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: The Faster Times (9-3-09)
Sand believes that Israel should be a liberal democracy like the United States or Britain-states without a legally dominant religion or ethnicity. But while this argument may be compelling on its own, it’s not enough for him. He must prove (or attempt to prove) that almost every story that Israelis tell about themselves is fictitious.
One of the key parts of the Israeli (and Jewish) national myth, for example, is that there is an unbroken genealogical line stretching back from the Jews of today to those exiled from the Roman province of Judea in 70 C.E. But Sand maintains that there was no exile (”the Romans never deported entire peoples”). Instead, the Jews that remained eventually became Christian or Muslim. The great communities that later sprang up in North Africa and Eastern Europe were actually the products of conversion. According to Sand, Zionist historians ignored or played down these facts for political reasons-to create an “effective myth that provides modern Jews with a pathway to ethnic identity.”
And (as Sand’s reasoning has it) if the myth is a lie-if there is no genealogical connection between today’s Jews and those of Provincia Judea-then there is no justification for a Jewish state.
This, to me, sounds like a leap. But some of Sand’s arguments are not easily dismissed. At least I thought so when I started his book, which I wanted to read with an open mind. But as the arguments piled up, I became suspicious. There is a consistent tone of outrage here: Sand comes off like the relative that corners you every Thanksgiving to harangue you about politics. But it’s not merely a matter of literary style. The tone made me question the author’s disinterest. It made me wonder if he too is distorting history for political ends.
Which, apparently, he is. Other Israeli historians, like Anita Shapira and Israel Bartal, have convincingly refuted many of Sand’s major assertions. According to Shapira, Sand has been cherry-picking-the better historians have never asserted that there was a massive exile. The intense connection to the land instead grew out of the loss of sovereignty. And Bartal writes, “Although the myth of an exile from the Jewish homeland (Palestine) does exist in popular Israeli culture, it is negligible in serious Jewish historical discussions.”
So then why does Sand sees conspiracies, or at least ahistorical motivations, where they don’t always exist? Perhaps because his desire for a truly egalitarian Israel has destroyed his objectivity. This impression was confirmed when I watched a clip of Sand on French TV, wherein he comes off as articulate, passionate, and unhinged.
SOURCE: The Huffington Post (9-3-09)
The book feud — the borough’s biggest since Park Slope and Prospect Heights battled it out for literary supremacy – started when history writer and memorabilia collector Brian Merlis sent The Brooklyn Paper a scathing review of former Brooklyn Borough Historian John Manbeck’s 2008 book, “Historic Photos of Brooklyn,” which he claims is riddled with factual inaccuracies.
“Although Manbeck’s latest work looks quite good on the coffee table, when I opened it I was appalled to find so many glaring errors, overlooked or intentional,” wrote Merlis, who co-authored a number of local photo anthologies including ‘’Brooklyn: The Way It Was’’ and “Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge and Fort Hamilton: A Photographic Journey, 1870-1970.”...
... Merlis acknowledged that he has clashed with Manbeck in the past – particularly over the incident with the Kingsborough Historical Society – though he denies that personal squabbles motivated his harsh review.
“To me it’s not about politics,” he said. “When somebody puts stuff out that’s not right, I can’t be quiet.”
Current Borough Historian Ron Schweiger refused to get into the middle of the book battle, but he acknowledged that inaccuracies are commonplace in history writing — no matter the author.
“Mistakes happen — they happen even in the best of books,” said Schweiger.
SOURCE: BBC (Radio 4) (9-2-09)
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SOURCE: Press Trust of India (9-3-09)
Hiranandani, also an eminent Naval historian, died on Tuesday. He was 78 and is survived by a son and daughter...
... Hiranandani, a gallantry award winner, joined the Indian Navy in 1949. He had undergone extensive training in United Kingdom with the Royal Navy at different stages of his professional career and had served on all classes of ships including battleships, aircraft carriers, cruisers and destroyers.
He commissioned Navy's first guided missile destroyer INS Rajput in 1980.
SOURCE: Luton Today (9-3-09)
Ged Lynn, 37, is promoting two monasteries near to his home in Jarrow, Tyne and Wear, which are the UK's only bid to gain World Heritage status in 2010.
He left Jarrow on August 9 and arrived in Luton on the 17th day of his mammoth journey, after trekking the hardest part of the trip - from Leicester to Luton.
He hoped to reach his last spot, Guildford, on Tuesday, September 1.
SOURCE: telegraph.co.uk (9-4-09)
He also dismissed their contribution to defeating the Nazis on the grounds that they were forced to fight.
Mr Aly, the author of the controversial Hitler's Beneficiaries, made the remarks during a press conference at "The Third World in the Second World War", a Berlin exhibition aimed at recognising the role of thousands of Africans and Asians in defeating Nazism.
Though he was invited to speak, Mr Aly dismissed what he called a "politically correct" version of history and argued that, in fact, people from colonised countries had a "parallel interest" with the Nazis in defeating imperial nations such as Britain and France.
He compared the behaviour of Britain and France's black soldiers to the notorious mass rapes by the Russians in eastern Germany and Berlin.
"Every town in southwest Germany could tell stories of rape by black soldiers", which was "no different to the Russian" practice of systematic rape, Mr Aly claimed.
He also described Britain and France's black and Asian soldiers as "unfree liberators", whose contribution to the defeat of Hitler ought therefore not be celebrated...
... Mr Aly, a respected but controversial figure, is best known for Hitler's Beneficiaries, which argues that the Nazis bought the loyalty of ordinary Germans by equitably redistributing loot plundered from Jews and conquered European territory
SOURCE: Washington Post (9-2-09)
How effective are consumer boycotts?
We asked guest blogger Lawrence Glickman to weigh in. He is author of "Buying Power: A History of Consumer Activism in America," just released by University of Chicago Press. A professor of history at the University of South Carolina, Glickman co-edited, "The Cultural Turn in U.S. History," a collection of essays providing a perspective on U.S. cultural history, which was released in February by University of Chicago Press.
The company's customers were famously progressive. They assumed that the company shared their values. But when the company's leader made clear his antipathy to one of their core beliefs, consumers were shocked, describing the situation as "utterly incredible" and "incongruous." Some quickly called for coordinated consumer action to weaken the company.
I'm not describing the boycott of the Whole Foods Company. Instead, I refer to a protest against Consumers' Research, a product-testing organization that attracted thousands of members when it was founded in the late 1920s. In 1935, however, workers staged a strike when the company refused to recognize their union. Many thousands of Consumers' Research members, feeling betrayed, cancelled their membership in solidarity. Many of them turned instead to a new organization formed by some of the organization's disgruntled workers: Consumers Union.
History, as the familiar saying goes, has a habit of repeating itself. In the past few months, this has been the case especially in the area of consumer politics.
We have seen a "tea party" craze, a movement that began with protests against taxes and evolved into demonstrations on issues from health care reform to the national debt. Boycott campaigns have also sprung up across the political spectrum. Right-wing commentators, contemptuous of the federal bailout of U.S. auto manufacturers, have called for a boycott of General Motors. The African-American political advocacy group Color of Change has called for an advertising boycott of the Glen Beck show on Fox television to protest his comment that he believes President Obama is a racist.
In the past several weeks, the Whole Foods protests have brought to mind the 1935 revolt at Consumers Research, which was dubbed the "Strike in the Temple of Consumption." As an organizer on the Boycott Whole Foods web site declared: "Whole Foods has built its brand with the dollars of deceived progressives." Aggrieved Consumers' Research members said virtually the same thing...
Boycotts are part of the fabric of American political culture. Although the word was not coined until 1880, they have been an American political tradition since colonial days when British settlers, breaking from royal domination, refused to consume English tea and other goods...
... A very different type of boycott also has succeeded: national campaigns that seek to bring political or economic issues into the limelight. Perhaps the most widespread boycott in history was in support of the United Farm Workers who sought better pay and conditions. A poll in the early 1970s found that 17 million Americans had stopped buying table grapes in this nationwide boycott that ultimately brought growers to the bargaining table.
Even failed boycotts sometimes have surprising long-term consequences. In the early 1900's, African Americans in twenty-five Southern cities initiated boycotts of segregated streetcars. Most of these campaigns were short-lived, unsuccessful, and lost to history. Yet they marked an early step in the campaign against segregation, which culminated in large measure with another, successful effort -- the most famous boycott in the history of the United States: the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955 and 1956. That movement not only ended Jim Crow transportation in that city but brought the Civil Rights campaign to the forefront of the nation's political agenda and moral consciousness...
SOURCE: http://www.medievalists.net (9-3-09)
According to its publisher, “Stark reviews the history of the seven major Crusades from 1095 to 1291, demonstrating that the Crusades were precipitated by Islamic provocations, centuries of bloody attempts to colonize the West, and sudden attacks on Christian pilgrims and holy places. Although the Crusades were initiated by a plea from the pope, Stark argues that this had nothing to do with any elaborate design of the Christian world to convert all Muslims to Christianity by force of arms. Given current tensions in the Middle East and terrorist attacks around the world, Stark’s views are a thought-provoking contribution to our understanding and are sure to spark debate.”
We interviewed Professor Stark by email:
The Crusades is a topic that generates a lot of books each year. Why did you want to write God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades and what makes this book different from others?
Since my teens I have read a great deal of military history, but until now I had not written any myself. Along the way I read many books about the Crusades and in the past few years I have been greatly impressed by the work of historians such as Jonathan Riley-Smith and others including Thomas Madden. Unfortunately, these wonderful new studies have not reached the intelligent reading public. Nonsense about Crusaders as greedy, colonizing, brutal barbarians still prevails in the public sphere. So, I wrote a chapter on the matter as part of a proposal for a book on anti-Catholic historiography. My publishers responded that they wanted that chapter expanded into a book. So I did it. What makes my book different is, first, that it pulls together the scholarly literature (all of it carefully acknowledged) in one volume written for the general reader in hopes of setting the record straight. Secondly, my book begins in the seventh not the eleventh century, since I regard the Crusades as part of many centuries of conflict between Christendom and Islam. Thus far there have been four major book club pre-publication adoptions, so maybe God’s Battalions can have some corrective effects.
In recent years, there has been a lot of changes in the popular view about the Crusades - for example there are movies like Kingdom of Heaven which negatively portray the religious fervor of the Crusaders, and we have also seen various Christian groups ‘apologize’ for the acts done in the Middle Ages. Meanwhile, in Islamic world, a notion has recently emerged within popular culture that sees the Crusades as a key part of the downfall of classical Islamic civilization and as part of West’s continuing attempts to suppress Muslims in general. Why do you think that these views about the Crusades have become so prevalent in recent years?
It would take a long essay to explain why Western intellectuals have promulgated so many fraudulent charges against the Crusades and, indeed, against the legitimacy of Western civilization in general. Anti-Catholicism played a role, having shaped so much false history by British and American historians in past generations. Certainly anti-religion has played an important role too. The false, but plausible seeming, assumption that the Crusades were an instance of colonialism was critical, both as a source of Western guilt and as an excuse for Muslim “backwardness.”
One of the premises of your book is that the Crusades were a reaction to what you describe as “Islamic provocations: by centuries of bloody attempts to colonize the West and by sudden new attacks on Christian pilgrims and holy places.” As a scholar of the Crusades, I disagree with this idea - for the most part Islamic expansion had ended by the middle of the eight century, and for the next three hundred years, warfare between Christian and Muslim states was motivated by political relations and not necessarily religious reasons. It was not even uncommon for Muslim and Christian kingdoms to be allies and co-exist peacefully with each other. Moreover, the bulk of the people who took part in the First Crusade seem to have little or no knowledge of who they were actually fighting, and simply saw them as random pagans. With this in mind, I was wondering how you came to your conclusions that somehow the Crusades were “a justified war waged against Muslim terror and aggression”?
The conflict with Islam surely had not ended by the eighth century-although the conquest of the Middle East and North Africa was over by then. Warfare continued in Spain, often quite intensively, until the end of the fifteenth century. A war of reconquest raged in Sicily and Southern Italy until only a few years before the start of the First Crusade. And the initial call from Emperor Comnenus for a Crusade was prompted by an invasion of Seljuk Turks who had driven to within 100 miles of Constantinople. It is all well and good to say these later wars were motivated by “political relations and not necessarily religious reasons.” No doubt all of the Muslim conquests had political aspects, but wars across the Christian/Muslim divide always had religious implications that usually did not apply to wars within each faith. To say that the bulk of those who took part in the First Crusade “seem to have little or no knowledge of who they were actually fighting” might apply to those who followed Peter the Hermit. But the real Crusaders knew rather a lot about whom they were fighting. Many had relatives who had suffered or even died at the hands of Muslims while making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and a few had themselves been on a pilgrimage and had encountered Muslims at first hand. In addition, the Normans had recently beaten Muslims in Sicily and, even more recently, Bohemond had fought Muslim mercenaries hired by Byzantium....
SOURCE: SF Gate (9-1-09)
Even in the face of the current economic crisis, "conservatives remain strangely apart, trapped in the irrelevant causes of another day, deaf to the actual conversations unfolding across the land," Tanenhaus says.
But that argument, which Tanenhaus originally penned in an article in The New Republic just after Barack Obama's inauguration, already feels strangely dated given Obama's slipping poll numbers, the backlash against his $757 billion stimulus program and mounting criticism of his effort to reform the health care system.
While Tanenhaus declares that "attempts to depict Obama as a radical or socialist dissolve under the most rudimentary examination of the facts," he also describes how what voters perceived as liberal overreach during the New Deal and Great Society campaigns of the 1930s and 1960s helped fuel the conservative ascendancy for years to come.
A New York Times editor and author of an acclaimed biography of communist-turned-conservative Whittaker Chambers, Tanenhaus does a fine job tracing the history of conservatism from its classic roots to the present day. He argues that the traditional conservatism espoused by the 18th-century British philosopher Edmund Burke — belief in a stable social order and rejection of ideological excess of any kind — was most successfully expressed in recent history by two presidents, Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower and Democrat Bill Clinton...
SOURCE: DailyProgress.com (9-2-09)
Professor Abbot was born in Louisville, Georgia, on May 20, 1922, the son William Wright Abbot Jr. and Lillian Carswell Abbot.
He graduated from Louisville Academy, a public high school, in 1939 and attended Davidson College for two years. In 1941 he transferred to the University of Georgia, where he was awarded the baccalaureate degree upon his entering the United States Navy in 1943.
During World War II, Mr. Abbot served in small craft in the Pacific Ocean and in the Mediterranean and Adriatic seas. He would later quip that he felt he reached the pinnacle of his own personal authority at the age of 22 when, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, he was made Captain of PC 504, a 110-foot submarine chaser.
Mr. Abbot's career as a teacher spanned nearly 50 years. It began when he was assigned to teach celestial navigation to young naval cadets at Duke University in the spring of 1946. That fall, he returned to his hometown to teach science and English grammar at his old high school.
Under the G.I. bill, Mr. Abbot went on to study history at Duke University, where he earned his masters and doctorate degrees. After completing his Ph.D. in 1953, he was hired as an assistant professor of history by the College of William and Mary...
... Among historians, Professor Abbot was best known as an editor. His association with The William and Mary Quarterly, the magazine of early American History, began in 1953 and he was its editor from 1961 until 1966. He also edited The Journal of Southern History in 1960 and 1961. During the latter years of his career at the University of Virginia, he devoted most of his efforts to editing The Papers of George Washington, serving as chief editor from 1977 until 1992.
SOURCE: The Independent (9-1-09)
He was General Editor of the whole enterprise from 1977 until 1994, having been Deputy Editor from 1968, and before that County Editor for Gloucestershire from 1960 to 1968, and originally assistant to the General Editor from 1954 to 1960. His first contributions were published exactly 50 years ago in 1959 – he compiled the index to the excellent economic history volume IV of the VCH Wiltshire, and in the same year he wrote three succinct articles about aspects of the University of Cambridge in the VCH Cambridgeshire, volume III.
The VCH, originally a private enterprise, had been based at the Institute of Historical Research at the University of London since 1933, entrenched in the old-fashioned if "modern" Senate House since the Ministry of Information faded away at the end of the War. Elrington brought a breath of fresh air when he arrived in 1954, combining, as he did, a twinkling irreverence with a scholarly commitment and a gift for encapsulating complex matters in a simple elegant phrase...
... In view of Elrington's distinction, the University of London in 1992 conferred upon him the title of professor (though he never taught in any formal sense); after his retirement in 1994 he became an Emeritus professor, a style which suited him admirably.
Elrington, for all his sympathetic writing about parishes and medieval thought and practices, was a sensible and intelligent atheistic rationalist. Confronted by the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, he chose to die quietly and all too quickly at home, sadly a few months before his 80th birthday. He left his body for medical research. His places – the meetings in Wiltshire, the teas at the Institute of Historical Research, the laughter in Lloyd Baker Street, WC1 – will no longer for many be quite the same.
SOURCE: The Harvard Crimson (8-31-09)
Szonyi is a social historian who, in addition to reading historical texts, seeks to challenge historical accounts by speaking with village elders, collecting documents from villagers, and observing lineage and temple rituals in order to see history from a local perspective, he said.
“It takes a very different skill set than the one we usually associate with history,” Szonyi said about his method. “Together with Chinese colleagues, we are hoping to write a very different version of Chinese history than the one told by official government sources and the writings of the literati elite.”
Szonyi will now be able to recruit graduate students from Asia and the United States and train them in his method of study. He said he also hopes to establish a summer program that will encourage students to travel to China to examine history in a similar way.
“Szonyi helps to prepare undergraduates learn about Chinese culture first hand,” said East Asian Languages and Civilizations Professor Peter K. Bol, who teaches a course with Szonyi at the College.
Szonyi is currently studying the social history of the Ming Dynasty military. He has traced local cults from the Ming Dynasty and has found that some of these cults continue to exist. Their traditions can help historians better understand the role of religion in establishing local social orders, Szonyi said.
SOURCE: The Budapest Times (8-31-09)
Lukacs left Hungary towards the end of the Second World War. He emigrated to America in search of freedom, found it – or so it seemed – and set about the task of becoming a historian and, importantly for him, a writer in the English language. His two goals have been achieved: Lukacs has lucidly authored many books about the past, though interestingly only one major work, Budapest 1900, has so far concerned his mother country.
A low pH value
Part of Lukacs’s apparent estrangement from academia may well be due to his candid criticism of people in that set. Taking a pot shot at a typical definition of history in the Dictionary of the French Academy, which refers to “accounts of… matters worth remembering”, he pulls no punches in remarking: “What nonsense is this! Is the historian the kind of person whose training qualifies him to tell ordinary people what is worth remembering, to label or authenticate persons or events as if they were fossil fish or pieces of rock? Is there such a thing as a person and another such thing as a historical person?” Quite right! But then we ordinary people are treated to a fair amount of Lukacs’s own labelling. Thus George Orwell, we are told, is a “minor writer”, fellow historian A.J.P. Taylor’s autobiography is “dreadful”, Thomas Kuhn’s admittedly “much celebrated” The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is dismissed as “an essentially useless and worthless book”, a noted scientist is described as an “idiot savant” and even a whole period such as the 1960s is dismissed as a “sordid decade”. It’s all good knockabout stuff and enjoyable to read, even if you don’t go along with all the assertions...
As mentioned, this book is very much about thought and ideas. It is odd, therefore, that we are not given more insight into the author’s obviously profound Catholicism. As he tells us and emphasises, “ … people do not have ideas, they choose them”. So why has he chosen to be or remain a Catholic? Why not a Protestant, a Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist, or even an atheist? We are rather left in the dark.
Like them or loathe them, the many ideas put forward by John Lukacs are certainly thought-provoking, which is presumably his intention, though there’s a hint that he may be more interested in conversion. Either way, it helps enormously that his style is clear and easy to digest, which is surely intentional. Reading John Lukacs is as comfortable as sliding into the thermal water of the Lukács Baths in Budapest. That is certainly an admirable accomplishment, though some critics might note that, as on-site notices in the baths inform you, spending too long wallowing in the hot waters may not necessarily be good for your constitution.