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The Atlantic


  • Originally published 08/19/2013

    The Atlantic profiles Diane Ravitch ... and her successful struggle against the school reform movement

    Sara Mosle, who teaches writing at Philip’s Academy Charter School in Newark, N.J., has written about education for The New York Times, Slate, and other publications.The survival of the school-reform movement, as it’s known to champions and detractors alike, is no longer assured. Even a couple years ago, few would have predicted this turn of events for a crusade that began with the publication of A Nation at Risk in 1983, gathered momentum as charter schools and Teach for America took off in the 1990s, and surged into the spotlight with No Child Left Behind in 2001. As a schoolteacher, I know I didn’t anticipate this altered landscape. If one person can be credited—or blamed—for the reform movement’s sudden vulnerability, it’s a fiercely articulate historian, now in her 70s, named Diane Ravitch.

  • Originally published 08/19/2013

    Geoff Shepard: The Watergate Cover-Up Trial: Justice Denied?

    Watergate remains the greatest political scandal in modern American history. It culminated not only in President Nixon’s announcement of his resignation, 39 years ago Thursday, but in the conviction and imprisonment of his three most senior aides. Attorney General John Mitchell, White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman, and Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs John Ehrlichman were found guilty of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and perjury in the three-month Watergate cover-up trial, which ended on January 1, 1975.

  • Originally published 08/13/2013

    Civil rights, Cambodia, and Cuba: memos that made history

    Andrew Cohen is a contributing editor at The Atlantic, 60 Minutes' first-ever legal analyst, and a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice.Earlier this summer, the Justice Department released to the public a trove of old Office of Legal Counsel memos. My Atlantic colleague Conor Friedersdorf already has discovered them and written about the eternally regrettable OLC memo justifying the ignoble fate of Japanese Americans in 1942 as well as a 1937 memorandum in which an otherwise forgettable administration lawyer (Golden W. Bell) courageously (and correctly!) told President Franklin Roosevelt that he couldn't censor a foreign speech by the ill-fated Leon Trotsky.Let me now add my voice to Conor's chorus. These memos are pure gold if you like history, or law, or politics, or some combination of the three. Here's how the Justice Department explained what they are and why they seem so relevant today....

  • Originally published 07/22/2013

    Sidney Blumenthal: Romanticizing the Villains of the Civil War

    Sidney Blumenthal is a former assistant and senior adviser to President Bill Clinton, a former senior adviser to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the author of the forthcoming book The Man Who Became Abraham Lincoln.When Gone with the Wind had its premiere in Atlanta in 1939, the governor of Georgia declared a state holiday. One million people turned out to watch the arrival of Clark Gable, Olivia DeHaviland and Vivien Leigh. The night before, a costume ball of leading citizens dressed in the finery of the Old South was serenaded by a "negro boys' choir" dressed as slaves standing against the newly constructed backdrop of a plantation mansion. One of its singers was six year-old Martin Luther King, Jr. Hattie McDaniel, who acted as Mammy, was prohibited from joining the other stars inside the theater. It was segregated just as movie houses and other public facilities were throughout the South. Angry about McDaniel's exclusion, Gable threatened to boycott, but she persuaded him to attend. She would go on to win an Academy Award.

  • Originally published 07/21/2013

    Louis René Beres: What Does It Mean to Kill for a Cause?

    Louis René Beres is a professor of political science at Purdue University and the author of multiple books.Before any country can fashion an effective counter-terrorism policy, it needs a clear and purposeful understanding of "the enemy." For the United States, especially after discovering so-many behavioral contradictions in the Boston Marathon bombers, an underlying task must be to look more closely and explicitly at issues of normalcy. On the cover of yesterday's Rolling Stone, for instance (which was the source of widespread outcry) Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is both "glamorously" posed and called a "monster."Is it correct to assume that all or most of this country's terrorist foes are "abnormal"? Or does such a position ultimately hinder our urgent national security efforts? Would such an assumption represent little more than a ritualized political obligation -- a purely self-serving and ideologically obligatory policy stance -- or might it still be the considered outcome of rock solid and objective psychological science?

  • Originally published 07/18/2013

    Marketus Presswood: On Being Black in China

    Marketus Presswood is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Modern Chinese History with an emphasis on both the Republican Era (1912-1949) and the post-1949 era.In the 1996 China edition of the Lonely Planet's Guidebook, a text box aside comment from a street interview provided some interesting conversation fodder, "... there is no racism in China because there are no black people," a Chinese woman was reported to have said. This became a little running joke in my small study abroad circle, since I was the only black student in my program of fifty students. It was 1997, and I was in Beijing studying Chinese. "There is no way you could be experiencing any racism in China," one classmate sardonically told me, "because you are the only black person here." We all laughed.

  • Originally published 07/09/2013

    Glenn Hubbard and Tim Kane: The Great Wall of Texas

    Glenn Hubbard, dean of Columbia Business School, was Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush. Tim Kane is the chief economist of the Hudson Institute. They are authors of Balance (Simon and Schuster, 2013), an excerpt of which is the basis of this essay.Before their empire fell, the Romans built walls.They began by erecting barriers along the border following the death of the Emperor Trajan in 117 A.D., notably Hadrian's Wall, which belted Britain. Later emperors erected internal walls, even around the great city itself, to ward off barbarians. After 300 A.D., the Emperor Diocletian effectively converted the entire Roman populace into feudal serfs, walling them off from internal movement in a vain effort to stabilize the chaotic economy.Despite the cautionary tale of Rome, building walls, both literal and figurative, has remained a habit of great powers in decline -- the fateful course taken not only by Ming China, but also Soviet Russia, and even Great Britain.Sadly, many Americans are all too eager to repeat history....

  • Originally published 07/09/2013

    Noah Gittell: Lone Ranger "Like a Western as Told by Howard Zinn"

    Noah Gittell is the editor of ReelChange.net, where he writes about film, politics, and culture. He is a former independent filmmaker and political-campaign staffer. ...In discussing the progressive politics of The Lone Ranger, most critics have focused on the depiction of Native Americans, and with good reason. Over the history of the American Western, Native Americans have often been depicted as faceless savages whose efforts to defend themselves were merely obstacles to America's Manifest Destiny. Some cinematic efforts have been made to subvert this convention (The Searchers and Dances with Wolves are probably the most famous examples), but The Lone Ranger takes things a step further, making Tonto and John Reid (who will become the eponymous hero) dual protagonists. There is room for debate on this; some critics still feel that Depp's performance, with its use of "red face" and halted speaking style, is dehumanizing, but the increased role for Tonto is at least a step in the right direction.

  • Originally published 06/18/2013

    Jeffrey Wasserstrom: Exploring Peter Hessler's China From the Ground Up

    Jeffrey Wasserstrom, a professor of Chinese history at UC Irvine, is the author of China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know and co-editor of Chinese Characters: Profiles of Fast-Changing Lives in a Fast-Changing Land. Like other Americans, I draw a sharp line, linguistically and symbolically, between mice and rats. But one thing I learned during my first trip to China a quarter of a century ago was that the distinction between these two kinds of rodents, both typically called laoshu in Chinese, is fuzzier there. When posters went up in Shanghai to accompany a campaign to purge that metropolis of vermin, they showed Mickey Mouse with a spike through his heart. These images shocked me but local residents seemed to find them unremarkable.

  • Originally published 05/31/2013

    Tony Horwitz: The Mammy DC Almost Had

    Tony Horwitz is a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist who has written for The Wall Street Journal and The New Yorker. His books include Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War and Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War.If I say the word "Mammy," you're likely to conjure up the character from Gone With the Wind. Or, you may think of Aunt Jemima, in her trademark kerchief, beaming from boxes of pancake mix.What you probably won't picture is a massive slave woman, hewn from stone, cradling a white child atop a plinth in the nation's capital. Yet in 1923, the U.S. Senate authorized such a statue, "in memory of the faithful slave mammies of the South."As a Southern Congressman stated in support of the monument: "The traveler, as he passes by, will recall that epoch of southern civilization" when "fidelity and loyalty" prevailed. "No class of any race of people held in bondage could be found anywhere who lived more free from care or distress."

  • Originally published 05/23/2013

    Joseph Nye: Do Presidents Really Steer Foreign Policy?

    Joseph S. Nye Jr. is a University Distinguished Service Professor at Harvard. This article and the accompanying sidebar are adapted from his upcoming book, Presidential Leadership and the Creation of the American Era.The 21st century began with an extraordinary imbalance in world power. The United States was the only country able to project military force globally; it represented more than a quarter of the world economy, and had the world’s leading soft-power resources in its universities and entertainment industry. America’s primacy appeared well established.Americans seemed to like this situation. In the 2012 presidential campaign, both major-party candidates insisted that American power was not in decline, and vowed that they would maintain American primacy. But how much are such promises within the ability of presidents to keep? Was presidential leadership ever essential to the establishment of American primacy, or was that primacy an accident of history that would have occurred regardless of who occupied the Oval Office?

  • Originally published 05/09/2013

    Hugo Schwyzer: I Teach a College Class on How to Think and Talk About Pornography

    Hugo Schwyzer teaches history and gender studies at Pasadena City College.  He is co-author of Beauty, Disrupted: A Memoir."What do you study in a 'porn class'?" I've gotten that question almost daily since "Navigating Pornography"—a humanities course I offer at Pasadena City College—received national attention in the aftermath of a controversial classroom visit in February by adult superstar James Deen. The queries have grown even more frequent since last week's widely covered announcement that Porn Studies, a new periodical devoted to the study of "cultural products and services designated as pornographic" will make its debut in 2014.

  • Originally published 05/02/2013

    38,000 historical maps at DPLA

    More than three decades ago, David Rumsey began building a map collection. By the mid-90s he had thousands and thousands of maps to call his own -- and his alone. He wanted to share them with the public.He could have donated them to the Library of Congress, but Rumsey had even bigger ideas: the Internet. "With (some) institutions, the access you can get is not nearly as much as the Internet might provide," Rumsey told Wired more than a decade ago. "I realized I could reach a much larger audience with the Internet."Bit by bit, Rumsey digitized his collection -- up to 38,000 maps and other items -- along the way developing software that made it easier for people to explore the maps and 3D objects such as globes online. Today, the Digital Public Library of America announced that Rumsey's collection would now be available through the DPLA portal, placing the maps into the deeper and broader context of the DPLA's other holdings....

  • Originally published 04/18/2013

    Robert Pondiscio: Let's Set a National Standard for Our Students—a Really Low One

    Robert Pondiscio is the executive director of CitizenshipFirst, a civic education initiative based in Harlem. He is also the former vice president of the Core Knowledge Foundation and a former 5th grade teacher.When the alarm is sounded over the poor performance of our schools, we usually hear about children's baleful performance in reading, math, and science. On the most recent round of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, for example, only one in three U.S. 8th graders scored "proficient" or higher in those three essential subjects. But if that's a crisis, our performance in history and civics is near collapse: a mere 22 percent of 8th graders score proficient or higher in civics; in history, only 18 percent.Last week, the Pioneer Institute released a white paper I wrote with Sandra Stotsky and Gilbert Sewall, Shortchanging the Future: The Crisis of History and Civics in American Schools. It traces a long spiral of decline in curriculum, textbooks, and pedagogy, leading to this present, dispiriting place.

  • Originally published 03/26/2013

    James Fallows: On Anthony Lewis

    James Fallows is a columnist for The Atlantic.As I've written repeatedly in this space, journalism is fleeting, and so too is the renown and influence of nearly all its practitioners. Thus it is possible that, even though Anthony Lewis was a powerful twice-weekly presence on the New York Times's op-ed page for more than 30 years, many of today's readers may not recognize his name or, on the occasion of his death at age 85, fully appreciate what he brought to journalism and public life. (CPJ photo.) He deserves to be remembered.I first learned about and followed Tony Lewis's work when I was a college student, during the late Vietnam War years, when through his NYT column he was a leading critic of the LBJ and Nixon approaches to the war. Then I learned about his book Gideon's Trumpet, which (as Andrew Cohen has very eloquently explained) had a profound effect on prevailing understanding of the law itself, of the Supreme Court's role in interpreting the law, and on the potential of truly literary journalism to improve the law and civic life more generally....

  • Originally published 03/26/2013

    The U.S. government's bizarre tourism campaign for South Vietnam

    Before Vietnam became synonymous to 1970s Americans with a seemingly endless war, it might have conjured images of French wines and big game hunting. In the early 1960s, the U.S. government tried to encourage tourism in Vietnam in elsewhere in Southeast Asia as a sort of travel diplomacy."Tourism's proper development, it was believed, could serve important U.S. geostrategic objectives," writes University of Minnesota history professor Scott Laderman in his 2009 book Tours of Vietnam: War, Travel Guides, and Memory. Friendly American faces could soften the reputation of the U.S. overseas, it was thought, and their souvenir purchases might bolster emerging economies....[H]ere are some highlights from a 1961 travel brochure for the country, aptly titled "Visit Fascinating Vietnam," stored at archive.org and apparently housed at one point by the University of Texas....

  • Originally published 03/26/2013

    James Hughes: Stanley Kubrick's Unmade Film About Jazz in the Third Reich

    James Hughes is a Chicago-based writer and editor who has contributed to Slate, The Believer, Wax Poetics, and The Village Voice. For a decade, he was an editor and publisher of Stop Smiling magazine and its book imprint. In 1985, Stanley Kubrick was handed a book on the survival of jazz in Nazi-occupied Europe. A snapshot of a Luftwaffe officer casually posing among black, Gypsy, and Jewish musicians outside a Paris nightclub caught his eye. It looked like something out of Dr. Strangelove, he said. He'd long wanted to bring World War II to the screen, and perhaps this photograph offered a way in."Stanley's famous saying was that it was easier to fall in love than find a good story," says Tony Frewin, Kubrick's longtime assistant (and, for the purpose of disclosure, an editor-at-large at my former magazine, Stop Smiling). "He was limitlessly interested in anything to do with Nazis and desperately wanted to make a film on the subject."

  • Originally published 03/21/2013

    Slum Priests: Pope Francis's Early Years

    For Father Gustavo Carrara, a day's work might mean finding someone to accompany a pregnant drug addict to the hospital, seeking housing for a homeless orphan, or consoling a woman whose husband was killed in a narco-fueled gunfight. Carrara runs the Saint Mary Mother of the People parish, located inside Villa 1-11-14, one of Buenos Aires' largest and most dangerous slums. He was recruited personally to serve there by Pope Francis I, who was then Archbishop of Buenos Aires."Padre Francis, who was then Padre Bergoglio, came to me as I was working as a deacon elsewhere and asked me to work as a priest in one of the villas," explains Carrara. He knew that the job would not be easy. Far from the Buenos Aires of postcards, with its leafy avenues, sultry tango and Francophile architecture, the city's slums, or villas miserias, are so savage that even ambulances and police have refused to enter. Still, Carrara claims, "I did not hesitate."...

  • Originally published 03/13/2013

    David M. Perry: How History Can Help Us Predict the Next Pope

    David M. Perry is an Associate Professor of History and Director of the Catholic Studies Minor at Dominican University in Illinois.On Thursday, February 28, at 8:00 P.M. local time, Pope Benedict XVI resigned. For now, the seat of St. Peter is vacant. But soon, the Cardinals will enter the Sistine chapel and the master of the Papal Ceremonies will cry, "Extra Omnes!" -- everybody out, and seal the door...What changes will mark the Catholic church of tomorrow? Just as the past helps us understand Benedict's resignation, we can use our knowledge of history to shed some light on what the Cardinals might be doing behind those sealed doors.1) Voting is medieval.

  • Originally published 02/22/2013

    1 Kitty, 2 Empires, 2,000 Years: World History Told Through a Brick

    At some moment a few years after Jesus Christ died but before the second century began, someone made a brick on the island that would become the cornerstone of Great Britain. The area was controlled by Rome then, and known as Britannia  and as the brick lay green, awaiting the kiln, a cat walked across the wet clay and left its footprints before wandering off to do something else. The clay was fired, the prints fixed, and the brick itself presumably became a piece of a building or road.Two thousand years later, a Sonoma State master's student named Kristin Converse was poking around the holdings of the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site in Washington state. She was writing her thesis on the business and technology of brickmaking in Portlandia (known more formally as the Willamette Valley). A brick caught her eye. It was part of an odd group that was not of local origin. In one corner, there were the footprints of a cat. Where had this cat lived? 

  • Originally published 01/25/2013

    Jim Sleeper and Daniel J.H. Greenwood: To Stop Gun Violence, We Need to Remember We Can Regulate Corporate Speech and Advertising

    Jim Sleeper, a lecturer in Political Science at Yale, is a former New York Daily News columnist and the author of The Closest of Strangers. Daniel J.H. Greenwood, professor of law at Hofstra, writes on corporate governance and coauthored a brief in the Citizens United case.The Obama Administration's gun-control agenda is unlikely to prevail unless it's accompanied by a wrenching national struggle on two fronts: re-thinking the "well regulated" part of the Second Amendment, and curbing paid corporate gun glorification that undermines "free" speech under the First Amendment. As the president said in his inaugural address, we must re-impose rules of fair play on markets.National Rifle Association vice-president Wayne LaPierre was right to charge that violent video-games such as Doom and Call of Duty seed social storms of fear and mistrust with gladiatorial spectacles that have been virtual instruction manuals for mass shooters in Colorado, Connecticut and Norway, who were inveterate players of those games.

  • Originally published 01/22/2013

    Being married helps historians get ahead, but only if they're male

    Alexis Coe is a writer in San Francisco and a columnist for SF Weekly.When I was a graduate student in history, I loved to read the acknowledgements sections of books. If you looked carefully, all the trade secrets kept within the small, competitive field were revealed, from who was the most helpful specialist in an archive to creative means of financing research.Inadvertently, I also learned quite a bit about historian's marriages. Consider For Cause and Comrades, in which Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James McPherson writes, "The person most instrumental in helping me produce this volume has also been the most important person in my life for the past forty years, my wife Patricia. In addition to enriching my life every day, she has been a superb research assistant, having read almost as many soldiers' letters and diaries as I have."...Despite all this, my cohorts and I believed that we were entering a radically different kind of history department, one where women could forge their own careers, rather than merely supporting their husbands'. Surely, the changing of the guard in progressive institutions had already occurred. A new study from the American Historical Association suggests, however, that many of the field's problems remain unresolved.

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