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Apr 27, 2006 3:56 am

More Noted Things

Welcome Yuki Josephine MacDougall to the world!

Richard Reeves,"John Stuart Mill," Prospect, May 2006, is a thoughtful retrospective essay. It makes a number of provocative points and includes Mills' notorious observation that"I never meant to say that the Conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative." See also: Jason Kuznicki's reflections on Reeves' essay at Positive Liberty.

Jill Lepore,"Plymouth Rocked," New Yorker, 24 April, reviews Nathanael Philbrick, Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War, though that's not the most important reason to read Lepore's essay; and Edward J. Blum,"Grapes of Wrath," Books and Culture, April/May 2006, reviews Harry Stout's Upon the Altar of the Nation, which is the most important reason to read Blum's essay.

Scott McLemee's"A Day in the Life," Inside Higher Ed, 26 April, recounts his experience of the recent OAH convention and wonders if some young Richard Hofstadter is on his own historical trail.

After over 45 years at Cornell, Walter LaFeber, the Andrew H. and James S. Tisch Distinguished University Professor and Weiss Presidential Teaching Fellow, is retiring. His first book, The New Empire: An Interpretation of American Expansion, 1860-1898 (1963) won the AHA's Albert J. Beveridge Prize. I read his second, America, Russia, and the Cold War (1966), when I was in graduate school. It's now in a 9th revised edition. His Inevitable Revolutions: The United States in Central America (1984, 1992) won the Gustavus Meyers Prize; and The Clash: U.S.-Japanese Relations Throughout History (1997) received both the Bancroft Prize and the OAH's Ellis Hawley Prize. He's had a distinguished teaching career, as well. Excepting Condoleeza Rice, three of the four most recent National Security Advisors were students of Walter LaFeber.* He addressed his former students last night at a sold out event at New York's Beacon Theater on Broadway. Thanks to Eric Alterman for the tip.
*Alterman corrects himself here. That should read:"Excepting Condoleeza Rice, two of the three most recent National Security Advisors were students of Walter LaFeber."

The Daily Mail Picnic exposes the internet's threat to our culture's moral fiber."... And you'll turn into a paedophile if ever you take a look ...." Thanks to Eugene Volokh for the tip.

Dan Cohen at George Mason University reports on his recent test of Google Scholar and its competitor, Windows Live Academic. Both academic search engines are still in their Beta phase. Using"frontier thesis" as a test because of its elementary importance in American history, Cohen found that both search engines are still of limited usefulness in the humanities. In fact, Bill Turkel found that Google's main search yields more helpful results for"frontier thesis" than Google Scholar. Within 24 hours of Cohen's posting about the inadequacies of the academic search engines, however, Microsoft was in touch with him about what scholars in the humanities expect from an academic search engine.

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Jeremy Dupertuis Bangs - 4/27/2006

Professor Jill LePore reminds us of Samuel Eliot Morison's wise advice not to view the Pilgrims anachronistically: "relying on the 19th century to understand the 17th is a rather grave chronological error." Unaware that Morison was misled by the 20th-cent. squint of George Willison (1945), she repeats Willison's unfounded claim (accepted by Morison) that the passengers on the "Mayflower" consisted of 41 "religious dissenters who wanted to separate from the Church of England, and some sixty rather less pious passengers who were in search of nothing so much as adventure." LePore complains that author Nathaniel Philbrick tells more about "things like the Mayflower's sounding leads ... than about its passengers' religious convictions." Helping us out on that topic, she asserts that "The distinction between Pilgrims and Puritans is a 19th-century invention; in truth, their doctrinal differences were slight." John Robinson, the Pilgrims' pastor, wrote his 500-page book, A Justification of Separation (1610), to clarify the distinction that he and his followers considered urgent, important enough to motivate them to emigrate rather than participate in a national even though Puritan church. Whose lens is she peering through? And does she avoid reliance on the 19th century for her understanding of the 17th? According to LePore, "Mayflower" passenger Dorothy Bradford, "in sight of land, fell -- or more likely threw herself -- over the gunwales, and drowned." Well, Morison thought so. What was his source? Willison, who based his opinion on nothing more than a 19th-cent. novel by Jane G. Austin. But it's good to have a historian remind us that a journalist needs to be careful with the sources he relies on.

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