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  • Originally published 06/13/2013

    Ben Urwand, Harvard Junior Fellow, reveals Hollywood moguls' creepy love affair with Hitler

    Adolf Hitler loved American movies. Every night at about 9:00, after the Führer had tired out his listeners with his hours-long monologues, he would lead his dinner guests to his private screening room. The lights would go down, and Hitler would fall silent, probably for the first time that day. He laughed heartily at his favorites Laurel and Hardy and Mickey Mouse, and he adored Greta Garbo: Camille brought tears to the Führer’s eyes. Tarzan, on the other hand, he thought was silly.As it turns out, Hitler’s love for American movies was reciprocated by Hollywood. A forthcoming book by the young historian Ben Urwand, to be published by Harvard University Press in October, presents explosive new evidence about the shocking extent of the partnership between the Nazis and major Hollywood producers. Urwand, a former indie rock musician and currently a member of Harvard’s prestigious Society of Fellows, takes the subject personally: His parents were Jewish refugees from Egypt and Hungary. Digging through archives in Berlin and Washington, D.C., he has unearthed proof that Hollywood worked together with the Nazis much more closely than we ever imagined.

  • Originally published 06/11/2013

    Ben Schmidt: The Exaggerated Crisis in the Humanities

    Ben Schmidt is the visiting graduate fellow at the Cultural Observatory at Harvard University.Last week, the Wall Street Journal ran an article about falling enrollments in the humanities disciplines. The news hook is a Harvard report about declining enrollments in the humanities; the moral they draw is that humanities enrollments are collapsing because the degrees don’t immediately lend themselves to post-graduate jobs. (Never mind that the Harvard report makes clear that the real competition is with the social sciences, not the 1% of humanities-curious first-years who major in computer science).But to really sell a crisis, you need some numbers. Accompanying the story was a graph credited to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences showing a spectacular collapse in humanities enrollments. I made one of the first versions of this chart working on the Academy’s Humanities Indicators several years ago. And although it shows up in the press periodically to enforce a story of decay, some broader perspective on the data makes clear that the “Humanities in crisis” story is seriously overstated.

  • Originally published 06/03/2013

    Niall Ferguson and Pierpaolo Barbieri: The E.U.’s Feeble War on Unemployment

    Niall Ferguson is Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard and author of “Civilization: The West and the Rest.” Pierpaolo Barbieri is Ernest May Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School. His book, “Hitler’s Shadow Empire: The Nazis and the Spanish Civil War” will be published this fall. EUROPEAN leaders have declared war on youth unemployment. At a meeting we attended in Paris last week organized by the Berggruen Institute on Governance, President François Hollande of France called on his fellow E.U. leaders to “act urgently” to address the problem. Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, warned of an impending “catastrophe” that risks losing “the battle for European unity.” Italy’s labor minister, Enrico Giovannini, added, “We have to rescue an entire generation of young people.” Only a few days ago, his boss, the newish Italian prime minister, Enrico Letta, declared he wanted to make the European summit that begins on June 28 about “the fight” against youth unemployment.

  • Originally published 05/21/2013

    Jonathan Rees on why Harvard hates you, the historian

    Jonathan Rees is professor of history at Colorado State University -- Pueblo.If you don’t know who “John Henry” was, The Boss will be delighted to sing you one version of the story. Or better yet, read the book by Scott Reynolds Nelson and learn a little bit about all of them. The key point here for understanding that tweet is that the steam hammer killed John Henry, leaving him no time to do other things at all. While MOOC enthusiasts like to claim that their babies will allow professors to get back to the way teaching is supposed to be, anybody who’s paying the least bit of attention to academic politics in this day and age knows that the bean counters will never let that happen. Economically, non-superprofessors will all be as dead as John Henry because killing our jobs is the primary reason that MOOCs exist in the first place....

  • Originally published 05/14/2013

    Niall Ferguson Meets with Students; Harvard Faculty Clarify Stance

    Credit: Flickr.UPDATE 12:13PM: David Armitage, chair of the Harvard history department, wrote in an email to Inside Higher Ed that the department requested a "post in the modern history of gender and sexuality (jointly with Harvard's program in women and gender studies) long before the recent debate arose." He also pointed to the work of Afsaneh Najmabadi, Nancy Cott, and Laurel Thatcher Ulrich as an example of Harvard's pre-existing strength in the field of gender and sexuality studies.Historian Niall Ferguson, in an attempt to blunt criticism of his recent controversial remarks about John Maynard Keynes's sexuality, spoke on Monday to students at a lunchtime panel at the Harvard College Women's Center.

  • Originally published 05/13/2013

    Niall Ferguson's Harvard Colleagues Support Him, but Not LGBT Historians

    Credit: Wiki Commons.UPDATE 3:58PM: Don Romesburg, co-chair of the Committee on LGBT History, issued the following statement on Monday to HNN, calling for Harvard to demonstrate its commitment to taking LGBT history seriously:[Niall] Ferguson's subsequent attempts to clarify his statement unfortunately show little more understanding of the history of sexuality than his initial comment did. The Committee on LGBT History encourages him to consulting the field’s extensive scholarship, much of which our members have written, to avoid echoing unfounded and discriminatory stereotypes and to deepen his understanding and analysis of the LGBT past. Harvard should show leadership here by, at a minimum, hosting a major conference about LGBT history and encouraging Ferguson to attend. It is also high time that Harvard makes a new tenure-track hire in LGBT history. The incident has underscored the value of teaching and researching LGBT histories. This confronts ignorance about LGBT people, lives, and communities, and in the process, builds a more accurate historical record overall.

  • Originally published 01/23/2013

    In Defense of Transactional Presidents

    Five presidents: Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and Jimmy Carter. Taken in 1991.Many people assume that leaders with transformational objectives and an inspirational style are better or more ethical than leaders with more modest objectives and a transactional style. We tend to think of Woodrow Wilson, John F. Kennedy or Ronald Reagan as more impressive than Dwight Eisenhower or George H. W. Bush. Leadership theorists often dismiss transactional leaders as mere “managers.” But that is a mistake.

  • Originally published 09/03/2013

    Announcing "Revolutionary Moments"

    With the world once again filled with anticipation and dread of revolution, it is reasonable to examine what relevant past events our predecessors experienced. Inarguably, the past is at least a set of experiences that may be useful in considering the present. Even that relatively modest claim requires some hesitation in that historians do not write as oracles, somehow outside the fray. Politics, despite the best intention of scholars, inflicts this work. Nonetheless, reviewing the revolutionary past will be at least interesting and potentially instructive.Thus, the moderators propose to introduce questions relevant to current events with the notion that scholars who study revolutions throughout the globe will comment. Postings must be under 250 words and conform to scholarly norms.