Cliopatria Archives 12-3-03 to 12-18-03





RALPH LUKER: CHECK IT OUT ... 12-18-03

Classical historians may be able to help Eugene Volokh. He's looking for

items (products or processes) that satisfy all these criteria:
They were unknown to people in ancient Rome circa 150 B.C.
They could be manufactured with then-existing technology and then-available raw materials.
They would be at least modestly useful in that era.
Even a nontechnically minded person today -- say, a smart 12-year-old -- would know how to make and use them. This is particularly important, and one on which many suggestions seem to founder.
Their absence would be pretty clearly visible.
"Stirrups, whipped cream, cowpox as a vaccine for smallpox, penicillin, Arabic numerals, the abacus, sterile technique, distillation, the printing press, the scientific method, pasteurization, the horseshoe, the toothbrush, the compass, the wheelbarrow, glass lenses, gunpowder, soap, and horse plow collars" have been commonly suggested, but some of them don't meet all the criteria. The abacus is out because the Romans had it.

Sasha Volokh suggests that you have a look at Qveere Eye for Thye Medieval Man. And the 21st century guys thought they had full time work on their hands!

If you don't mind the spoilers, Cliopatria's Tim Burke has a critically appreciative review of"The Return of the King" at Easily Distracted.

Twenty-five years after I invented the A-bomb .... Well, ah, it wasn't exactly me who did it and he didn't actually invent it, but John Aristotle Phillips got an A on his Princeton term paper for his figuring out how to make one and life's been downhill ever since. You end up indiscriminately being a fund-raiser for Bush, Hillary Clinton, Trent Lott, and Joe Lieberman.

Posted by Ralph 5:00 a.m. EST

RALPH LUKER: WHAT PASSES FOR"CONSERVATIVE" IN AMERICA ... 12-17-03

One of the major shifts in American politics over the past 40 years is the revitalization of political conservatism. Since the Goldwater debacle of 1964, conservative Republicans have scrambled to a dominant position in American politics. Both a Republican and, in many respects, at least, a conservative, I should be celebrating all that. I don't because I don't recognize what it represents as conservative in any meaningful sense of the word.

From the ruthless partisanship of a Tom DeLay, which knows no restraint, to the reckless fiscal policies and the crusading foreign policy of this administration, I see nothing but repudiation of core conservative values. The genius of Charles Dickens and Mark Twain combined couldn't have made up a better name for a conservative American republican. Alas, he isn't one. Balanced budgets? All too briefly remembered. International restraint? Please. Several days ago, I wrote about the dilemma of American liberalism, caught between the competing values of freedom and equality. The problem of"American conservativism" is that it isn't conservative at all. It is, in fact, quite radical and, I fear, recklessly so.

As I see it, the new American" conservatism" is an alliance of two core constituencies: A) believers in an unbridled capitalism as productive of the greatest good for"me" and B) religious traditionalists who feel threatened by social change. It is an uneasy alliance because the purposes of A do not well serve the needs of B. Ten years ago, I wrote that "industrial capitalism" has been"the radical force in American society, generating social change of unforeseen consequence, heedlessly disruptive of human community." We have no reason to think that post-industrial capitalism is any less so. Witness a jobless economic recovery that winks at illegal immigrants working for less than minimum wages here at home and outsources middle income jobs for 1/10th of their domestic cost abroad.

The very unconservative nature of American conservatism appears in Michael Crichton's critique of contemporary environmentalism. It is currently widely cited in" conservative" circles, by Richard Jensen's Conservativenet, by Glenn Reynold's Instapundit, by David Beito on Liberty & Power and elsewhere.

My colleague, Oscar Chamberlain, may comment on the"science" in Crichton's address. I have no expertise in it. What fascinated me was Crichton's attack on the"religion" of environmentalism. That might even give religious traditionalists some pause. Crichton apparently believes that merely because one can discern in some environmentalists' operative assumptions a belief in a primal rightness of things which was somehow and subsequently relentlessly damaged that their beliefs can, in the name of"science," therefore be dismissed as"religious." Well, welcome to much of the whole western intellectual tradition, Mr. Crichton. Sure, the myth of a primal nature of things has its origins in the early Biblical narrative, but it is elemental to the western psyche. Variants of it are found in every major western intellect since Augustine. Hobbs, Locke, Marx, Darwin, Freud argue about the character of our primal selves and society, but they all take our primitive condition as a benchmark. Doing so isn't essentially unscientific. Science wishes to discover what that primal condition was and how it has changed.

What passes for" conservatism" in America isn't conservative at all. If it were, it would take the lead in efforts at" conservation." Don't count on unbridled post-industrial capitalism to do that.

Posted by Ralph 3:00 a.m. EST

RALPH LUKER: BLACK WOMEN SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER ... 12-15-03

High atop my bookshelves is a little shrine of three statues gathered around a tiny sample bale of cotton from the 1930s. One of the statues is of Eugene Talmadge, Georgia's white racist governor in the 1930s and 1940s. Emphasizing ol' Gene's red galluses, it was a gimmick given in return for campaign contributions. Incongruously, next to him stands an old cast iron tobacco humidor in the form of a robed Friar Tuck. His hands are folded across his capacious stomach in a pious pose. Next to him, glaring across that little cotton bale at ol' Gene Talmadge, is a cast iron bank in the form of Aunt Jemima. As a symbol, of course, she offends some people, but it's fairly clear from this Aunt Jemima's pose that she's ready to offend Eugene Talmadge. Her hands are on her hips and she is poised to speak some truth to power.

I was reminded of my little shrine yesterday when I read this story about Lauryn Hill denouncing corruption of the clergy at a Vatican-sponsored concert. Hill's pronouncement at the Vatican reminds me also of Eartha Kitt's denunciation of the Johnson administration's pursuit of the Viet Nam War when she was at a White House conference in 1968. Can you imagine the bodacious courage it would take to do such a thing? Some people call it rude and tasteless, but the prophets are always similarly dismissed.

More than that, we've recently been learning that African American women, more often than not, were the backbone of local civil rights movements all across the South. Finally, after Dr. King got his national holiday and two Pulitzer Prize winning biographies, we learn about the women who were on the ground and doing the work: Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, and toomanymore to name them all. We should have known that all along and my Aunt Jemima is a constant reminder of it.

Posted by Ralph 12:15 a.m. EST

KEN HEINEMAN: THE SPIRIT OF THE HOLIDAYS 12-14-03

Our gallant soldiers are overseas this holiday season far from home and loved ones. My wife received a request from a co-worker that I thought best to pass along. This request comes from a person with a son in the paratroopers. They are in Afghanistan and would appreciate any of the following items you may be able to spare:

”As for DVDs, any Chuck Norris, Bruce Lee, Star Wars, (especially) Star Trek, Disney movies" STYLE="text-decoration: none; border-bottom: medium solid green;" HREF="http://search.targetwords.com/u.search?x=5977|1||||movies|AA1VDw">Movies (both kids movies i.e. Finding Nemo, etc. and other Disney Movies), James Bond, and any outdoor adventure type movies. Candy is a premium for the troops but it needs to be hard candy or candy that can take a lot of heat before melting. Calling cards, soaps, tooth pastes, shaving cream (edge), different colognes, small packages of kleenex, small hand held (electronic) games i.e. Yatzee, Monopoly, etc. (and batteries for the games), beef jerkies.”

These items may be shipped to: Company Headquarters 1-501 P.I.R., Operation Enduring Freedom, S and T/FSC/1-501 P.I.R., APO AE 09354.

Posted by Ken Heineman 1:15 p.m. EST.

KC JOHNSON: REDEFINING"EXCELLENCE" ... 12-14-03

Over the past several weeks, we have had a significant educational debate in New York—one focused on the high schools but with ramifications for higher education. New York City public schools don't have the greatest national reputation, but the three gifted and talented high schools—Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and Brooklyn Tech—generally are considered on par with city private schools.

Deputy Schools Chancellor Diana Lam, however, has made a career of opposing gifted and talented programs, first in San Antonio, then in Providence, and now in New York. Lam argues that these programs are anti-"diversity" and elitist. A few weeks ago, she announced that the city would"expand the definition of what it means to be gifted and talented" so as to increase the number of black and Hispanic students at Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and Brooklyn Tech. Lam was quite candid that this"expansion" would entail including non-academic factors; she had taken a similar approach in seeking to transform Providence's Classical High.

The impending change has generated strong opposition. Last week, two city councilors urged the mayor and chancellor to overrule Lam, but Chancellor Joel Klein was noncommittal. This morning, the New York Post had a forceful editorial opposing Lam's proposal. The issue interests me because of the candor of Lam's language."Diversity" is used so often today in higher education that the term has no consistent meaning. It is useful to remember that, when carried to the extreme that Lam envisions,"diversity" entails a tradeoff with academic rigor, a tradeoff that sometimes is not worth the price.

Posted by KC11.36am EST

RALPH LUKER: MORE NOTED ... 12-13-03

Given the flaming letters to its editors, it's a wonder that the American Historical Association's Perspectives reached me in the mail this week. Paul Moreno of Hillsdale College accuses the"hack historians" who filed an amicus brief in Lawrence v Texas of"prostitution of scholarship for political ends" and throws in a gratuitous attack on AHA president James McPherson, Philip Ranlet of Hunter College accuses Eric Foner of distorting history in an obituary of James Shenton, and E. Taylor Atkins of Northern Illinois University denounces the AHA and the Oral History Association for their roles in the federal government's decision to remove oral history projects from institutional review. Bruce Craig, Foner, and Linda Shopes and Donald Ritchie get equal space to respond. We will, undoubtedly, resolve all those issues over beers at January's AHA convention in D. C. Or, maybe not. One advantage of its enormity is that you may not even see the person you've most recently attacked. You may not even find the people you do want to see. At its worst, however, an AHA convention is a happy family reunion compared to an American Studies Association convention. Leo Marx takes a long look at American Studies and suggests a better way into its future.

By the way, I see that political correctness won't keep the AHA from giving Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia its inaugural Theodore Roosevelt-Woodrow Wilson Award for Civil Service and Jim McPherson will hold his nose long enough to do the honors. Sure, the Senate's King of Pork has ground some sausage in History's direction, but Perspectives doesn't remind its readers that Byrd is a former member of the Ku Klux Klan who was still using the word"nigger" on national television without a wince as recently as two years ago. For more on Byrd's klansmanship, see here. For once, I think I'll out"pc" the AHA and boycott the session.

The British Library is releasing a series of CDs,"Spoken Word," which offers the recorded voices of major Anglo-American writers. The New York Times' Caryn James reviews the series here:

One of the great surprises is finding which writers actually do voices and which don't. When A. A. Milne reads from"Winnie-the-Pooh," his creations sound like Victorian gents — soothing, paternal Victorian gents reading a bedtime story, it's true, but rather Victorian nonetheless.
"He gave a little squeak of excitement," Milne reads about Piglet spotting a paw print, yet sounding not very excited at all.
He goes on:" `Oh, Pooh! Do you think it's a — a — a Woozle?'
" `It may be,' said Pooh. `Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't.'" With Milne pronouncing it tis and t'isn't, Pooh's very proper voice in this 1929 recording is far from the high-pitched sweetness Sterling Holloway later gave him in so many Disney cartoons.
The best of the discs is the"Writers" volume, recorded mostly in the 20's and 30's. There you can hear Tolkien again, speaking Elvish from"The Lord of the Rings." But the happiest surprise must be Joyce, as cerebral and intimidating a literary genius as the world has ever known, and by all accounts not an easygoing guy. Who would have guessed he'd play a washerwoman so convincingly? He actually becomes two washerwomen with lilting Irish brogues who chat while doing laundry by the river."Throw the cobwebs from your eyes, woman, and spread your washing proper!" one says to the other as he reads from the"Anna Livia Plurabelle" section of"Finnegans Wake." In language that is always lyrical, and usually more complicated than that, his voice flows like the river whose rhythm he said he was imitating.
You can order the CDs at the British Library website.

Or, if literary food is more to your taste than literary sound at the holidays, try one of the recipe" STYLE="text-decoration: none; border-bottom: medium solid green;" HREF="http://search.targetwords.com/u.search?x=5977|1||||recipe|AA1VDw">recipes Simon Fanshawe culls from English literature for the Guardian. Their names,"Little Balls of Tripe a Man Might Eat For Ever,""Cold Crubeens,""Figgy-Dowdy,""Boiled Baby," and"Syllabub" don't sound too appealing, but we're talking food here, not sound, remember? I recommend Joyce's offering of sound, but not taste. Charles Dickens recommends the cheesecake; and Ian Fleming's James Bond, of course, the scrambled eggs. Thanks to Moby Lives for both tips.

If you love books, read Andre Bernard's"Fear of Book Assassination Haunts Bibliophile's Musings" in the New York Observer.

Posted by Ralph 5:00 a.m. EST

OSCAR CHAMBERLAIN: HOT WORLD, COLD EUROPE 12-12-03

An article from Wired News, "Will Global Warming Cool Europe" reminded me of one of the many reasons that Europeans take global warming far more seriously than we do.

Read the article, but the gist is that if warming continues, Europe will move toward the tropical. Then, as the ice cap continues to melt the cold water released will deflect the path of the Gulf Stream to the south. When this happens, the temperatures in Europe will plummet to well below their current climate.

However, while the US leadership for the last decade has been abominable on this issue (and gets worse daily), this article gives too free a pass to European leaders.

Consider the outcome of the recent steel subsidies controversy. When countries are willing to go to the mat with the US on economic issues, they sometimes get their way, or at least a better compromise.

Yes, the WTO made that much easier here, but the same principle still applies. It would be a better world if the US government, and the American people, accepted that Global Warming is serious. But, if other countries started treating it as a life-and-death matter--or even as seriously as they did the price of steel--then it would a lot more likely that Americans would learn.

Posted by Oscar 10:15 a.m. CST

RALPH LUKER: NOTED HERE AND THERE ... 12-12-03

My colleague, KC Johnson, elaborates on his argument against the politicization of the classroom, a point made here, in an article for the National Association of Scholar's Online Forum. Erin O'Connor's Critical Mass has more. As I understand it, KC's point is not that the classroom should be politicized in one direction or another, but that it should hew to a free market of ideas.

Two of my favorite Lutherans, David Beito and Allen Brill, may have to agree to disagree about whether Martin Luther is an Ayn"Randian hero." Beito replies to Brill here. [Editor: Pretend that you were not a Methodist agent provocateur and that it was not you who"nearly gagged" at David's suggestion.]
Update: Chris Matthew Sciabarra at Liberty and Power has a further response to Brill.

Robert David Sullivan analyzes prospects in next year's presidential election for CommonWealth. Forget reds and blues, he says. The United States is 10 regions and the results will be decided by and within them. Lots of interesting and odd details in this analysis. Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for the tip.

According to this report in the Guardian, England's National Heritage memorial fund will give Oxford's Bodleian Library a gift" STYLE="text-decoration: none; border-bottom: medium solid green;" HREF="http://search.targetwords.com/u.search?x=5977|1||||gifts|AA1VDw">gift sufficient to purchase the Abinger Papers, preventing an auction's dispersing them. The papers include Mary Shelley's autograph manuscript of"Frankenstein," letters and papers of her parents, 32 volumes of William Godwin's journal, and correspondence with William Hazelit, Thomas Malthus, and Percy Shelley.

How did the word"idiot," which originally meant"an independent person with ideas of his own," come to mean a person with deficient intellect? Stephen Bayley writes in celebration of opinions against" conventional wisdom".

If you are reading Cliopatria and you are not reading Mildly Malevolent, you should be.

Posted by Ralph 12:30 a.m. EST

KC JOHNSON: THE NEW FACE OF ANTI-ISRAEL ATTITUDES 12-11-03

In this week’s New York, Craig Horowitz writes about “the new p.c. anti-Semitism,” which “mixes traditional blame-the-Jews boilerplate with a fevered opposition to Israel.” The piece is thoughtful and balanced, particularly in its explanation of how anti-Israel attitudes have emerged since 2000 among the American left.

The Horowitz article recalls one of the more disturbing incidents in academe recently, namely the controversy over a Cal-Berkeley course called"The Politics and Poetics of Palestinian Resistance," in which the instructor, activist for a group called Students for Justice in Palestine, put together a blatantly anti-Israel course that also advised conservative students not to enroll. In response, the Berkeley Faculty Senate did not rebuke the instructor for bringing anti-Israel politics in the classroom, but instead changed the university’s policy on academic freedom to protect the rights of politically engaged instructors.

One more reminder why we should try to avoid overt politicking in the classroom.

Posted by KC, 4.24pm.

RALPH LUKER: THE DILEMMA OF LIBERALISM'S METAPHOR ... 12-11-03

Over at The Volokh Conspiracy, David Bernstein points to a specific instance of the dilemma of liberalism's metaphor. In what is clearly not a personal attack, he points out the irony that Professor Larry Temkin of Rutgers, one of the world's leading authorities on"equality," graduated first in his class at Wisconsin and has been showered with distinctive honors and awards ever since.

It is, I think, not so much ironic, as it is an instance of what Garry Wills identified 30 years ago in a brilliant critique of American liberalism, Nixon Agonistes: the legacy of liberalism's metaphor of the race. We are caught between wanting the equality of the starting line and the meritorious result of the finishing line and, so, keep demanding that the race start all over again. We are caught between"freedom," which rewards merit, and"equality," which insists that all are meritorious. We can maximize equality by minimizing freedom, as in a prison; or we can maximize freedom by minimizing equality, as in a meritocracy.

I was reminded of that issue again in the thoughtful post by my colleague, KC Johnson, three days ago. I have no trouble agreeing with him that merit should be decisive in hiring, so long as we are rather deeply introspective about what we mean by merit. In my first full time teaching position, I was hired by a chairman who made no bones about the fact that he hired no one but a white, culturally Protestant, native-born, straight American male. In retrospect, I've sometimes thought that I should have resigned as soon as I knew that to be true. I didn't. Nor, of course, did any of my other, externally uniform, liberal colleagues, but I was reminded of it again when my other colleague, Tim Burke, wrote over on Invisible Adjunct that

the horizons of graduate school shrink down to a very short and narrow perspective, and disallow the very ideas and explorations that many people regard (properly) as the essence of intellectual inquiry. This will not happen in any obvious way: no ogre will appear to forbid you anything. It will happen invidiously, slowly, pervasively: no one will actually do it to you, and never will you be able to put your finger on exactly how and when it is being done. Slowly but surely, however, you will be cut to fit a very particular professionalized and disciplinary cloth, and become a willing participant in innumerable rituals of abjection. Slowly but surely, you'll begin to accept the intimate intertwining of your life and your work, and pernicious forms of virally spreading authority and power by numerous other people, some of them quite distant from you in social terms, over that intertwined work-life.
And so, here I am, at the end of a professional life's race, blessed with wonderful virtual colleagues, but wondering at the exigencies that compromised values dearly held and wishing that I might have been heroic.

Posted by Ralph 12:30 a.m. EST

RALPH LUKER: TALENT ON THE HNN COMMENT BOARDS ... 12-11-03

The History News Network comment boards are not for everyone's taste. They are, occasionally, a little yeasty. After an early lengthy siege there, I noted that the quality of the debate ranged "somewhere between a dreary faculty meeting and the Jerry Springer Show." Yet, as Thomas Jefferson believed it would, the great demos occasionally churns up real talent.

A recent, unlikely debate raged, off topic as usual, over the inclination of some professional historians to refer to ourselves as"an historian." We (I profess myself to be ambidextrous on the issue, swinging both ways as the mood strikes me) were challenged by a group of grammartocracists, who mocked our ungrammatical pretensions. Appeal to all sorts of authority would not settle the issue. As I recall, my friends, Jonathan Dresner at Hawaii and Derek Catsam at the University of Minnesota, Manketo, were most active in defending"our pretentious ans." (If you are ever in a good bar fight, by the way, do hope that Derek Catsam is on your side.) Anyway, the grammartocracists finally got the last and best laugh with this post:

Subject: Professor Catsam Stars in A Play
Posted By: Grammarian Again
Date Posted: December 9, 2003, 8:58 PM

Professor Catsam is walking down the hall of a classroom building at Mankato when a student rushes toward him.
Student: Professor Catsam, I lost two of my books! I don't know what to do. I am so upset.
Professor: Gloria, now don't get too upset. Which books can't you locate?
Student: Oh Doctor Catsam, one is for economics and the other is for YOUR class.
Professor: Hmm. My class huh?
Student: And with exams coming on, and everything, I feel so abject and helpless.
Professor: Now let's see what I can do to assist you. Let's take a walk together on each of the three floors and see if we can't find them for you.
Student: Really?
Professor: Sure, we are here to help you.
Professor Catsam and Gloria are walking up the stairs, through the halls and up the stairs again when Professor Catsam stops suddenly.
Student: Doctor, what is happening, are you ok?
Professor: In the corner, LOOK , in the corner, LOOK I can see it! There is AN history book.
Student: A Whaat?
Professor: An history book! An history book. I found it for you.
Student: You are so kind dear professor, but should it not be"a" history book?
Professor: No Gloria, according to Bill Safire, It is"an history book."

NB: Luker's policy on quotations from HNN comment boards: You post there anonymously and I have no obligation to get your permission to quote you. Sign your name, as Catsam does, and I ask permissions. I asked; Catsam gave permission, indicating that he thought this bit of mockery delightful.

Posted by Ralph 12:30 a.m. EST

KEN HEINEMAN: WORTHWHILE READING ... 12-10-03

David Clay Large, Berlin. (New York: Basic Books, 2000).

David Clay Large, Where Ghosts Walked: Munich’s Road to the Third Reich. (New York: W.W. Norton, 1997).

One of the great things about teaching 15 different courses on a regular basis is that I am compelled to read more widely than may be the norm for someone in a large, highly specialized history department. It is particularly stimulating when a 20th century U.S. social historian can slip loose the bounds of his philistine training and indulge in the reading of tremendous intellectual/cultural history outside the modern American field.

I have not been exposed to German literature, history, and culture since my undergraduate years, followed by an intense period of cramming in graduate school so that I could pass my language proficiency examinations. It was, therefore, quite gratifying when I accidentally discovered David Clay Large, one of the most talented and engaging European intellectual/cultural historians I have ever read.

As I have been teaching a course on Great Depression-World War II America, I developed a strong desire to learn more about the origins of Nazi Germany. Fortunately, I stumbled across Large’s opus on Munich. Blending the tales of Marxist and fascist politics, visceral anti-Semitism, and a lot of starving (some justly so) artists, Where Ghosts Walked was a wild romp through pre-World War II Munich.

Large’s writing is a particular joy and I am especially fond of his pithy characterization of Adolf Hitler, a young sociopath and would-be-artist in Munich who failed his physical for the Austro-Hungarian Army in February 1914: “Apparently his bohemian existence had paid off, for he had the dilapidated constitution of a coffeehouse warrior.” (p. 42)

I am presently halfway through Large’s sprawling Berlin, a fine work that particularly focuses on the era from the Franco-Prussian War to the collapse of communist East Germany. If ghosts walked in Munich surely self-destructive visionaries—the good, the bad, and the ugly—haunted a city that would serve as the capital for monarchy, democracy, Nazism, and communism.

As a cultural historian Large naturally gives much attention to the performing and visual arts, along with compelling tours of seedy cabarets. “Life is not a cabaret, old chum,” readers learn. The scenes of young boys in Weimar Germany selling themselves to sex tourists so that they could buy food are difficult to forget.

Learning that actor Conrad Veidt was a cross dressing Berlin hooker in the 1920s may not have been of life and death importance to readers’ intellect, but it is certainly going to affect the way I now watch “Casablanca” and “All Through the Night.” (After Veidt fled the Nazis—go figure—he landed in Hollywood where he was instantly typed-cast. He played the nasty Nazi officer who gets blown away by Humphrey Bogart in “Casablanca” and the nasty Nazi spy who gets blown away by Bogart in “All Through the Night.” (p. 180)

The photographs Large included in this book are of immense value. Looking at the pictures of German soldiers marching through Berlin in 1914 and then again in 1919 readers are witness to an almost science fiction-like evolution. The spiked helmets of 1914 give way to the German headgear that became infamous throughout Europe a generation later. Other unsettling images appearing in the photographs include swastikas on armored vehicles and on the helmets of some of the Freikorps. As if to anticipate the coming of Hitler, there are also mounting choruses of Jew-hatred that already have more than a whiff of “eliminationist” anti-Semitism in 1919 Berlin.

If you are not a specialist of modern Germany but wish to learn more, enjoy good writing, and wonder about the origins of many of our more recent problems with Europe, Large’s city books are the place to begin.

Posted by Ken Heineman 1:15 p.m. EST.

RALPH LUKER: THE INSURRECTION IN MESOPOTAMIA ... 12-09-03

Moby Lives points to this article in the Guardian about General Sir Aylmer Haldane's hard to find 80 year old book, The Insurrection in Mesopotamia, 1920. Undoubtedly, Paul Bremer and Donald Rumsfeld would like to know how Haldane managed to put a regime in place in the middle eastern abstraction called Iraq because it lasted from 1920 until 1958. I found two copies of Haldane's book, one for Paul and one for Don, at abe.com, but I'm warning you: as Josh Marshall paraphrases him, Edmund Morgan was right."History never repeats itself. It only seems like it does to those who don't know the details." The editors of Foreign Affairs recently quoted a phrase commonly attributed to Mark Twain:"history does not repeat itself, but it rhymes." I know. I know. Mark Twain probably never said any such thing, but we and the Iraqis should be so fortunate.

Posted by Ralph 6:30 p.m. EST

OSCAR CHAMBERLAIN: GREETINGS!! ... 12-09-03

Ralph honored me when he asked me to join this transmogrified blog. I hope that what I say here sheds more light than heat. That has been one of my main goals in all my online postings.

However, as I am sure contemporary politics will occasionally provoke me to postings better left imagined, I ask your forgiveness in advance.

To begin, I'm going to ignore the interpretation of history. Instead I am going to quote part of a poem that has long haunted me. If it is not about history, is certainly about memory and time. (I would post the whole poem, if I did not want to begin life here with a copyright suit from Ecco Press.)

The poem is by Czeslaw Milosz, it’s from the collection, Bells in Winter (1974), and it’s called “Encounter.”

I dedicate it to any person drawn to look back in the past, over his life, or her life, or the life of others.

The poem begins with a memory of travel" STYLE="text-decoration: none; border-bottom: medium solid green;" HREF="http://search.targetwords.com/u.search?x=5977|1||||travel|AA1VDw">travel in a wagon through the woods at dawn. Somehow you know that it is drawn by an animal. It’s a cold dawn. A hare darts out . . .

“One of us pointed to it with his hand.

That was long ago. Today neither of them is alive.
Not the hare, nor the man who made the gesture.

Oh my lover, where are they, where are they going
The flash of hand, streak of movement, rustle of pebbles.
I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder.

Posted by Oscar 9.15 a.m. CST

KC JOHNSON: KISSINGER AND HUMAN RIGHTS 12-09-03

For those who haven’t seen it, the National Security Archive has its latest release of formerly classified documents, with the focus this time on Henry Kissinger’s support for the Argentine junta’s crackdown against dissenters in 1976.

Discussing the dictatorship’s massive human rights abuses with a representative of the Argentine government, Kissinger advised, “If you can finish before Congress gets back, the better.” As a historian of Congress, it’s always interesting to see confirmation of the intangible ways in which Congress affected US foreign policy.

Posted by KC, 12.22am EST

RALPH LUKER: CLIOPATRIA AND MOSES ... 12-09-03

Cliopatria welcomes Wilson J. Moses, Ferree Professor of American History and Senior Fellow of the Arts and Humanities Institute at Pennsylvania State University, to our group blog. He is the author of The Golden Age of Black Nationalism: 1850-1925, Black Messiahs and Uncle Toms: Social and Literary Manipulations of a Religious Myth, Alexander Crummell: A Study of Civilization and Discontent, The Wings of Ethiopia: Studies in African-American Life and Letters, and Afrotopia: The Roots of African American Popular History. As a documentary editor, Wilson has published Destiny and Race: Selected Writings of Alexander Crummell, 1840-1898, Classical Black Nationalism from the American Revolution to Marcus Garvey, and Liberian Dreams: Back-to-Africa Narratives from the 1850s. His current book, Creative Conflict in African American Thought, will be published by Cambridge University Press. Wilson has been a Fulbright professor at the Free University of Berlin and at the University of Vienna.

Posted by Ralph 12:30 a.m. EST

RALPH LUKER: RECOMMENDED READING ... 12-09-03

Ken MacLeod's essay, "The Pro-War Left and the Anti-War Right" at The Early Days of a Better Nation. Thanks to Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber for the tip.

Philip Marchand's "Bah, humbug, Scrooge Was Onto Something" in the Toronto Star on the virtue of not being a hypocrite. Thanks to Moby Lives for the tip.

Tim Burke and many others are carrying on a very lively discussion at Invisible Adjunct and here about, ah,"Should I Go To Graduate School?" There may be reason to think not.

Posted by Ralph 12:30 a.m. EST

KC JOHNSON: ETHNICITY OR MERIT IN HIRING? 12-08-03

Last week’s Chronicle of Higher Education contained a fascinating special report about Hispanics and American college life; the material on Hispanic students was particularly interesting.

What most caught my eye, however, was the article by Robin Wilson (registration required) on efforts of colleges to increase the hiring of Hispanic faculty members. Wilson paraphrased a forthcoming study suggesting that “if universities want to diversify, they must put aside their usual hiring practices.”

The article doesn’t exactly specify how this change would occur, although the examples it contains are troubling: Wilson describes several searches at Arizona State where ethnicity seemed to be the only factor, and it was unclear whether the university bothered to advertise positions to non-Hispanics.

In the end, professors are hired to teach. If institutions do not even adopt the pretense that merit is playing a role in faculty hires, what sort of faculty, in the long term, is likely to result?

Posted by KC 1.23pm EST

RALPH LUKER: DESIGNING CLIOPATRIA ... 12-08-03

One of my fond memories from popular television is of"Designing Women." Lately, the ladies have been replaced by"Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." Among the notices of Cliopatria's launch was this, from Chris at See Why

CLIOPATRIA: A Group Blog
A new group blog which brings together a bunch of historians . . . with absolutely no sense of site design.
Oh yeah, I know, I wouldn't know design if it drummed Yankee Doodle on my forehead with chopsticks. But - uh! - this is so bad that even I notice.
Take it up with administration, Chris. We teach, research, think, and blog; it designs. I don't care about its gender or preferences. Just make us look good.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EST

KC JOHNSON: MORE ON THE “COLLEGIALITY” CRITERION ... 12-07-03

As Ralph Luker mentions below, Erin O’Connor has the latest twist in Brooklyn’s College’s obsession with establishing “collegiality” as the institution’s prime criterion for tenure and promotion: the college has issued a new personnel document to evaluate untenured faculty for “collegiality” in scholarship, teaching, and service—as well as overall performance. (The Bylaws and the faculty contract, by the way, list nearly 20 separate criteria for tenure, and collegiality is not mentioned.)

Read literally, a junior professor at Brooklyn now could be fired for writing a critical book review, since doing so could qualify as “uncollegial” scholarship. Or a junior professor could be deemed “uncollegial” for teaching about topics that senior colleagues find ideologically objectionable. In my case, for instance, the department’s specialist in women’s history wrote to the college president denouncing me for teaching about “figures in power.”

What, reasonable people might wonder, is going on here? Partly, of course, the chairs speak in their own words: they want a way to fire junior professors who do not “play the game.” And collegiality is of particular interest to the Brooklyn provost, Roberta S. Matthews, who has praised collegiality for embodying “features that feminist literature suggest are important, such as cooperation and shared power, development of as personal connection to the material being studied, and an emphasis on the affective aspects of learning.” “Collegiality and ‘community’,” she has noted, therefore “are especially attractive to women.”

The situation at Brooklyn, however, is part of a broader move to devalue scholarship in the personnel process at schools (like Brooklyn) that accept the curricular philosophies of a little known group called the Association of American Colleges and Universities. A few minutes’ glance at the AAC&U website gives a pretty good sense of the group’s agenda: it advocates a highly politicized curriculum centered on the teaching of “diversity skills” through “collaborative learning.” In such a college, individual thought among the faculty is discouraged—preferred instead is commitment to the collective goals of the institution. More so than any other criteria, collegiality, because of its subjective nature, provides an avenue for dismissing junior faculty who do not accept the college’s curricular philosophies. Hence its attractiveness—even in the face of, as has occurred at Brooklyn, widespread condemnation from the national scholarly community.

Posted by KC 4:47 p.m. EST

RALPH LUKER: FUNNY BUSINESS IN ACADEME ... 12-07-03

Of all the history departments in the United States, the one at Brooklyn College was at the top of my list last year for scandal in the profession. It won Miss Uncollegiality at the Miss AHA contest in Atlantic City. It did so by using the criteria of collegiality to do the dirty uncollegial deed. Apparently having learned nothing from the experience, administrators at BC are back at it and Erin O'Connor's Critical Mass has the story.

Posted by Ralph 3:00 p.m. EST

TIMOTHY BURKE: WAITING FOR THE VIDEO GAME VERSION OF 'CATCH-22'...12-6-03


This promises to be fun. It’s also an opportunity for me to practice classic blogging, bringing material of interest to historians into this space as a jumping-off point for discussion, rather than the long, meandering mini-essays I put up at my own site.

For all that I am planning to focus more narrowly on history and historiography here, though, I am going to make my first entry about a computer game, namely, the recently release Medal of Honor: Rising Sun, which is set in the Pacific theater of World War II. As the web-based comic strip Penny Arcade pointed out, there is something very strange about the fact that this game is not only being marketed actively in Japan but is selling reasonably well there.

You could conclude this says something about computer games or about Japan, but I think it is instead a continuing sign of the strange disconnect between the popular global representation of World War II and the way that World War II veterans themselves have depicted the war. The thing that bothered me most about the wave of celebrations of “the greatest generation” that Tom Brokaw and Steven Spielberg helped to kick off was not so much the gooey sentimentality that accompanied so much of it, but the active forgetting of the skepticism and pragmatism expressed by so many veterans themselves about the war effort and its leadership, produced in part due to the collision between a citizen army and an entrenched military bureaucracy.

Even works of light entertainment about World War II used to be suffused with that attractively cynical, wary attitude towards authority and the pretenses of leadership: Spike Milligan’s Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall or the film The Dirty Dozen, for example.

It seems to me that it might be a good time to get back in touch with that much more complex sensibility about World War II (and thus war in general--Anthony Swofford’s Jarhead is a nice latter-day inheritor of this perspective) and that even computer games could work to that end.

Posted by Timothy Burke at 8:51 a.m. EST

RALPH LUKER: NOTED HERE AND THERE ... 12-06-03

What ‘Ivory Tower'? Some of academe's critics like to dismiss it as a safe haven for the academically detached. Try living the last month at Emory University. A month ago, I blogged about Professor Paul B. Courtright's story here. The Emory Wheel has the latest update on the death threats that he's been getting from offended Hindus. The University community at large has been in continuing discussion about anthropology professor Carol Worthman's off-hand use of the phrase"a nigger in the woodpile." I have blogged about the historical origins of the phrase and another controversy over its contemporary use. The Wheel's two lead articles, its editorial, and several op-eds offer excellent coverage of the developing controversy at Emory. Some of the University's African American faculty members say that the investigation of the initial complaint was inadequate and believe that it points to systemic problems in race relations at Emory, but the University administration is resisting mandatory sensitivity training. Some"ivory tower"!

This is fun. Try "Which Historical Lunatic Are You?" In case you're wondering, I am Charles VI of France, also known as Charles the Mad or Charles the Well-Beloved. So is Sasha Volokh. It's slightly embarrassing, but the company is good.

Radical historian Howard Zinn, radical linguist Noam Chomsky, and conservative political scientist Harvey Mansfield have been exercising their free speech rights on controversial issues in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Long live free speech in academic communities! Of course, if you are Chomsky, you may have David Bernstein, Glenn Reynolds, Andrew Sullivan, and Pejman Yousefzedah to answer to what you say.

The University of Chicago's Edward Cohn has been blogging up a storm at Mildly Malevolent. His blog is consistently good reading. Just scroll down.

Posted by Ralph 3:00 a.m. EST

RALPH LUKER:"TRANSBLOGRIFICATION" ... 12-03-03

It isn't that you are no longer"Welcome To My World ...," but I knew others who could spread a more generous banquet for us. So, "Welcome To My World ..." is transblogrifying into"Cliopatria". Please adjust your blogrolls and browsers accordingly. Our name, with its allusions, is found in James Joyce's Finnegans Wake. As with much else in Finnegans Wake, however, I'm not sure what it is doing there.

Our name vaguely recalls the memory of Cleopatra, her beauty, her mystery, and her contingent power. More directly, it invokes the name of Clio, one of the nine muses in Greek mythology. Clio the Proclaimer was the muse of history, who was credited with bringing the Phoenician alphabet to Greece. She is often depicted in western art with a scroll and a small library of books. In his work for the Spectator, Joseph Addison, who perfected the essay and pioneered the novel as English literary forms, used her name as a pseudonym. The Latinate"patria" would refer to one's place of origin, a father's home or a native land. We speak from and of history as our place of beginnings, in which we act, through which we move, and to which we owe some allegiance. As a word of both Greek and Latin roots, to say nothing of the Egyptian allusion,"Cliopatria" is also a barbaric hybrid. It suggests the plurality of our origins and degrees of alienation. We are not obliged to agree with, only to listen carefully and respectfully to, each other.

I am delighted with the group of historians who will join me at"Cliopatria."

Timothy Burke won my attention with thoughtful critiques of my work, here and here. I was intrigued to learn that he is a historian of Africa who teaches cultural studies at Swarthmore. Subsequently, I became a fan of his thoughtful blog, Easily Distracted. Tim's contributions enliven discussions at Erin O'Connor's Critical Mass, Crooked Timber, Invisible Adjunct, and elsewhere. He has published Lifebuoy Men, Lux Women: Commodification, Consumption, and Cleanliness in Modern Zimbabwe, a monograph with remarkably wide-ranging implications, and with his brother, Kevin, Saturday Morning Fever: Growing Up With Cartoon Culture, a study of the Saturday morning cartoons and Generation X.

Oscar Chamberlain is best known to readers at History News Network for his many intelligent contributions on a broad range of issues on the HNN comment boards. At the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire, and UW, Barron County, he lectures on the history of science and American ante-bellum and constitutional history. Oscar has contributed poetry and a personal essay to The Red Cedar Review. A member of the City of Rice Lake Plan Commission, he hosted Jazz and New Age music programs from 1995-2000 at WOJB, the radio station of the Lac Courte Oreilles band of the Ojibwe.

HNN regulars will remember Ken Heineman from his blog which appeared too briefly here about a year ago. He is a professor of history at Ohio University at Lancaster and the author of four books: Campus Wars: The American Peace Movement at State Universities in the Viet Nam Era, God is a Conservative: Religion, Politics, and Morality in Contemporary America, A Catholic New Deal: Religion and Reform in Depression Pittsburgh, and Put Your Bodies Upon the Wheels: Student Revolt in the 1960s.

Through no fault of his own, Robert"KC" Johnson needs no introduction to historians or readers at HNN. His struggle for tenure at Brooklyn College, summarized here and here, is near legendary. KC's impressive scholarship in 20th century American diplomatic and political history is more important to us. Already, it includes many articles and four books, Washington. 20. Januar 1961, Ernest Gruening and the American Dissenting Tradition, The Peace Progressives and American Foreign Relations, and On Cultural Ground: Essays in International History. He expects to publish four more books in the next three years.

I introduced myself, here, six months ago. So, welcome to our world ...,"Cliopatria," and its bountiful feast.

Posted by Ralph 12:15 a.m. EST


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