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: Inside Higher Ed (8-4-10)
On Tuesday, the Medieval Academy of America -- following an intense debate among its members -- announced that it was proceeding with plans to hold its annual meeting in Tempe in April. The meeting attracts hundreds of scholars, and those who are members of the academy narrowly voted down a plan to move the conference (although that vote was advisory only). The decision to go ahead with a meeting in Arizona is getting blasted by some academy members, some of whom say that they are calling off plans to present at the meeting and are canceling memberships.
The academy's council (its governing board) made the decision to stay in Arizona, but took a poll of members, 42 percent of whom wanted to move the location, and 46.5 percent of whom wanted to proceed as planned, with the remainder not expressing a view.
Notably, the academy also asked members if they would be willing to pay the costs of relocating the meeting. This is a key issue as most associations that face pushes to move their meetings cite the high cost of breaking contracts as a key reason not to, and the academy would have lost tens of thousands of dollars by moving -- a huge sum for a scholarly association without deep pockets. Only 32.7 percent of members said they would be willing to contribute to defraying such costs....
SOURCE: CHE (8-3-10)
Then it starts to crumble. Troubling flaws are found in your acclaimed work. At first you dismiss your critics as cranks, but as the evidence piles up, you struggle to defend yourself. Your admirers desert you. Your publisher drops you. Your big prize is withdrawn, and you're pressured to leave the faculty job you love. For a moment, you had everything, and then—just like that—it all goes away, plus some.
It's a sad story, yet the man who lived it, Michael A. Bellesiles, doesn't get a lot of sympathy. The book he wrote, Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture (Knopf, 2000), claimed to show that until the Civil War, guns were relatively rare in the United States, an argument that incensed gun-rights advocates. They were giddy over his downfall. Once it became impossible to deny that the work contained serious errors, former supporters felt betrayed and rapidly disassociated themselves from the book and its disgraced author. It was hard to tell who hated him more.
Now, nearly eight years later, Mr. Bellesiles is back. His new book, 1877: America's Year of Living Violently (New Press), isn't a contrarian showstopper; instead, it's an anecdotal history of a famously eventful and profoundly bloody year in American history. It's one of several books Mr. Bellesiles has been working on. After years spent figuring out how to recover and move on, the history professor has returned to writing and is feeling more productive than ever.
But will anyone give Mr. Bellesiles a second chance? And, more to the point, does he even deserve one?...
As for what he's been doing since 2002, Mr. Bellesiles isn't entirely forthcoming. He says he did some teaching in England, although he doesn't want to divulge the details. He did a lot of freelance work for a textbook company. He volunteered with veterans. Before graduate school, he had worked for a number of years as a bartender. When I ask whether he returned to that profession following his departure from Emory, Mr. Bellesiles demurs."I'm still a good bartender," he says."I will tell you that."
The reason for his reluctance is that he knows whatever he says will be molded into a narrative he can't control. I will write this article. His multitudinous critics will seize on portions of it, some of them no doubt questioning why The Chronicle would spill so much ink on a man they consider a fraud. There is always risk for the interviewee: He is placing himself in the hands of a reporter he doesn't know and hoping for the best. Mr. Bellesiles understands this risk better than most. He's been burned before.
He is frank, however, about his inner turmoil. After Emory he thought about going to law school, something his parents had encouraged him to do when he graduated from the University of California at Santa Cruz. He thought about abandoning history entirely. Then, a couple of years ago, a former student of his who is now a professor at Central Connecticut State University suggested that he return to the classroom as an adjunct. Friends and family thought it would be good for him.
And it has been. Being back in the classroom, he says, has helped restore his shaken self-confidence. He was sufficiently bolstered that he able to turn out the new book in 18 months. He's mostly finished with another book, about a friend who was on death row. And he's started a third, tentatively titled"A People's Military History of the United States."
I remark that he's been awfully productive.
"Thank you," he says."I like to think so."...
But there have been bumps on the road to rehabilitation. The first was a letter sent by his publisher to promote 1877. It described Mr. Bellesiles as"the target of an infamous 'swiftboating' campaign by the National Rifle Association" and called Arming America a"Bancroft Prize-winning book."...
Mr. Bellesiles says he didn't approve or even read the promotional letter. The publicity director at the New Press, Anne Sullivan, says the letter was nothing unusual:"It was strong language, but that's publicity, right?" Sure, but intentionally misleading publicity probably doesn't do much for Mr. Bellesiles's reputation, and bloggers were quick to pounce on the letter. Jonah Goldberg, of The National Review, deemed Mr. Bellesiles the"Lord High Commissioner of Chutzpah."...
SOURCE: NYT (8-3-10)
His book “1877: America’s Year of Living Violently,” which will be published next week, is an attempted comeback for Mr. Bellesiles, who has languished in a kind of academic no-man’s land for the past decade after a scandal surrounding his previous book cut short what looked to be a promising career. “I’d like to think that anyone reading it would give it a fair chance,” he said of his latest work.
So far, the energetic debate about Mr. Bellesiles, scholarship and second chances on academic and education Web sites has focused mostly on his 2000 book, “Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture.” It argued that most Americans did not possess firearms until after the Civil War, a radically different interpretation of the country’s gun-owning history and one that entangled him in the bitter and shrill argument over Second Amendment rights....
Mr. Bellesiles and his supporters have maintained that the uproar was politically motivated and his mistakes minor. In promotional material for “1877,” Mr. Bellesiles’s current publisher, the nonprofit New Press, described him as returning to writing after becoming “the target of an infamous ‘swiftboating’ campaign by the National Rifle Association.”
That characterization of Mr. Bellesiles, who has been teaching history part time at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain while working two other part-time jobs, did precisely what he had hoped to avoid: revive the controversy about “Arming America.” Then, in June, an article he wrote for The Chronicle of Higher Education about teaching students military history during wartime stoked further discussion of Mr. Bellesiles’s credibility. In it he mentioned a student who told him a brother had been killed in Iraq — a claim that turned out to be false. The Chronicle, which investigated the incident after readers raised questions, said the student confessed he had lied to Mr. Bellesiles.
“It broke my heart,” Mr. Bellesiles said. “I always trusted my students.”...
Marc Favreau, Mr. Bellesiles’s editor at the New Press, perhaps chastened after saying too much in the publicity materials, offered only a brief reply when asked about the promotional copy.
“The New Press didn’t have a role in ‘Arming America,’ ” he wrote in an e-mail. “We’re thrilled to publish Michael’s extraordinary new book and confident it will be judged on its own considerable merits.” Since the flood of criticism, the press has changed Mr. Bellesiles’s biographical material....
SOURCE: MT Standard (7-25-10)
She was born on Oct. 18, 1954, in Butte to Jane and Frederick Arthur Pascoe Jr. She graduated from Butte High School in 1972. She earned a bachelor's degree in history from Montana State University in 1977, a master's degree in women's history from Sarah Lawrence College in 1980, and a PhD in history from Stanford University in 1986.
She taught women's history at the University of Utah from 1986 to 1996. She was the Beekman Chair of Pacific and Northwest History at the University of Oregon starting in 1996; in 2005 she also became a Professor of Ethnic Studies at UO.
SOURCE: The Raw Story (7-30-10)
Those who knew of the dissident historian Howard Zinn would not be surprised that J. Edgar Hoover's FBI kept tabs on him for decades during the Cold War.
But in a release of documents pertaining to Zinn, the bureau admitted that one of its investigations into the left-wing academic was prompted not by suspicion of criminal activity, but by Zinn's criticism of the FBI's record on civil rights investigations.
"In 1949, the FBI opened a domestic security investigation on Zinn," the bureau states. "The Bureau noted Zinn’s activities in what were called Communist Front Groups and received informant reports that Zinn was an active member of the CPUSA; Zinn denied ever being a member when he was questioned by agents in the 1950s.
"In the 1960s, the Bureau took another look at Zinn on account of his criticism of the FBI’s civil rights investigations."...
SOURCE: American Spectator (8-2-10)
Howard Zinn was teaching a class, but he wasn't yet a professor and his classroom wasn't at a university. It was late 1951, and the students who gathered for Zinn's lessons in Brooklyn were his fellow members of the Communist Party USA.
One of Zinn's comrades described him as "a person with some authority" within the local CPUSA section and said that Zinn's class was on "basic Marxism," the theme being "that the basic teachings of Marx and Lenin were sound and should be adhered to by those present."
That description, furnished to the Federal Bureau of Investigation by a former Communist in 1957, is included in more than 400 pages of Zinn's FBI file made public last week.
The FBI files demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that Zinn -- author of A People's History of the United States, widely used as a textbook or supplement in many of our nation's high schools and universities -- was a card-carrying Communist at a time when the Soviet Union was America's most dreaded enemy....
Zinn's 21st-century influence takes on a new aspect in light of the FBI's revelation of his Communist Party activities. Anyone might have innocently joined a Communist "front" group -- indeed, during his New Deal years as a self-described "hemophiliac liberal," Ronald Reagan had naively joined two such groups. But Zinn was implicated as a member of multiple Communist fronts and, tellingly, was a local officer of the American Veterans Committee at the very time when that group was identified as having been taken over by Communists. Given the preponderance of evidence, it is difficult to dispute J. Edgar Hoover's conclusion that Zinn was no mere sympathizer or "fellow traveler," but was indeed an active CPUSA member in the late 1940s and early '50s....
SOURCE: Chris Hedges at Truthdig (8-1-10)
On Monday I will teach my final American history class of the semester to prison inmates. We have spent five weeks reading Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States.” The class is taught in a small room in the basement of the prison. I pass through a metal detector, am patted down by a guard and walk through three pairs of iron gates to get to my students. We have covered Spain’s genocide of the native inhabitants in the Caribbean and the Americas, the war for independence in the United States and the disgraceful slaughter of Native Americans. We have examined slavery, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, the occupations of Cuba and the Philippines, the New Deal, two world wars and the legacy of racism, capitalist exploitation and imperialism that continue to infect American society.
We have looked at these issues, as Zinn did, through the eyes of Native Americans, immigrants, slaves, women, union leaders, persecuted socialists, anarchists and communists, abolitionists, anti-war activists, civil rights leaders and the poor. As I was reading out loud a passage by Sojourner Truth, Chief Joseph, Henry David Thoreau, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B Du Bois, Randolph Bourne, Malcolm X or Martin Luther King, I have heard students mutter “Damn” or “We been lied to.”
The power of Zinn’s scholarship—which I have watched over the past few weeks open the eyes of young, mostly African-Americans to their own history and the structures that perpetuate misery for the poor and gluttony and privilege for the elite—explains why the FBI, which released its 423-page file on Zinn on July 30, saw him as a threat.
Zinn, who died in January at the age of 87, did not advocate violence or support the overthrow of the government, something he told FBI interrogators on several occasions. He was rather an example of how genuine intellectual thought is always subversive. It always challenges prevailing assumptions as well as political and economic structures. It is based on a fierce moral autonomy and personal courage and it is uniformly branded by the power elite as “political.” Zinn was a threat not because he was a violent revolutionary or a communist but because he was fearless and told the truth....
SOURCE: San Jose Mercury-News (8-1-10)
A husband-wife team of Stanford professors are on a quest to bring greater recognition to these once forbidden, and almost forgotten, works. Their research has led to a pair of courses in the emerging field of "creative resistance" — one for Stanford undergraduates and another for adults in Stanford Continuing Studies — which will be offered later this year....
"It was spread all over the 20 countries that Nazis occupied. It happened in every language and in every place. It was not hundreds of people. It was countless," said John Felstiner of Stanford's Department of English.
Such creativity put Jews at great risk and had no practical benefit. Materials were scarce, and many artists, writers and musicians were scared and hungry. Facing death, they sought to leave behind something of themselves — boldly imagining a time when the Nazis no longer ruled, say the professors.
"It did not serve as much as another piece of bread. It didn't kill one Nazi. It didn't stop anything," said Mary Felstiner, a visiting professor of history. "But it gave them the morale to go another day. And when we look at these works, we see transcendence."...
SOURCE: CHE (7-30-10)
Earlier this month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu extended the classification of certain national-security related state archives for an additional 20 years....
For more on the potential implications of Netanyahu's decision, I turned to Benny Morris, a professor of history at Ben Gurion University of the Negev....
Q: What do you make of the decision to keep security-related documents classified?
A: Every closure of documents, every extension of periods of classification, is against the spirit of an open society. But Israel does live in a particularly difficult environment—and is at war with its surroundings, so more than most societies, there is justification for a tight archival policy. But the truth is that Israel's archives remain among the most open in the world—far more open than Britain's and France's, and, in some respects, the United State's (for example, the Israeli Cabinet maintains verbatim transcripts of its meetings, and opens them—97 % of the material—to public scrutiny after 40 years. The US doesn't)....
SOURCE: Independent (UK) (8-2-10)
After carrying out one of the most detailed statistical analyses of the period, Oxford's Professor Jane Humphries found that child labour was much more common and economically important than previously realised. Her estimates suggest that, by the early 19th century, England had more than a million child workers (including around 350,000 seven- to 10-year-olds) – accounting for 15 per cent of the total labour force. The work is likely to transform the academic world's understanding of that crucial period of British history which was the launch-pad of the nation's economic and imperial power.
Early factory owners – located in the countryside in order to exploit power from fast-flowing rivers – found that local labour was scarce and that those agricultural workers who were available were unsuitable for industrial production. They therefore opted instead to create a new work force composed of children, tailor-made for their factories.
"Factory owners were looking for cheap, malleable and fast-learning work forces – and found them ready-made among the children of the urban workhouses," said Professor Humphries. Her statistical research shows, for the first time, the precise extent to which the exploitation of children massively increased as newly emerging factories began their operations in the late 18th and early 19th centuries....
SOURCE: NYT (7-31-10)
The cause was pneumonia, his wife, Evgeniya, said.
Mr. Tucker commanded wide attention with two biographies of Stalin that used psychological interpretations to explain how he had achieved and exercised power. In essence, he described a severely disturbed man who employed clever, often cruel means to defend his neurotic self-conception.
“He believed Stalin was a deeply paranoid personality,” said Stephen F. Cohen, who has written extensively on Soviet affairs. “He was trying to make the world safe for himself.”
In a speech in 1988, George F. Kennan, the diplomat and Russian scholar, called Mr. Tucker “one of the great students of Stalin and Stalinism.”
Mr. Kennan said there was a temptation to dismiss figures like Hitler or Stalin as “incomprehensible monstrosities” whose formative lives were beside the point. But Mr. Tucker, he said, marshaled “a seriousness of purpose, an historical insight and a scrupulousness of method” to regard Stalin as a malleable human being shaped by a childhood so harsh that he created, as a defense, an inflated self-image....
SOURCE: San Jose Mercury-News (8-1-10)
But how did the hundreds of lesser-known Victorian writers regard the world around them? This question and many others in fields like literature, philosophy and history may finally find an answer in the vast database of more than 12 million digital books that Google has scanned and archived.
Google, scholars say, could boost the new and emerging field of digital humanities, which over the past few years has humanities researchers increasingly joining with computer scientists to answer questions that they could hardly conceive of asking before.
At Stanford University, for example, humanities professors are linking up with computer scientists to map a "Republic of Letters," illustrating the pathways between Paris, London and other cities traveled by letters written by intellectuals like Voltaire. Richard White, a Stanford history professor, is using 19th-century railroad freight rates to build database and computer graphics tools that illustrate how people's experience of space and time was reshaped by the coming of the railroads in the West....