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: Guardian (UK) (7-12-12)
A satire on university politics published in 1908 introduced 'The Principle of Sound Learning', which stated that 'the noise of vulgar fame should never trouble the cloistered calm of academic existence'. This attitude to popular scholarship came to mind recently when eminent historian Sir Keith Thomas spoke to the Independent about the books he had read as a judge of the prestigious Wolfson History Prize.
He said: "There is a tendency for young historians who have completed their doctoral thesis to, rather than present it in a conventional academic form, immediately hire an agent, cut out the footnotes, jazz it all up a bit and try to produce a historical bestseller from what would have otherwise been a perfectly good academic work. The reality is that only a few of these works succeed commercially."
Thomas reportedly bemoaned a 'parasitic' relationship between high-flying popular historians, who let poor academics slave away in archives, doing the real work of research, before nabbing their findings and using them in mass-market paperbacks....
SOURCE: Houston Chronicle (7-12-12)
“My fingers clawed into the arms of the chair while a vampire held my head and a witch prepared to inventory and steal my thoughts. And yet no whisper of witchwind or flicker of witchfire came to my aid. My power had gone entirely quiet.”
Diana Bishop, descendent of the Salem witches, continues her struggle to gain control of her sorcery in “Shadow of Night,” the second book in Deborah Harkness’ “All Souls” trilogy.
A professor of history at the University of Southern California, Harkness cast a spell on nearly half a million readers with 2011’s “A Discovery of Witches,” currently being transformed into a film script for Warner Bros. by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Auburn (“Proof”)....
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (6-29-12)
Some people think Simon Schama – garlanded academic and presenter of such fabulous series as A History of Britain and Rough Crossings – is full of crap. There have been grumblings that he dumbs down and simplifies his history shows, taking a sweeping view of history designed more for the verbal flourish than historical accuracy.
Few people have summarised these criticisms better than the Sunday Times' Adrian Gill who took a swipe at Schama's 2006 series Power of Art: "The point of these authored, visually clotted documentaries is really to be infomercials for instant coffee table tomes". And yes, it is true that even Schama's premium brand of TV history cannot help skating over the deeper complexities of historical truth. But while it's always tempting to point a mocking finger at a man with a plum job as Columbia professor of art history and history, and lucrative TV contracts coming out of his ears, I love him and make a beeline for him every time. I'd go so far as to say he is easily Britain's best arts presenter....
SOURCE: Iran Book News Agency (7-1-12)
IBNA: According to news, the WHA, founded in 1982, is the “foremost organization” for the promotion of world history through the encouragement of teaching, research, and publication. Since 1999, the association has awarded a book prize to recognize outstanding contributions to world history.
Prasannan Parthasarathi“I am very pleased to be given such recognition by my colleagues,” said Parthasarathi, a Boston College faculty member since 1998. “This book was more than a decade in the making, so an honor like this is particularly satisfying.” ...
SOURCE: Vermont Public Radio (7-9-12)
Host) Writer, educator and commentator Frank Bryan has been thinking about the life and legacy of the late Vermont Historian, Sam Hand.
(Bryan) Aldous Huxley wrote "Historians are the original creators of our common humanity" . Others call historians "the guardians of our collective memory"
Recently, with the death of Professor Sam Hand, Vermont lost a leading guardian of our memory and humanity. This loss is especially sad for Vermonters because Vermont is one of the few states left in America that is a truly democratic polity - a place where behavior and governance are joined at the human scale.
Professor Hand's contributions bespeak the character of the model teacher-scholar. They can be summarized by three brief examples....
SOURCE: Deutsche Welle (7-9-12)
Nearly six decades after Josef Stalin's death, a debate has erupted in Germany on how to evaluate the Russian dictator's regime. It's been triggered by a newly released book by a high-profile Eastern European historian.
In his book, Jörg Baberowski delivers plenty of material for debate about the controversial Russian ruler Stalin. But the historian himself is uncompromising in his analysis. The ruler, he argues, was a passionate and ruthless psychopath, a despot who killed according to quotas, sparing no one, who sowed fear, horror and mistrust in his immediate surroundings and subjected an entire society to a culture of destruction and terror.
In his evocative book, Baberowski makes a case for this thesis on nearly 600 pages, quoting a wide range of sources. "I have not written a book about the Soviet Union or about Stalinism but rather about excessive force and what it does to people," said the author and professor of Eastern European history at Humboldt University in Berlin in one of his many packed lectures....
SOURCE: AP (7-6-12)
ROME -- Caravaggio was notorious for his brawling, so it might be fitting that a claim by two Italian art historians that they discovered as many as 100 drawings by the painter in his boyhood has sparked an art world uproar.
The researchers say they found dozens of early drawings by Caravaggio in the collection of master Milanese artist Simone Peterzano, the painter's teacher from 1584 to 1588. Many experts have responded with skepticism to the startling claim: Over the centuries, art historians have never definitively attributed any drawings to Caravaggio, who shook up 16th-century art by using models from the lower walks of life for religious scenes and dramatically counterpointing light and dark.
On Friday, the curator of the drawings collection at Milan's Sforzesco Castle, where the collection of 1,500 painting generally attributed to Peterzano is kept, challenged the seriousness of the researchers' methods and contended that the pair had never set foot in the room to scrutinize the works....
SOURCE: WaPo (7-10-12)
Influential church historian Diarmaid MacCulloch said he believes Christianity faces a bright future, but predicted the Roman Catholic Church will undergo a major schism over its moral and social teaching.
“Christianity, the world’s largest religion, is rapidly expanding — by all indications, its future is very bright,” said MacCulloch, 60, professor of church history at Oxford University and an Anglican deacon. His latest book, “Silence in Christian History,” will be published in the fall by Penguin....
SOURCE: HNN Staff (7-9-12)
Harold Holzer, a leading scholar of Abraham Lincoln, is stepping back from some of his responsibilties as Senior Vice President for External Affairs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City in order to devote more time to research and writing. He will remain with museum as Senior Vice President for Government Relations and Public Affairs.
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (7-8-12)
Secret testimony from an IRA woman who bombed the Old Bailey can now be handed over to the Police Service of Northern Ireland as part of its investigations into one of the most controversial murders during the Troubles, a US court has ruled.
In the ongoing battle between academic freedom and demands for justice from the families of those killed by the IRA in the conflict, a United States appeal court has found that the PSNI can seize tapes from the ex-IRA bomber Dolours Price.
The ruling over the weekend has sparked fears among historians and journalists behind the Belfast Project for Boston College that all of their confidential archive of IRA and loyalist paramilitary activists is now vulnerable....
SOURCE: NYT (7-4-12)
...Until Friday the network’s Web site — also home to upbeat fare like “Marist Poll Reveals Ignorance of July 4th History” and “Top Five Myths About the Fourth of July” — is accepting nominations at email@example.com for “history books that nobody should take seriously.”
On July 9 the top five nominees will be posted on the site, which is hosted by George Mason University. Readers then be asked to vote for “the least credible history book in print.” The winner — or loser? — will be announced on July 16, along with commentary on the finalists from various academic historians, who make up the bulk of the site’s contributors.
David Walsh, the site’s editor, said that Bill O’Reilly’s “Killing Lincoln” and David Barton’s “The Jefferson Lies” (which argues, among other things, that the man who first spoke of the need for a “wall of separation” between church and state was an evangelical Christian) were currently running strong. Other nominees so far include Michael Bellesiles’s “Arming America” (which was stripped of the prestigious Bancroft Prize after Mr. Bellesiles was accused of falsifying data about early American gun ownership), Gavin Menzies’s “1421 : The Year China Discovered America,” and Richard Williams’s 2006 book “Stonewall Jackson: The Black Man’s Friend,” along with various works from the now-discredited Dunning school, which held sway in the early 20th-century with its argument that Reconstruction failed because African-Americans were not capable of self-government....
SOURCE: Vermont Public Radio (7-2-12)
Funeral services were held on Monday for an academic who helped generations of Vermonters understand their state's history.
Samuel Hand was hired as a professor of American history when he was hired at the University of Vermont in 1961.
But before long, he became as the "dean of Vermont studies" for his landmark work on 19th and 20th century politics....
SOURCE: BBC News (6-27-12)
The Queen has shaken hands with the former IRA commander, Martin McGuinness, in one of the most powerful symbols of reconciliation since the start of the peace process in Northern Ireland....
Royal historian Charles Mosley said Prince Philip deliberately moved away from Mr McGuinness as he advanced to speak to him. He added that the duke's memories about the death of Lord Mounbatten were still 'bitter'.
SOURCE: NYT (7-2-12)
For a century and a half, Mormonism has been something of a paradox in the history of the American West: passionately argued about by the church’s adherents and detractors, but largely ignored by professional scholars unsure of what to make of the religion Joseph Smith founded in 1830 or the communities created by what Mormon scripture itself described as a “peculiar people.”
But now, as Mitt Romney’s candidacy prompts talk of a “Mormon moment,” a growing cadre of young scholars of Mormonism are enjoying their own turn in the sun, and not just on the nation’s op-ed pages. Books relating to Mormon history are appearing in the catalogs of top academic presses, while secular universities are adding courses, graduate fellowships and endowed chairs.
“People are seeing right now that Mormonism is a great laboratory for studying all kinds of questions about religion and the modern world,” said Patrick Mason, the chairman of Mormon studies at Claremont Graduate University in California, which four years ago became the first secular university outside Utah to establish a program on the subject....
SOURCE: AHA Today (6-28-12)
In light of the historic importance of yesterday’s Supreme Court decision, and with the belief that history can help inform debate on any contemporary topic, [the American Historical Association offers] three commentaries from professors of history on yesterday’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act.
Alan Brinkley, Columbia University
Having prepared comments on the demise of the health care bill, I am happily surprised that the Court has sustained it. Over the months of waiting, I had thought that the only conservative justice who might support the bill would be Kennedy. Roberts seemed to be a long shot. In many ways, Chief Justice John Roberts’s vote—so surprising at the time—is much like Justice Owen Roberts’s votes on U.S. v. Butler and West Coast Hotel v. Parrish in 1935 and 1936, which supported the commerce clause in much the same way John Roberts did this week. Perhaps what made the chief justice support the bill might have been that striking it down could not only end the health care law but many other efforts that could be struck down in many other laws—with the possibility of returning to something like Lochner. [Read more…]
David T. Beito, University of Alabama
This is a bleak day for defenders of personal liberty. The Supreme Court has abrogated its responsibility as a co-equal branch. If the federal government can force us to buy insurance, under the catch-all pretext of calling it a “tax,” it can force us to do almost anything. The same post-New Deal court which often upholds choice on abortion, pornography, and contraceptives continues to let politicians trample on the personal choice of Americans over their own pocketbooks. In we cannot freely spend the fruits of our labor on such a deeply intimate decision as health care, any other liberties are ultimately meaningless. [Read more…]
Beatrix Hoffman, Northern Illinois University
It is a historic day for health reform. The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold most of the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA) means that the United States will come closer to insuring all its citizens than ever before in history. Millions who had previously been excluded because of their health conditions or because they could not afford coverage will be able to join the system.
But even if the law is implemented to its fullest extent, the United States will still not have universal coverage. [Read more…]
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Ed (7-1-12)
Adolf Hitler's rambling magnum opus, Mein Kampf ("My Struggle") is considered a blueprint of the radical nationalist, pungently anti-Semitic vision that he would put into practice when the Nazis captured power in Germany, in 1933. It reflects his thinking so accurately that one German historian describes the book as "direct access to Hitler's brain."
In fact, the book's contents were considered potent and infectious enough that the postwar administration in Allied-occupied Germany banned its publication, a prohibition that German authorities maintained, and which is to remain in place until the end of 2015, when the copyright expires. What happens then is the object of intense discussion and soul-searching in Germany, where, 67 years after the war's end, freedom of speech is still curtailed when it promotes Nazi ideology....
Today there are still networks of right-wing extremists in Germany, as there are most everywhere in Europe. And in Germany, the state's rigorous prosecution of Nazi propaganda is accepted by most citizens. Just last year, Germans were shocked at revelations that a terrorist group calling itself the National Socialist Underground had murdered 10 people, nine of them immigrants. Polls attest that anti-Semitism still has currency among about 20 percent of Germans. That figure is not higher than elsewhere in Europe, but Germany is, after all, Germany....
The task of annotating Mein Kampf—including one for high-school students—is in the hands of a small team of historians at the prestigious Institute of Contemporary History, in Munich. The aim of the exercise, which will include critical introductions, is to "demystify" its messages.
"Mein Kampf is like a rusty old grenade. We want to remove its detonator," explains Christian Hartmann, who leads the Munich team. "We intend to defuse the book. This way it will lose its symbolic value and become what it really is: a piece of historical evidence—nothing more."...