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: YourNabe.com (5-27-10)
Marshall’s office had put out the word in the spring that it was searching for a Queens resident to keep track of the borough’s history.
The position does not pay, but the selected winner could be required to make appearances on local television or in documentaries. The historian will also take part in walking tours and lectures....
SOURCE: Laurie Penny at The New Statesman (6-1-10)
The Tories want our children to be proud of Britain's imperial past. When right-wing colonial historian Niall Ferguson told the Hay Festival last weekend that he would like to revise the school history curriculum to include "the rise of western domination of the world" as the "big story" of the last 500 years, Education Secretary Michael Gove leapt to his feet to praise Ferguson's "exciting" ideas - and offer him the job.
Ferguson is a poster-boy for big stories about big empire, his books and broadcasting weaving Boys' Own-style tales about the British charging into the jungle and jolly well sorting out the natives. The Independent's Johann Hari, in his capacity as young bloodhound of the liberal left, sniffed out Ferguson's suspicious narrative of European cultural supremacy in a series of articles in 2006, calling him "a court historian for the imperial American hard right," as Harvard-based Ferguson believes that the success of the British Empire should be considered a model for US foreign policy....
What should shock about these appointments is not just the suspect opinions of...Ferguson, but the fact that the Tories have fundamentally misunderstood the entire purpose of history. History, properly taught, should lead young people to question and challenge their cultural inheritance rather than simply 'celebrating' it. "Studying the empire is important, because it is an international story, but we have to look at it from the perspective of those who were colonised as well as from the British perspective," said historian and political biographer Dr Anthony Seldon, who is also Master of Wellington College. "We live in an interconnected word, and to one has to balance learning about british history with learning about other cultures."
The ways in which schools and governments structure and promote stories about a country's past, the crimes they conceal and the truths they twist, have a lasting effect on young minds. It is not for nothing that the most fearsome dictators of the twentieth century, from Hitler to Chairman Mao, altered their school history curricula as a matter of national urgency. Even now, the school board of the state of Texas is re-writing the history syllabus to sanitise slavery and sideline major figures such as Thomas Jefferson, who called for separation of Church and State. That the Tories, too, wish to return us to a 'traditionalist' model of history teaching should thoroughly disabuse the Left of the notion that the Conservative party has no ideological agenda....
SOURCE: The Atlantic (6-1-10)
Best known as curator of Slavery in New York, an acclaimed NYHS exhibit that exposed the ties between enslaved African labor and New York City's wealth, the 65-year-old has spent more than four decades creating history exhibits for general audiences in the United States and abroad. His focus is always on the way that museum-goers learn, and their experience as they traverse a gallery -- approaches I began to understand better before we even entered the building.
"Patrons line up at this counter to buy tickets," he told me. "As the cashier hands them change they're invariably wriggling from heavy coats, dislodging iPod earphones or shushing overexcited children."
Once inside, they're therefore directed to watch a short film. Background information useful to the exhibit is introduced. Even more importantly, however, TV time in the spacious hall delays the moment when they enter the main gallery: seated indoors on wooden benches before an illuminated screen, people quiet down, stretch their attention spans, and assume a mood better suited to engaging the history that awaits them.
Attention to the minute aspects of audience experience has paid dividends for Dr. Rabinowitz in recent years. After Slavery in New York broke attendance records at the historical society in 2005, earning rave reviews from New York City press, the curator was contracted to design a sequel exhibit, New York Divided: Slavery and the Civil War, and subsequent shows on The Marquis de Lafayette, Abraham Lincoln and New York City, Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee, and his current project, an exploration of the 18th Century "age of revolutions" with a special focus on Haiti.
Throughout this multi-exhibit run, special attention has been paid to challenging the established narratives that New Yorkers have about American history and their city's place in it.
"I try to dislodge people's ideas about the past, but not for it's own sake," Rabinowitz says. "History should help people reconfigure their thinking so they better understand the present and their place in it."
The two shows on slavery, elements of which remain in the NYHS permanent collection, accomplished that goal, complicating NYC history via carefully constructed gallery exhibits that showcase their curator's creative range. Rabinowitz has long employed technology to engage visitors or create a magic moment, according to John Jacobsen, a museum planner who has known him since 1974. "He's innovative, but always eschews gimmicks that overwhelm or distract," he said, citing a Slavery in New York display as a particularly good example. Research revealed that the public well was one of the only places New York City slaves were allowed to congregate, since they were fetching water for their masters. In the exhibit, visitors came upon a well; looking inside, they saw the reflection of black faces as the candid conversations of slaves echoed up from its depths....
SOURCE: Foreign Policy (6-1-10)
Those were the days: Economic upheavals wiped out long-established institutions and jolted self-satisfied elites. Terrorists declared war on the West in the name of eccentric utopias. New technologies collapsed geographical distance, bringing far-flung regions closer together and undermining the power of the traditional nation-state.
I could be talking, of course, about the early twenty-first century. But as a growing number of historians and commentators are realizing, all of the above applies equally well to the 1970s, a critical decade that deserves to be remembered for more than disco and bellbottoms. For those who lived through them -- at least in the United States -- the 1970s may have felt mostly like the moment when history ground to a halt: A dullsville interregnum between the highs of the 1960s and the Cold War climacteric of the 1980s. Author Tom Wolfe famously dubbed it the "Me Decade," a period of egotistical navel-gazing and frivolous hedonism. For Americans, it was the era of Watergate, long lines at gas stations, the last years of the inglorious Vietnam adventure, and President Ford. In short, not much worth celebrating.
So why, then, are we suddenly witnessing a flurry of books that aim to refocus our attention on this misbegotten decade? The answer is twofold: First, the Seventies are a lot more interesting than conventional opinion would have it; and, second, the stresses that defined that moment in history turn out to be eerily relevant to our own.
Above all else, the 1970s marked the moment when world leaders and ordinary citizens alike woke up with a jolt to their common status as inhabitants of an interconnected world -- and understood, in the process, that this didn't necessarily make the planet a more predictable place. "This is the decade when things start to unravel," says Harvard historian Charles Maier, one of the editors of the new book The Shock of the Global: The 1970s in Perspective. In his essay in the book, historian Daniel Sargent offers a citation from 1975: "Old international patterns are crumbling ... The world has become interdependent in economics, in communications, and in human aspirations." The writer was Henry Kissinger....
The Shock of the Global tilts unapologetically toward political economy -- the field in which many of the book's authors hold credentials. It's a filter that sometimes falls short when it comes to capturing the period's full complexity -- as in the case of the rise of political Islam, which would culminate, at the end of the decade, in Iran's Islamic Revolution and the beginnings of the global jihad unleashed by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
But this book still manages to bring some of the period's most important trends into sharp relief. Charles Maier, the Harvard history professor, says that the 1970s marked a crucial moment when global elites realized that "the policy solutions for economic dilemmas [were] no longer working. Suddenly there's a group of problems arriving for which there isn't a ready repertory of answers." He suspects that it's precisely that sense of "disequilibrium" that will resonate with present-day readers -- all of us who have just emerged from the great financial cataclysm of 2008. The lesson of the 1970s, says Maier with a laugh, is simple: "Stability is never assured. It always undermines itself ... You're never out of the woods." As if we needed reminding.
SOURCE: Britannica Blog (6-1-10)
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Britannica: In The Second Amendment: The Intent and Its Interpretation by the States and the Supreme Court (2009), you examine the debate over whether the Second Amendment protects individual or collective rights—that is, whether or not it grants individuals the right to own and carry arms or whether it enables citizens to arms only in relation to service in a militia, and conclude that it only protects the right to “keep and bear Arms” for the defense of the country in a militia force. How did you reach this conclusion?
Charles: I originally began writing The Second Amendment: The Intent and Its Interpretation by the States and the Supreme Court not as a book, but as an article discussing how the phrases “bear arms” and “keep arms” were used in colonial and state statutes from the inception of every colony to 1800. I had just read the District of Columbia Court of Appeals decision Parker v. District of Columbia, and was perplexed by the court’s examination. I was curious as to whether the court was correct in that “keep arms” and “bear arms” was popularly understood to mean private possession for personal uses or if the phrases had a more limited connection to militia service.
I began my search reading the prominent works of “individual right” and “collective right” commentators. I came to the conclusion that the only way to settle the debate was to start my research by sifting through every American statute available from our inception to 1800. I felt this was the best means to determine the popular understanding as would have been understood by the legislators, judges, and the people themselves. I came to this determination because, at this time in our history, the laws were not as expansive as they are today. Generally laws were one or two pages, leaving much to be determined by the common law. More importantly, these laws were generally printed, distributed, and read aloud so that the public was on notice. Thus, I would argue that legislative intent and popular understanding would have been one and the same at this time.
Upon sifting through each state/colony’s statutes a common thread began to develop. First, the phrases “bear arms” or “keep arms” were not in any laws concerning crimes, self-defense, homicide, hunting, game etc. Second, in state/colony militia laws the phrases “bear arms” and “keep arms” were prevalent. Third, the phrase “well-regulated militia necessary to the security of a free State” or some deviation of this phrase was prevalent in the preambles of many of these militia laws. Fourth, a close examination of the militia laws revealed much about eighteenth century American society and arms. In some instances, states/colonies provided the arms. In others, states/colonies provided able-bodied men to provide them. Meanwhile, most prescribed a combination of the two approaches and required able-bodied men to provide arms and supplied arms to those who were too poor to provide their own.
It was from these findings that I concluded that the right to “keep arms” and “bear arms” was intimately tied to service in the militia, and began to research more. After going through congressional and state debates, the proceedings of the state and federal constitutional conventions, and numerous other sources I did not find any substantive data to sway my conclusion. While I agreed with “individual right” theorists that the right to “keep and bear arms” was individual in nature, I found nothing that sufficiently severed that right from service in a “well-regulated militia.”
As of today, I still have not found any information that sways my thesis. If anything, my later works and articles have strengthened my initial approach in The Second Amendment: The Intent and Its Interpretation by the States and the Supreme Court....
SOURCE: CHE (5-26-10)
In this case, the tease-worthy material began with an account of a letter of introduction sent in July 1687 by an English linguist named Thomas Hyde to the famed scientist Robert Boyle concerning a young Chinese man, Shen Fuzong, who had arrived in England a few months earlier. Shen had been helping Hyde catalogue Chinese books for what became the Bodleian library at Oxford. Shen's ultimate destination was Portugal to complete training for the Catholic priesthood. However the occasion for his leaving his homeland was a publishing project. One of the Jesuits who had taught Shen Latin in China was bringing him to Europe to do the final proofreading of a Latin translation of Confucius. Shen was also to insert written Chinese characters at key places in the Latin text, "so as to prevent any interpretive mistakes," Spence said....
SOURCE: The Herald (Scotland) (6-1-10)
“Historians are nearly as seedy and devious as politicians,” said Deary.
“They pick on a particular angle and select the facts to prove their case and make a name for themselves.”...