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: UNM Today (1-21-10)
Hutton, who is teaching an upper division course on the Western Hero, has written extensively about Earp, especially about his portrayal in movies. His article, “Showdown at the Hollywood Corral,” garnered the Wrangler Award from the National Cowboy Museum. Hutton’s expertise on Earp was also featured on Investigating History on the History Channel.
“American Experience is the gold standard of historical documentary. Rob Rapley, who wrote, directed and produced the film, is great to work with. It is always a thrill to be on that series,” Hutton said, indicating that American Experience did a good job on an episode on Kit Carson.
Hutton said that PBS is coming on strong now on programs featuring Western American history at the same time that the History Channel is moving a different direction. “My interest is in how Hollywood has shaped our western past. I’ve been interested in Earp since I was a child seeing him portrayed on television. And it’s most interesting how little was known about him as a western character until Hollywood started making movies,” Hutton said.
The book “Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshal” by Stuart Lake came out same year that Earp died. "The book was made into four movies, the best being 'My Darling Clementine.' That converted him into the quintessential western lawman," Hutton said.
"Wyatt Earp," the latest in the stable of critically acclaimed Wild West biographies by American Experience. Previous entries include Annie Oakley, Jesse James, Buffalo Bill and Kit Carson.
"A lot of people feel strongly that Wyatt Earp was either hero or villain. The real story is a lot more interesting than that," Rapley said.
Wyatt Earp has been portrayed in countless movies and television shows by some of Hollywood’s greatest actors, including Henry Fonda, Jimmy Stewart and, more recently, Kevin Costner, but these popular fictions often belie the complexities and flaws of a man whose life is a lens on politics, justice and economic opportunity on the American frontier....
SOURCE: Chicago Tribune (1-19-10)
He argues in "Bomb Power" that possession of the bomb, product of an enormous and secret scientific undertaking, the Manhattan Project, launched by Franklin D. Roosevelt, has ever since given American presidents an intoxicating degree of unchecked personal power, so that there is "no constitutional check on his actions . . . [which amounts to] a violent break in our whole governmental system."
The president came into possession of unique power, which according to Garry Wills has meant the American people's "permanent submission" to a commander in chief with supreme global power....
Wills' argument continues with various Middle East/Africa interventions (U.S. troops in Lebanon; the intervention under U.N. auspices in Somalia), as well as in the Caribbean, where the U.S. has intervened with regularity for many years, all culminating in Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Iraq and Afghanistan, with Pakistan and Yemen seeming candidates for future American attentions....
It is impossible to see these all as the responsibility of individual presidents, intoxicated by possession of nuclear power. I see them as developing out of an American millenarianism, kept in check in the past by isolationism and hostility toward imperial Europe, which during World War One underwent a vainglorious globalization under Woodrow Wilson -- who believed, literally, that God had entrusted both him and the American nation with missions of peaceful global reform.
Franklin Roosevelt was committed to the Wilsonian mission well before Albert Einstein sent him the fateful letter in which Einstein warned that a nuclear bomb might be feasible, and that German physicists might be working to construct one.
That -- and Bolshevism, a program of secular utopianism based on sectarian power and ambition, which provoked the cold war that ensued -- are the sources of America's imperial presidency. And however Barack Obama may eventually be judged, he is today anything but an imperial president.
SOURCE: NYT (1-17-10)
A pair of sociologists think they may have an answer: typecasting. Conjure up the classic image of a humanities or social sciences professor, the fields where the imbalance is greatest: tweed jacket, pipe, nerdy, longwinded, secular — and liberal. Even though that may be an outdated stereotype, it influences younger people’s ideas about what they want to be when they grow up.
Jobs can be typecast in different ways, said Neil Gross and Ethan Fosse, who undertook the study....Mr. Gross said that “professors and a number of other fields are politically typed.” Journalism, art, fashion, social work and therapy are dominated by liberals; while law enforcement, farming, dentistry, medicine and the military attract more conservatives.
“These types of occupational reputations affect people’s career aspirations,” he added in a telephone interview from his office at the University of British Columbia. Mr. Fosse, his co-author, is a Ph.D. candidate at Harvard.
The academic profession “has acquired such a strong reputation for liberalism and secularism that over the last 35 years few politically or religiously conservative students, but many liberal and secular ones, have formed the aspiration to become professors,” they write in the paper, “Why Are Professors Liberal?” That is especially true of their own field, sociology, which has become associated with “the study of race, class and gender inequality — a set of concerns especially important to liberals.”
What distinguishes Mr. Gross and Mr. Fosse’s research from so much of the hubbub that surrounds this subject is their methodology. Whereas most arguments have primarily relied on anecdotes, this is one of the only studies to use data from the General Social Survey of opinions and social behaviors and compare professors with the rest of Americans.
Mr. Gross and Mr. Fosse linked those empirical results to the broader question of why some occupations — just like ethnic groups or religions — have a clear political hue. Using an econometric technique, they were then able to test which of the theories frequently bandied about were supported by evidence and which were not.
Intentional discrimination, one of the most frequent and volatile charges made by conservatives, turned out not to play a significant role.
To understand how a field gets typecast, one has to look at its history. From the early 1950s William F. Buckley Jr. and other founders of the modern conservative movement railed against academia’s liberal bias. Buckley even published a regular column, “From the Academy,” in the magazine he founded, The National Review....
SOURCE: Charleston Gazette (1-14-10)
McGehee, 55, was the founder of Bluefield's Eastern Regional Coal Archives, a professor of history at West Virginia State University, and the author of five books on West Virginia. He died Tuesday.
"Stuart was an absolute treat for the state of West Virginia and the coal industry," said Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association.
Originally from Birmingham, Ala., McGehee started his career in West Virginia at Bluefield College in 1985, and quickly became one of the leading historians and voices of the state's coal history.
"The great thing about Stuart was he didn't grow up here," Raney said. "He came here and it seemed to intrigue him and he captured the real character qualities of the legacy of West Virginia and why we are who we are."
McGehee was the author of five books and more than 50 articles that appeared in national and regional publicans.
He also appeared in "West Virginia: A Film History" and the History Channel's "Modern Marvels" series, in addition to several PBS documentaries.
He attended the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga and the University of Virginia for his master's and doctorate in American history.
McGehee was also chairman of social sciences at Bluefield College and chairman of the history department and dean of social sciences at WVSU.
"He found the value, the romanticism, the camaraderie and the family togetherness in the coalfields," Raney said. "He captured the heart of the people. I can't image there not being a huge void because he was a very unique talent."...
SOURCE: Washington & Lee University (1-19-10)
Wood is the Alva O. Way University Professor and Professor of History Emeritus at Brown University. In addition to winning the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for history for his book The Radicalism of the American Revolution, he received the 1970 Bancroft Prize for The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787.
Wood said that the founders of the United States have a special significance for us Americans.
"No other major nation honors its past historical characters, especially characters who existed just two centuries ago, in the quite the way we do," he said. "We have a special need for these very authentic historical characters in the here and now."
He went on to relate the story of George Washington's gift of $20,000 worth of canal stock to Liberty Hall Academy, which was renamed Washington College (and later became Washington and Lee).
SOURCE: Irish Times (1-16-10)
Suggestive as it was, Clive’s work was an open invitation to others to explore further Macaulay’s complexities during his remaining years, and to pull the whole thing together in a full-scale life. And what a life Macaulay had. He wrote a hugely popular and influential History of England , which set out the “Whig” view of history as progress that would dominate well into the 20th century. He was a wonderful stylist, whose influence is seen even to this day in a direct and personal line of succession through GM Trevelyan to JH Plumb and contemporary historians such as Simon Schama, Niall Ferguson and David Cannadine. In his public life as an MP and minister, Macaulay was widely admired for his eloquent parliamentary speeches. And as a colonial administrator in India, he was responsible for the introduction of penal reform and the educational measures that help explain why English is the shared language of the sub-continent. Taken together, it not difficult to see why he was so esteemed by his contemporaries and also why a modern biographer might, as Clive did, want to take a scalpel to such an obviously “eminent Victorian”...
SOURCE: NPR.org (1-16-10)
Did the U.S. decide to bomb in order to avoid a land invasion that might have killed millions of Americans and Japanese? Or did it drop the bomb to avoid the Soviet army coming in and sharing the spoils of conquering Japan? Were the prospects of a land invasion even more destructive than the opening of the nuclear age?
D.M. Giangreco, formerly an editor for Military Review, has taken advantage of declassified materials in both the U.S. and Japan to try to answer those questions. He talks with NPR's Scott Simon about his new book, Hell to Pay: Operation DOWNFALL and the Invasion of Japan, 1945-1947....
SOURCE: Salon.com (1-13-10)
But is it a true story? We spoke with Andrew Apter, professor of history and anthopology at UCLA, about Haiti's voodoo traditions, the ignorance behind the evangelical community's distortions and the real cause of suffering in the third-world country.
Is there any truth to what Pat Robertson is saying?
Of course not! Haitians are Christians. Pat Robertson's language is the reductio ad absurdum of the Christian right. It's so absurd it's almost funny. This notion of a pact with the devil is basically an echo of an old colonial response to the successes of the 1790s Haitian revolution....
This is hate speech. It's saying these people are damned. It's a frequent theme among some Christians that Haiti is being punished for this supposed pact with extreme poverty and humanitarian crises. Tragically, many evangelical Christians in Haiti may actually, in their own extreme confusion and suffering and desperation, believe that God is punishing them....
SOURCE: AP (1-13-10)
Dieter Pohl, an expert at Munich's Ludwig Maximilian University, described the history of the so-called "Trawniki men," many of them Soviet POWs recruited by the Nazis, to the Munich state court on Wednesday....
SOURCE: LA Times (1-12-10)
"Gay life really was pushed underground," New York University history professor George Chauncey testified this afternoon....
Chauncey cited early bans in the colonies against "nonprocreative" sex and later laws that banned sodomy. Police in large cities and small towns over the decades used vagrancy laws to arrest gays and lesbians and then informed their employers, landlords and families about the nature of the charges, Chauncey said....
"The fear of homosexuals as child molesters or recruiters continues to play a role in debates over gay rights," Chauncey said.
SOURCE: PajamasMedia (1-12-10)
Poll after poll shows that most high school students are completely unaware of American history. They confuse the Civil War with World War II; FDR with the Founding Fathers, etc. They don’t have to worry about our nation being condemned to relive the past, since they don’t understand we have one.
It’s bad enough that they get their politically correct history from Howard Zinn, about whom I recently blogged. But now, we have learned that Americans will be betting their history in a new series directed by none other than Oliver Stone, the conspiracy monger film director. Stone is already most well known for his film JFK, in which those who saw it learned that the discredited New Orleans D.A. Jim Garrison had uncovered the conspiracy to kill Kennedy orchestrated by the CIA and the mob, and in which Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson was part of the plot.
If JFK was, as one critic put it, “an insult to the intelligence,” Stone’s new “Secret History of America,” to be aired in a 10 part series on cable-TV’s Showtime channel, promises to be a virtual assault. Stone says he will concentrate on supposedly “under-reported” events, such as President Harry S. Truman’s decision to drop the A-bomb on Hiroshima. Underreported? I guess that means Stone never saw the late Peter Jennings’ major ABC TV report that was based on Gar Alperovitz’s deeply flawed old book, in which Alperovitz argued that the reason the bomb was dropped was not to defeat Japan, but to threaten the Soviets. Nor has he evidently read many of the scores of books that have appeared about this decision over the years, or the debates on the controversy, including one in which I took part.
Stone, however, says he is doing this because it is “the deepest contribution I could ever make in film to my children and the next generation.” I can’t stop Stone from trying to teach made-up history to his own offspring, but hopefully, I can try to warn viewers in advance from giving him any credibility....
Stone notes that we must have “empathy for the person you may hate.” Really? Why? Perhaps the genocide against Europe’s Jews perpetrated by Hitler and the Nazis is reason enough not to have empathy for him; nor Stalin’s millions killed in state induced famines and the hundreds of thousands sent to the Gulag for political crimes is sufficient reason not to have empathy for Stalin. Many serious and responsible historians have written major books explaining what caused both Nazism and Communism to thrive for too many long years. They have done so carefully and with scholarly exploration, all without having empathy for two of the major mass murderers of the last Century.
Has Stone’s lead writer, Peter Kuznick, read any of these? He tells us that he intends to describe Hitler, Stalin and Mao as “historical phenomenon,” and not just as people “who appeared out of nowhere.” This is original? Indeed, that is what good historians have been doing for a long time. Do we really need Oliver Stone, a man who knows nothing about how to write history and everything about how to trivialize it and portray it as a series of conspiracies, to give us his specious interpretation?...
Like Zinn, Stone hopes that his Secret History will go to high schools as part of the “teaching curriculum.” If so, look forward to a new generation knowing even less about America’s past.
After writing the above, I was informed by a reader about Peter Kuznick, who turns out to be an actual historian who teaches at American University. I admit to not being aware of him and his work beforehand. But reading about him has if anything reinforced the analysis I provided in my post. Prof. Kuznick turns out to be yet another of the politically correct tenured radicals; a man of far left sympathies who considers Oliver Stone a man of great insight and profound truths. The university posts a profile of him that you can read here.
You can read what students say about his classes on the university’s “Rate my Professors” site. The many comments are quite revealing. Read them yourself. They range from those who are critical and comment that Prof. Kuznick sees history “as one giant conspiracy,” to a man who thinks Kuznick is “cool” because he ties “pop culture to history,” to another who writes that he “teaches a polemic, not history,” to one who writes that Kuznick “is a little insane at the height of his lectures,” to another student who found the class to be “fun” but who warns others “that some of the lectures get very political (prof swings very much to the left).”
It seems evident that Kuznick is indeed the type we have become all too familiar with in academia — the left-wing activist whose concept of education verges on indoctrination, not scholarly inquiry. And it also is apparent that American University sanctions this approach by now allowing Kuznick to teach a course called “Oliver Stone’s America.” (One wonders whether it would approve a historian of Germany teaching a course called “Leni Riefenstahl’s Germany.”) I will gladly recommend that David Horowitz add him to any future edition of his book One-Party Classroom: How Radical Professors at America’s Top Colleges Indoctrinate Students and Undermine Our Democracy or his previous book The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America.
I’m certain Prof. Kuznick would be delighted to be included in it. As he wrote himself about his past, “political conversion was the greatest aphrodisiac.” He saw his role as one of “creating a bridge between leftist and more moderate students.” A protégé of the late Warren Susman, a radical professor whom I knew well, Kuznick writes that when he went to the famous Chicago 1968 protests during the Democratic convention, his goal was not simply to protest the war, but as he writes, “to try to radicalize some of the more moderate and liberal students” who were supporting either George McGovern or Eugene McCarthy. Students who supported “liberal capitalism,” he writes, were “blind to the lessons of history.”
Now as a professor, he can carry on the same goals from the lofty heights of his position as associate professor, and can now reach an even wider audience through the good graces of his friend and new mentor, Oliver Stone.
How sad that at our universities today, and at American University in particular, one can find a professor who can reach more students at the expense of his tuition paying parents, who probably are not aware of how they are being taught what Prof. Kuznick thinks are “the lessons of history.”
SOURCE: LA Times (1-12-10)
Professor Nancy Cott, who has written a book about the history of marriage in the United States, noted that George Washington, the father of the nation, was sterile. Procreation was one of the purposes of marriage but not "the central or defining purpose," Cott testifed. The larger purpose was to create stable households, she said.
Cott was called to the stand by lawyers for two same-sex couples who want to overturn Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that reinstated a marriage ban for gay and lesbian couples....
SOURCE: Inside Higher Ed (1-12-10)
That’s not to say that the younger Davis followed his father’s footsteps entirely. In what appeared to be a pattern on a panel of historian parents and their historian offspring at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association, it turns out that the way you rebel against an American historian parent is to become a medievalist.
Stories like Adam’s were featured throughout the panel. This was a group where people grew up to earn doctorates because that’s what they thought everybody did, where one first learned a foreign language when taken on a parent's sabbatical, and where the normal guest list for a dinner party would include a bunch of Mom’s or Dad’s grad students. But the discussion here went well beyond such stories to explore such questions as how the profession has changed, and whether a next generation of historians will have the same opportunities as the senior generation on the panel or even the junior generation....
The presentations by Jennifer Brier and her father, Steve Brier, also focused on the potential lack of opportunity for those who most need higher education. Steve teaches labor history at the City University of New York Graduate Center. Jennifer teaches the history of gender and sexuality at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Steve noted that both he and his daughter are the products of public education and have worked "only for public higher education." He said that by the 1970s, he was worried about whether a career in higher education was engaged enough with real social problems and he shifted "away from traditional academic history" toward more non-academic approaches to his work, such as documentary film.
Jennifer noted that her father "tried very hard to get me not to become a historian," in part, she joked, by taking her to academic conferences. By the time she fell in love with history, she said, she was attracted to its potential to "to make change" by analyzing inequality.
She noted that while her father found academe "stifling," in part because of the privilege he found there, she finds herself today teaching first generation college students like the first generation student her father once was.
SOURCE: LA Times (1-11-10)
Challengers of the marriage ban will call to the stand the two same-sex couples who filed the suit and nearly 10 experts who will testify about the history of discrimination against homosexuals and the history of marriage. They also intend to call some of the architects of the Proposition 8 campaign....
The Proposition 8 campaign intends to call a handful of expert witnesses who also will testify about the history of marriage and who will contend that "traditional" marriage benefits children....
SOURCE: Inside Higher Ed (1-11-10)
The temperature was adjusted, but the challenges facing those on the job market were an undercurrent here throughout the annual meeting of the American Historical Association. Attendance was down, in no small part because history job openings are way down, so far fewer departments are doing interviews at the meeting. While the graduate students here talked strategy and hoped to pick up leads on positions or how to make themselves more marketable, many professors were talking about whether doctoral programs should change -- both in light of the tight job market and out of larger concerns about graduate education.
Some here argued that this is a time to focus on helping students get through and promoting alternative employment options that make use of their skills outside academe. Others, however, argued that this is a time to redouble efforts to reform graduate programs, with some going so far as to suggest (with pushback from others) that graduate enrollments may be too large and that history graduate students may not be paying enough attention to issues that are "relevant."
The ballroom gathering Friday is part of an annual effort at the meeting to provide some coaching to graduate students about the job hunt. Different types of employment categories are placed on signs on different tables -- community colleges, public research universities, private four-year colleges, public history jobs, and so forth. An employed (typically tenured) faculty member or professional from the relevant employment category then provides some tips on hiring in that sector, and the students brainstorm. ...
SOURCE: The Percolator (Blog) (1-11-10)
There were, by my count, five sessions on President Obama at last week's annual meeting of the American Historical Association. I caught two of them, listening to a half-dozen scholars propound on Obama and his policies. What struck me is that nearly every criticism of the president -- and there were plenty -- was followed by a caveat. He hasn't had enough time in office. He's had to deal with a terrible economy. The health care battle has overwhelmed the rest of his domestic agenda. And so forth....
One session was titled "What Has Obama Learned from History?" though it could have been called "What Obama Should Learn from History." Historians had no shortage of advice for the president. Jason Scott Smith, an assistant professor of history at the University of New Mexico, argued that President Obama could learn the following lesson from FDR: Be bold. The most controversial policies can turn out to be the most popular, he said. Alice O'Connor, a professor of history at the University of California at Santa Barbara, praised the president for his appreciation of history, but said his administration was "strikingly deferential to the entrenched interests it's trying to reform."
On the foreign policy side, Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, said Obama had more or less continued the Bush administration's war on terror, while Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman, a professor of foreign relations at San Diego State University, thought the president had yet to come up with a coherent foreign policy.
A session put on by Historians Against the War was called "Obama's Troubling First Year: What Went Wrong, and What Can Historians Do About It?" But even with that unfavorable title, there was still a desire to cut Obama some slack. Margaret Power, an associate professor of history at the Illinois Institute of Technology, said it was up to historians and other citizens, not Obama, to lead a reform movement. And Nelson Lichtenstein, a professor of history at the University of California at Santa Barbara, said there was a 30-percent chance that Obama's policies would shift to the left after the health care bill passed.
Hope springs eternal, or at least for a little while longer.
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Education (1-11-10)
What's more, attendance was down sharply. The official number for this year's meeting was 4,158, compared with 5,800 at last year's meeting in New York and 5,400 the year before in Washington, D.C.
The "Manchester" in the hotel's name belongs to Douglas F. Manchester, a prominent supporter of Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California. That support earned him and his property the ire of gay-rights activists, many of whom were unhappy that the association decided to hold its meeting here despite their calls for a boycott of his hotels. The association argued that breaking its contract with the hotel would cost nearly $800,000—enough, perhaps, to bankrupt the association—and instead chose to send a message by holding a "miniconference" on topics related to same-sex marriage.
Protesters at a Saturday-afternoon demonstration weren't buying it. About 75 activists chanted "boycott" and cheered when Cleve Jones, the well-known gay-rights activist, said his message for the association was that "history is on our side." In an interview, Mr. Jones said the association's decision to hold a session on gay and lesbian history only "added insult to injury." As for the scholars of gay and lesbian history, Mr. Jones said that he was sure they were "well-meaning" but that history would record only that they chose not to honor the boycott....
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Education (1-6-10)
In 2005, just four years earlier, the professor of European history at New York University had reached the pinnacle of his career with the publication of Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 (Penguin Press), his highly acclaimed account of Europe's rebirth after World War II. The book was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and was selected by The New York Times as one of the top 10 books of the year. Beyond academe, Judt had achieved renown as a political essayist and a formidable combatant in the quarrels between the left and right and within the left. He is perhaps best known as a harsh critic of Israel and the most prominent advocate of the creation of a single, binational state—the so-called one-state solution to the struggle between Palestinians and Israelis, a position that has earned him both plaudits and scorn.
Judt's appearance in October was part of an annual lecture sponsored by the Remarque Institute, a cross-disciplinary center he created in 1995 to foster greater understanding between America and Europe. Richard Sennett, a professor of sociology at New York University and a friend of Judt's, says the lecture was a "legacy speech," an opportunity for Judt to reflect on a "lifetime spent wrestling with what it means to be on the left."
It would be Judt's first time speaking to the general public from a wheelchair. As he dryly puts it later, "I'm aware that I look like a complete basket case." When he rolled out onstage, a tense hush fell upon the more than 700 people in the theater. Judt had decided that the logistics of working from a prepared text would be too difficult to manage. Instead he would speak completely from memory. Would his concentration wander? Would he be able to ignore his unquenchable thirst, unscratchable itches, unrelievable muscle aches? ...
SOURCE: Press of Atlantic City (1-10-10)
Then why aren’t more young people clamoring for the job? The best-known chroniclers of the resort’s history are senior citizens and aging baby-boomers, and it looks as though few young people are coming up to take their place.
This has people like Allen “Boo” Pergament, Vicki Gold Levi, Robert Ruffolo and Richlyn F. Goddard wondering if all their efforts to preserve and celebrate Atlantic City’s past will someday fade into history.
“It’s a bit saddening that there isn’t anyone to take this over,” said Pergament, a 77-year-old Margate resident who has turned the upstairs of his home into a “Boo-seum” crammed with thousands of postcards, pictures and other Atlantic City memorabilia. “We’re all getting old. We don’t know what’s going to happen.”
The uncertainty is exacerbated by concern about the fate of the Atlantic City Historical Museum on Garden Pier, which has been temporarily closed due to damage from the Veterans Day northeaster.
There is hope — in a few months HBO premieres “Boardwalk Empire,” a new series based on a 2003 book by Atlantic County Judge and historian Nelson Johnson. Johnson’s book dealt with crime and corruption in the city from its founding to the start of the casino era. The series, which is filmed in New York, focuses on only a portion of that history — the time during prohibition, when Atlantic City winked at rules barring the sale of alcohol and political boss Enoch “Nucky” Johnson ruled over a town that was attractive to tourists and criminals alike.
The series — imagine “The Sopranos” set in the Roaring ’20s — is likely to get at least a few hip young television viewers interested in Atlantic City’s past. But whether it will inspire a new generation of would-be historians is another question.
“I’m hoping it does,” says Nelson Johnson, 61. “I don’t detect people much younger than me having a keen interest in Atlantic City history.”
A history of historians
Atlantic City has always inspired historians. The city was founded in 1854, and by 1868 a writer with the pen name Carnsworthe had already published a history of the city, Pergament said.
By the turn of the century, the resort had become not only one of the most popular vacation spots in the country, but also a hub of American popular culture.
The city’s success has enthralled — and daunted — historians.
Atlantic City can claim the world’s first Boardwalk, its first airport and its first paid lifeguards. It’s the place where Al Capone came to hobnob with other crime bosses and Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis first worked together. It’s the birthplace of Miss America, salt water taffy, air-conditioned theaters and Monopoly. Crowds of tourists have been entertained by the Beatles playing Convention Hall, Ed McMahon selling kitchen gadgets on the Boardwalk and beautiful girls riding high-diving horses at the Steel Pier. At one time, Atlantic City was even considered as a location for the United Nations.
And there’s so much more.
A historian with an interest in most towns along the New Jersey shore can become expert in the community’s past with a reasonable amount of hard work and research. Becoming expert in all facets of Atlantic City’s heritage — that’s a job that can consume a lifetime. Most people studying Atlantic City — even those with a deep interest in history — choose to specialize.
Johnson — who is no relation to Nucky Johnson — spent years researching the city’s political elites. Goddard has made herself an expert on the history of the city’s black residents, earning a Ph.D. in the process. She’s now one of the people helping Johnson with a book he’s writing on the role blacks have played in the city’s history. No matter how specialized, if you write a book about Atlantic City history, you’ll likely find an audience for it.
Last year, Leo Schoffer, 57, of Margate, self-published “A Dream, A Journey, A Community: A Nostalgic Look at Jewish Businesses In and Around Atlantic City.”
“People said ‘Who is going to buy that book?’ But we’re almost sold out,” said Schoffer, who’s now researching the history of Atlantic City’s motels. “There’s a tremendous interest in Atlantic City history.”
This interest isn’t limited to the general public. Because of its rich and diverse history, film crews, documentarians, writers and other historians seem drawn to the resort like bathers are drawn to its free beaches on a hot July afternoon.
And when they come looking for information, they usually wind up speaking to Levi, Ruffolo and Pergament — three local historians recognized for their deep and broad knowledge of the city’s past.
All three serve on the board of the Atlantic City Historical Museum, an institution Levi helped found. All three have contributed their knowledge to high-profile projects about Atlantic City.
Levi, co-author of “Atlantic City, 125 Years of Ocean Madness,” has consulted on the Broadway play “Steel Pier,” provided Disney with some Atlantic City inspiration for it’s boardwalk project at Disney World in Florida, and consulted on “Boardwalk Empire.” She’s helped mount museum exhibits and recently provided documentarian Ken Burns with photographs for a project he’s working on about prohibition.
Levi, 68, said a “highlight of my life” was working with film director Louis Malle during the filming of the 1980 Burt Lancaster film “Atlantic City.”
It seems screenwriter John Guare found inspiration for the story about a small-time crook dreaming of past glory in a photo he’d seen in Levi’s book. The photo shows Capone and Nucky Johnson on the Boardwalk when the gangster was in town for a May 1929 summit of the nation’s crime bosses. There’s a third, unidentified man in the picture.
“(Guare) told the audience during a showing at the Met Museum that the little henchman was the inspiration for the Burt Lancaster character. I know my book has been used over and over again as inspiration for many, many projects,” Levi said.
Researchers from all over the world have also made their way to Pergament’s door. In the past year alone he’s worked with a documentary film crew from France and a team of ghost hunters investigating strange goings-on at the Absecon Lighthouse.
His Boo-seum contains a small library of books in which the authors acknowledge his contributions to their work. Next to his computer is another — equally important to him — book. It’s a notepad where Pergament has listed in a precise hand requests seeking his help on everything from researching magazine articles to tracking down information about recently discovered family photographs.
The one thing the Boo-seum lacks is any books written by Pergament, who has penned articles about area history. He said he’s considered a book, but dismissed the idea because it would take time away from so many other pressing projects.
“Passion is the key thing. A true historian has to have a passion for whatever it is that he’s going to be involved with,” said Pergament, who rarely asks for any kind of pay for his research.
Ruffolo said he too gets “hundreds and hundreds” of requests annually for information about Atlantic City’s past. The questions range from, “Did Duke Kahanamoku, the father of modern surfing, ever visit Atlantic City?” (He did, he was somehow involved in a Hawaiian high-diving act at the Steel Pier) to queries from people trying to track down businesses where their grandparents once worked.
The owner of Princeton Antiques on Atlantic Avenue, Ruffolo is known for his extensive collection of Atlantic City memorabilia, including a trove of about 30,000 Atlantic City postcards. A discussion with Ruffolo can include brief excursions into the history of the resort’s jitneys and how the 1912 explosion of a dirigible leaving Atlantic City in an attempt to cross to Europe affected the French military in the run-up to World War I by effectively wiping out the country’s cadre of airship experts.
Ruffolo said his development as a historian was an outgrowth of his work at the bookstore and his own curiosity about the past.
“It’s a natural thing. People come in and say ‘Do you happen to have ...’ or ‘Have you heard of ...’ When you do this kind of research, word of mouth spreads pretty quickly,” he said.
Ruffolo, 56, has co-written 1998’s “Atlantic City: America’s Favorite Playground” and “Atlantic City Revisited.”
He and Pergament also helped author Steve Liebowitz research the recent “Steel Pier, Atlantic City: Showplace of the Nation.”
Ruffolo said he can take a broad view of Atlantic City history because he knows just where to go to get the details he needs about specific areas.
“I have a list of people in my phone book who specialize in aspects of Atlantic City history. People who know about sailboats or Captain Starn’s (Seafood Restaurant),” he said.
Ruffolo serves as chairman of the historical museum. These days, he’s even more worried about the fate of the museum than he is about who will continue his legacy.
“Right now the pier is closed because of the storm, and we’re not sure what is going to happen when Revel opens up, will we stay where we are, will we find a new home or be pushed out,” Ruffolo said. “That’s all troubling to the board.”
The historian said people like Liebowitz and Heather Perez, the archivist for the Atlantic City Library’s extensive collection of historic documents and memorabilia, leave him optimistic that there is a new generation of historians with the same passion for the past that the current crop of historians has shown.
“Steve Liebowitz, when he walked through the door talking about the Steel Pier, I knew he had the devotion to do the book. It took him 10 years, but he saw it through,” Ruffolo said.
Levi, Johnson, and Goddard also cited Perez as the next, best keeper of the city’s historical record.
The 31-year-old Perez said such confidence in her is intimidating, but does confess to a true-believer’s zeal for the city’s heritage.
Growing up in Lynchburg, Va., Perez always had a love of history. A viewing of the 1991 film “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken,” about Depression-era diving horse girl Sonora Carver, got Perez fascinated with her future workplace.
“That was the first I ever heard of Atlantic City. I just fell in love with Atlantic City, I thought ‘What a cool place,’“ she said.
After getting her master’s degree in archives management at the University of Maryland, Perez heard about the opening at the Heston Room, the research facility where library’s historic documents are stored.
Perez prepped for the job interview by grabbing a copy of the late Grace D’Amato’s book about Atlantic City’s 500 Club and giving herself a quick course in the city’s history.
Now she spends her days cataloging the books, family photos and property records people donate to the library, answering questions from the public and helping historians research books and articles.
“If you are serious about Atlantic City history, you can’t bypass the Heston room,” Johnson said. “It’s like Grand Central Station for history.”
Having only worked at the library for three and a half years, Perez said she can’t claim the depth of knowledge that Atlantic City’s better-known historians possess.
“My biggest hurdle is not being from the area. People look at me as an outsider and I have to prove my mettle each time, but I’m up for the challenge — I hope” she said. “Maybe in 20 years I’ll have the knowledge that Boo or Vicki has.”
Perez said she works closely with the established historians, both to answer historical questions and also promote the city’s past.
There has been talk of the library teaming with the historical museum to create a new venue for showcasing the city’s history.
“It’s a possible nongaming attraction where people can come to learn about our history,” she said. “We want to create something special.”
And while Perez can also rattle off interesting tidbits about Atlantic City’s past, she admits she doesn’t always know an answer.
“I once got a call about Edward L. Bader. Someone wanted to know what his middle name was. We haven’t figured that out yet, but I’m hoping that someday I’ll know the answer,” she said.
Some of Atlantic City’s historians
Vicki Gold Levi
If people are born to be historians, Vicki Gold Levi falls into this group. Levi is the daughter of Al Gold, Atlantic City’s first official photographer from 1939 to 1964. Growing up in the city during the 1940s and ’50s, Levi’s was caught up in the hoopla for which the resort was so well-known. She served as page to Miss America 1945 Bess Myerson and was once billed as the world’s youngest radio disc jockey. Growing up and getting married, Levi was working in advertising and publicity in New York in 1979 when she teamed with Lee Eisenberg, Rod Kennedy and Susan Subtle to write “Atlantic City: 125 Years of Ocean Madness.”
The book rekindled in Levi a love for Atlantic City history. It also inspired a new career. Levi learned she’d inherited her father’s knack for identifying good pictures. Working as a photo editor, Levi also amassed a collection of historic Atlantic City images. In the early 1980s she, Anthony Kutschera and Florence Miller worked together to form the Atlantic City Historical Museum.
Still living in New York City, Levi remains active in the museum and other Atlantic City projects, including working to preserve the massive pipe organ at Boardwalk Hall.
She’s also worked on numerous movies, plays and TV shows about Atlantic City.
“If a TV show or movie calls me, I’m very good at sizing up what the mission is and I can fulfill it, that’s one of my strengths,” Levi said.
Allen ‘Boo’ Pergament
Pergament grew up in the Inlet section of Atlantic City. But back then, it was basketball, not history, that was his consuming passion. Pergament got a job with South Jersey Gas, raised a family in Margate and coached thousands of local kids at basketball clinics and camps he conducted for 50 years. But something happened about 20 years ago. Pergament was having lunch at a restaurant in Ventnor and noticed some pictures of old Atlantic City on the wall. Suddenly, he was thinking about his childhood.
“Oh, God, the memories that came pouring out,” he said. He borrowed the pictures and copied them. He attended postcard shows, then started scouring local flea markets for Atlantic City memorabilia. When his daughter married and moved out of the house, (and Pergament learned her old room was too small for a pool table) he moved all the memorabilia into the room and his Boo-seum was born.
Genial and loquacious, Pergament is nonetheless a stickler for getting things right. He prefers doing his own primary research rather than depending on information he might read in other books.
“Boo is 100 percent accurate in anything you ever ask him. He is definitely a tremendous source of information,” Levi said.
When Ruffolo discusses Atlantic City history, he does it with a faint Southern accent, the legacy of his growing up in Greensboro, N.C.
He moved to the city in 1972 to work with his father at Princeton Antiques. Working at the store, Ruffolo began collecting vintage postcards and photographs. Soon he was also on the lookout for other Atlantic City memorabilia.
“Over the years, there is very very little of it that I have sold,” he said. Persuaded by fellow local historian Herb Stern to join the Historical Museum, Ruffolo is one of its most active members.
“With my collecting and things, it was more of a natural thing for me to be an asset for Atlantic City,” he said of his decision to become involved. Ruffolo is now the organization’s chairman.
Ruffolo sees his interest in history as a way of also explaining the city’s present — and maybe even its future.
“The aspect of history that I enjoy is that almost everything has been done before in some shape and form. People forget, or don’t realize, what history was or how it influences what we do today. When people come to Atlantic City and they go to a beautiful casino to see a show, many don’t realize that all this stuff happened in the 1930s and 1940s, when we had all these big beautiful beachfront hotels,” he said. “Everything we do was done 50 or 60 years ago, and maybe better.”
Goddard got interested in history late in life, but that hasn’t stopped her from making an important contribution to the understanding of Atlantic City’s past.
An Atlantic City native, Goddard, 62, had returned to school in her 40s to get a degree in sociology and anthropology. Deciding to get her masters, Goddard proposed doing her dissertation on life in Atlantic City’s black community during the resort’s first century.
“My professors were the first to let me know that this was something that was really needed. Their initial response was that I could get a Ph.D. I just wanted my master’s degree,” she said.
Goddard got her master’s at Temple University and then went to Howard University and got that doctorate. As she did her research, she realized that while the list of black entertainers who played the city was well-known, practically no one else had examined what life was like for the black men and women who worked behind the scenes as Atlantic City became a hub of popular American culture.
While lots has been written on Atlantic City, resort promoters ignored the city’s sizable black community because they were afraid it would discourage tourists from coming here, Goddard said.
Using census records, papers from civic groups, research done the WPA and her own contacts, Goddard documented the contributions blacks made to the city.
“The movers and shakers are gone,but the family who knew them, lived with them can tell you what it was like,” said Goddard, who is now an adjunct professor of Africana Studies at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, her alma mater.
Goddard remains active. She dreams of someday seeing a center dedicated to the history of blacks in Atlantic City.
“We need someplace more tangible, where we can see our history and the contribution we made to the resort,” she said.
If there is a celebrity among Atlantic City historians, Johnson it is — and he’s not all that comfortable with the designation.
“I just want to be known as a judge, a historian and a private person,” said Johnson, who is an Atlantic County Superior Court judge and author of “Boardwalk Empire,” the book about Atlantic City history that HBO is now turning into a TV series. “I don’t want to be considered (a celebrity) at all. I love to research and write, so being a judge and historian fits in with my proclivities.”
The 61-year-old Hammonton man first became interested in Atlantic City history when working as attorney for the city’s planning board. After writing “Boardwalk Empire,” he recognized the book had the potential to become a Hollywood project. He launched a campaign to find someone to bring his story before the cameras.
“I made a whole lot of efforts to get people interested in the book as a vehicle for some kind of dramatic treatment,” Johnson said. The author made trips to Los Angeles and pitched the book to producers, agents and movie folks. His sales spiel focused on Atlantic City’s shady past.
“I would ask ‘Do you know where organized crime was born?’ and most would answer Chicago. I was telling them “‘No, it was born in Atlantic City with the 1929 organized crime convention,’” Johnson said.
When “Boardwalk Empire” premieres in the fall, Johnson will also unveil his latest book, a history of the black community on the city’s north side. The book was born out of Johnson’s fascination with the topic while researching his first book.
“When I was doing the first book, I realized how pivotal the black community was to Atlantic City’s creation. I had lots of difficulty with that chapter and kept putting it down,” Johnson said. “When I was done with the book, I knew this was something I wanted to explore further.”
SOURCE: David Walsh, reporting for HNN (1-10-10)
Cleve Jones, the noted GLBT activist, led the demonstrators in two marches around the Hyatt. Many of the demonstrators, judging by their ID tags, were attending the AHA convention, but the vast majority consisted of local activists from San Diego and Los Angeles. Most AHA members expressed their support for the goals of the protesters, but were either unaware of the boycott or unwilling to avoid the Hyatt entirely.
Several AHA conventioneers who were milling about by the protest expressed frustration with the AHA over the lack of communication to its membership about alternative accommodations, although most were supportive of the decision to compromise with the threaded mini-conference on marriage issues.
Several police officers were present at the protest, but no arrests were made. The protesters largely dispersed by 3:30 PM, but not before drawing extensive media coverage, including TV crews from Fox 5 and San Diego 6, who interviewed several protesters.
This video was taken at the protest, and consists of Cleve Jones’s opening speech to the crowd, reactions from AHA members and protesters, and footage of the protesters marching:
SOURCE: David Walsh, reporting for HNN (1-10-10)
In 2009, the AHA lost over a million dollars in the stock market, with its portfolio plummeting from $4 million to $2.9 million, but this year, in addition to running a slight surplus in the operating budget, the AHA portfolio has increased in value to around $3.5 million.
In other news from the AHA’s business meeting, the attendance at this year’s convention has declined precipitous from last year’s all-time high in New York. 4,158 people have come to San Diego, according to the executive director, but this number should be understood in the context of tough financial times for most schools and the distance of most members to San Diego.
SOURCE: San Diego Union-Tribune (1-9-10)
The protesters banged on drums, blew whistles and waved rainbow flags while chanting “Boycott the Hyatt — Check! Out! Now!”
The 2 p.m. rally targeted the American Historical Association, which decided to hold its annual conference this week at the Grand Hyatt despite an ongoing boycott.
About 4,000 of the association’s members — a tweedy mix of college professors, history teachers and librarians — are attending the conference that organizers decided to hold rather than pay steep cancellation penalties. A number of them said they were unaware of the protest, but others said they supported it.
Some conference participants joined in protest on Saturday. One was Joseph Varga, 46, assistant professor of labor studies at Indiana University, who showed his support for the boycott by walking around the conference rooms with a sign around his neck reading: “Angry queer historian.”
“The reason why I got angry,” he said, “is that I think the AHA should have done diligence on the guy who owns this hotel.”...
SOURCE: Historiann (Blog) (1-9-10)
I have no actual idea of the numbers at this year’s AHA, but I can’t help but think that it’s down from recent years. Not one of the panels I have attended so far, for instance, has had its full component of scheduled speakers. Reasons for these absences are manifold. First, the abysmal job market: if there are fewer interviewers and interviewees (the main purpose here for most), then fewer attendees. Second, getting to San Diego is expensive for most North Americans. Combine that with the fact that many colleges and universities have slashed travel budgets and it becomes prohibitively expensive for many. Third, there are the Midwestern storms that certainly have delayed some people’s arrival and may well have stranded them altogether. And fourth, the gay and labor boycott of the Manchester Grand Hyatt (led by UNITE HERE and Equality California, but with many other organizational supporters) seems to have led some gay would-be attendees to cancel as well.
As many of Historiann’s readers know, before the 2009 meeting it came to the attention of some AHA members that the owner of the Hyatt, Doug Manchester, had given about 100K to the successful Proposition 8 campaign (to ban same-sex marriage in California). Rather than pull out of the contract with Manchester, which would have cost the AHA about 800K and only benefited him financially, the attendees at 2009’s business meeting voted instead to hold a themed mini-conference on the history of same-sex marriage, couplehood, and queer history generally. The mini-conference would be embedded within the AHA and most of its sessions would be held at the Hyatt itself as a form of protest. There are sixteen sessions affiliated with this mini-conference and a number of others sponsored by the Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History, the AHA’s queer historians’ affiliate.
The sticky part is this: the consumer boycott of the Hyatt remains. And this puts queer historians and their allies in a tricky position. The AHA is actually paying the Hyatt very little money upfront. The meeting rooms are gratis and the Hyatt will profit (surely is profiting) primarily from attendees staying with them and patronizing the restaurants and businesses in their lobbies. So many have chosen to stay at the other conference hotels, primarily the Hilton or Marriott, or another offsite hotel. But many other attendees (at least those I’ve spoken with) had no idea about the consumer boycott, about Manchester’s role in Prop 8, or indeed that the preponderance of panels on gender and sexuality (seriously: it must be the most coverage of sexuality and queer issues ever at an AHA) had anything to do with Manchester. In other words, the AHA has not necessarily done the best job of publicizing all of what’s occurred and advising members of what their hotel options might be if they wanted to honor the consumer boycott. And there is also an actual protest outside the Hyatt itself. It appears only to be in the front (no sign at the back harbor entrances) and it is small. Yesterday, for instance, I saw about four or five protesters handing out leaflets. But today at 2:00 a larger demonstration is planned. I’ll provide some details tomorrow…
As for the conference itself: I have now been to a few mini-conference panels and attendance is sizable and discussion lively. While these panels were to be made open to the public (no AHA badge necessary) it seems to be largely historians, especially as many local queer people seem committed to the boycott of the hotel and won’t enter it. (There is also a security detail assigned to each mini-conference session. Those gays–dangerous!!) First session of the conference yesterday was a panel on “misbehaving women” in the nineteenth century, a nod to AHA President Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s famous aphorism about well-behaved women seldom making history. Gail Bederman, Patricia Cline Cohen, and Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz gave papers on Frances Wright, Mary Gove Nichols, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, respectively. As one attendee noted, “it was like the early Berks” in its focus on biography, but with the advantage of a couple decades worth of stellar scholarship on gender and sexuality to make our understanding of these three women’s lives that much more contextualized. I also attended a SHEAR (Society for Historians of the Early American Republic)/McNeil Center reception last night at a restaurant on the harbor within walking distance of all the hotels. Free beer and wine and a great selection of appetizers. I like those early Americanists!
Off to my own panel now but will keep my eye out for more to report on tomorrow, including the anti-Manchester protest.
SOURCE: Historiann (1-9-10)
As a first-timer at the AHA Job Center I can report that it was much quieter than I expected (everyone was so tense!) and there were very few people milling around. That shouldn’t really be a surprise.
What struck me, though, is that when I smiled at people no one would smile back. I understand that the market is stressful (hello, I’m on it too) but some of the people I saw looked like they were going to cry. And there haven’t even been interviews yet! We were just dropping off CVs at the collection booth. I made small talk with one of the volunteers and he looked at me as if I had three heads. My guess is that none of the other applicants had spoken to him without having a look of sheer panic cross their face. Yes, I’m nervous too. Yes, this is a big frickin’ deal. But good God, it is not healthy to be so freaked out that you won’t even look other people in the eye. I find that very disturbing.
Those are all things I’d expect on Saturday when the interviews are in full swing, but today? Seriously. I feel like I was the only sane person in the room.
That sounds about right for the pit most years, right friends? My bet is that The History Enthusiast will compare favorably to the Debbie Downers, especially since the departments hiring this year must be cheered by all of the top-notch candidates they’ll be able to lure. For those of you tempted to be Debbie Downers: buck up, at least while you’re interviewing. Practice smiling in a warm, friendly, non-smug, non-condescending way at your fellow job seekers. There’s plenty of challenges in faculty life–no one wants to hire a malcontent right out of the gate. (Well, no one most of us want to work with.) Remember: you’re never fully dressed without a smile!
SOURCE: The Percolator (Blog) (1-7-10)
That was the topic of a lively afternoon session at the American Historical Association's annual conference, happening right now in San Diego. The answer, as you might expect, wasn't equally straightforward. In fact, for nearly two hours historians alternately praised Google for its stunningly ambitious project to digitize the world's books and berated the company for missteps and a (supposed) lack of scholarly sophistication.
Kicking off the proceedings was Daniel J. Cohen, the director of the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. Cohen said "of course" Google is good for history, but he went on to criticize the project for its lack of openness: "I cannot understand why Google doesn’t make it easier for historians such as myself, who want to do technical analyses of historical books, to download them en masse more easily." You can read Cohen's entire talk on his blog.
Paul Duguid was harsher. While Cohen prefaced his remarks by saying it was easy to heap scorn on Google, Duguid, an adjunct professor at the University of California at Berkeley's School of Information, thought critics generally pulled their punches. Duguid certainly didn't. He said Google was "naive" going into the project and is guilty of "lying" about its search totals. He also mocked mistakes Google Books has made, particularly when it comes to metadata, that is, the information that identifies and categorizes a book or other material. Apparently, Henry James did not write Madame Bovary. It was some guy named Flaubert. Who knew?...
SOURCE: David Walsh (1-8-10)
According to one committee member, not enough has been done to encourage members to avoid purchasing, where possible, from stores, bars, and restaurants within the Grand Hyatt. The threaded mini-conference, however, has been the most attention the AHA has ever paid to LGBTQ history, with the seminars prominently positioned in the guidebook and drawing fairly large crowds, by AHA standards.
The CLGBTH plans to pose some serious questions to the AHA over its decision-making process for the annual meeting and for specific information about the number of AHA members who booked rooms at the Grand Hyatt. The CLGBTH’s most important goalis to avoid this sort of situation in the future, and will be asking the AHA to formulate its own contingency strategies.
In order to publicize the controversy over the Grand Hyatt, many members of the CLGBTH plan to demonstrate in the protest planned for 2:00 PM outside the hotel. Several members also plan to hand out pamphlets in the Grand Hyatt and Grand Marriott throughout the day encouraging convention-goers to avoid purchasing any items in the Grand Hyatt. The motto of the boycott is “don’t eat, meet, or greet” at the Grand Hyatt, and the CLGBTH plans to publicize ways that historians can comply with the boycott.