Reporter's Notebook: Highlights from the 2004 OAH Convention
Mr. Shenkman is the editor of HNN.
Day 1: Thursday March 25, 2004
HAW--Historians Against the War--persuaded the OAH executive board to pass a resolution to establish a committee to investigate reports of alleged repression involving historians. Click here for details.
If you stayed away because it's Boston and you heard the weather was terrible, you made a mistake. Most people found they could get away with a simple jacket. One historian even showed up in shorts (more on that in a moment). The convention is being held at the Boston Marriott Copley Plaza. Were you afraid to venture out into the brisk outdoors, you need not have done so. A covered walkway conveniently provides access from the Marriott to a giant nearby mall. I live in Seattle. I have never seen anything like it.
The biggest surprise of the day was the absence of people in attendance at the panel on U.S. Empire and the Transnational History of Race in the Twentieth Century. Obviously, the OAH organizers anticipated a bigger showing. The hall could have seated hundreds. Some twenty people showed up.
Then there was the panel, Exploring the American Revolution with Primary Sources. It got a small room. A big crowd turned out, people spilling out into the hallway.
Sometimes you just can't tell in advance which panels will be the big draws.
This Isn't Your Father's OAH
The theme of the convention is American Revolutions, which was well exemplified by two panels concerned with the history of queers and punk rockers.
The panel on queer history was as controversial as its name. Wesleyan's CLAIRE
BOND POTTER began with a story about J. Edgar Hoover as a cross-dresser,
providing intimate details about his participation in a sex orgy at which he wore a dress
and went by the name Mary. Potter admitted at the end that the story may not be true; it
rests on the testimony of a single witness. But she said that didn't matter to students of
queer history, which lays claim to gossip, rumor and innuendo. For the story is
evidence at the least of the powerful force of shame in American culture and figures in
the historiography of shame. York University's MARC STEIN followed up with a paper
about legal history and queers. He began by drawing a fascinating distinction between
queer history and gay & lesbian history. Queer history deconstructs history, he averred,
while gay history celebrates it. He noted a paradox. Some critics are against "queer"
studies. But by their very opposition they are doing what believers in queer studies advocate. As Stein noted, "If queer means oppositional, then anti-queer is as queer as it gets."
The panel which delved into the history of punk rock was an exercise in surreal
contradictions. Imagine a room featuring giant wall portraits of equestrian riders in full
regalia, horse whips included, like something out of a scene in Gone with the Wind (before the war). Now imagine an audience of respectable-looking historians, nearly all
of them born at least half a century ago, when young-looking Dick Clark really was
young and "American Bandstand" was a hit television show. Now consider the subject
these historians are discussing: 1970s punk rock, featuring teenage bands like
Dischord--get it?--with music featuring lines like: "you keep talking about talent?/what
do you know?/instead of studying theory/we're going to get up and go/get up and go get
up and go." The handout with the lyrics reminded us this was a history convention, but
the music blaring through the loud speaker kept saying, it's time to get up and dance.
No one danced. The historians stuck to studying theory.
Did they really get punk? The panelist explained punk well, noting that it was a phenomena of the late 1970s when teenagers, bored with watching TV and yet still too young to get into the clubs to hear their favorite groups, began demanding real music experiences that reflected the intense raging hormones of youth. Let down by the music establishment, which at staged concerts kept the musicians at a numbing distance from the audience, they created their own music venues where they literally could feel the musicians' sweat. But just one person in the room looked like somebody who actually may once have enjoyed punk bands. A young graduate student from the University of Massachusetts (Amherst) dressed in shorts. On his left arm, visible from his short-sleeve shirt, was a broad tattoo like something one might see on kids on Broadway in Seattle where punk still thrives. His presence was very much needed. It gave the session an authenticity it otherwise would have lacked. Too bad there was just one like him.
If you don't have to be a punk rocker to understand punk rock, do you have to be a
woman to understand women's history? No is the answer historians long ago gave to
this tired question, even as women activists were proclaiming the political is personal.
But more women than men seemed interested in women's history today, judging by
attendance at the panel on Gender, Rights and the Reaction to Revolution. Too bad.
Anyone could have benefited from the discussion.
Most remarkable point. George Mason University's ROSEMARIE ZAGARRI explained that in the 1790s, a period of intense parlisanship and rancor--sound familiar?--women came to be seen as the needed stable force in a febrile society strained by overly emotional males. How's that for a fresh insight?
In the evening Howard Zinn spoke to a crowd of hundreds at the Old South Meeting House. More on that later.
It is now 3am. If I have offended anyone it is not be design. Fatigue has set in. Time to
Day 2: Friday March 26, 2004
OAH officials announced this evening that this year's convention has attracted more people than any in history. One reason may be that the organization decided months ago to hire two unpaid interns from Boston University to promote the annual meeting in the media and local community. If there are any lawyers or doctors reading this, you're probably wondering what's wrong with historians. Of course, a professional organization should be doing PR. But the trouble is historians even at the mostly liberal OAH are, well, old-fashioned and PR sounds almost New Age, so until now they resisted. BU's Christopher Daly, who pushed the idea, noted that when he worked at the Associated Press in a prior life, he pleasantly discovered that professional organizations like the AMA and the Bar Association ran full-fledged PR operations catering to the needs of the media's every whim. But then doctors and lawyers have money for that sort of thing and historians don't.
Does PR really work? Apparently it does. The town hall meeting held last night to honor Howard Zinn attracted a huge crowd in the hundreds, many from the local community after the event was talked up by the two interns, who dispatched announcements to groups across the city. Tonight an even larger crowd turned out to attend a panel held at a local church to discuss the "history and legacy" of Brown v. Board of Education. The church, Union United Methodist, is said to hold 1100 people. It appeared to be filled to capacity. Again, many of the people in the audience came from the local community. (More on this event, probably the high point of the convention, below.)
About My PDA (Personal Digital Assistant)
First, before we begin, a quick note about the machine I have been using to take notes at the convention, about which many people have expressed wonderment. I am using a T-Mobile Pocket PC with an external keyboard. The Pocket PC--a glorified PDA--is about the size of an old-fashioned cigarette case and about the same weight. It does everything. On this little device I can make phone calls, do email, surf the Internet, write WORD documents, keep track of my expenses on an Excel spread sheet and much much more. If all of this sounds like gibberish, skip it. It's intended for those who want to get in touch with their inner geek.
Higham and Quarles
Historians may have stopped celebrating political heroes years ago, but judging by the well-attended panels on John Higham and Benjamin Quarles they retain a capacity for awe toward the leading members of their own guild. Michael Kammen (Cornell) remembered Higham as a giant of the profession and its leading historiographer. But he also noted that Higham was a man of paradoxes. While he generally was a stickler for protocol and was properly appalled when another historian plagiarized his writings, Higham twice reviewed books written or edited by Kammen even though they were friends and Higham obviously was in no position to render an unbiased judgment--or at least a judgment that appeared unbiased. When Kammen saw Higham after the second review was published, Higham "looked like the proverbial cat who had eaten the canary," said Kammen. Quarles was remembered by Gary B. Nash (UCLA) as a the person who let out the "dirty little secret" of the American Revolution: that black slaves, eager to win their freedom, went over to the British side in droves. Unfortunately, noted Nash, even today few Americans reach their eighteenth birthday cognizant of this fact.
- Spotted at lunch together: Jim Horton and John Hope Franklin. "There he goes," remarked one astonished historian as Franklin briskly and impressively made his way across the restaurant. "And I'd heard he was ill." It was like the sighting of a movie star.
- Quote of the Day: "I am a pervert." It was spoken by one of the members of the panel, Punishing the Crime of Bestiality in the Early Republic. He hastily added, in what easily passed for the most interesting interview I had today, that "we all try to be squares" but aren't. During the session he noted that allegations of sexual improprieties have been used throughout history to undermine the credibility of people we don't like or view as a threat. The trouble with that approach, he observed, is that it freezes democratic debate. Once a person is labeled a pervert they're so beyond the pale nobody takes their ideas seriously. He noted that counter terrorism expert and thorn-in-Bush's side Richard Clarke has already been made the subject of rumors because he's a lifelong bachelor--as if that somehow suggests unreliability.
- Best LBJ anecdote: At the panel devoted to Public History on Public Radio, a producer recalled one of the delightful conversations LBJ had one day with his tailor, which was captured by a presidential tape recorder and broadcast on radio. Be sure and make the crotch large enough to accommodate my ... [insert suitable LBJ crude reference to his genitals], LBJ ordered. And then added, and make the pockets long to accommodate my big pocketknife. It was pure LBJ. [italics indicate paraphrase.]
- Confession of the Day: Historian Ken Greenberg, who worked on the recent film about Nat Turner, Nat Turner, A Troublesome Property, admitted that the tree in the movie that was used to stage the hanging of the famous slave rebel wasn't a sycamore. Yes, Turner was hanged on a sycamore, he added, about the only thing we know for sure about Turner's death. But after searching high and low for a sycamore tree and finally finding one it turned out the movie men had parked their trucks in such a way as to obscure the shot. So instead they used another tree nearby. Did it matter? Well, Mr. Greenberg contended, it really shouldn't. After all, it wasn't like the sycamore tree they found was the sycamore tree anyway. (Eric Stange, whose film, Murder at Harvard, was also a subject of discussion, commended Mr. Greenberg's seriousness of purpose: "Filmmaking is a craft with many challenges and constraints, and if the purpose of historical documentaries is to engage more people in history -- both the stories and the process of their discovery -- they also must do it in both an engaging and practical way [e.g., budgetary and time limitations]. I found the discussion of the sycamore tree an enlightening look at how the filmmakers took all of the elements into play, weighing logistical needs with historical accuracy -- when many of the facts could not possibly be known regardless: which location, which sycamore tree, whether a coffin or not -- and make the best possible shot. If we had to rely on what we know for certain, no films would be made. And even if we did, the way one film was shot and edited could tell a different story from another." Email to HNN, 3-27-04.)
- Comment by an elderly historian as he exited a panel on Gender and the Civil War: they're just a bunch of women's libbers ....
Dead. Not Dead.
It was like this at the roundtable on political history. The audience couldn't even agree on the significance of the size of the crowd, which extended out into the hallway. Some took it as a sign that political history is very much alive. Others noted that the meeting was being held in a small room. Harvard's Liz Cohen observed that nine years ago when she served on a similar panel hundreds had turned out. This time under a hundred did. But she confidently declared political history is back (as in: back from the dead). But of course not everybody agreed.
But why had it died in the first place after having served as the bulkhead of history, as Stanford's David Kennedy put it, from the time of "Herodotus to Hofstadter"? Kennedy identified several causes among them, the collapse of the Progressive synthesis and the enduring American tradition that politics is "as much about the restraint of power as its exercise." Liz Cohen suggested political history had died because it had faced competition from social and ethnic studies and been found wanting, a deficiency now being corrected as political historians began doing gender and class studies. She added that it hadn't died, as someone had suggested, because "evil social historians" had been busy trying to bury their rivals.
Richard Jensen, the well-known conservative historian, sitting in the audience, argued that political history had died in tandem with the decline of the triumphal narrative. When we stopped praising American democracy in the Sixties and instead began emphasizing its many flaws, political history lost its attractiveness. He predicted that political history would never be resurrected as long as "we write about the history of failure." A lot of heads nodded in agreement.
Want to know what political historians are doing to revive history? A new book from Princeton, The Democratic Experiment: New Directions in American Political History, offers some answers.
Easily the most impressive event of the conference thus far was the two-hour discussion held tonight at the Union United Methodist Church on the subject of Brown v. Board of Education: A Fifty-Year Legacy. The discussion featured John Hope Franklin, Charles Ogletree, Lani Guinier, Derrick Bell, and, astonishingly, Robert L. Carter, a member of the NAACP legal team that argued the case before the Supreme Court and subsequently became a judge for the Southern District of New York. Carter couldn't be heard beyond the first few rows, which was unfortunate because he seemed to be the only member of the panel who took a positive view of Brown. The others found numerous reasons to view the legacy of the decision that ended school segregation de jure as decidedly mixed.
Derrick Bell, described by Ogletree as "one of the most mild-mannered radicals you will ever meet," compared the decision to Lincoln's Proclamation of Emancipation. In 1863, as in 1954, blacks jubilantly celebrated what appeared to be a great advance in civil rights and social progress. Only later did they realize that their situation in fact had barely improved. Moreover, the gift whites had seemingly offered out of a sincere impulse actually reflected depressing calculations of self-interest. In 1863 Lincoln acted in order to strike a blow at the South's labor system. In 1954 the federal government acted only because segregation had become an embarrassingly obvious enough defect in American democracy as to become a weapon against us in the ongoing propaganda wars with the communists.
Lani Guinier, speaking with great passion, argued that because of the way race is used in this country, Brown became a reason for working class whites to turn hostile toward African-Americans. While their real beef was with the white power structure, they blamed black integration for the decline in their public schools which followed the Brown decision in subsequent years. Several times as she spoke the audience broke out in applause. She noted that the very year Central High School was integrated in Little Rock, a new high school opened a few miles away for affluent whites. That working class whites left behind in Central High then turned angry toward blacks was inevitable "because we don't have a vocabulary of class."
Ogletree wondered if perhaps too much was being made of the negative consequences of Brown. Wasn't it really a great victory, as advertised? Derrick Bell, softening his earlier criticism, said that it was a great symbolic victory. "Without the Brown victory," he said, "we might not have had the resistance movement." But at this John Hope Franklin noted that the resistance movement actually predated the Brown decision and was really a result of World War II. After the war black soldiers wouldn't accept second class citizenship.
Judge Carter at this point angrily insisted that Brown was a real victory not just a symbolic victory--and he didn't care what Lani Guinier said. She sat smiling awkwardly. John Hope Franklin again noted the importance of World War II, to which Judge Carter replied, that he remembers what happened after World War II too, but that Brown helped bring about change.
For people who like their history neat and tidy it was a disturbing moment. But to historians in the room it was just another example of the rich contradictions in history and proof, if ever it was needed, that history truly is an argument without end.
Day 3: Saturday March 27, 2004
OAH executive director LEE FORMWALT told HNN that the board is "seriously" considering hiring a consultant to help historians correct the misstatements made about history in the public press, noting specifically the charges against revisionist history that were leveled last year by several prominent Republicans. "There is so much that's being said about American history that's wrong," Formwalt added, "and we're the logical organization to correct it."9In an email to HNN on March 29, 2004, Mr. Formwalt elaborated on the organization's concerns:"What OAH is concerned about is the lack of understanding about the nature of history itself. Anyone who accuses historians of being revisionists, does not understand the practice of professional history. We have an obligation to educate the broader public about the job of the historian which is to continually question our understanding of the past and to reinterpret the past in light of new facts or ways of thinking. History is the continual engagement of the present with the past--as the present changes, so does our understanding of the past."
Top 3 Reasons Why You Are Sorry You Missed this Year's Convention
#1 -- You missed watching Harvard's Reverend Professor PETER J. GOMES in action as the mischievous moderator of the gay marriage panel. A hoot. But you had to be there. I can't even begin to replicate his humor (though I have been trying; believe me, it's impossible).
#2 -- You missed tonight's ceremony honoring THOMAS D. CLARK. Mr. Clark, who celebrated his 100th birthday last July, first began attending meetings of the organization (then known as the Mississippi Valley Historical Association) in the 1920s. In 1954, the year of the Brown decision, he pressed the organization to book annual meetings only at desegregated hotels. Two years later he was elected president of the MVHA.
#3 -- (Finally and most importantly) -- You missed tonight's stunning address by outgoing president JACQUELYN DOWD HALL. Yes, you'll eventually be able to read it online but what you'll miss is the emotional response that greeted her call to reject the stale narrative that marks the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement with the Montgomery Bus Boycott and ends on a note of declension with the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the urban riots. Ms. Hall, her native Oklahoma accent still very much in evidence, boldly argued that actually that's far too simple. The movement began in the 1930s and extended far past the Sixties, noting that it was in the 1970s that blacks, armed with the vote, began electing African-American mayors. And by 1980 "more schools in the South were desegregated than in the rest of the country." These victories suggest that it was not foreordained that the movement come to an end.
So how can we account for the conservative triumphs that ended in a shredded social safety net, the loss of high-paying blue collar jobs, and all the rest of the sorry milestones that have come to be identified with the late twentieth century? Blame the Cold War, Hall told the group. That may have come as a shock to some in the audience, who just last night were told at the church meeting on Brown that the Cold War put pressure on the government to end segregation in order to take away from the communists an obvious symbol of American backwardness. But Hall argued that the movement was actually a casualty of the Cold War, which empowered red-baiting conservatives in both parties and led to the collapse of the black-labor-left alliance. When she finished the two thousand people in the hall gave Hall a rousing standing ovation. As one historian commented afterward, she didn't have an enemy in the room.
Gays, Gays and Gays
In some ways this was Gay Day at the convention. In the morning there was the splendidly titled panel devoted to "The Peculiar Institution of Marriage," which was hastily arranged after the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision. In the afternoon there was the panel honoring the work of George Chauncey, the historian who wrote the brief used by the United States Supreme Court to strike down the laws against sodomy. Both panels no doubt would give heartburn to a conservative.
The three members of the gay marriage panel argued in favor of gay matrimony. The University of Oregon's PEGGY PASCOE provided a compelling history of miscegenation law, noting that the same arguments being made now against gay marriage were made for three centuries against miscegenation, which was said to be both unnatural and immoral. She added that by the 1980s no one wanted to remember miscegenation had ever been banned in America. "But now we are seeing people who again want to restrict marriage, thought this time the category is sex not race." Stanford's ESTELLE FREEDMAN argued that in New England lesbians have a history of partnering, as Henry James explicitly noted in his novel The Bostonians, which includes a character modeled after his lesbian sister. Princeton's HENDRIK HARTOG predicted that gay marriage will soon become legal in at least several parts of the country, specifically naming Californian and Massachusetts and several other states. No one in the audience seemed unpleased to hear any of this.
Whether a state that outlawed gay marriage could stop a couple legally married in another state from exercising their rights is not at present knowable. But Hartog observed that in the 1940s the United States Supreme Court began applying the full faith and credit clause to the institution. Divorce in Vegas and your home state in the South no longer could claim that you still remained married. So if the Court ruled that Alabama, say, could forbid gay marriage, the Court would have to change its own rulings.
The afternoon panel on gay history featured a paper by independent scholar MICHAEL HUSSEY that included frank descriptions of the sexual acts committed by American sailors between 1895 and 1920. Trial transcripts show, he said, that while same-sex sex seemed common among sailors, the belief at the time was that "normal men" could have sex with people of either gender "as long as they took the dominant position." The unequal condition that existed between sex partners demonstrated, he argued in an ingenious formulation, the pervasive "power of misogyny to insert itself into a world in which women were only virtually present."
A Correction (Sort of)
The other day we reported that this year's convention drew more people than any before. It turns out this is a matter of dispute. Like everything, it's more complicated the more details you know. The convention held in Washington DC in 1995 actually drew a few hundred more people. But here's the tricky part. The tally that year included the members of the National Council for Public History, who are invited to attend the convention when the OAH meets in DC. Count them and DC ranks biggest. Leave them out and Boston's on top. So how many attended this year's meeting? 2,720.
- Best Boast of the Day: As he was making his way to a table loaded with free food, one rotund historian confessed he was about to consume twenty jumbo shrimp. He added: "How can you consume twenty jumbo shrimp and not give the appearance of gluttony? There's an art to this."
- Best Excuse of the Day for Not Writing an Op-Ed for HNN: Asked if he would consider writing a piece for HNN one prominent historian explained that he was too busy at the moment serving as the head of a search committee for a new provost. "When do you expect to be free?" he was asked. "By May 15. Either we'll have a new provost by then or I'll be a suicide."
- Best Quip of the Day: Speaking of overly specialized political historians, who seem happy to write books read by 200 people, one scholar commented mockingly: "They think publishing for a wide audience is getting political scientists and sociologists to read their books."
- Puzzle of the Day: Why the OAH assigned a small room yesterday to a roundtable assessing the future of political history and a big room today to a roundtable assessing the future of diplomatic history. Should political historians be offended? Perhaps, but it was the diplomatic historians who suffered more. Few in number, they seemed lost in their giant room. They also sounded a lot more pessimistic than the political historians. While "our classes are packed"--and not just because of the Iraq War--"we are marginalized by the profession," said THOMAS ZELLER (University of Colorado).
- Best Put Down of President Bush: Speaking of the president's statement a few years ago that the story of America is the story of freedom, ERIC FONER acidly commented, "It's a little more complicated," which brought forth a roar of laughter.
- Most Politically Relevant Fact: According to Harvard's Peter Gomes, until the Anglicans came along at the tail end of the seventeenth century, church marriages were forbidden in Puritan Massachusetts. The very first marriage the Puritans held was in 1621. The couple was married by the colony's governor.
- Most Shocking Fact: In the nineteenth century an advocate of free love was sentenced to a year of hard labor simply for writing a pamphlet advocating his views. The man was married and had four children. He died shortly after his release. His health had been broken in prison.
The Cayton Thesis?
Is it time for a new master narrative of American history? ANDREW R.L. CAYTON and FRED ANDERSON think so and have come up with one. In a nutshell, they believe that imperialism is central to the meaning of the American experience and in a new book scheduled to be published by Viking in 2005 they lay out their arguments. Conservatives will hate it, even if they have of late begun to find virtues in the kind of "benevolent" imperialism. Britain laid claim to. The authors argue that "the very real sincerity of Americans' faith in freedom's vindicating power has enabled the United States to undertake wars and interventions with great frequency, even as it has diverted attention from the unpredictable and destabilizing effects that those conflicts have had on the development of the nation, the continent, the hemisphere, and the world." Furthermore, the book contends that "the defining moments of American nationhood, the Revolution and the Civil War, can best be understood as the unintended (and unsought) consequences of vaunting imperial ambitions."
You might expect such a book to focus on the past 100 years or so of American history, starting with the Spanish-American War and moving on through the long list of familiar dark chapters of U.S. foreign policy in the last century. But in fact the bulk of the book covers the colonial period; the authors explain they are trying to push back the starting point of American history in order to shed light on the continuity of imperialism which they see evident in the conflicts that took place here.. Eric Foner, commenting on the book, found their approach confounding and said so bluntly. He also wondered what the reason might be for the preponderance of imperialism. Was it owing to the personal ambition of the major politicians? And what exactly was the relationship between the forces shaping the development of the country and the outward quest for empire?
The authors shrugged and then proceeded to try to answer the concerns Foner and others in the room raised. They made few converts, but showed a grace under fire that everybody could admire. To have a book you've worked on for years savaged by critics standing in your presence has got to be one of the most difficult experiences an author can face. How they pulled it off I don't know.
Michael Bellesiles came up today in two contexts, neither of them flattering. At a panel on gun ownership in America a historian demonstrated conclusively that at least in western Massachusetts Americans in the colonial period loved guns, owned guns and learned how to fire them expertly. Upwards of 70 percent of them possessed guns. Bellesiles's claims that gun ownership was rare in the colonial period seemed hardly credible in the face of the evidence, backed by charts and detailed tabulations, presented today.
Later in the day at another panel it wasn't Bellesiles's assumptions that came under attack, it was his integrity--and the integrity of people like Stephen Ambrose and even Joseph Ellis. How, the panel was trying to figure out, can we clean up the profession? And how can we stop students from committing plagiarism? MICHAEL KAMMEN said he wasn't sure if plagiarism among historians was increasing, but he knows that it is among students. At Cornell where he teaches plagiarism cases are skyrocketing: 41 in 2002, 68 in 2003. And that's just the number of students filing appeals. More were caught and pleaded guilty.
Guns remain a topic of hot concern. More than seventy people were drawn to this morning's session on gun ownership. But the rage over plagiarism and ethics violations seems to have gradually dissipated. Last year rooms were packed with people shocked by all of the cases of fraud and malfeasance. Today just 13 people showed up for the panel on integrity.
Day 4: Sunday March 28, 2004
At 8 am this morning at the Business Meeting of the OAH the activists from Yale who have been asking academic associations to support their battle with the university over the formation of a union for graduate students walked away with another victory. The Business Meeting approved a resolution critical of Yale's handling of the dispute. In January the group won a resolution of support from the AHA.
The Business Meeting also discussed the executive board's decision to form a committee under the leadership of David Montgomery to investigate alleged instances of repression involving historians. The committee's first order of business is to investigate the extent of the problem and then report back to the board. The committee was formed several days ago in response to a petition filed by Historians Against the War (HAW). The Business Meeting did not take a vote on the board's decision to establish the committee.
The mandate of the committee is"to investigate reports of repressive measures having an impact on historians' teaching, research, employment, and freedom of expression." According to Lee Formwalt, executive director of the OAH, the committee has been asked to" collect and verify reports of actions by the government, officials of schools, colleges and universities, and self-designated groups dedicated to political surveillance, and report its findings periodically in the OAH Newsletter and in any other form the Executive Board deems appropriate."
A second petition backed by HAW condemns the Bush administration's doctrine of pre-emptive war. HAW says more than 1200 historians have signed the petition, including nearly 200 over the course of the convention.
A Day of Rest?
As with the AHA in January, some of the best panels at this year's OAH annual meeting were scheduled for Sunday. Two in particular stood out: The panels on slavery and the Brown decision.
The slavery panel was designed to help members find out recent developments in the field. The charming young scholar who introduced the panel, DYLAN PENNINGROTH, author of The Claims of Kinfolk: African American Property and Community in the Nineteenth-Century South, brought forth a gasp from the crowd when he revealed the list of books about slavery now numbers more than 600--and that's just for books about North America.
The major change in slavery studies in recent years, explained DAVID BRION DAVIS, has been the proliferation of books and monographs about slavery as a trans-Atlantic phenomenon. In KENNETH STAMPP'S day slavery still seemed very much an American institution, specifically, a United States of America institution, though of course a few scholars had cast an occasional light on slavery in Brazil and Africa. Today we have a big picture of how slavery operated everywhere.
Davis related that when Frederick Douglass toured the country after the Civil War he was always asked why the slaves hadn't revolted. The question persists, Davis indicated.HERBERT APTHEKER to the contrary, there were really only a few major slave revolts and even one of these, Vesey, has recently come under suspicion. This despite the fact that quite often plantations of 100 or 200 slaves were run by just a couple of whites. How could just a few whites maintain their control over so many slaves? It wasn't because slavery destroyed the slaves psychologically, as STANLEY ELKINS argued in a famous book years ago, though slavery clearly damaged slaves in various ways. More likely, argued Davis, it was because they knew that any revolt was certain to be crushed ruthlessly and end in their own deaths. Slavery in the United States was not fragile, he argued. Not even on the eve of the Civil War was it "about to self-destruct." And the slaves knew this.
While the slavery panel attracted a packed crowd in a little room, the Brown decision attracted a small crowd in a big room. Maybe people had just become browned out. Too bad. I am sure they would have learned something. I know I did.
MCHAEL KLARMAN suggestively argued that as a country we may have been better off without Brown than with it. How so? By the 1950s segregation was beginning to erode in the border states and over the next couple of decades could have been expected to erode further to the point where Congress could have stepped in and passed a law against it. And that would have been preferable to the liberal elitists' resort to the courts to achieve social change. Going out on a limb, he suggested that slavery similarly could have been expected to shrink over time, raising doubts in his mind about the necessity of the Civil War. (Suggestion to the OAH; perhaps next year you should stage a debate between Klarman and David Brion Davis, who, as mentioned above, argues that slavery in the South was far from dying at the time of the war. Call it: Klarman v. Davis.)
Klarman was followed by KARA TURNER, who provided concrete evidence of the high price blacks in much of the South paid for Brown. In a remarkable study of Prince Edward County, Virginia, a hotbed of white supremacy, she noted that officials closed the public schools for four years after the courts ordered desegregation. The pain of this turn of events was felt unequally by blacks and whites. Whites continued their schooling in private institutions subsidized by the county, while the black students mainly went without any schooling at all. When the schools finally reopened the black students felt inferior and often failed at their studies and dropped out. Even their IQ scores fell. They came to be known in the black community as the "lost generation."
LAURA KALMAN noted the irony that Brown, which had once been regarded as "the greatest victory since Emancipation," had come to be defined by its flaws and unintended consequences and had even branded by some as racist. Even so, the decision remains iconic; even conservatives nowadays swear allegiance to it.
What grumbling there was at this year's convention--and there didn't seem much--had to do with the frequency with which popular panels seemed to have been assigned to small rooms at the same time that relatively less popular panels quite often seem to have been assigned to the large rooms. Time and again people who showed up a little late for the popular panels discovered they had to sit on the floor during sessions--or, in some cases, actually stand in the corridor outside and strain to hear. Even presidents of the OAH found themselves without chairs. On Saturday past OAH president DAVID MONTGOMERY could be seen sitting on the floor in the back of the room of the session exploring the work of GEORGE CHAUNCEY. Today the current president, JIM HORTON, could be spotted on the floor of the slavery panel. Some panel members took offense at the small rooms to which they had been assigned, one joking that the size of the room given to the American Revolution provided a measure of the respect for the field in the OAH. But in fact even the panels featuring the stars of the profession sometimes faced the same space limitations, as happened yesterday to ERIC FONER and today to DAVID BRION DAVIS.
Best Quote of the Day
When Michael Klarman's presentation ran long, he was given a two-minute warning by the moderator. Klarman pleaded to the crowd: "I only have two minutes but maybe somebody will ask me a question that allows me to elaborate." They did.
comments powered by Disqus
Christopher James Scott - 7/19/2004
Thanks for the update. I appreciate that the language contains some leeway for interpretation, specifically the mention of "self-designated groups dedicated to political surveillance." I also like that the findings will be advertised. Will HNN proactively publish their findings as well once they are released?
Jesse David Lamovsky - 4/1/2004
As far as George W.'s proposed "marriage-protection" amendment, the less said the better. I'm certainly not in favor of such a thing. But why worry about it, Derek? It's not going to happen. What will happen, is that eventually the Supreme Court will federalize marriage laws nationwide, no doubt using the same flawed interpretation of the 14th Amendment that the Court employed to legalize abortion. This will definitely happen, and when it does, it will definitely be unconstitutional.
I should make it clear that I have no real moral qualms about gay marriage, and on a personal level, I couldn't give a rat's behind if two men, or two women, want to get hitched. If the states want to alter their marriage laws to accommodate homosexuals, I have no problem with that. Hell, I might just vote for such an alteration, here in Ohio (maybe). But rules are important, Derek. Procedures are important. Want to legalize gay marriage nationwide? Do it the right way. Propose a 27th Amendment to the Constitution. Or work for change at the state and local levels. What I'm sick of is progressives who don't have the guts to take their issues to the voters; who rely on unelected judges to ram their whims down everyone's throat, and then try and shut up dissent by accusing non-conformists of thought crimes, like “bigotry”. That's not the way things should work in a free republic.
And no, the treatment of homosexuals by the Nazis is still not relevant, no matter how you spin it. Nobody is forcing gays to wear pink triangles, or sending them off to concentration camps, or whatever. There's an absence of official government sanction against homosexuals- laws restricting economic freedom, freedom of movement, that kind of thing. Certainly no authority is preventing gays from loving one another, or from forming relationships with one another. And gays have been co-habitating, and getting married for years in this country, Derek! Now all of a sudden if the government doesn't formally recognize this, give this practice its seal of approval, right this minute, it's tantamount to Nazism? Give me a break.
As for there not being bigots among your ideological kin, Derek, what- you don't believe there are anti-Christian bigots among the pro-gay marriage camp? Of course there are. Every time a progressive advocate makes a slur about "white Christian heterosexual males", or belittles biblical arguments against gay marriage as “ignorance”, that's bigotry. You might justify it as “bigotry against the bigoted”, but it is bigotry all the same. Right-wing Christians can justify their (supposed) bigotry in the exact same manner. Anyway, it really doesn't matter- you've mistaken my complete indifference to this charge for “discomfort”. If implying that I'm in the same boat with Klansmen and Nazis makes you feel better, Derek, than go right ahead. It’s your world. Like your brother, I'm just trying to get a nut.
As far as my assumptions about the ideological temper of the OAH meeting, again, I don't believe there is anything unreasonable about drawing certain conclusions about the meeting based on, a.) the political proclivities of most academics, b.) what was written by Mr. Shenkman, and c.) what was written by the contributors of the other HNN piece dealing with the meeting. That's something to go on, at least, even if I wasn't there. If I was to posit that most Muscovites speak Russian, what would you say to me, Derek? "Don't make comments, you don't know s--t, you've never been there"?
You know, come to think of it, I don’t recall suggesting Ralph Reed (eek! scary mean Christian!) as a panelist, or anyone else, for that matter. Nor do I recall making any kind of proposal to force ideological diversity upon the OAH. I simply made a very mild comment about how panel discussions tend to be more satisfying and enlightening when there is more than one opinion expressed- something I would think most anyone would agree with, including you- and you proceeded to basically tell me to go f—k myself. Oh well- but I think my original statement was pretty reasonable, all in all.
Derek Charles Catsam - 4/1/2004
Thomas -- Um, why bother writing that post? I am taking issue with your posts. This is not about my being upset or not being upset. It is about the issue on the table.
How, precisely, is it overturning the Constituion to allow my brother to marry? What on earth are you talking about? There is no Constitutional overturning goig on, except on the part of those who are going forward with an amendment to the Constitution to forbid my brother from marrying. Were it already against the Constitution, there would be no need for this awful, legislating by Constitution, pean to bigotry and hatred. It is against the Constituion to violate his 14th Amendment right to equal protection, a protection granted certainclasses of people and not others.
And that Nazis murdered homosexuals is (follow along, it is a really complex argument) wholly relevant to the question of historical persecution of gays as a class of people, which is, of course, what I was talking about. I am glad you admit that you are aligned with bigots on this one. Trying to lump me as doing the same, whatever the heck you meant (were you being oblique or merely incoherent?) however, may make you feel good, but it is wrong -- which bigots have I allied myself with? Unless, of course, this is some meta argument about my bigotry against the bigoted.
Why is marriage a right for gays? It is a right for gays inasmuch as it is a "right" for anyone. Once the state starts saying certain kinds of love warrants legal protections, indeed legal advantages, it is the responsibility, the burden, of the state to show why denying others those privileges is acceptable. I am curious why you think it is fine for a pair of srangers to meet, shack up, marry and divorce in a Vegas weekend, but it is not ok for a loving couple who have been together for a decade or more to do so. I also have yet to hear an argument as to why allowing gays to marry somehow threatens an institution 50% of which end in divorce.
White sheets and burning crosses was fully gremane to my argument -- your discomfort with being associated with these clear hallmarks of bigotry notwithstanding. My argument was a response to the idea that a panel that does not include anti-gay folks I somehow intellectually or morally devoid when it is precisely the opposite. You talk about how "complex" this issue of gay marriage is. It is no more complex than the issue of interracial marriage. How gay marriage rights might manifest themselves is complex, but you know what, you want a panel on gay rights with the Ralph Reed side of the issue presented, propose it. Don't expect the rest of us to cater to your peculiar version of equal opportunity for every vacuous side of an issue.
Stop with the Mr. Catsam crap. Derek is just fine.
As for your generalizations about the OAH, they were your generalizations. They were wrong. And they were wrong based on your making assertions about a conference you did not attand. All the verbiage in the world cannot mask that.
Meanwhile, yes, Jesse, I don't engage in both sides of other issues. believe that if you want, no matter how many discussions I get in on HNN (often based on my own articles, you might note) on a whole array of other issues. Nice try Jesse, but I've been here too long on too many issues to have someone tell me I merely serve to validate my prejudices. there is just too much evidence to the contrary here, and the accusation from someone who always takes a down the line conservative view is hardly the one to tell me about staying in ideological boxes.
Jesse David Lamovsky - 4/1/2004
How is it relevant it matter that Nazis persecuted homosexuals, way back in the day? Are we in Germany? Is this 1942? And no, Mr. Catsam, you did not say, in precise terms, that I hated gays. Nor do I really give a damn if you think I do, or if you think I’m allied with bigots. Sure, I am; so are you. Why don’t you just explain why you think gay marriage is such an inalienable right, the supposed “bigotry” of its detractors notwithstanding? Because that garbage you’re talking about white sheets and burning crosses has nothing to do with the issue.
Mr. Catsam, I never claimed to know the ideological slant of every single attendee at the OAH meeting. I’m simply going on what Mr. Shenkman wrote- so please don’t hang me on his words. Nor did I ever state explicitly that the lack of balance on the “gay marriage” panel was characteristic of the entire meeting. All I said was that I thought it was kind of strange to allow only one side of an issue in a panel discussion, and I still do, particularly when the issue is as complicated as that of gay marriage. What kind of a discussion could take place in an Israel/Palestine symposium if the panelists were, say, Noam Chomsky, Alexander Cockburn, and Adam Shapiro? Or, conversely, if the panelists were Daniel Pipes, Jeff Jacoby, and Jackie Mason? I know that both sides of that issue can, and will, play the bigot card whenever possible. What would be the point of such a discussion at all, in either case? What’s the point of having a panel discussion on anything remotely controversial if everyone is in total agreement on the basics of the issue in the first place? What can you possibly learn from such a discussion? You can have your opinions, or in your case, your prejudices validated, but I didn’t know that was the point of a panel discussion, or of a university in general. As for the panel on white supremacy, I’m less interested in the fact that there were no National Alliance or World Church of the Creator members on that panel, than I am in the panelists’ view of “white supremacy”. And I’m definitely not interested in who your brother wants to marry, nor am I interested in overturning the United States Constitution so he, or anyone else, can get a tax break. Sorry.
Thomas W Hagedorn - 4/1/2004
You must really be upset about something.
Derek Charles Catsam - 4/1/2004
Thomas, Thomas, Thomas --
You were the one who called others (not me -- it was a broad, and thus even more irresponsible brush stroke) Stalinist. (Long ago, I know, but the inference comes from your posts # 32700 and #32730, both dated from today, March 31) Then you justified it by whining "if others are going to call republicans fascist" (also post 32730 in case you've forgotten that little blast of maturity) blah, blah, blah rationalizing boilerplate. So FIRE is indicative of widespread evidence of what? That there are abuses in academia is not on the table as something worth arguing. Of course there is -- from left and right. But you see it everywhere. It is not. the overwhelming majority of my colleagues are responsible people who want to teach and write. You take small examples and paint it to reflect the whole. It isn't my ignoring evidence, but rather your willful misuse of it that is the problem.
Derek Charles Catsam - 4/1/2004
What half of America am I marginalizing? In your zeal to try to make a point apparently you forget about making sense. What is your argument in this last post? Do all Republicans oppose gay marriage? (Hint for those not deft enough to know a rhetorical question when they see it -- see Sullivan, Andrew; see also Log Cabin Republicans; see also tolerant Republicans who believe in gay marriage; some exist. Many exist. Most Republicans are not bigots.) And if not, then what does some vacuous red state, blue state pseudoanalysis have to do with it? There are, after all lots of Democrats in red states and lots of Republicans in blue states.
As for the third sentence in your pithy little affront to the language, what do you mean, precisely? Humanities departments are filled with centrist Democrats who all think alike? Is this your point in using Al Gore? Really? All humanities departments are alike in that way? This is so devoid of any sense of what humanities departments are and do as to be a caricature, albeit done by someone who draws caricatures that do not resemble their intended targets.
The Talking Heads did an album once, entitled "Stop Making Sense." I am encouraging, if only for your purposes, a sequel, "Start Making Sense. For the love of God, Please."
Thomas W Hagedorn - 4/1/2004
Web-site is http://www.thefire.org
Thomas W Hagedorn - 4/1/2004
Relax, you're going to have a stroke. I don't see what "name" that I called you, looking through my posts. About 10 years ago I was going to be exposed to a whole year of radical historian material in a senior capstone class in history(I felt it was inappropriate and dropped the class). That is where I am coming from on MARHO and the radical historians. If and when you are interested in looking at some evidence on repression of conservative thought on campuses, take a look at Alan Kors' (I'm not sure I have spelling right)organization FIRE. (I think it is Foundation for Individual Responsibility in Education) A google search should easily get you there. If you are happier ignoring the evidence, then by all means continue. Life is too short to get so upset. FIRE almost never loses in many actions against universities for discrimation, hardly ever having to file a lawsuit.
We had better both get back to work.
Thomas W Hagedorn - 4/1/2004
You can certainly marginalize 1/2 of America like it is no big deal. Let's face it, Bush's America, all those red counties from the 2000 election are just not found in humanities departments. No, the humanities looks like American, 1/2 of America, the Gore part.
Derek Charles Catsam - 4/1/2004
Bigotry against gays historically may not rise to the level of Malan or Dzerzhinsky. That does not make it substantial. I'd say any group that was targeted for extermination by the Nazis is pretty reasonably one that has been oppressed over the long haul.
Did I ever say you "hate" gays? Nope. Nice try. But yes, anti-gay bigotry I would place with the other examples I gave. If it makes you squeamish to be lumped with bigots, hey, how's this, don't espouse bigoted policies. See how it works? Can't go around wearing bedsheets and burning crosses and then complain that you've been lumped in with racists. Can't espouse policies discriminatory against gays and then lament being lumped in with those who don't like gays.
What I said Jesse (you are an incredibly sloppy reader --this "long, long college career" thing is beginning to make some sense now) was not that OAH was a "font of intellectual give and take," though peculiar that you who was not there would insinuate that it was not by focusing on one panel that you did not attand among many that you did not attend. I look forward to your opinions on books you have not read and movies you have not seen. What I did say, not all that complex, is that you could find it if you looked. As for selling myself short, my panel on white supremacy had wonderful range of viewpoints. One that wasn't there was one that said white supremacy was acceptable. If not including every single vewipoint is a sin than there is no virtue in any public forum, though I do await your support for every frings candidate to be part of this year's presidential debates, lest someone have their hypersensitie feelings hurt over inclusion.
And I don't need your validation as to my open mindedness, and I do like a good debate, but no, I don't have much interest in puting together a forum that would deny my brother the right to marry someone he loves. So call me intolerant of intolerance.
Jesse David Lamovsky - 3/31/2004
Sure, Mr. Catsam, some points of view are more valid than others. It’s that simple when it comes to the justice of engineered mass starvation and passbook laws, and the gay marriage issue is, obviously, that cut-and-dried as well. Sure, I could argue for or against the legalization of gay marriage based on natural law, constitutionality, cultural traditions, the role of government in personal relations, etc., but it’s really not that complex- what it really comes down to is whether or not I “hate” gays. Uh-huh. And if someone had the temerity to provide an opposing viewpoint to the academic orthodoxy, they’re really just the moral equivalent of Dr. Malan or Dzerzhinsky. Sure, I can see that.
And conservatives, of course, are just whiners and crybabies when they point out the lack of ideological diversity on college campuses. Maybe so. To an extent, I would actually agree with you, when it comes to people like David Horowitz. I can say for myself that in my long, long college career I don’t remember having a politically active instructor or prof that wasn’t a leftie, and it never bothered me much. Like I said before, I myself don’t necessarily have a problem with this bias- it just goes with the territory. Perhaps I should make a federal case out of this lack of balance, and make a blanket condemnation of academics as bigots who “hate” right-wingers, and demand that new federal bureaucracies be formed in order to ensure, at gunpoint, that university faculties “sound like America” in their political viewpoints. Maybe then I wouldn’t be “whining”; maybe then I’d be addressing a serious issue.
Indeed, Mr. Catsam, you were there, and I wasn’t. If the OAH meeting was a font of intellectual give-and-take, as you assure us it is, than I believe you. And if panel “discussions” that are closed to more than one viewpoint is your thing, than you’ve got it. More power to you. I just think you’re selling yourself short, is all. Actually, I thought you’d be a little more open-minded on the issue with the gay marriage panel, seeing as how you seem to enjoy a good debate, but, to paraphrase Clint Eastwood in “Magnum Force”, I suppose I misjudged you.
Derek Charles Catsam - 3/31/2004
How, precisely, are your views being repressed? Your definition of repression is whether or not one appears or does not appeasr on the OAH annual meeting program? Wow. Stalinism really has lost som eof its power to destory, eh?
So repression is out the window -- unless you are actually not writing in to HNN and reflecting your views and this is all a dream, like Bobby Ewing's death on Dallas.
Stalinism rewriting history? Er, so what? Are you accusing even a substantial number of historians of "rewriting history"? Do you actually know what historians do? So "some historians" "line up with Stalin and his methods"? Really? Wow. Nice that you have a sense of perspective. Nice that you have so much historical regard for the victims of Stalin's murderous regime that you are willing to appropruate its evil to rail against a group oif historians that are so far from being even on the fringes of the mainstream that almost none of us bother with them.
Read my other writings to see what I think about using the label fascist. But what, are you eight? "He called me a name so I called one to him back." Very grown up. Don't bother doing your own part in cleaning up the dialogue -- after all, it must be someone else's fault.
Meanwhile, what, precisely are your taxes paying for? And can we have a plebescite every time we nitpick one issue you do not want your taxes to pay for? I bet lots of antiwar types have ideas. I bet lots of folks in Michigan could give a damn about matching funds for California highways. In any case, you did not bother to respond to my point that most of the institutions you claim you pay taxes for actually are not as publicly funded as you think. Why, ignoring other people's arguments, that's exactly what Idi Amin would do, that must mean, omigosh, Thomas Hagedorn is an Aminist. Hey -- its nonsense, but it feels good. And after all, you started it.
Don't make me stop this car . . .
Thomas W Hagedorn - 3/31/2004
Was not a hallmark of Stalinism the repression of views that diverged from the orthodox? And did Stalinism not actively manage (and re-write) history for its own political purposes? Have you looked at MARHO and some of the radical historians and their philosophy of history? It matches up quite well with some of Stalins methods.
No, if some liberals want to use the Fascist label (and others) as loosely as they do, I feel quite justified in pointing out Stalinism when I see it. Especially when I am paying for it (OAH dues, taxes).
Derek Charles Catsam - 3/31/2004
Yes, of course, Stalinism lives on because many people (myself included) do not believe you should have the right to decide who can and cannot get married and enjoy the benefits of a legal institution sanctioning and recognizing (and giving concrete benefits to) based on your bigotry. And it is bigotry. You have no right to determine my brother's ability to marry someone he loves. It is bigotry that alows me to marry the next floozy who bats eyes at me but that limits a gay couple that has been in love for a decade not to be able to do so. This has nothing to do with Stalinism unless you have no idea who Stalin was and what he did. Perhaps this is the case. Stalinism is a manifestation of a particular time and place in Soviet history and of unfortunate, morally culpable folks in other places, including the US, who excused or denied those crimes. Opposing your views on other issues is not Stalinist. Those views may be wrong, but they have nothing to do with Stalin, Stalinism, or any of the other fatuous, conversation-stopping labels you may want to throw out.
And in any case, who is closing off debate? Am I missing something, or is it actually someone's god given right to have their view presented in every panel at a conference? We are talking about one panel. Why, as a matter of fact, I believe that view is being presented right here on HNN. I didn't realize that Mr. Hagedorn and his ilk supported affirmative action in this way. Not for the great-great grandchildren of slavery, of course, but certainly for someone who wants inclusion of conservative views on an OAH panel.
I've said it before and I'll say it again -- university professors are being paid to teach and write in their areas. If they go above and beyond that, it is their decision. That a professor opposes the war or supports abortion or believes that their lesbian partner ought to get benefits is of no moment when it comes to how their salary is paid if they are doing their job. That you believe such foolishness shows that your internal ideologue isn't exactly above reproach. Never mind that most professor's salaries at most state schools are not paid in full by state tax money or that NPR and PBS get much of their funding from nongovernmental sources. After all, that would make the issue complex rather than simplistic. And we know how complexity baffles many of the poor, beleaguered, when-am-I-gonna-catch-a-break conservative victims here at HNN.
Boo freakin hoo.
Thomas W Hagedorn - 3/31/2004
It seems that liberals have declared the end to debate on certain subjects. These probably include gay rights, affirmative action, unrestricted abortion, the War in Iraq, etc, etc, etc. No debate is necessary because they are morally right and their opponents are homophobes, racists, misogynist, war-monger, etc, etc, etc. In fact, they are so correct that it would be offensive to allow an opponent to speak. If you want examples, go to the "FIRE" web-site. Their positions are so blessed that others should pay so that they can express them, without balance from the opposition (eg. NPR, Public Television, public university faculty). Conservative campus newspapers need to be destroyed if they offend. Stalin is dead, but his legacy slowly shuffles on!
Derek Charles Catsam - 3/30/2004
Even most public institutions rely on huge infusions of private money. Here in Charlottesville only about 12% of UVA's operating budget is from state monies.
I posted this elsewhere but it holds for the complaints of Mr. Lamovsky and Mr. Hagedorn:
All ideas are not equally valid. I don't believe all panels on race should have a white supremacist on it. I do not believe every panel on the holocaust should have David Irving on it, I do not believe every panel on South Africa needs a right wing Afrikaner on it. I suppose that there are some who believe that a panel with Robert Conquest would also need a Stalinist on it. Not me. I love how conservatives so cravenly bow to the concept of ideological diversity as their whining totem. No one has yet explained why a solid panel on gay marriage needs someone opposed on it, of course. Just the assertion is enough.
If you were not at OAH, you probably are not qualified to speak about what diversity there was in the places where the conference happens -- in hotel bars, in restaurants, at coffee shops. It is not as much of a closed society as you cabalists all think it is. I had many good, disputitious discussions on terrrism and foreign policy and a range of other issues outside of my own panel on white supremacy (where, by your logic, there ought to have been a Klansman for it to have been worthwhile.)
Derek Charles Catsam - 3/30/2004
All ideas are not equally valid. I don't believe all panels on race should have a white supremacist on it. I do not believe every panel on the holocaust should have David Irving on it, I do not believe every panel on South Africa needs a right wing Afrikaner on it. I suppose that there are some who believe that a panel with Robert Conquest would also need a Satlinist on it. Not me. I love how conservatives so cravenly bow to the concept of ideological diversity as their whining totem.
Oscar Chamberlain - 3/30/2004
Good to hear your description of the private sector.
That had been my impression, but I was afraid that my glimpses had been selective. Also, the Wisconsin legislature just passed a proposed no gay marriage, no civil unions constitutional amendment. I assume the politicians would not have done so if they did not think a majority felt differently (or simply did not care very much.
Thomas W Hagedorn - 3/30/2004
I have no problem with your position. I do think you would find that most larger workplaces are very tolerant and comfortable for open gays. Some smaller companies and some blue collar venues are probably less so.
HNN - 3/30/2004
In an email to HNN Mr. Formwalt explained: "What OAH is concerned about is the lack of understanding about the nature of history itself. Anyone who accuses historians of being revisionists, does not understand the practice of professional history. We have an obligation to educate the broader public about the job of the historian which is to continually question our understanding of the past and to reinterpret the past in light of new facts or ways of thinking. History is the continual engagement of the present with the past--as the present changes, so does our understanding of the past."
HNN - 3/30/2004
The mandate of the committee is "to investigate reports of repressive measures having an impact on historians' teaching, research, employment, and freedom of expression." According to Lee Formwalt, executive director of the OAH, the committee has been asked to "collect and verify reports of actions by the government, officials of schools, colleges and universities, and self-designated groups dedicated to political surveillance, and report its findings periodically in the OAH Newsletter and in any other form the Executive Board deems appropriate."
Oscar Chamberlain - 3/29/2004
That is not what I meant. I was trying to suggest that working with people can change one's perspective. My contact with people who are openly gay and lesbian has led me to support their bid for equality in this area. Such openness is, for a variety of reason, far more likely to occur in an academic setting than in the population at large.
I was suggesting that I was not alone in having what I now consider prejudice dispelled by interaction. If I am right, then academics are more likely to support gay rights. Therefore, it will be harder to find neutral or opposed scholars.
Hard, but not impossible. I do agree that the session would have been better with someone taking an opposed, or at least a neutral position. Advocacy is not always the friend of good scholarship.
Christopher James Scott - 3/29/2004
What language did the OAH Business Meeting use to set up its repression committee? Will it be taken straight from the HAW resolution (including the suggested areas of inquiry)? I ask this because there are issues the committee should address, but might not, if they follow the guidelines given by HAW strictly. In particular, public historians outside of academia facing politically-motivated attacks might be left out: for example, the controversy surrounding the director of the Museum of Mobile's movie review of Gods and Generals and the subsequent attempt to censor/fire him last Fall. This would broaden the committee's responsibilities beyond those of central concern to Historians Against the War, but repression of historians can fall beyond the purview of War On Terror-related instances.
Also, does anyone know how its going to go about fulfilling its charge?
Thomas W Hagedorn - 3/29/2004
So, do I infer from your answer that because you have a morally correct position, it needs no debate? That is orthodoxy, and anti-intellectual. The "Gay Day" at the OAH should have had at least one "dissident". Similar to the IRAQ War teach-in at the OAH last year - one "neutral" and four Bush-baiters, of varying temperaments.
Oscar Chamberlain - 3/29/2004
How is a grade comparable to a sexual preference?
Oscar Chamberlain - 3/29/2004
A few answers:
For what it is worth, I would defend your inclusion in any of these forums so long as your scholarship is solid.
I would do so even if I disagreed vehemently with your perspective or your position (which I seem to do most of the time.)
Should the humanities are be privatized? Much of it already is. After all, there works of history, political science, novels, movies, even poetry that is not publicly subsidized. Many of these make more a public impact than academic scholarship or PBS documentaries.
I would argue that what is subsidized, for all its flaws, offers things that are unique and important, and that many of these simply would not happen if we only had a private sector.
- - -
An example. Take a look at the upcoming PBS documentary on new immigrants. Maybe you will like it; maybe you will hate it. Either way, admit this. Neither FOX nor any other conservative electronic media source would approach that topic at such length and with such seriousness.
In fact, the failure of conservatives to create alternative approaches to linking the humanities and the public is rather fascinating. The old excuse of PBS crowding out others is long gone in the cable, satellite, talk radio world. Conservatives are choosing to put their electronic media money elsewhere. Why is that?
And if it's just profit, then you have made the argument for why we need subsidies.
Darryl G. Hart - 3/29/2004
well, how abhorent is it to give a student a C or to deny someone tenure? the academy is filled with hierarchical arrangements that produce second-class members and worse. it strikes me as a tad hollow for academics to be quite so committed to equality.
Oscar Chamberlain - 3/29/2004
Perhaps it is simply that we have gay and lesbian colleagues and find the thought of making them second class citizens abhorrent.
How many times have you walked up to someone you knew personally and said, "You don't deserve equal rights."
Thomas W Hagedorn - 3/29/2004
I couldn't agree more. I had several abortive posts about this over the weekend. Either my computer or HNN's was acting up. As a political and moral conservative who is trying to be intellectually honest, I am debating with myself whether academic historians should be bypassed altogether. I question whether my work will be judged fairly, or attacked simply because the results may fly in the face of orthodoxy. I have worked to hard on my current project to have it destroyed for ideological reasons. I am considering the "Passion of the Christ" model - going directly to the masses of conservative people who are scorned and ignored by elite scholars, publishers, NPR, etc.
Should the humanities be privatized? I choose to support OAH now to get the journal and stay current on the history profession. I can't choose not to pay taxes to support these types of "debates" when they occur on publicly-supported campuses. I love classical music, but I refuse to give one dime to the laughingly-biased NPR. I should not be forced to fund an ideology that I vehemently oppose. Liberals would scream if they had to fund FoxNews, but I fund NPR, Bill Moyers and Public TV and public univerisity humanities departments that often have only a token conservative voice.
Jesse David Lamovsky - 3/28/2004
This entire selection reads like notes from a progressive slumber party.
A few questions:
1.) Is there any place for conservative historians in forums such as the OAH convention? I don't mean merely pro-war or pro-Bush neocon historians; I'm talking about people who are willing to discuss issues like civil rights and gay "marriage" from a right-wing perspective. Or is it all about a bunch of lefties nodding in unison and smirking about how they're giving "heartburn" to those racist, sexist, hetereocentric conservatives?
2.) What's the point of having a panel discussion if everyone on the panel is in lockstep agreement on the subject discussed ("The three members of the gay marriage panel argued in favor of gay matrimony")? Is consensus the goal here, as it was in the old Soviet Politburo?
3.) Should anyone be honestly surprised at "the absence of people in attendance at the panel on U.S. Empire and the Transnational History of Race in the Twentieth Century"?
4.) Given the out-and-out politicalization of this body, given how out-of-touch with mainstream opinion the members of this organization are, can Mr. Fornwalt, Mr. Shenkman, or anyone else honestly believe that the OAH is "the logical organization to correct" what's supposedly "wrong" about American history?
5.) Could any progressive out there name specific ways in which the social safety net has been "shredded" by conservatives? I've heard this allegation time and time again, and to the best of my knowledge, it has zero- zero- basis in fact (frankly, I wish it did).
I understand that the majority of historians- and academics in general- are progressives. That's fine, it goes with the territory. But one can't help being disturbed by the utter lack of ideological diversity and open-mindedness that seems to characterize the OAH. I would hope that even some of the more clear-headed progressives would agree that real debate is what fuels learning and insight; not simply Borg-like conformity to junk Marxoid theories.
Thomas W Hagedorn - 3/28/2004
Sorry, my first post did not go for some reason. The apparent lack of even one opponent to gay marriage is a sad commentary on the intellectual diversity of the academic history progession. If Mr. Formwalt hires his consultant, who will listen? I suspect it will only be people who did not need to be convinced in the first place. People listen and respond to debate and balanced discussion. People ignore propaganda. It is boring and pointless.
I missed "Gay Day" at the OAH. I think a day of reality TV would have been more entertaining.
Thomas W Hagedorn - 3/28/2004
I find it odd,to say the least, that for an organization that is supposedly dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge, there is such an absence of intellectual diversity. If our intellectual world is not completely overrun by Stalinism, future historians of history will a lot of fun with this.
Academic historians need to open the window and let some fresh air in. Orthodoxy is toxic to research (and learning).
John H. Lederer - 3/28/2004
My wife and I, for reasons inexplicable, have lately been watching pre-WWII British murder mysteries, comedies of manners, etc.-- Agatha Chirstie, Dorothy Sayers, P.G. Wodehouse -- that sort of thing.
What is quite striking is the uniformity of viewpoint of the small closed class society presented. Variations in opinion, regaded as sources of conflict by the auhtor, all occur on a very small segment of the potential spectrum. An occasional lower class person is allowed to intrude, the dustman who enters the gentlemen's club for comic relief, but is principally used only to emphasize his alienness.
Reading this report and the other report on the OAH, I am struck by the similarity in the societies presented.
Tina Braxton - 3/28/2004
Just a reader's report or the actual text? Please provide the actual text if possible. Thanks.
HNN - 3/27/2004
We are waiting for an HNN reader's report on the Zinn talk. We hope to b able to post it in a few days. -- Editor 3-26-04
Ed Schmitt - 3/27/2004
The recording of Johnson with the president of the Haggar company is available on Michael Beschloss's first volume on the Johnson Tapes, Taking Charge. The quote as rendered here isn't even as good as the real thing. I play it regularly for students in my survey courses - needless to say it brings history to life for them! Thanks for the updates on the OAH.
Sheldon M. Stern - 3/27/2004
Any details on the Zinn address?
mark safranski - 3/26/2004
" The panel on queer history was as controversial as its name. Wesleyan's CLAIRE BOND POTTER began with a story about J. Edgar Hoover as a cross-dresser, providing intimate details about his participation in a sex orgy at which he wore a dress and went by the name Mary. Potter admitted at the end that the story may not be true; it rests on the testimony of a single witness. But she said that didn't matter to students of queer history, which lays claim to gossip, rumor and innuendo"
I hearby lay claim to the use of delusions, slander and outright inventions as it suits me. Gee, history is pretty wide open these days........
- Historian Michael Ignatieff writes a memoir explaining why he failed in politics
- Olivia Remie Constable, director of the Medieval Institute at Notre Dame since 2009, passes away
- Arizona Historical Society soon could be history
- Yale's Donald Kagan says students need to study Western civilization
- Ken Burns on Colbert to promote his new documentary, "The Address"