present the awards at a formal dinner next month at the university’s Low Memorial Library, hosted by the department of history and University Libraries. The Bancroft Prize, which includes an award of $10,000 to each author, is administered by James Neal, vice president for information services and University Librarian.
“Over 200 books were nominated for consideration by the Bancroft jury this year,” said Neal. “Once again, we were very impressed by the number of excellent submissions covering a broad range of themes, and are proud to honor this year’s winners. The Bancroft prize is a celebration and affirmation of historical scholarship, the library, the book, the academic press, and the reportedly threatened scholarly monograph.”
SOURCE: Binghamton.edu news (3-19-09)
“If you have a really good leader in a crisis, the leader acts boldly,” Richard Sylla told an audience at the Anderson Center Chamber Hall. “You don’t waver and you don’t change your mind. You want to keep the banks lending.”
Sylla, the Henry Kaufman Professor of the History of Financial Institutions and Markets and professor of economics at New York University, was the featured speaker at the event. The Mario and Antoinette Romano Lecture Series was endowed in 1984 to sponsor lectures by speakers in history, economics, art history and medicine.
Other lessons Sylla emphasized were: promoting cooperation within the financial community; supporting the functioning of financial markets; resisting whining and blaming; and not being afraid of bankruptcy.
The 1792 crisis is often overlooked because it was handled so efficiently by Hamilton, who was then Treasury secretary.
“Usually when I’m lecturing to students, they’ve never heard of the (1792 panic),” Sylla said. “That’s what happens when a financial crisis is handled well.”
Hamilton’s work actually started with his plan for a U.S. financial system in 1789, which Sylla called the “quickest, neatest and slickest” financial revolution in history. Hamilton’s plan featured the assumption of state debts, creation of the Bank of America and the establishment of the dollar as a monetary base. The stable money expanded the financial system, leading to foreign investment and the growth of banks and corporations. The country that had three banks in 1790 would have 584 in 1835.
“Americans took to banks like ducks take to water,” Sylla said.
In March 1792, Wall Street suffered its first crash, as the U.S. national debt lost a quarter of its value.
“Financial crises begin when there’s some kind of cheap credit available,” Sylla said. “There were a lot of increases in bank credit leading up to the crash with speculators borrowing money right and left.”
Hamilton immediately intervened. He directed open-market purchases of securities; induced banks to lend and also cooperate with each other; arranged cooperative agreements among banks and securities dealers; and released reassuring news, such as publicizing a loan from Dutch bankers that the United States had been trying to negotiate since late 1791.
“Hamilton said, ‘Everyone go out there and tell these panicked people: Why are you panicking? The Dutch just lent us $1.2 million at 4 percent,’” Sylla said.
The intervention ended the panic. By May, the markets recovered and the U.S. economy returned to growth. Later that spring, the New York Stock Exchange was formed.
The success of the U.S. financial system gave the country a built-in advantage for growth, as it laid the foundation for westward expansion and transportation upgrades, Sylla said.
“We often take the U.S. financial system for granted,” said Sylla, who also serves as vice-chairman of the board of trustees of the Museum of American Finance. “Since we’ve always had a banking system and stock markets, the main things for historians to do is complain about how much banks fail and stock markets crash. We should think about how much our country has benefited from a financial system.”
Nevertheless, Sylla admitted that it is an interesting time to be a financial historian in New York City.
“I go out now and talk to people at financial firms and hedge funds and they’re very gloomy,” he said. “I put a smile on my face and say, ‘Hey guys, don’t be gloomy. I’m a financial historian and it doesn’t get any better than this!’”
SOURCE: John Ellis at Frontpagemag.com (3-24-09)
On February 25, 2009, an article by Patricia Cohen appeared in the New York Times: “In Tough Times, the Humanities Must Justify Their Worth.” Its thesis was a familiar one: an economic downturn will lead to a decline in the number of college majors in the humanities because in hard times enrollments shift toward majors with direct vocational utility. The article could have been written 25 or 50 years ago—the phenomenon it talks about is well known. For example, English majors made up 7.59% of those graduating with bachelor’s degrees in 1968, but as the stock market bottomed in the early 1980’s following the Carter economic debacle, that number had sunk to 3.7%. But Cohen’s article is not just a tedious rehash of well-known ideas from the past: it has a more serious flaw. For while this argument could have been and in fact was made at many times in the past, it can not be made today. And that is because the humanities have undergone a profound change that makes Cohen’s entire argument meaningless.
Let’s look first at the statistics. As the economy improved dramatically during the 1980’s, the figure for English majors rose with the economy, reaching 4.7% by the end of the decade. But now the familiar pattern broke down: as the economy continued to get stronger, the figures for English majors began to go in the opposite direction, the first time this had happened. By 1995, English majors had declined to 4.3% of all bachelor’s degrees, and by 2005 they had gone down to 3.7%, the same figure that was seen at the economy’s bottom in the early 80’s—except that the economy had now been booming almost continuously for 20 years.
Something had happened beginning in the early 1990’s to reverse the familiar pattern, and by 2005 it had halved what would have been the expected figure for English majors at this stage in the economy. (That other great field of studies in the humanities—History—showed the same pattern: in the early 1970’s it accounted for 5.3% of bachelor’s degrees, but by 2006 that had dropped sharply to 2.2%, again with the economy booming.) What had caused this amazing result? There can be little doubt as to what it was. The English major had changed profoundly, as had the Professors who taught it. The time when the numbers for English majors abruptly diverge from the economic cycle is exactly the time at which public unrest surfaced over the political correctness and obsession with race, gender and class in college humanities teaching. Richard Bernstein’s famous NYT article which first brought the issue to the attention of the public appeared on October 28, 1990, and Dinesh de Souza’s Illiberal Education, the first full-length treatment of the subject, appeared in 1991. The sharp drop in enrollments in certain humanities fields was not a response to economic conditions, but instead to the way they were now being taught.
While Ms Cohen talks about the cyclical enrollment slump of the past she ignores the far more serious semi-permanent one that has been going on for two decades, but she is also living in the past when she describes the content of the humanities. She takes the essence of a humanities education to be reading the great literary and philosophical works in order to come to grips with the question of what living is for, a conception which, she tells us, some of the “staunchest humanities advocates” admit that they have failed to make the case for as effectively as they should have done. But here she displays an astonishing blindness. Doesn’t she know that for some time professors of English and History themselves (her “staunch advocates”?) have been making the case against this conception of the humanities? For the race, gender, and class obsessed orthodoxy that now dominates English departments, those great literary works are suspect: they reflect and promote the sexism and racism of the past, and so might stand in the way of the social change that is now the goal of the professoriate. That’s why students at major American universities can now get a degree in English literature without having read William Shakespeare: when Shakespeare is seen as an apologist for and ideologist of imperialism, this should not be a surprise. For Ms Cohen, the great writers impart the wisdom of the past, but she seems not to know that the powers that be in college English departments worry instead about those writers exemplifying and perpetuating its bigotry. In History, the inspiring story of the development of the American Constitution--one of history’s greatest wonders--is also neglected and/or treated with similar condescension and disparagement. If the professors teaching these subjects no longer believe in them, why should it be surprising that students abandon them too?
Ms Cohen says that the “critical thinking, civic and historical knowledge and ethical reasoning that the humanities develop….are prerequisites for personal growth and participation in a free democracy,” and of course I’d be happy to join her in that view of the humanities. But in saying so she seems completely out of touch with what is really happening in college humanities courses, for it is not this. Doesn’t she know that civic and historical knowledge of American history and institutions is at a low ebb precisely because that knowledge does not mesh with the dominant politically correct ethos of the professoriate? Or that ethical reasoning in the humanities is now often reduced to a compulsory buying into the obsession with group grievance that has been central to humanities teaching for some time? Or that in the experience of far too many students, genuinely independent, critical thinking is scarcely inspired by teachers themselves in the grip of a shallow, one-sided critique of their own society--a dogma that may not be questioned?
I need not further belabor this question of the health of a field that in recent years has been far more concerned that its students read the incoherent Derrida and the paranoid Foucault that William Shakespeare. The most fundamental problem in Ms Cohen’s piece is that she writes as if what threatens the health of the humanities is the philistinism of the general public and the pecuniary crassness of its children, a viewpoint doubtless shared in her view by an enlightened NYT readership. But, alas, here she has things exactly backwards. The students are not the problem: they will be back when they are offered the kind of humanities program that Ms Cohen seems to want. The philistinism of the great unwashed non-NYT reading American public is also not the problem—it is very much opposed to the nonsense that has ruined college education in the humanities. If Ms Cohen is serious about getting us back to the conception of the humanities that she espouses, she’ll have to take on those elite humanities professors who have betrayed it. She’ll find it easy to reach them: I’m sure they all read the New York Times.
SOURCE: Juan Cole at Informed Comment (Blog run by Juan Cole) (3-24-09)
Listen to my interview with Steven Inskeep of National Public Radio's"Morning Edition" on myths about Saudi Arabia's puritanical and hyper-Protestant Wahhabi branch of Islam. I argue that there is no statistical or social scientific evidence that Wahhabis are more prone to violence or terrorism than other branches of Islam. Note that it is a narrow argument about the myth of Wahhabism as a font of terrorism in an essentialist way. There is lots wrong with the human rights record of Wahhabism. But that is a different issue. It is a whole chapter in my new book, Engaging the Muslim World.
My hour-long interview with Diane Rehm of NPR on my new book is available here.
Daniel Levy favorably reviews my book, along with recent works of Robin Wright and Rashid Khalidi, for The American Prospect
Engaging the Muslim World
SOURCE: Raymond Arsenault in the NYT Book Review (3-19-09)
She begins with the complicated story of her father, Mark Satter, a Jewish lawyer and landlord who represented “scores of African-Americans who had been grossly overcharged for the houses they had bought.” His legal and real estate interests centered in Lawndale, a traditionally Jewish neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago that became overwhelmingly black by the late ’50s. Lawndale, like many other urban black enclaves, was the scene of widespread and systemic economic exploitation, exacerbated by the Federal Housing Administration’s practice of redlining predominantly black neighborhoods, which effectively eliminated mortgage insurance within their boundaries.
In cities like Chicago, redlining forced a vast majority of black homeowners and tenants into the vulnerable world of “contract selling,” in which unscrupulous speculators dictated onerous terms that often led to default and social pathology, simultaneously reinforcing black stereotypes and white racism. The “lack of equal access to credit,” the author explains, had profound ramifications: “fabulous enrichment for speculative contract sellers and their investors, debt peonage or impoverishment for many black contract buyers and an almost guaranteed decay of the communities in which such sales were concentrated.” Once we recognize the full impact of contract selling, she insists, it becomes clear that “the reason for the decline of so many black urban neighborhoods into slums was not the absence of resources but rather the riches that could be drawn from the seemingly poor vein of aged and decrepit housing and hard-pressed but hard-working and ambitious African-Americans.”...
SOURCE: http://www.todayszaman.com (3-23-09)
HNN Hot Topics: Armenian Holocaust
Prominent German historian Hilmar Kaiser is presently in Ankara carrying out research in the Turkish archives. In an interview with Sunday's Zaman this week, Kaiser says the field of history "is flooded with political advocates who are less historians than opinion-formers," drawing a picture full of gray areas, showing there is still ample room for research on the 1915 events.
In the 1990s, Kaiser was working exclusively in İstanbul and that period, he was only granted access to the Ottoman archives, which were under special regulations, and had been declined permission to carry out his research in any other library or archive by the then-Tansu Çiller government. Today, however, Kaiser believes that there aren’t any issues as far as access to the state archives is concerned.
“Two weeks ago, I was in Washington, D.C., presenting my research and photos at an Armenian Assembly [of America] conference, and I suggested that if they are looking for a good director for their archives and genocide museum, they might consider hiring Yusuf Sarınay, the head of the Turkish state archives, or Mustafa Budak, the head of the Ottoman archives. These are two highly qualified people with vision, determination and commitment. Some people were surprised, but I was very serious about it,” says Kaiser.
“Yes, there are still problems, but having said this, I should immediately add there are problems everywhere. The important thing is there is a process in place to overcome these problems. It’s a huge administration, and encountering problems is part of the daily work. I can only say that, as far as I’m concerned, and I know the same for many, many researchers -- both Turkish or foreigner -- that they have had exactly the same experiences. If there is a problem, it’s immediately addressed and resolved. That’s all you can ask for. Turkey has gained a lot of credit with its new archive policy, and it will gain more credit if the present government would support the archives more strongly with additional funding,” he notes.
Kaiser is critical of colleagues who prefer doing their work without researching the context of original documents and thus making “reassessments” of certain theses -- one of which is that the İttihat ve Terakki (Committee of Union and Progress) had a racist motivation, acted premeditatedly and had developed a systematic extermination policy during the 1915 events.
“One should stop thinking of the [Committee of Union and Progress] CUP as a kind of monolithic party. Research on the Armenians in WWI has tended to try to create the impression of a Turkey that was like a small version of Nazi Germany, with a single party and with a poor man’s SS named Teşkilat’ı Mahsusa. I think this is totally wrong; one has to study the Turkish-Armenian case on its own. Yes, there were some people within the CUP inspired by European positivists, who were partly racist, but thinking that this was not the general party line. That racism was not the driving motive behind the Armenian policy is quite clear because if you compare it to the German racism, you cannot explain the survival of tens of thousands of Armenian women and children in Muslim houses, even in the government orphanages. This would have been completely impossible if the government had been inspired by the German type of racism,” says Kaiser.
“People like to compare Young Turk-Turkey to Nazi Germany, but it is not a comparison; they equate it. A comparison should also stress the fundamental differences,” he continued. “Racism as well as Muslim fundamentalism were not driving forces. Some allege that Islam was very conducive to large-scale massacres of Armenians. It’s totally illogical. If Islam is very conducive to large-scale massacres of Armenians, why were they here for 600 years? Second, why did the survivors survive in Muslim societies in the Middle East?”...
Martin Peretz at his blog at the New Republic
Nicholas Kristof has finally revealed his secret. In his Thursday ramble entitled "The Daily Me," he explains, almost as if he knows the topic desperately requires an explanation, why his Middle East commentary is really a rehash of Juan Cole. That's whose web-site he reads to get his opinions on the region: "The blog I turn to for insight into Middle East news is often Professor Juan Cole's, because he's smart, well-informed and sensible--in other words, I often agree with his take."
Now, that's an extraordinary confession for someone who is ignorant about the area. For Cole, though a popular blogger, is certainly not sensible and he has, on many issues, kept himself acidulously ill-informed. Smart he is, however, though mostly in his efforts to get to the top of the heap of popular experts about the Arabs.
And, frankly, it's my friend Jim Lehrer who is responsible for Cole's rise. During the grim years of the Iraq war, he put Cole on the public television news-hour so often --and treated him with such deference--that viewers would not be to blame for thinking his expertise incontestable. The fact is that Cole has never set foot in Iraq, and certainly not in the period when almost all who were setting themselves up as experts felt the need to go. OK, Cole may have been afraid. But, then, at least, he could have taken himself to the Green Zone and then made a quick trip to Kurdistan. Mission (half) accomplished.
The fact is that Lehrer's program is where the liberal pabulum is certified. The conservative pabulum is certified by more vulgar commentators. (If the administration and Congress start tampering with equal time issues as a way to tame right-wing talk shows, public television and public radio will be under scrutiny that will be very unpleasant. After all, the public pays for them.)
Back to Cole. Not so long ago, Efraim Karsh did an article in TNR that exposes the Michigan professor's biases. These were too much for Yale which turned Cole down for a tenured spot. After all, Yale has one of the truly great history department's in the country.
By the way, has Cole ever admitted that the bloody Iraq imbroglio turned out or is turning out a bit differently than he prophesied? Yes, and "prophecy" is just the right word for Cole's analyses. So remember that Kristof in his silly admission has confessed to doing his research in the work of this shoddy scholar.
Cole has a new book out, Engaging the Muslim World. I'm in the middle of reading it. At half-way point, there's not much in it. And nothing that's fresh. In any case, you don't need to read it. You can always skim Kristof's column.
Juan Cole at his blog, Informed Comment
The editor-in-chief of The New Republic, Martin Peretz, attacked Jim Lehrer and Nicholas Kristof over the weekend for having had anything to do with me.
I'm not important, but I really must come to the defense of Lehrer and Kristof. Peretz blames Jim Lehrer for having me on the Lehrer News Hour on PBS and thus allegedly minting me as a liberal intellectual. And he goes on to accuse the News Hour and PBS more generally of being ideologically biased to the Left.
The News Hour works extremely hard to put on balanced interviews. Every time a person is considered for an interview, it involves a pre-interview, a sort of audition. The producer tries to find out what the guest will say on an issue, and then to find a good counter. On Lehrer, I was put opposite Neoconservatives from the American Enterprise Institute such as Michael Rubin and Reuel Gerecht, or against Iraqi politicians or intellectuals who supported the Bush war. I was never put on as a singular or dominating voice, and so Peretz's accusation of bias is merely an insult.
Many of the conservatives with which PBS paired me know no Arabic and have no cultural understanding of the Middle East. As for my credentials, I had written my dissertation on trans-national Shiite Islam in the modern period and had two chapters in the dissertation set among Iraqi Shiites. I discovered new primary sources in Arabic for Iraqi history and Shiism in India and Pakistan, and suffered to get them (I was laid low for 6 months by hepatitis at the end of my fieldwork.) I had been among the few Americans to have written Iraqi history before the war (see my book, Sacred Space and Holy War) and was the first to write an academic journal article on the Sadr Movement. I lived in the Muslim world for nearly 10 years, which informed my researches. There are different ways of knowing. Mine is an academic way, and it has its virtues, and it is not strange that this expertise was respected by PBS. Peretz does not really object to me because I lack expertise or am too far left to suit him (it would not take much) but because my analyses and conclusions differ so profoundly from his, especially on Israel/Palestine, that he wants to silence me. But the Lehrer News Hour is not about shutting people up. It is about allowing a free debate among a large range of perspectives. By the way, readers should google my appearances on Lehrer and decide how well those interviews hold up in the light of what we now know.
Interestingly, Peretz doesn't seem to know what a blog is or to realize that it wasn't PBS that made me prominent, but"Informed Comment" and my daily commentary and reportage here. And, it generated lots of television, not just the Lehrer News Hour. I have been on ABC Evening News, Nightline, the Today Show, CNN Headline News, Anderson Cooper 360, Wolf Blitzer, John Gibson's Big Country (yes, on Fox), Keith Olbermann, Ron Reagan, the History Channel, etc., etc. Lehrer has hardly been alone among television journalists in valuing my perspective.
Peretz has smeared Jim Lehrer, indeed, libelled him, along with Ray Suarez, Margaret Warner and Gwen Ifill (all of whom have interviewed me), and must apologize. Now.
Nicholas D. Kristof has more ethics, more humanity and more insight in one of his fingernails than Peretz has in his whole body.
Peretz is transparent that he fears my new book, Engaging the Muslim World, will be influential and he wants to stop you from reading it.
Doesn't that make you curious to know what is in it that threatens him so much?
Engaging the Muslim World
Peretz is a prime example of what John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt call the"Israel Lobby" (I prefer the plural). He is rich. He has sharp elbows. He used his riches to insert himself centrally into the national political debate. (Try to get an article critical of Israel published in The New Republic). He helped get over 4,000 young Americans killed in a fruitless Middle East war, which he appears mainly to have backed in order to crush the Palestinians. And he is using his position to marginalize Americans who do not share his extreme form of Zionism. He boasts of ruining careers here for the sake of the Likud Party in Israel. He is wholly unrepresentative of American Jewry, which is diversified as to social class and is mostly liberal and dedicated to social justice, and much of which is anti-war (nearly half of American Jews opposed the Iraq War, when 75% of Americans as a whole supported it).
Peretz single-handedly ruined a great magazine with a century-long tradition of contributing to political debate in the United States. Obviously, it has some great journalists working for it, but he corrupted its editorial line and ousted honorable liberals (getting rid of people is one of his favorite ways of making sure he wins). He has no particular accomplishments to his name except marrying the Singer sewing machine fortune and then using it to buy and disfigure The New Republic. He is famous for having backed the nun-killing far rightwing Contras in Central America in the 1980s, and for being part of a Reaganite wacky far right of cranky rich people, along with Domino's Pizza magnate Tom Monaghan, who worked tirelessly to make sure Central American peasants remained barefoot and oppressed so that US corporate profits could continue to flow freely from the region.
He also lobbied the W. Bush administration tirelessly to launch a war of aggression on Iraq with no vestige of international law. I noted in Salon recently,
'"Martin Peretz, owner of the New Republic, took up the neoconservative mantra on Sept. 5, 2002, writing that"The road to Jerusalem more likely leads through Baghdad than the reverse. Once the Palestinians see that the United States will no longer tolerate their hero Saddam Hussein, depressed though they may be, they may also come finally to grasp that Israel is here to stay and that accommodating to this reality is the one thing that can bring them the generous peace they require." '
How you could get more wrong than that, I'm not sure.
Contrast that to what I was writing before the 2003 invasion of Iraq:
' Moreover, the idea that a US military occupation of Iraq will deter as oppose to provoking more attacks on US interests is awfully optimistic. The main problem an organization like al-Qaeda has is to recruit further members and keep current members from melting away in fear. They recruit best when the young men are angriest. What are they angry about? The Israeli dispossession of the Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza; the almost daily shooting by the Israeli army of innocent noncombatants; the progressive colonization of Palestinian territory by--let us say--idiosyncratic settlers from Brooklyn (all of this is on t.v. every day over there); the harsh Indian police state erected over the Muslims of Kashmir; the economic stagnation and authoritarian policies of many Middle Eastern governments that are backed by the US; and the poverty and prejudice Muslim immigrants to places like France and Germany experience daily.
I don't have any idea how to resolve all these grievances; but the young men are very angry about and humiliated by them, and al-Qaeda plays on that anger to seduce them into attacking US interests. A US occupation of Iraq is not going to address the grievances, and is likely to create new bitterness and so help the recruitment drive. If the US really wanted to stop terrorism, it would invade the West Bank and Gaza and liberate the Palestinians to have their own state and self-respect, instead of heading to Baghdad.
Iraq is rugged; tribal forces are still important; and the majority population is Shiite, as is that of neighboring Iran. What will happen if US bombs damage the Shiite shrines, the holiest places for 100 million Shiite Muslims in Lebanon, Iran, Pakistan, India, Bahrain? What will happen if there is a riot in a shrine city like Karbala and US marines put it down by killing rioters? Do we want 100 million Shiites angry at us again? (Lately they have calmed down and it is the radical Sunnis that have given us the problems).
What happens if the Iraqi Sunni middle classes lose faith in secular Arab nationalism because the Baath is overthrown, and they turn to al-Qaeda-type Islam, in part out of
resentment at American hegemony over their country? What will happen if we give the Turks too much authority to intervene in Kurdistan, and fighting breaks out between the Turks and the Iraqi Kurds, and if the Iraqi Kurds turn against the US?'
Peretz accuses me of prophesying and wants me to apologize for being wrong. I was not prophesying. I was pointing to the dangers and uncertainties of an Iraq War. And my gut instinct for what the dangers were was perfectly correct, as subsequent events unfortunately demonstrated.
That Iraq is no longer racked by paroxysms of almost cosmic violence, as it was 2006-2007, is a wonderful good thing. But 4 million are still huddling, displaced; millions have been wounded; the economy is a wreck, and in a recent week 60 were killed in car bombings in the center of the capital. It is not paradise. In any case, that social crises subside over the years does not resurrect the dead or heal the wounded or restore fathers to the orphaned. Peretz does not care about actual human beings, though, unless they are just like him-- rich and superficial and arrogant and spoiled.
SOURCE: Adeed Dawisha at Middle East Strategy at Harvard (MESH blog) (3-20-09)
As America’s footprints sank deeper in the treacherous quicksand of Iraq’s discords and tensions, it was obvious that the seeming failure of the American project in Iraq was not just a failure of state institutions. The new masters, strangely unschooled in the ways of the land over which they now held dominion, would fail in two other undertakings: molding a unified Iraqi identity that would overcome ethno-sectarian loyalties, and fashioning robust representative institutions.
But was the American endeavor really so unique, indeed so alien, to Iraq that it was bound to fail? In fact, the narrative of a socially fractured Iraq and the way that state and civil institutions tried to deal with this seemingly intractable problem did not arise after April 2003. The story is as old as the history of Iraq itself.
My book examines the political development and institutional evolution of Iraq from the inception of the state in 1921 to the post-2003 years of political and societal turmoil. Its premise is that from the very beginning of the state, the Iraqi project devolved into three separate, yet interrelated undertakings: the construction and consolidation of the institutions of governance; the effort to legitimate the state through the framing of democratic structures; and the creation of an overarching, and thus unifying, national identity.
When the British installed Faysal bin Husayn as king of Iraq in 1921, the project to create a national identity, to sculpt a ‘nation’ out of the different and disparate communities, became a critical undertaking as essential to the future of Iraq as building an effective and credible process of governance. The British and the newly-crowned king also recognized early on in the monarchical period (1921-58) that a key route to amalgamating the country’s disparate groups into a coherent whole was through the construction of civic and representative institutions.
My purpose in this book is to demonstrate that the most useful and effective way of making sense of the post-2003 seeming waning of the country—the failures of state institutions, the frailty of democratic attitudes and commitments, and the fragility of a coherent national identity—is through a systematic understanding of the same three projects as they were first undertaken by the British and the Iraqi ruling elites in 1921, and then developed, with a few successes and many failures, during the life span of the country right through to the tumultuous events of the post-2003 era.
SOURCE: Humanities (magazine of the NEH) March/April (3-1-09)
That Carlyle would produce such a fervent account is somewhat surprising given his dour upbringing. Born in Ecclefechan, Scotland, in 1795, he was the eldest son of a household defined by his father’s temper and consuming devotion to Calvinism. A bright but sickly boy, he mastered French and Latin, and excelled at mathematics. His father agreed to let him attend university provided he study to become a minister. At fourteen he enrolled at the University of Edinburgh, continuing his math studies, tutoring students on the side, and devoting his free time to reading. As he grew more confident socially, he began to participate in debate clubs, where he was celebrated for his wit.
Each year Carlyle spent at Edinburgh, the less inclined he was to fulfill his promise to become a minister. Near the end of his studies, he grudgingly enrolled in a nonresidential divinity course, convinced that he would never finish, but aware of his promise to his parents. In 1814, with neither divinity nor arts degree in hand, Carlyle took his first in a series of teaching jobs, first in Annan, later in Kirkcaldy. His days were spent instructing indifferent young men, while his nights were devoted to literature. In the spring of 1817, he abandoned all pretense of becoming a minister.
A growing disaffection with teaching and a surety that his future career lay in writing led Carlyle to give up his teaching post and move back to Edinburgh in the fall of 1818. He cobbled together a meager living doing translations, tutoring, and hack writing. Carlyle continued his voracious reading, looking for hints of craft and style that he could adopt. He considered Coleridge “very great but rather mystical, sometimes absurd.” Essayist William Hazlitt was “worth little, tho’ clever.” Alexander Pope was “eminently good,” while Thomas Gray was found to be “very good and diverting.” Carlyle lamented the death of Washington Irving: “It was a dream of mine that we two should be friends!” He regarded Byron and those like him to be “opium eaters,” people who “raise their minds by brooding over and embellishing their sufferings, from one degree of fervid exaltation and dreamy greatness to another, till at length they run amuck entirely, and whoever meets them would do well to run them thro’ the body.”
He found solace and inspiration in an unlikely place: the writings of the German Romantics. After struggling to teach himself German, he made it through Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust, in which God and Mephistopheles fight over the soul of scholar Heinrich Faust. Goethe’s ideas and writings electrified him, prompting him to encourage his friends to persist with studying German, because “in the hands of the gifted does it become supremely good.” It wasn’t long before Carlyle was privileging German over French literature. His enthusiasm led to a book-length essay on Friedrich Schiller and then a translation of Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship that earned him his first big paycheck, in the amount of £180.
In October 1824, Carlyle took a trip to France that he later claimed helped him to write the vivid descriptions in The French Revolution. He did not go to Paris as a young man taking his grand tour, ready to indulge in the delights of French culture; he went as a man who, despite having renounced life as a minister, still viewed the world through the lens of Scots Presbyterianism. After only a few days in Paris, he observed: “France has been so betravelled and beridden and betrodden by all manner of vulgar people that any romance connected with it is entirely gone off ten years ago; the idea of studying it is for me at present altogether out of the question; so I quietly surrender myself to the direction of guide books and laquais de place [local flunkeys], and stroll about from sight to sight.”
Carlyle grudgingly respected Napoleon and his attempts to rationalize French civil life, but held contempt for anything that smacked of the ancien régime. ...
SOURCE: National History Center (3-18-09)
In the nomination letter, Pranav Merchant from the Liberal Arts Council praised Professor Louis because of his ability to engage his students “in the course material by using his wealth of knowledge to find topics that are important and that students will find interesting.”
“Ultimately,” Merchant continued, “Professor Louis cares about students and cares about his field of study, and he excels in teaching and has contributed immensely to British Studies. Because of all of this, he creates a unique academic and social experience that enriches everyone who comes into contact with him.”
In addition to recognizing excellence in teaching, the Senate of College Councils sought to select a professor committed to have a significant impact in the educational experience and possibly even affect the lives of his or her students. The award was the first of its kind, and it represented an effort by the student Senate to encourage the creation of an official award nominated directly from University of Texas students to recognize faculty.