This page includes, in addition to news about historians, news about political scientists, economists, law professors, and others who write about history. For a comprehensive list of historians' obituaries, go here.
SOURCE: NYT (5-7-10)
They say that intellectual history travels slowly, and by hearse. The old generation has to die off before a new set of convictions can rise and replace entrenched ways of thinking. People also say that a large organization is like an aircraft carrier. You can move the rudder, but it still takes a long time to turn it around.
Yet we have a counterexample right in front of us. Five years ago, the United States Army was one sort of organization, with a certain mentality. Today, it is a different organization, with a different mentality. It has been transformed in the virtual flash of an eye, and the story of that transformation is fascinating for anybody interested in the flow of ideas.
Gen. David Petraeus, who had an important role, spoke about the transformation while accepting the Irving Kristol Award Thursday night from the American Enterprise Institute. I spoke to him and others about the process this week.
The transformation began amid failure. The U.S. was getting beaten in Iraq in 2004 and 2005. Captains and colonels were generally the first to see this, but only a few knew how to respond. Those who did tended to have dual personalities. That is, they had been steeped in Army culture but also in some other, often academic, culture. Petraeus had written a dissertation on Vietnam at Princeton. H.R. McMaster, then a colonel, had also written a book on Vietnam. Others were autodidacts and had studied the counterinsurgency tactics that had been used in Malaysia, Algeria and El Salvador....
SOURCE: Epoch Times (5-5-10)
Dr. Dean Oliver, director of research and exhibitions at the Canadian War Museum, has received the Dutch honour, Knight in the Order of Orange-Nassau.
The esteemed decoration is bestowed by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands on Dutch citizens and foreign nationals who have performed outstanding service to society. The title bears the hyphenated name used by the Royal Family of the Netherlands since the 16th century.
A noted historian of the Second World War, Oliver has played a prominent role in commemorating Canada’s involvement in the Liberation of the Netherlands, one of the most celebrated events in Holland. It is also one of the proudest moments in the annals of Canada’s military.
Oliver has also worked to build and sustain a strong connection between the museum and Canada’s Dutch community.
“The pivotal role Canadian soldiers have played in liberating our country has given Canada and the Netherlands a shared military history. This shared history is highly visible in the Canadian War Museum,” His Excellency Wim J.P. Geerts, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Canada, said in a statement....
SOURCE: Telegraph (UK) (5-6-10)
Mr Dean left a note by the soldier’s resting place detailing his admiration for Sir Gilbert, who had died in retirement in Spain, and chronicling his heroics on the Western Front.
But, on Mr Dean’s return to his home in Preston, Lancs, the local historian received a letter and an email from Spanish authorities demanding that he pay 330 euros (£281)in unpaid taxes to maintain the upkeep of the grave.
The situation arose because under Spanish law local authorities have the right to exhume bodies to make space for others if families have not paid for the upkeep.
San Sebastian council has had no contact with Sir Gilbert’s family since his wife died in 1979 as the couple had no children.
Mr Dean became the council’s only port of call after he left his postal and email addresses on the graveside note....
SOURCE: NYT (4-26-10)
“When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war,” General McChrystal dryly remarked, one of his advisers recalled, as the room erupted in laughter....
“PowerPoint makes us stupid,” Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps, the Joint Forces commander, said this month at a military conference in North Carolina. (He spoke without PowerPoint.) Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster, who banned PowerPoint presentations when he led the successful effort to secure the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar in 2005, followed up at the same conference by likening PowerPoint to an internal threat.
“It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control,” General McMaster said in a telephone interview afterward. “Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.”
In General McMaster’s view, PowerPoint’s worst offense is not a chart like the spaghetti graphic, which was first uncovered by NBC’s Richard Engel, but rigid lists of bullet points (in, say, a presentation on a conflict’s causes) that take no account of interconnected political, economic and ethnic forces. “If you divorce war from all of that, it becomes a targeting exercise,” General McMaster said....
SOURCE: Press Release (5-6-10)
“History lies at the very core of our publishing program and mission, and we therefore welcome the pre-eminent journal in American history and the innovative Magazine of History with open arms, and with many ideas about how we can work together to increase their already formidable influence,” noted Niko Pfund, VP/Publisher for Academic, Trade, and Journals in the US. “Furthermore, at a time of some instability in publishing, as business models are changing, and predictions of another wave of publisher consolidation fill the air, it is essential that publications as important as these enjoy a stable home at a publisher that shares its vision and values.”
David A. Hollinger, OAH President, stated that “The Organization of American Historians is pleased to be partnering with Oxford University Press and is confident that this alliance will ensure consistent excellence in the production and distribution of the Journal of American History and the Magazine of History.”
The full publishing partnership will begin in 2011, with on-line hosting beginning in July 2010.
OUP continues to strengthen its publishing programme with the addition of the Journal of American History and the Magazine of History to its journal collection. Other acquisitions so far in 2010 include the Infectious Diseases Society of America’s Clinical Infectious Disease and The Journal of Infectious Diseases as well as the Quarterly Journal of Economics and The Review of Economic Studies.
SOURCE: Jaime Glazov at FrontPageMag (5-6-10)
Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Harvey Klehr, Andrew Mellon Professor of Politics and History at Emory University. He is the author of the new book, The Communist Experience in America: A Political and Social History.
FP: Harvey Klehr, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
So what inspired you to write this new book, what is it about and how is it different from other works?
Klehr: This book is actually a compilation of a number of articles that I have written over the past forty years. Several years ago I was approached by Irving Louis Horowitz, publisher of Transaction Books, who asked me to consider collecting a number of the essays I had written on the issue of communism. I tried to group them into several areas that illustrate both my own intellectual history and a coherent view of the communist phenomenon. And then I wrote an introductory essay about how I got interested in this topic and how an intellectual career can be shaped by a variety of factors, some of which flow logically from a topic and others which are based on serendipity. Looking back on my career was fun, although once you reach the point where you are asked to collect a lot of what you have written, there’s also the sense that you are also a bit of a dinosaur.
FP: Can you talk to us a bit about your own intellectual history and journey?
Klehr: In graduate school in the late 1960s I was influenced by Marxism. The first two published articles in the book explore the ways Marx and Lenin tried to understand America and how the USA might fit the Marxist paradigm for the development of capitalism. I was really curious about why the Left had done so poorly in America – it’s the only advanced industrial country in which a left-wing movement explicitly committed to socialism never came to power or seriously competed for power. My doctoral dissertation was on the theory of American exceptionalism. It led me to an interesting episode in the history of American communism – the moment in 1929 when Joseph Stalin himself presided over a Moscow commission that expelled Jay Lovestone and his followers from the CPUSA for the crime of American exceptionalism. Lovestone’s group, which included some fascinating people – Lovestone himself later became the fiercely anti-communist advisor on international affairs to George Meany, head of the AFL-CIO, Bert Wolfe became a noted historian of Russia, Will Herberg a prominent conservative theologian – had the support of 90% of the American party, but that meant nothing to Stalin....
SOURCE: NYT (5-5-10)
Viewers might be momentarily confused when the screen goes dark, signaling a commercial break, only to light up again with men dressed in colonial garb on the cobblestone streets of Boston. The scene cuts to a bow-tied historian named K. C. Johnson, who tells an interviewer, “American colonies before the revolution existed for the economic good of the mother country,” and then to another historian, Steve Gillon, who adds, “The British used money as a way of keeping the Americans down.” Then, to a triumphant flourish of music, the Bank of America logo appears, along with the screen text, “Fueling progress, creating opportunity, building on our heritage.”
The first half of the two-minute spot, produced by the History Channel for Bank of America, the sponsor of the series, reveals the historical significance of the Massachusetts Bank, founded in 1784 and counting among its customers Paul Revere and John Hancock (and, owing to a series of acquisitions, part of Bank of America’s historical DNA). The second half of the commercial focuses on present-day New Bedford, Mass., where the mayor, Scott W. Lang, and other residents praise Bank of America for making loans for revitalization efforts.
The History Channel is producing 12 two-minute videos for Bank of America, each beginning in the same era as the episode, then jumping to a current example of the bank’s civic-mindedness. Representatives of the bank and the cable network do not describe the videos as commercials, preferring the terms “mini-documentaries” or “interstitial content.”...
SOURCE: WaPo (5-6-10)
"If tweets are in, how about craigslist.org postings?" one poster wrote on the library's blog in response to the announcement. Because "all of that information is just as culturally vacant."
The purview of historians has always been the tangible: letters, journals, official documents.
The purview of Twitter, on the other hand, is the ephemeral: random spewings that some argue represent the degeneration of society. Would a Founding Father ever have tweeted his crush on Evangeline Lilly?
But on the other hand, says Michael Beschloss, historian and author of "Presidential Courage," "What historian today wouldn't give his right arm to have the adult Madison's contemporaneous Twitters about the secret debates inside the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia?"
The 21st-century equivalent might already be happening: When Kitty Kelley was researching her new Oprah Winfrey bio, Kelley's assistant spotted a tweet from Winfrey about attending a gala and hugging Whoopi Goldberg. The throwaway shout-out was significant to Kelley, who knew that there had been tension between the women and viewed the tweet as a subtle olive branch. "If you believe that God is in the details -- and all biographers do," Kelley says, "then Twitter will be a godsend!"
Although the library's acquisition might seem to be a capitulation to frivolity and short attention spans, historians say, it's actually about how digital archives such as this are shaping the future of history....
SOURCE: Laredo Sun (5-4-10)
Conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh called the incident "Obama's Hurricane Katrina." A Palm Beach Post editorial stated that Obama "acted way too much like George Bush after Katrina.
" A Washington Examiner headline read: "Gulf oil spill becoming Obama's Katrina: A timeline of presidential delay."
Is the analogy fair?
No, says Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian who was in New Orleans, Louisiana, during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
"There's no comparison whatsoever between them," he said. "This was a corporate bungle" by BP, which owns the rig and is ultimately responsible for the cleanup efforts.
"But the Obama administration has done nothing wrong," he added. "This has been BP not having a plan A or plan B or plan C or plan D for capping this. They are winging it."...
SOURCE: Spiegel Online (5-4-10)
- Antony Beevor, D-Day: The Battle for Normandy (Viking, 2009)
D-Day may have been the beginning of the end of Germany's campaign of horror during World War II. But a new book by British historian Antony Beevor makes it clear that the"greatest generation" wasn't above committing a few war crimes of its own.
It was the first crime William E. Jones had ever committed, which was probably why he could still remember it well so many years later. He and other soldiers in the 4th Infantry Division had captured a small hill."It was pretty rough," Jones later wrote, describing the bloody battle.
At some point, the GIs lost all self-control. As Jones wrote:"(The Germans) were baffled and they were crazy. There were quite a few of them still in their foxholes. Then I saw quite a few of them shot right in the foxholes. We didn't take prisoners and there was nothing to do but kill them, and we did, and I had never shot one like that. Even our lieutenant did and some of the non coms (non-commissioned officers)."
The dead will most likely never be identified by name, but one thing is clear: The victims of this war crime were German soldiers killed in Normandy in the summer of 1944.
At daybreak on June 6, the Americans, British and their allies launched"Operation Overlord," the biggest amphibious landing of all time. During the operation, Allied and German troops fought each other in one of the fiercest battles of World War II, first on the beaches and then in the countryside of Normandy. When it was over, more than 250,000 soldiers and civilians had been killed or wounded, and Normandy itself was ravaged....
SOURCE: Financial Post (5-1-10)
Niall Ferguson’s resumé could put you to sleep. He’s a senior fellow here, a professor of this or that there. But despite hanging out with the elbow-patch crowd, this Scottish intellectual and author smoothly blends history, finance and politics all into one understandable package. At times he is humorous, at others frightful. His relationship with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-Dutch intellectual who has a death threat looming over her head after she was critical of Islam, also lends him an air of controversy. Mr. Ferguson, whose latest bestseller is The Ascent of Money: The Financial History of the World, was in Calgary this past week as the headliner at the Teatro salon speaker series. He touched on everything from why he thinks the International Monetary Fund will soon be bailing out Britain, to why the United States must now tread carefully around the globe or risk the wrath of China. And he shared his thoughts on money and power and who he thinks will win the U.K. election.
Q What are your thoughts on the U.K. economic situation as it relates to the election?
A The situation of the United Kingdom in fiscal terms is in fact worse than the situation of Greece. That may come as a surprise to you, but if you look at the most recent paper on the subject published by the Bank for International Settlements, it is very clear. The trajectory of U.K. public debt over the next 30 years, absent a major change of policy, will take it to a mind-blowing 500% of GDP, which is about 100 percentage points worse than Greece. If Britain had done what many right-thinking people thought it should do and joined the euro, the situation of Britain would be worse than that of Greece today. The only reason that Britain isn’t an honourary member of the PIIGS club, along with Portugal, Ireland, Italy and Spain, is that it stayed outside the eurozone and therefore reserves the right to debase the currency as an exit strategy. I don’t know about you, but I don’t find that very cheery as a prospect
So, Britain has a massive fiscal crisis that is just about to break. Whoever wins this election … they are going to have a ghastly task on their hands to try to reform a system of entitlements and welfare and state subsidy that has hugely expanded under Gordon Brown since 1997. I think Britain was more ready for Thatcherism in 1979 than it is today, and yet it needs it more today than it did then.
The situation is so unpromising that I would anticipate the International Monetary Fund having to come into Britain as it did in 1976. So there’s a great deal of smoke and mirrors about this subject. None of the candidates want to level with the British electorate, but the day after the election we’ll start seeing just how dire it is. And it will be a terrible indictment of Gordon Brown’s time as chancellor of the exchequer and as prime minister....
SOURCE: Radio Free Europe (5-4-10)
RFE/RL correspondent Ahto Lobjakas spoke with Sabrina Ramet, professor of political science at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, a senior research associate with the Center for the Study of Civil War in Oslo, and the author of a dozen books on the former Yugoslavia, about what Tito means to the region.
RFE/RL: Thirty years after his death, is Josip Broz Tito still relevant? How does he compare, for instance, to figures like Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and Poland's Wojcech Jaruzelski, who ruled at about the same time?
Sabrina Ramet: There's absolutely no comparison. Because if you go to Serbia or Croatia or Bosnia-Herzegovina today -- even, to some extent, Slovenia, though to a much, much lesser extent -- you'll find that there is still a cult of Tito. Tito continues to be ranked as very popular among people; there's a certain nostalgia for the Tito era among the people there.
In some cases it is a sort of blind nostalgia, but in many cases it's a more critical nostalgia, where people do remember that there was a harsh side to the Tito era as well, but nonetheless they value things -- such as the fact that it was a time of peace, a time of unity; it was a time when Yugoslavia was a larger and more important player than any of the successor states which we have now.
And it was a time when -- certainly in the 1960s into the mid-1970s, we can say, roughly speaking from the time of the reform, which went from 1962-65 until about 1974 -- it was a time when you had improving and rising expectations.
SOURCE: AFP (5-4-10)
Next week, activists are to send a letter to the leaders of Britain, Denmark, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain asking them to recognise the trade as an historic injustice a century and a half after it ended.
They have already convinced France to do so.
The European Memorial Foundation for the Slave Trade will launch the appeal at the French Senate on May 10, backed by the French historian Louis Sala-Molins and John Franklin from the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington.
"There are several reasons for this, including its symbolic value, to restore the memory of this crime against humanity," Karfa Diallo, chairman of the foundation, told AFP.
"There's also a question, shall we say, of justice," he said....
SOURCE: WaPo (5-3-10)
Intricate plans were made to mark the military conquests of the Confederate and Union armies, but little attention was paid to the experience of individuals -- soldiers, civilians and slaves.
A massive reenactment of the Battle of Bull Run at Manassas was marred by too little water and too few bathrooms. Most jarringly, some adopted the events as an opportunity to celebrate the Confederacy in the face of the burgeoning civil rights movement.
At last, President John F. Kennedy called on a 31-year-old historian to take over as the centennial's executive director, refocusing it on sober education.
Virginia has turned to the same man -- James I. Robertson Jr., a history professor at Virginia Tech and a Civil War expert -- to help the state avoid the same kinds of problems as it prepares to mark next year's 150th anniversary of the start of the war.
With Robertson's guidance, a commission established by the General Assembly to plan the state's sesquicentennial events has spent four years trying to avoid the impression that they will amount to a celebration of the Confederacy....
SOURCE: NYT (4-30-10)
Professor Maddison, a British-born economic historian with a compulsion for quantification, spent many of his 83 years calculating the size of economies over the last three millenniums. In one study he estimated the size of the world economy in A.D. 1 as about one five-hundredth of what it was in 2008.
He died on April 24 at a hospital in Paris after a long illness, his daughter, Elizabeth Maddison, said. He lived near Compiègne, about 50 miles northeast of Paris.
Professor Maddison held various senior posts at what is now the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an international research and consulting organization based in Paris. Most recently he was a professor at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.
He also spent much of his career studying economic conditions in the developing world firsthand, living for extended periods in Pakistan, Ghana, Brazil, Mongolia and Guinea, among other nations. As an adviser, he helped emerging market governments determine how to measure their economic progress and improve policies....
SOURCE: NYT (4-30-10)
The televised debates among the three men competing to run the country after next week’s election were meant to provide a corrective to that, replacing the histrionics with gravity and purpose. But their main effect, it seems, has been not to get people thinking about issues so much as to accelerate a different trend entirely — the move to an American-style obsession with personality politics....
But if the process has become more American, it has done so with a British flavor, so that what has come to matter most is each candidate’s particular style of Britishness. Britons remain obsessed with the minutiae of social distinction, and the candidates have gone into elaborate contortions in their efforts to present themselves as ordinary working people. The Labour leader, Prime Minister Gordon Brown, whose father was a Scottish minister and who became a left-wing student leader at the University of Edinburgh, can plausibly get away with this. It is a harder act to pull off for David Cameron, the Conservative leader, and Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats....
Emphasis on such details encourages the candidates to think more about presentation and less about pressing issues like how, exactly, they intend to reduce the $248.4 billion annual deficit, said Steven Fielding, a professor of political history and the director of the Center for British Politics at the University of Nottingham. “Given the seriousness of the issues,” he said, “this election campaign is living in a parallel universe to what is going to be going on after May 6.”...
Professor Fielding and others say that at a time like this, personality — particularly the kind that flourishes in heavily choreographed 90-minute debates — is the last thing the voters should focus on. “Glib fluency in front of the camera might win over TV viewers, but it is not an indicator of a politician’s genuine stature,” the columnist Leo McKinstry wrote recently in The Daily Mail.
Mr. Fielding said that viewers who see politicians performing on television start to regard them, in a sense, as protagonists in fictional dramas. “It’s not that they confuse them with TV characters, but that they see them in the same framework,” he said. “The leaders’ debates exaggerate that by encouraging voters to focus on the minutiae rather than on the policy.”...