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: Eric H. Cline, Ph.D. Chair, Department of Classical and Semitic Languages and Literatures Associate Professor of Classics and of Anthropology (Ancient History and Archaeology) The George Washington University (11-30-09)
SOURCE: Democracy Now (11-27-09)
SOURCE: The Leaf Chronicle (11-29-09)
As Carolyn Stier Ferrell stepped closer, she could see that, yes, she had found her man! At the Odd Fellows Home Cemetery atop Boot Hill in New Providence, Ferrell found the final resting place of Thomas Pratt Turner.
"My heart started racing," Ferrell said.
Ferrell, a local historian who wrote "In Search of Nannie Tyler," was seeking information about the military history of another former Clarksville resident when she found mention that Turner was buried in Clarksville.
"It's like a treasure chest," she said. "You find something you didn't expect."
Ferrell went to Clarksville's Odd Fellows Cemetery and, in the very back, under a huge old oak tree, was a tombstone that reads:
Dr. T.P. Turner
Died December 26, 1900
Admitted from Memphis Lodge #6
Aug. 26, 1900.
"It's a historical bombshell," Ferrell said about the find, which will be documented in her next book, likely released next fall.
But what's the big deal about the finding the grave of Turner, a Memphis dentist who died more than 100 years ago, with no family to mourn him?
Ferrell said it is Turner's secret identity that makes this a major discovery. Long before he was a kindly old dentist, Turner was a ferocious young Confederate soldier who became one of the most notorious war criminals of the Civil War. Thomas Pratt Turner was the commandant — although he quibbled about that title — of Libby Prison in Richmond, Va., a place where Union soldiers who had been captured during war were tortured and murdered.
"Dr. Turner's funeral was the first to be held at the home. Did anyone know the complete story behind this elderly man when he came to live his last days at the home?" says the manuscript of Ferrell's forthcoming book. "Could anyone suspect what deeds he had committed while on this earth and looking to the next world? Or was Dr. Turner able to conceal his true identity till the day he drew his last breath?"...
SOURCE: Telegraph (UK) (11-28-09)
The blockbuster, released earlier this month, has triggered an ill-tempered debate in religious and historical circles at a time when the Kremlin is encouraging Russians to take patriotic pride in their often brutal history...
... "Imagine that they made a film in America about George Washington in which the first US president was portrayed as a bloodthirsty maniac," Mr Manyagin said. "This film slanders the Russian people and state."
The "unjust" depiction of Russia's first tsar as a monster would fuel Western stereotypes about modern Russia, he added...
SOURCE: NYT (11-27-09)
The provenance of the prayer, which begins, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,” became a subject of controversy last year with the publication of an article by the librarian, Fred R. Shapiro, who is also the editor of the book of quotations. Mr. Shapiro had found archival materials that led him to express doubt that Niebuhr was the author.
But now another researcher trawling the Internet has discovered evidence that attributes the prayer to Niebuhr. The researcher, Stephen Goranson, works in the circulation department at the Duke University library, has a doctorate from Duke in the history of religion and, as a sideline, searches for the origins of words and sayings and publishes his findings in etymology journals. This month he found a Christian student newsletter written in 1937 that cites Niebuhr as the prayer’s author.
The prayer in the newsletter is slightly different from the contemporary one often printed on mugs and wall plaques. It reads, “Father, give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and the insight to know the one from the other.”...
SOURCE: The Toronto Observer (11-26-09)
Shadd is the great-great-grandniece of Mary Ann Shadd Cary, the first black women to publish and edit a newspaper in North America.
She is also a direct descendant of Abraham Shadd, a leader of the American abolitionist movement, one of the key figures of the Underground Railroad and the first black person in Canada to serve in public office.
Wednesday night Shadd was awarded the William P. Hubbard Award for Race Relations at the Access, Equity & Human Rights Awards at City Hall. She was acknowledged for her work in recognizing black history in Toronto.
SOURCE: NZ Herald (11-28-09)
It was the late 1800s and they were the only tribe to gain legal autonomy from the Pakeha Government. For a short while. Then it was taken away.
The desire for autonomy never dulled though, nor was ceded by the Urewera mountain people; and today it is on the table again with John Key's Government, as part of a singular constitutional claim.
In a powerful new book on Tuhoe, eminent New Zealand historian Dame Judith Binney argues for that autonomy to be restored.
The time has long come, Binney told the Weekend Herald. She believes there is nothing to be feared from a separate Tuhoe nation operating within New Zealand and that the tribe has a strong case.
SOURCE: Google News (11-27-09)
Armstrong, 82, lives in the same house near Geraldine that his grandfather built and lived in as a homesteader. It's a little bigger now, but lonelier since his wife, Norma, died about six years ago.
"As long as I live, I've got rights to live here," he said. "The one thing about this that I've been especially proud of is we were able to make it these 100 years on relatively small acreage."
Historians say tales like Armstrong's are becoming increasingly rare...
... But in a bid to capture and preserve a slice of the state's past, the Montana Historical Society has started a drive to identify families that have farmed or ranched the same land for a century or more.
The Centennial Farm and Ranch Program was created under a bill passed by the 2009 Legislature. The intent is to honor Montana's heritage while compiling family histories to be archived and eventually compiled for the society's Web site.
Ellen Baumler, an interpretive historian who is helping lead the effort, said it's unknown how many of the state's farms and ranches fit the bill.
SOURCE: The Portugal News Online (11-28-09)
Antony Beevor, whose latest book, “D Day: The Battle for Normandy”, was released in a Portuguese translation earlier this month, told the Lusa News Agency this week that his curiosity about Portugal’s role - especially the part played by his father - was hobbled by John Beevor’s silence and the fact that few documents remained from his organisation, the Special Operations Executive (SOE).
“Much material was destroyed after the war, many of SOE’s archives, and others were saved”, the historian said in a London interview.
SOURCE: France 24 (11-26-09)
< a href="http://www.france24.com/en/20091126-interview-elisabeth-roudinesco-historian-and-psychoanalyst"> Go to video</a>
SOURCE: The Jerusalem Post (via OpEdNews) (11-25-09)
Sir Oliver Miles, a former British ambassador to Libya, told The Independent newspaper this week that the appointment of Sir Martin Gilbert, the renowned Holocaust historian and Winston Churchill biographer, and Sir Lawrence Freedman, professor of war studies and vice-principal of King's College London, would be seen as "ammunition" that could be used to call the inquiry a "whitewash."
Miles said the two academics were Jewish and that Gilbert was an active Zionist. He also said they were both strong supporters of former prime minister Tony Blair and the Iraq war.
SOURCE: Resource Shelf (11-28-09)
The ‘Connected Histories’ project, which is a partnership between the Universities of Sheffield and Hertfordshire, the Institute of Historical Research, and King’s College London, will create an innovative search engine for a wide range of electronic resources relating to early modern and nineteenth century British history.
This period of British history has one of the largest collections of digital sources available on the web, including not only digitised books, but also newspapers, manuscripts, genealogical records, and even maps and images. These sources, created by both academic and commercial organisations, are accessed by hundreds of thousands of individuals every day, across the world. Until now, there has been no single starting place to search through these sources.
Alastair Dunning, programme manager for online content at JISC, said: “JISC has been involved in the digitisation of many crucial primary resources for the study of history, helping create a wealth of digitised materials, such as newspapers, pamphlets and images. The next stage of work is to knit such resources together – identifying the people, places and events that surface in multiple historical resources and making the links between them.”
The website will be fully launched in 2011.
SOURCE: North Jersey (11-26-09)
River Edge resident and local historian Kevin Wright explores the quadricentennial of Hudson's voyage in his new book, "1609: A Country That Was Never Lost: 400th Anniversary of Henry Hudson's Visit with North Americans of the Middle Atlantic Coast."
"I titled the book, the 'Country That Was Never Lost' because during Hudson's visit, he did not discover anything. Instead he was the one discovered," Wright said. "Four centuries ago, all of this was covered under ice. This was not a new world, but an ancient world intruded upon. People had lived here for generations before Hudson came."
Before Europeans came to America, various groups considered the area to be their home, including the Manhattans, the Minisinks of Bachom's Country, the Lenape of the Schuylkill estuary, the Mahicans, Susquehannocks, and Mohawks. It is the interactions with these people that Wright focuses on his new book. He does that not only as a historian, but also as someone who is descended from those same people. His great-grandfather was a direct descendent of a full-blooded member of the Minisink nation...
SOURCE: The Herald Scotland (11-26-09)
Jenny Wormald, honorary fellow in Scottish History at Edinburgh University, has joined the debate about the authenticity and quality of the series while revealing she left her role as advisor to the programme after just two meetings.
She also condemned recent comments by Mr Oliver, who launched a personal attack on the eminent historian Professor Tom Devine after the academic was critical of the series.
The distinguished historian questioned the “scant” handling of subjects such as the Enlightenment and also referred to Mr Oliver as “hapless” and having a “sad lack of authority”.
Ms Wormald writes in a letter in today’s Herald: “Professor Devine’s critique was directed mainly towards the series, not the presenter.
“Perhaps he might have been wiser to scale down his comments on Oliver, but these were little compared to Oliver’s extraordinary outburst in response, in its level of personal abuse and its lurid attack on the ‘narrow range’ of a historian famed for having done more than anyone to bring Scottish history – the Scottish history worth hearing and thinking about – so far out of the confines of Oliver’s contemptuously dismissive ‘classroom’.”
She contrasted the series with Diarmaid MacCulloch’s “outstanding” History of Christianity and the recent Tudor series by David Starkey, whom she described as a “highly gifted historian”...
SOURCE: NYT (11-24-09)
Other theories, like the notion that many of today’s Palestinians can legitimately claim to be descended from the ancient Jews, are familiar and serious subjects of study, even if no definitive answer yet exists.
But while these ideas are commonplace among historians, they still manage to provoke controversy each time they surface in public, beyond the scholarly world. The latest example is the book “The Invention of the Jewish People,” which spent months on the best-seller list in Israel and is now available in English. Mixing respected scholarship with dubious theories, the author, Shlomo Sand, a professor at Tel Aviv University, frames the narrative as a startling exposure of suppressed historical facts. The translated version of his polemic has sparked a new wave of coverage in Britain and has provoked spirited debates online and in seminar rooms.
Professor Sand, a scholar of modern France, not Jewish history, candidly states his aim is to undercut the Jews’ claims to the land of Israel by demonstrating that they do not constitute “a people,” with a shared racial or biological past. The book has been extravagantly denounced and praised, often on the basis of whether or not the reader agrees with his politics.
The vehement response to these familiar arguments — both the reasonable and the outrageous — highlights the challenge of disentangling historical fact from the sticky web of religious and political myth and memory....
SOURCE: ABC News (11-25-09)
More than 1,200 miles and a cultural universe away from the land of cotton, the white freshman found himself answering questions about the violent resistance to James Meredith's court-ordered admission as the first black student at the University of Mississippi.
"I was really put on the defensive," Dattel, now 65 and living in New York City, recalled recently.
He said his struggle to answer questions, and to understand what led to events of the day, prompted him to begin an intense course of study. He earned a bachelor's degree in history from Yale in 1966 and a law degree from Vanderbilt University in 1969.
Now, after decades of working in international finance and lecturing occasionally at universities, Dattel has written a book titled "Cotton and Race in the Making of America: The Human Costs of Economic Power." The publisher, Ivan R. Dee of Chicago, gave the book an initial print run of 7,500 copies.
"Cotton and Race" is a compelling story of how the cash crop shaped the 19th-century global economy and magnified the United States' racial problems. His narrative begins during the framing of the U.S. Constitution in the 1780s, decades before the cotton boom. It ends in about 1930, when, Dattel says, subsidies made cotton "a permanent ward of the federal government."
While Dattel's work condemns slavery as "a tragedy of racial epic proportions," the book focuses more on money than morality.
"Without cotton, slavery would most probably have been headed for extinction," Dattel writes.
The book outlines changes in society, including Europeans' demand for clothing made from cotton rather than wool, that made the crop the top U.S. export from 1803 to 1937. It also notes that the cotton trade helped propel New York to commercial prominence...
SOURCE: National Geographic (11-25-09)
But research announced today says Cândido Godói's "Nazi twins" are nothing more than a myth.
The outback town of about 7,000 has a twin rate nearly 1,000 percent higher than the global average.
The twins' fair features are no mystery—Cândido Godói (map) is largely populated by the descendents of German immigrants. But the frequency of twin births is a decades-old mystery.
Earlier this year Argentine historian Jorge Camarasa offered a bombshell of an explanation in his book Mengele: The Angel of Death in South America...
... According to Camarasa, Mengele likely continued his twin experiments in the 1960s while on the run in South America.
Mengele disguised himself as a roaming physician and veterinarian and gave pregnant women in Cândido Godói an ahead-of-its-time, twin-inducing mix of drugs or hormones, the historian suggests.
Camarasa cites interviews with locals who say they remember the visits of a traveling German doctor who provided mysterious potions or drugs.
The locals recalled him by different names, Camarasa explained. But each interviewee had the same reaction when shown a picture of Mengele: "That's him." ...
SOURCE: Edmonton Sun (11-25-09)
Council yesterday approved plans to hire a historian laureate to chronicle the city's past, present and future, making Edmonton the first Canadian city to create such a role.
The city will now search for a candidate, with a historian's background, to fill the two-year position, which includes a $5,000 annual honorarium.
Michael Payne, the city's archivist, said as the first historian laureate appointed by a Canadian municipality, Edmonton will take centre stage in the nation for its commitment to preserving and celebrating history.
SOURCE: The Journal (UK) (11-25-09)
The list, which was compiled by Yvonne McEwen of the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for the Study of the Two World Wars, includes the names of 9,100 Irish men and women who died in active service.
Ms McEwen, who presented the list to the Irish parliament, said: "We covered over 200 corps of the British Army alone.
"We had a presentation of the Roll of Honour at Trinity College. It received a lot of media and as a result of the media attention, the public, north and south and around the world, actually contacted, more by email than letter, asking for information about their loved ones."
The June presentation included some 7,500 names. Due to the response from the public regarding relatives and loved ones that had fought in the war, McEwen was able to add another 1,600 names to the list for the November presentation.
SOURCE: Foster's Daily Democrat (11-24-09)
In the new book The Hanging of Thomas Jeremiah: A Free Black Man's Encounter with Liberty (Yale University Press, 2009), J. William Harris, professor of history at the University of New Hampshire, recounts and analyzes the trial and execution of Jeremiah and illuminates the contradiction between a nation that would be born in a struggle for freedom and yet deny it — often violently — to others.
Thomas Jeremiah's story exposes in dramatic and poignant fashion the multiple ironies of the American Revolution, when Americans fought for their own liberty while enslaving others, and when the British king, rather than the American patriots, represented true justice for many slaves and free blacks...
SOURCE: Frontpage (11-24-09)
Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism fit that bill. Now comes historian Thomas Fleming’s The Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers, which will no doubt have other historians saying, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
In this relentlessly fascinating book, Thomas Fleming, our most interesting historian of the Revolution, takes a magnifying glass to the personal lives of six of the Founders; and the result is the most compelling history book of the season. Fleming explains his motive for looking at the Founders’ relationships with wives, mothers, daughters—and lovers:
“Knowing and understanding the women in their lives adds pathos and depth to the public dimensions of the founding fathers’ political journeys. We do them no dishonor when we explore how often public greatness emerged in spite of personal pain and secret disappointment. Far from diminishing these men and women, an examination of their intimate lives will enlarge them for our time. In their loves and losses, their hopes and fears, they are more like us than we dared to imagine.”
And it works spectacularly. I know of no other volume—or even a collection of biographies- that gives the reader the sense of knowing George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison as human beings in the way this relatively short book does.
Standard biographies of great men who accomplished great things, invariably center around the larger events that made us interested in them in the first place. By all but isolating these great men from those events—they are in the background for each to give context only—and bringing their intimate relationships to the foreground, the Founders emerge as flesh and blood, rather than icons or secular plaster saints.
And, we learn a lot about some remarkable women, too.
It’s the ubiquitous question in American politics: What about a politician’s private life is relevant? How much do we really want to know—and what do we have the right to know? Baby Boomers seem to think they are the first to deal with the question, pointing back to the media’s willingness to overlook JFK’s philandering and buy the Camelot image– and acting as though that was the standard from time immemorial.
Demolishing that conceit, Fleming shows that our increasingly partisan press has still not sunk to the depths of the first generation to write under the First Amendment. It’s still pretty rare—Sarah Palin being a current obvious exception—for so-called reporters to sink to the level of deliberately false rumor-mongering and completely fabricated political hit jobs in the way that was either done to—or at the behest of– each of the Founders in this book.
Even the revered George Washington was not immune, Fleming reveals in a chapter called The Other George Washington Scandals, in which he details all manner of slanders made up of whole cloth that were directed at Washington by political opponents.
The worst of these hacks was named James Thompson Callender. Callender was the original “source” of the allegations about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings— a delicious irony, since Jefferson had originally commissioned Callender to make up stories about corruption by Alexander Hamilton. Callender turned on Jefferson because the new President would not make him Postmaster of Richmond.
On the other hand, it was John Adams himself who exaggerated Benjamin Franklin’s sex life out of all semblance to reality. Franklin did, in effect, have a wife in both London and Philadelphia before the Revolution. And while it’s possible that a woman who was close to him in France was his lover, Adams’s portrayal of Franklin as a depraved indiscriminate womanizer in Paris was extremely unlikely, Fleming writes. Franklin made himself the toast of France by engaging in the banter of the time, but at his advanced age and health, Adams’s reports are difficult to believe. (And the gratuitous bathtub scene in the HBO miniseries John Adams is purely from the peculiar imagination of the screenwriter).
Fleming arranges the book as mini-bios of the personal lives of the following founders:
George Washington: Fleming does an enormous service by rescuing Martha Washington from the cliché that she was merely the rich matronly widow that George married to secure his future while his heart stayed with Sally Fairfax, his neighbor’s flirtatious wife. Fleming notes that after their marriage, the Washingtons were THE Virginia couple; Martha had been the colony’s most sought-after widow. Her winning and witty sociability was remarked upon by everyone including as strong a personality as Abigail Adams who looked on her as a role model. Every surviving letter (Martha had most of their personal correspondence burned) displays a deep affection.
As for George, while he had to settle for being the Father of his Country, he was a devoted and sensible step-parent and grandparent, whose household often included a large number of grandchildren and relations.
Benjamin Franklin: Fleming sorts through the tangled love life of perhaps the most brilliant of the Founders. Franklin is often pigeonholed as a libertine, partly because of his youthful autobiography, partly because of John Adams’s puritanical (literally) public disapproval; but the accounts of his supposed debauchery in France are greatly exaggerated.
Franklin rejected his youthful immorality and had a successful marriage for many years, fathering a bright and accomplished daughter. It was his illegitimate son, William, however who was the light of Benjamin’s life. Franklin guided the chip-off-the-old-block’s career in the British establishment too well, however, and William stayed a Loyalist, actively opposing the Revolution in ways that forever estranged him from his father.
Alexander Hamilton: If you think South Carolina Mark Sandford is entirely too talkative about his Argentinian “soulmate;” and makes you want to cover your ears and yell “Too much information,” get a load of Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton published a book-length explanation of a long-over affair to the mortification of both his allies and his wife Elizabeth, the mother of his 7 children.
But while Hamilton confessed to the affair Callendar wrote about, Fleming says that his deepest attachment was likely with his wife’s glamorous sister, Angelica Despite her long-suffering, Fleming also rescues Elizabeth from the mere label of wronged wife. This devoutly Christian woman forgave her husband and after his death collected his papers and helped restore him to his rightful place in American history. She also became a force in charity work and in raising money for the Washington Monument.
John Adams: While the marriage of the Adamses may be the most examined—and idealized– in American history, Fleming gives us a warts and all look at the relationship. John Adams’s personality defects have been much discussed, and Fleming gives the requisite credit to Abigail for keeping John on track. However, he also illustrates that Abigail’s political ear had just as much tin as John’s. She was an avid advocate for the Alien and Sedition Acts, for instance; and egged on some of the needless quarrels that Adams engaged in. The Adamses were involved and loving parents; but were equally over-demanding and both contributed to the all or nothing outcomes in their children’s lives, the extremes of which were John Quincy’s brilliant career and his brother Charles’s drinking himself to death.
Thomas Jefferson: While nearly every recent examination of Thomas Jefferson’s personal life focuses on the subject of a supposed romance with slave Sally Hemings, Fleming reminds us that Jefferson was a tragic figure who outlived all but one of his children, and lost his beloved wife at a young age. More than any other Founder, Jefferson put his family considerations above those of his personal ambition, and even the Cause itself, at one time leaving Virginia without representation in the Congress while he saw to his wife’s health.
As to the subject that fascinates so many, Fleming demolishes the notion of a nearly 4-decade affair between Jefferson and Hemings, showing that both the layout and constant activity at Monticello make such a thing nearly impossible. Fleming disproves much of the timeline of the so-called statistical study which alleges Jefferson was the father of all of Hemings’s children. He also expresses doubt that Jefferson ever had a dalliance with Hemings, though concludes that is impossible to rule out.
As for the DNA test, Fleming writes, all it proved is that sometime in the last 200 years, a descendant of Sally Hemings has someone related to Thomas Jefferson in his family line. Fleming provides at least one more likely—but less famous—suspect, Jefferrson’s younger brother, Randolph.
James Madison: While today, all that is remembered about the Madison marriage is as good as it should be, the Madisons endured perhaps the worst slanders of any of the Founders. The fact that the shy and sickly Madison could land such a prize as the robust and witty Dolley had some wags alleging it was a marriage of political convenience, and that Dolley improperly used her considerable charms to persuade congressmen and diplomats to her husband’s point of view.
However, Fleming writes, the enduring portrait of the ebullient hostess who invented the office of First Lady, and the heroic couple who courageously faced the British invasion of Washington in 1812 is a wholly accurate one.
It may be an exaggeration to say I’ve even scratched the surface here. This book is a treasure trove of information and insight that will satisfy both the history buff and captivate the reader with a more casual interest.
The Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers is addictively readable, informative, fascinating, engaging, revelatory and provocative. Which, you might say, is just another way of saying– it’s a Thomas Fleming book.
SOURCE: AHA Blog (11-24-09)
Barbara Metcalf (Univ. of California at Davis, emerita)
Anthony Grafton (Princeton Univ.)
Vice-President, Teaching Division
Patricia Nelson Limerick (Univ. of Colorado at Boulder)
Laura Isabel Serna (Florida State Univ.)
Thomas J. Sugrue (Univ. of Pennsylvania)
Cheryll Ann Cody (Southwest Coll., Houston Community Coll.)
Committee on Committees
Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra (Univ. of Texas at Austin)
Position 1: Jan Ellen Lewis (Rutgers Univ.-Newark)
Position 2: Page Herrlinger (Bowdoin Coll.)
Position 3: Julia Adeney Thomas (Univ. of Notre Dame)
SOURCE: Globe Investor (11-23-09)
Sure, there are still occasional rough waters. Take last week, when weaker than expected U.S. housing stats, a downbeat profit report, downgrades in tech land and yet another warning from an inflation-fearing central banker reminded jittery investors it's not only free-spending governments that need a sound exit strategy. Tomorrow, we'll undoubtedly hear that U.S. consumers are still suffering from a shortage of confidence, which tends to happen when jobless rates keep rising...
... Far be it from me to rain on that parade. I'll leave that task to one of the world's best known and least cuddly of doom-and-gloom bears - Harvard University financial historian Niall Ferguson.
"I don't think it's possible to infer from the stock market rally anything resembling a sustained recovery," the peripatetic professor says in an e-mail exchange. He rightly notes that at least half (and probably much more) of the third-quarter U.S. economic growth of 3.5 per cent stemmed from one-off government measures and that the consumer remains tapped out.
"The stock market rally has been largely due to near-zero interest rates and a weaker dollar. In foreign currency terms there's been no rally." ...
... Prof. Ferguson, whose most recent timely best-seller, The Ascent of Money, is now out in paperback, does some hedge-fund advising on these big global themes.
He claims no expertise as a market forecaster. But when coaxed, the historian in him comes out...
SOURCE: Arthur Herman in the WSJ (11-19-09)
Both the statement and the paradoxical gesture neatly sum up the argument of "Dominion From Sea to Sea." Bruce Cumings traces American history along its inexorable drive westward, not merely to California and the limits of the continent's frontier but all the way to the Pacific Rim. He argues that such westward outreach has transformed America's character and helped to write its destiny, if not always for the good. "I chant the world on my Western sea," Walt Whitman sang in 1860, on the eve of the Civil War. "I chant the new empire, greater than any before." The American story, in Mr. Cumings's telling, starts at Plymouth Rock and finishes well beyond Silicon Valley—in Okinawa, Hiroshima and, not least, the trading desks of Shanghai banks, where U.S. Treasurys are not routinely bought and sold.
To make his case, Mr. Cumings, the chairman of the history department at the University of Chicago, has produced a sprawling narrative, with shifting subthemes and flashes back and forth in time. His references range widely, from John Winthrop, Ben Franklin and George Santayana to the movie "Gidget Goes Hawaiian," the comic strip "Li'l Abner" and the sexually infamous 1991 Tailhook Convention. He has only bilious things to say about Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush and clearly accepts the views of leftist historians, like Howard Zinn and Ronald Takaki, who are eager to indict the U.S., past and present, for racism, imperialism and genocide. Still, Mr. Cumings is rather bullish on the American experiment.
Mr. Cumings concedes that "the idea of a two-ocean entity" was not merely the fond hope of the 19th century's champions of Manifest Destiny. Rather, it "existed from the start" of the republic. The two-ocean idea pulled America's original Europeanized character into a more creative shape, and a push westward to the Orient created constantly shifting horizons—and new problems to overcome. In the end, Mr. Cumings has to confess that conservatives may have a point. There is indeed an American exceptionalism, and it works...
SOURCE: The Chronicle of Higher Education (11-22-09)
The Chronicle Review asked Herf and Wolin to continue their debate online.
Jeffrey Herf: In my new book, I do not claim, as Richard Wolin writes, that"the World War II alliance between Nazi propagandists and Arab nationalists" is"the key to understanding contemporary political Islam." I do claim that a very important chapter in the latter's history was written and spoken in Berlin during the war. I did write that"the issue of the impact of fascism and Nazism on the Middle East and its aftereffects has become inseparable from contemporary political controversies about anti-Semitism, radical Islam, 'Islamo-fascism' and international terrorism since the attacks of September 11, 2001." I placed quotation marks around the term"Islamo-fascism" to indicate to the reader that I was referring to a term of contemporary political discourse. I am not using it as a core analytical concept. I did not, as Wolin alleges, suggest that"the term 'Islamo-fascism' best describes the combination of political authoritarianism and religious fundamentalism that suffuses the Arab world." I do offer abundant evidence that one key episode in the history of political Islam lay in its connections to fascist and Nazi ideology.
In addition, Wolin wrongly asserts that I use"the epithet Islamo-fascism" at"several pivotal junctures" in my book. I have done a search of the PDF of the manuscript. The above reference to the term's presence as a contemporary political controversy is the only time that it appears. I'm willing to defend my argument, but I am not responsible for arguments that I've not made.
That said, Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World offers an unprecedented amount of documentation of the propaganda that resulted from the fusion of Nazi ideology with radical Arab nationalism and militant Islam. This accomplishment is not to be taken for granted. If examining this cultural fusion was easy, it would have been done a long time ago. The new evidence demonstrates a heretofore insufficiently appreciated connection between Nazism and the specifically religious roots of politicized Islam. It entailed a blend of radical European anti-Semitism with a selective reading of the traditions of Islam. Of particular importance was how a hatred of the Jews was fused with a hatred of Zionism. Nazi Arabic-language propaganda depicted both the Jews and the Zionists as parts of an international conspiracy whose purpose was to destroy Islam and dominate the Arab world. Politicized Islam is the product of indigenous radicalization and crises of modernization, as well as the Middle East's interaction with ideas, institutions, and policies coming from Europe, especially during World War II. Just as a key chapter in the history of Baathism in Iraq and Syria was written in fascist France, so a key chapter of political Islam was written in wartime Berlin....