Cliopatria: A Group Blog
Aaron Bady (∞); Chris Bray (∞); Brett Holman (∞); Jonathan Jarrett (∞); Robert KC Johnson (∞); Rachel Leow (∞); Ralph E. Luker (∞); Scott McLemee (∞); Claire B. Potter (∞); Jonathan T. Reynolds (∞)
I'd especially like to hear from you if you've read - or written - something historical that isn't on the usual well-trodden history blog track: in new blogs (or ones that aren't yet well known), and in blogs that aren't usually focused on history.
You can email me at: sharon AT earlymodernweb.org.uk
I don't know enough about the history and geography of blogging to claim that this symposium format is unprecedented, but it does strike me as an interesting experiment in the uses of the medium. Farrell and Daniel Drezner have been two of the keenest contributors to discussions about blogging and scholarship; and, now, Farrell and Crooked Timber make a concerted effort at it. I can think of all kinds of possibilities for it being done by historians: reflections on the work of a single major historian, essays in comparative regional or area studies, a period symposium, etc. For such a symposium, a blog might invite special contributions from historians who are not members of the group, as the Crooked Timberites have done.
Symposia always involve concentrated work and it would not do for them simply to scroll rapidly down the screen when I post some scattered links to varieties of other interesting things on the net. Maybe, if Cliopatria were to sponsor such an event, we could ask History News Network to reserve a special page for it and feature the link on the mainpage for a week or so. Crooked Timber suspended regular posting for a day or so, when it was doing fund raising for the tsunami victims and I imagine that it will suspend ordinary posting to give this symposium due attention. There is much to think about here.
The easiest to obtain, and most concrete, evidence is professors’ voter registration patterns. But no direct link exists between such figures and what goes on in the classroom; at most, figures such as those of Duke’s History Department (32/0 Democrats) or recent hires at Cal and Stanford (96% Democratic of those who identified by party) suggest that ideological screening is occurring in recent hires or in designing recent lines.
The next level of evidence comes from examining hiring patterns within departments, as I have done regarding larger departments and US history. This approach, too, is at best imperfect. Certainly something’s wrong in a department like Michigan’s, which has balanced its 11 specialists in race in America and eight women’s historians with no U.S. diplomatic historians and only two active Americanists who research in political history. But answering abstract questions about how many political historians and how many social historians a department should have is difficult.
The next level centers on course websites or syllabi. Individuals (such as Vinay Lal’s American Democracy class) or entire institutions (Evergreen State) that offer transparently biased offerings frequently do so in the open, since they operate in such a one-dimensional ideological environment that they assume no challenge. Still, however, it’s hard to get a sense of exactly what goes in the classroom unless you’re actually there.
The search for concrete evidence of in-class bias is what makes Rashid Khalidi’s two sentences so interesting. From all accounts, Khalidi, whose endowed chair was partially funded by a grant from the government of the United Arab Emirates, is extraordinarily intelligent. His public face is also rather unlike some of his MEALAC colleagues, who Martin Kramer has tartly described as “garden-variety extremists.” Commenting on allegations of bias in Columbia’s MEALAC courses, Khalidi ruminated, “Most kids who come to Columbia come from environments where almost everything they’ve ever thought [about the Middle East] was shared by everybody around them. And this is not true, incidentally, of Arab-Americans, who know that the ideas spouted by the major newspapers, television stations, and politicians are completely at odds with everything they know to be true.”
What, exactly, are the assumptions behind this breathtaking statement?
--1.) The perspectives in the mainstream media and by politicians about the Middle East are untrue.
--2.) Arab-American students know the “truth” about the Middle East.
--3.) All Arab-American students essentially have common beliefs about the Middle East.
--4.) Most students who come to Columbia have never seen their beliefs about the Middle East challenged. This probably exists for Arab-American students as well, but since they know the “truth” about the Middle East, it’s OK.
Operating from these assumptions, it’s easy to see how MEALAC professors could teach a wholly biased course. Indeed, they would view it as their responsibility to expose the “truth” about the Middle East to all of Columbia’s non-Arab students, who have been brainwashed by “the ideas spouted by the major newspapers, television stations, and politicians.”
Here’s an alternative scenario for Khalidi:
--1.) The comments in the mainstream media and by politicians about the Middle East are sometimes true and sometimes untrue.
--2.) Arab-American students are no more likely than any of their colleagues to know the “truth” about the Middle East, and the small percentage that get their version of events from the Arab media are probably less likely to know the “truth.”
--3.) All Arab-American students do not have common beliefs about the Middle East.
--4.) Most students who come to Columbia probably don’t know very much about the history of the Middle East, or about any area outside of the United States (or even, arguably, about the history of the United States). They don’t need to be de-brainwashed: they need to be taught.
All four of the above statements are assumptions on my part. But I think they’re more intellectually defensible than Khalidi’s two sentences.
Khalidi’s interview revealed one other interesting assumption: that this controversy has been caused by an “idiot wind” blown by people determined “to shut down Middle East studies.” Claims by Jewish students about unfair treatment need to be examined closely, since there is, he claims, “no reason for a person who’s Jewish at Columbia to feel persecuted.”
I can think of a few reasons why Jewish students might feel uncomfortable:
--More than 100 professors signing a petition demanding that Columbia divest from Israel, a move the institution’s own president termed “grotesque”;
--A department chairman, Hamid Dabashi, describing all Jewish citizens of Israel in crude anti-Semitic stereotypes;
--A professor, Joseph Massad, defended by dozens of colleagues, publicly labeling Zionism a racist ideology.
Why does Khalidi disagree? Columbia has a campus Hillel—and its Hillel has “ten, twelve paid employees.” He ascertained this fact by looking, in the presence of a reporter, at Hillel’s website, which, he reports, “blew my mind.” CU’s Hillel (which, like all branches of Hillel, is affiliated with Columbia but is a private organization with no say in how the university is run) actually only has seven employees. But what’s an incorrect fact among those who know the “truth” about the Middle East?
First, a long article in New York that offers a persuasive interpretation of events. The most important points put forth by New York reporter Jennifer Senior:
--1.) As occurred in the Jerusalem Post story, the public comments of Columbia president Lee Bollinger suggest that he understands the basics of the problem—a sharp contrast with the “see-no-evil/hear-no-evil” approach followed by administrators at other institutions, such as Duke or Cal-Berkeley, that have faced similar issues.
When asked about Professor Joseph Massad’s strategy of stating in his syllabus that he offers a biased course, and that students who want a complete view of Middle Eastern affairs should not take his offering, Bollinger argued, “I believe a disclaimer before starting your course is insufficient. It doesn’t inoculate you from criticism for being one-sided or intolerant in the classroom . . . If you’re asking, in the abstract, ‘Can a faculty member satisfy the ideal of good teaching by simply saying at the beginning, I’m going to teach one side of a controversy and I don’t want to hear any other side and if you don’t like this, please don’t take my course,’ my view is, that’s irresponsible teaching.”
And when asked about former MEALAC chairman Hamid Dabashi’s written statement, about Israeli Jews, that “half a century of systematic maiming and murdering of another people has left its deep marks on the faces of these people. The way they talk, the way they walk, the way they handle objects, the way they greet each other, the way they look at the world. There is an endemic prevarication to this machinery, a vulgarity of character that is bone-deep and structural to the skeletal vertebrae of its culture,” Bollinger replied that Dabashi is free to say or write whatever he wants outside of the classroom. But, he added, “I want to completely disassociate myself from those ideas. They’re outrageous things to say, in my view.” Administrators can and should use their moral power to set the intellectual tone of the university; Bollinger’s willingness to condemn Dabashi’s ill-concealed anti-Semitic remarks is a commendable use of his authority.
--2.) Senior argues that a lack of intellectual diversity—rather than intimidation of students—is the key issue in the MEALAC controversy. Remarkably, both the department’s critics and its supporters concede that its recent hiring patterns and administrative leadership have demonstrated little regard for creating an intellectually diverse climate. They disagree only on whether an area studies program should attempt to accomplish this goal.
Zachary Lockman, chairman of the Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies department at New York University, sees little wrong with MEALAC skewing in an Arabist direction. (Makes you wonder what sort of education NYU students in his field are getting.) “I think you can see this the other way,” he argues. “That universities or these departments are very much in the minority in the larger American setting. What you get from the media or government officials on the Middle East, the whole way the debate is framed, is very different.” This, of course, assumes that most undergraduates are: (a) aware of how “the media or government officials on the Middle East” frame the debate; and (b) it is the job of a university department to offer a diametrically opposed perspective. Those are pretty big assumptions.
Columbia professor Richard Bulliet more realistically argues that “the university should have looked at MEALAC five or ten years ago. It’s become locked into a postmodernist, postcolonialist point of view, one that wasn’t necessarily well adapted to giving students instruction about the Middle East.” More pointedly, Martin Kramer, the most effective critic of Middle Eastern studies programs around, laments that “at Columbia, Middle East studies became a rogue department, a friend-brings-a-friend department, and the guys who came in on Said’s coattails didn’t have his finesse. They were just garden-variety extremists.” As a result, the tendency was “to reinforce their ranks with like-minded people. Which may make the faculty meetings and sherry parties more pleasant. But the students lose.”
On another front, FIRE president David French has publicly urged Columbia president Lee Bollinger to dismiss the New York Civil Liberties Union’s defending the behavior of MEALAC professors. In a bizarre letter, the NYCLU affirmed its commitment to “ideological diversity, pluralism and tolerance in the campus community”—and then dismissed criticism of the MEALAC professors as part of an"assault" on academic freedom, accepted at face value Joseph Massad’s highly dubious characterization of his critics as engaging in a “witch hunt,” and contended that students could challenge the viewpoints of professors in the classroom only “if invited to do so by the professor.”
The NYCLU letter, French noted, “understates the appropriate levels of academic freedom and overstates the primacy of professors in the academic process,” especially in its argument that students may advance criticism in the classroom only if permitted by the professor. French added that"according to the NYCLU's reasoning, if a professor had not given permission for in-class dissent, a student could be forced to sit through a professor's defense of racial segregation - and even through a classroom discussion in support of segregation - without protest."
Academic freedom is primarily a right given to professors, but students possess in it a more limited form, and so the NYCLU’s idea that professors can tell students who disagree with them that the students can’t ask questions is absurd. Meanwhile, Bollinger’s frank defense of intellectual diversity suggests that this crisis might have a happy resolution.
One of them said, “Well, at least I won’t have to think about African history any more.” Sympathetic murmur from her colleague. “Reading all those letters and dossiers! All those pointless little countries!”
I had to pinch myself to avoid saying something. I sometimes think every Africanist begins their career in a midnight ritual where they burn Hugh Trevor-Roper’s infamous declaration, “There is only the history of Europeans in Africa. The rest is darkness and darkness is not a subject of history,” into their memory. In some ways, the entire field of African history is imagined as a sustained answer to Trevor-Roper.
Almost any practicing Africanist nurtures an exquisitely fine-tuned sense of their own exclusions, both imaginary and real, from the larger discipline. Almost any AHA meeting I’ve been at, I’ll bump into an Africanist colleague who will mope about their perception of Africa’s exclusion from the program.
This is partly why I bit my lip, because I generally don’t share in the complaining by my colleagues. Sure, that overheard lament does make me roll my eyes a little, and makes me feel a little bit sorry for whomever the future colleague of the historian on the plane might be. Still, there’s something to it. Not that Africa’s history is the history of a bunch of pointless little countries, but that clamoring for an equal place at the disciplinary table is something best done within the intellectual marketplace, not by guilt-tripping the incurious and smug.
Sometimes African history really is written as the history of little places, and the only answer it provides to the question, “So what?” is “Because it is there”. Africanists have themselves to blame some of the time: like all area studies scholars in history, they have a tendency to lock themselves up inside their geographical and temporal box and assume that its relevance is self-evident. This is true of course even in European or U.S. history: both fields boast many monographs about topics whose significance is evident only to a small handful of fellow specialists, if even to them.
Not everyone should have to write history to answer the most compelling, marketable and wide-ranging kinds claims of significance. Somebody has to write careful scholarship about the detailed empirical history of places like the Central African Republic in order for wider or more expansive interpretations of that history to exist. But I think Africanists often neglect the second task and regard the value of the first as self-evident. Written too much and too self-centeredly in that way, African history really does amount to the pointless history of many little countries.
To matter, any field of historical writing has to eventually lodge meaningful claims about why it matters with a wider range of historians, intellectuals and various publics. I suspect many of us work in fields where eavesdropping on planes or in bars at AHA meetings could be irritating. My Cliopatria colleague KC Johnson seems to suspect, for example, that he would overhear social historians and others dismissing diplomatic and political history as boring and reactionary. His suspicions are correct. I haven’t just overheard such conversations, but I’ve nodded neutrally at others making such remarks.
All casual remarks about our own specializations made by others bear some truth to them. The reaction to older modes of writing in diplomatic and political history isn’t entirely unfair: some of it really was unusually sterile and formal in the way it defined its subjects of legitimate interest. Some military history really has been written with a kind of breathlessly boys-own-adventure celebration of battle minutia. Some social history of Annales variety really does act as if quantifying something is tantamount to analyzing it. Some history-from-below ends up disfigured by its own presumptions of radical achievement. Some cultural history wallows in the hopelessly trivial and prattles on expansively about transgressiveness. Name a field, and there’s a stereotype to match that a pair of well-tuned ears can pick up out of the background noise in the hotel restaurant at any given annual meeting.
Some of the stereotypes amount to well-honed secret weapons in the ceaseless turf wars between specialists, the war to claim positions, journals, grants and so on. Some of them are honest reactions to the actual content of a field. Whichever it is, the only answer is to write history as if every word, every idea, every argument has to earn its own keep with the widest possible legitimate audience, to not rely on the in-built crutches and alibis that our fellow specialists provide us. That’s really why I didn’t say anything: it would amount to nothing more than a self-conscious scolding reservation of my own team’s place at the table, not a persuasive argument about why particular African histories matter to more than those who lived them.
1) The Historic Tale Construction Kit challenges you to create your own Bayeux tapestry; but
2) So far as I can tell, Die Wagenschenke has no redeeming social value. Call it a test of your fine motor skills.
The Brass Crescent Awards are presented to Muslim blogs and blogs interested in the Muslim world. Friends of Cliopatria are nominated in several categories.
From A Fist Full of Euros, Scott Martens'"Daniel Pipes on Tariq Ramadan: Why French Literacy Still Matters" is nominated for Best Single Post.
From Chapati Mystery, Sepoy's"Religion in America" is nominated for Best Series.
Sepoy's Chapati Mystery is also nominated for Most Deserving of Wider Recognition.*
The nominees for Best Non-Muslim Blog include a number of Cliopatria's friends: Abu Aardvark, American Amnesia, Amygdala, Angry Arab, Brian's Study Breaks, Head Heeb, and Juan Cole's Informed Comment.
Abu Aardvark is also nominated for Best Thinker.
Don't forget to vote!
* That Sepoy, he's something else. Chapati Mystery was chosen Best Pakistani Blog in the Asian Blog Awards 2004, you recall. I wonder if he'd be interested in being a Cliopatriarch? Nah, probably not.
The weekend sabbatical leaves me with some catching up to do. Cliopatria's History Blogroll continues to grow. I want to call attention to a recent addition to it, War Historian by Mark Grimsley, a prize-winning historian at Ohio State, and to another blog we've not yet had a chance to add, Serving the Word by Seth L. Sanders, a post-doctoral scholar at the University of Chicago. Grimsley and Sanders are especially effective bloggers in their fields of military history and ancient near eastern studies. You are sure to hear more from both of them.
In turn, many thanks to Kevin Drum at Political Animal for including Cliopatria on his list of Blogs for the New Year! We are in very worthy company on Kevin's list. Cliopatria welcomes all political animals!
Prayers rise up to heaven like incense. They rise up from the just and the unjust alike. They rise up from quarterbacks when they throw the big pass, from children during exams, from the guilty and the innocent in prisons around the world. They rise up from victims of torture who die surrounded by laughter. They rise up from the torturers when someone they love is ill. A prayer is implicit, even if unintended, in every “damn” that has been uttered. Maybe there’s a bit of one with every coin that gets tossed in a Salvation Army can, that this money will do some good.
William Safire in his column “Where Was God?” reminds us of Voltaire and the Lisbon Earthquake (though he misreads Voltaire I think). He reminds us of Job. He concludes in a manner that affirms the right to ask God why but not the right to abandon faith, but, for the life of me, I see nothing in what Safire says that encourages faith in the decency of any Almighty who might be out there.
You would think that means that I like this column by Heather MacDonald, when she suggests boycotting worship until God does a better job. Perhaps it is simply that the idea of the column is a bit better than the execution. Or perhaps flip atheism seems as superficial as most affirmations of deity in the face of disaster.
I do not speak here of personal faith of people caught up in calamity. One does not need faith to see the power of faith to buoy up those in pain. But I see no explanatory power in faith, nothing that explains in a way that I find satisfactory the movement of tectonic plates and the consequences of that motion.
Stephen Crane’s short story, “The Open Boat,” is one of those much anthologized short stories that deserves its prominence. Men shipwrecked in an open boat struggle to survive. Faith does not save them. God does not save them. By helping each other, most live, but the man who does most to help dies in the last frantic swim to shore.
The response to the Tsunami reminds us that human beings can do something well. That many who respond do so out of love of what they call God reminds us that religion inspires good acts every day. But for me, as for Voltaire, or Crane, it seems more of a confirmation of the fundamental indifference to the individual of the forces that permeate the universe, even as we strive to carve out an enclave where caring matters.
These bloggers and their commenters have discussed various implications of this proposal. I just want to explain why, as an early modernist who studies crime, and women's history, it sent a particularly nasty shiver down my spine.
In 1624, the English Parliament passed an 'Act to prevent the destroying and murthering of bastard children', which remained in force until the early 19th century (its replacement was not, however, greatly different). It wasn't just English law: there were similar laws passed in other European countries around this time. This particular statute expressed concern that 'lewd women' who bore bastards, 'to avoid their shame, and to excape punishment', secretly buried or hid their children's deaths, afterwards claiming, if the body were found, that the child had been still-born.
There was indeed a problem for law-enforcers in such cases, of proving that the death of a new-born infant was the result of violence rather than natural causes. It was just as much of a problem, though, with babies born to married women as unmarried ones (and frequently almost as difficult with older infants too, in a period of high levels of infant mortality, when natural death could come suddenly from many only half-understood sources). It was the 'lewd women' concealing their 'shame', not anxieties about cruelty and violence towards babies and small children, that was the primary issue with the law-makers.
So, the statute enacted that any woman who secretly gave birth to a illegitimate child and killed it, or procured its death, or attempted to conceal its death, 'whether it were born alive or not' (my emphasis), should 'suffer death as in case of murther'. That is: the Act did not, quite, presume murder in such cases; it simply made the concealment of a death in itself a hanging crime.
In practice, as it turns out, right from the start (but increasingly so in the 18th century) courts and juries interpreted the evidence in cases brought before them with considerably leniency; sometimes they subverted the intent of the law altogether.* Most defendants were acquitted; many of those convicted were pardoned; they were rarely (though I wouldn't go so far as to say never) executed unless there was clear evidence of severe violence committed on the body of a child - in other words, where they'd probably have been convicted of common law homicide in any case.
But even if acquitted they still had to go through the trial; and given the hostile reactions of neighbours expressed in pre-trial depositions (it was those neighbours, mostly married women, whose efforts brought cases to trial in the first place), it might be wondered what happened to them after they were freed. Even if they escaped the worst penalties of the law, they had been publicly exposed and humiliated. Some historians have seen the trials as intended to warn all other unmarried women of the perils of unchastity as much as to punish those on trial. If so, it mattered little if there were few hangings and the law was in essence operating as its creators intended: to help control and discipline the sexual behaviour of unmarried women. (Whether the 'warnings' in fact deterred any women from extra-marital sexual activity is, of course, another matter.)**
I'm not suggesting that the 1624 infanticide statute directly resembles the recent Virginia proposal. But I can't get away from the echoes in my head. This was the rationale given by the politician primarily responsible for the proposal, when explaining that they hadn't really intended it to cover what it seemed to cover (and stating that it would be redrafted to make it clearer):
This bill was requested by the Chesapeake Police Department in its legislative package due to instances of full term babies who were abandoned shortly after birth. These poor children died horrible deaths. If a coroner could not determine if the child was born alive, the person responsible for abandoning the child could only be charged with is the improper disposal of a human body.
Back in the early seventeenth century, by the way, there was considerable suspicion (not to say panic) that there were many 'lewd' women getting away with their promiscuity, by means of murder, and that the known instances were probably just the tip of an iceberg. Hence the need for such drastic action. We'll never know if they were right about the numbers. But they were certainly wrong about what kinds of women were likely to be desperate to conceal their 'shame': not disreputable 'lewd' ones - why would they care? - but women who had a reputation to lose, and whose livelihood depended on maintaining that reputation (a high proportion of women accused under the 1624 statute were servants).
Why do women perceive this new proposal as primarily an attempt to control them, their bodies and their sexual activity? Because the criminal law is not the way to solve a problem like this, any more than it was in the 17th century: if you're really concerned to prevent the abandonment and death of newborn babies, what's needed are not punishments but places where women can leave them safely and without stigma: the principle of Thomas Coram's Foundling Hospital in the 18th century. A law that penalises concealment in this way achieves little except to make women in those circumstances even more isolated and put them and their babies alike at even greater risk: if a woman is already desperate enough to hide her pregnancy, give birth alone and abandon (or kill) her child afterwards, a law like the one that was proposed in Virginia is irrelevant except that it'll make her even more desperate to cover up what's happened to her. Ask more historians like me:*** this is old, old territory. We shouldn't need to be going over it again in the 21st century.
* By the 18th century, for example, women on trial often presented linen and other items as evidence that they had prepared for a live birth - therefore, they had not intended to kill their babies - and this was routinely accepted to produce acquittals. But, strictly speaking, it was entirely irrelevent to the wording of the statute.
** Despite the images of lewdness and promiscuity, it seems that many early modern single women who engaged in sexual intercourse did so in the context of established relationships, often only after promises of marriage; there is a good deal of statistical evidence that, while rates of illegitimacy were quite low during the period, rates of pre-marital pregnancy were much higher.
*** This is not, these days, a neglected historical subject: a couple of bibliographies. (Not to mention a good deal of modern criminological research on neonaticide and infanticide.)
However, he is an intelligent man and at times a keen observer, as this short interview in Japan Today reminded me. This wasn’t precisely his point, but his comments caused me to see internationally oriented secularists not as a wave of the future, nor as an endangered species but as a sort of intellectual specialty to be used or ignored as needed by the politicians of a more religious majority.
William Saletan has started a Blog called Human Nature: Science, Culture, and Politics. It is posted as a permanent column at Slate. So far it looks pretty interesting, though his format may tempt him into glibness on occasion.
Also at Slate, the daily summary of the morning papers notes that most papers don’t give front page attention to the treaty that may end the war in the Sudan. I guess Tsunamis are a better fit to the Storm Stories mentality of Americans and the American media.
Perhaps the Bush Administration thinks the same. At the blog NathanNerman.org is the suggestion that the Administration is going to pay for the aid to Tsunami victims by reducing other humanitarian aid. This is not fully documented, and I hope it’s wrong. But would anyone who knows this administration be surprised?
Best New Blog Choose one from among the following:
Early Modern Notes
** John Holbo is conducting a shameless campaign based on the claim that Size, i.e., Grotesque Length, Matters. I submit that Holbo has been taking advantage of too many spam promos lately. Natural endowment should count for something.***
*** In light of envious, petulant, and skeptical comments here, I should note that Burke refused to pose for the camera in full Cliopatriarchal regalia. The robes, the mitres and scepters, and the gold rings had to be removed. The man won't even wear a tie for an AHA convention.
I don't teach classes before 9am: I just don't function at that level that early. I haven't taken a class that started before 9am since I was a first year college student. Conferences are high-energy affairs, requiring concentration in the sessions (yes, lecture has its flaws as a teaching method), constant movement in the book exhibits (and, in Seattle, shuttling back and forth between the main sites), and high-intensity social relations (old friends, new connections, mentors and mentees, interviews, etc). So by the last day, everyone is a bit tired. Instead of the leisurely breakfast-panel-lunch-panel-dinner schedule of days two and three, day four's first panel starts an hour earlier, and the second panel comes only a half-hour after the first one ends. Four hours of panel presentations and discussions in four and a half hours. I'm not entirely unfamiliar with this: the Asian Studies Annual runs panels through the lunch hour, and there's way too much good material being presented for me to skip a session without really good reason; US historians probably feel that way at the AHA and OAH, but I'm an Asianist.
Anyway, I went to the panel on Marginal Japanese Voices. The paper on discourses of whiteness in interwar Hawaii Japanese communities was interesting and had some good visuals, but would have benefitted from a clearer distinction between whiteness as Caucasianality and whiteness as a traditional Japanese marker of beauty (by traditional, I mean a thousand years or more). To be fair, anytime you tackle Hawaiian race relations it gets complicated quickly. Most interesting point: criticisms of middle-class Hawaii Japanese as"haole-fied" (haole being the Hawaiian term for Caucasians, particularly ones who aren't very much like Hawaiians) very much resemble the attacks on African Americans who pursue education and upward mobility as"acting white." The second paper addressed a late 18c catalog of"eccentrics" and the variants and followups it engendered: again, there are precedents in the classical and medieval era for similar collections of extraordinary individuals, so it was hard to accept the idea that this collection tells us something distinctive about the late-18/early-19c. The final paper, introducing us to a diary of an anti-colonial, Christian Socialist Japanese teacher in colonial Korea, would have benefitted from less discussion of the physical and organizational details of the diary and much more of the content promised in the talk title. Based on the discussant's comments, the actual paper starts with the teacher's arrest in 1930, the culmination of his rapid radicalization from 1928 on, leading to an attempt to organize an anti-colonial teacher's union. The first eight years of the diary are apparently quite apolitical, so a good analysis of the politicization could be worth looking forward to.
The second session was also about margins, this time the borders of acceptable behavior for historians. Ron Robin and Jon Weiner, both authors of books on what Robin called"deviancy" among historians, both gave stripped-down versions of their work. Robin went first, starting with a discussion of the ways in which cyberspace serves as a powerful tool for the unethical, the discovery of the unethical, discussion of ethics and behavior and cataloging past discussions of unethical behavior. Interestingly, as Robin pointed out, often the discussions of transgressions slip away from specific acts toward more general critiques of actors (e.g., the way the discussion of Ambrose turned his plagiarism into an example of the problems that come with slippage from professionalism to popularism); conversely, attacking writers' ideas by focusing hypercritical attention on details is a powerful diversionary tactic. Robin offered two conventional interpretations of the scandals as crisis -- the ironic postmodern challenge to"fussy" realism; the"disease" model of academia as socially corrupt -- but also proffered his interpretation of the scandals as necessary, healthy, didactic moments of the enforcement of norms. Jon Weiner offered a more political analysis of the scandals, concluding that the retreat of professional societies from investigation and enforcement has left the field open for political activists and irresponsible media.
Peter Hoffer, who also has a book on the scandals, wasn't on the panel, largely because the eleven month-long lead time from panel proposal to conference predated publication of his book. But David Hollinger, a member of the AAUP Academic Freedom Committee, stepped into the breach, offering a vigorous analysis of the"political balance" problem, which David Horowitz and others have cast in the language of scandal. He drew on Bernard Wilson's Truth and Truthfulness to provide a definition of professional discourse which is within a credentialed and professionally accountable community, with" concentric circles" of involvement and expertise drawing in the public without surrendering authority. Hollinger used Economics and Philosophy as examples of fields with high levels of discipline and very low levels of engagement with outsider interests: this is dysfunctional, in Hollinger's opinion, but worth considering as proof that, while academia should not be a"fortress" for scholars to retreat from engagement with broader discourses, it should nonetheless be capable of protecting autonomous departments from outside pressure when it so chooses. Neologism alert:"provostial" courage or cowardice are crucial components of the level of engagement, as academic leaders can both hold departments accountable and allow them to police themselves. Carla Rahn Philips, former VP of the AHA Professional Division, finished up with a discussion of the importance of"intellectual border control" to keep the adjudication of transgression out of the hands of irresponsible media and"loose cannons" of the internet (that's us, I think). She cited Eugene Genovese's comments on the founding of the Historical Society
reorienting the historical profession toward an accessible, integrated history free from fragmentation and over-specialization. The Society promotes frank debate in an atmosphere of civility, mutual respect, and common courtesy. All we require is that participants lay down plausible premises, reason logically, appeal to evidence, and prepare for exchanges with those who hold different points of view.as a definition of functional and accountable professionalism, but the HS isn't going to get into the business of investigating charges of malfeasance anytime soon, either.
Then Ralph and I had lunch and wandered over to Chinatown, wandered back and parted. I picked up the traditional"what did you bring me?", went back to the hotel, talked to my wife, wrote this, and that's it.
The first issue of the History Carnival will be posted at Early Modern Notes sometime on or around Friday 14 January. Submissions will be taken right up till Friday, which gives you time to decide on your favourite history posts to submit (and to write the ones you've been meaning to get around to, for that matter...).
Firstly, Check out the Carnival homepage for general guidelines. Please note the following points in particular:
It must be stressed that it's not just for academics and specialists, that entries certainly don't have to be heavyweight scholarship. But they do have to uphold certain standards of factual accuracy and critical use of evidence... They may be focused on a historical topic, on the author's particular research interests or, alternatively, on the particular challenges and rewards of studying, researching and teaching history. Other examples of possible candidates for inclusion could include reviews of history books or web resources, discussions of 'popular' histories (films, dramas and documentaries, novels, etc).
NB, however, two important points:
1. Entries should go beyond posts that consist only of web links or of quotes from other sources with no (or very little) discussion;
2. Although they may be controversial (because good history often is), please don't submit posts that are simply polemics on current issues or partisan politics. (Writing that engages with the past to discuss present issues will be considered, but should involve significant historical content and analysis.) ...
If you're unsure about a post, send the link to me anyway and I'll look at it and decide.
How to submit entries
To submit a blog post for inclusion, please send the following information to me at: sharon AT earlymodernweb DOT org DOT uk (replace AT with @ and DOT with . and close up the spaces), and put 'History Carnival' clearly in the title of your email. (Just in case my email software dumps messages from unfamiliar senders in the spam folder.)
1. The title and permalink URL of the blog post you wish to nominate and the author's name (or pseudonym).
2. The title of the blog on which it appears (please note if it is a group blog).
You can submit your own work or that of others, but please do not submit more than one post per author (except in cases where an author has posted on the same subject in multiple instalments).
Because this is the first Carnival, and because of the lull over Christmas, I'll consider posts from the beginning of December onwards. (In subsequent Carnivals, if things go well, the usual aim will be to exclude anything more than about a month old, and to concentrate on posts published since the previous Carnival.)
Finally, the host of the second Carnival is likely to be Ralph Luker here at Cliopatria, but I'll give him a chance to recover from the AHA meeting before that's finalised. Others who volunteered last week should also be hearing from me soon to discuss dates for their tour of duty. (I'll be looking for further volunteers some time in February, I hope.)
From left to right: Greg Robinson, Ralph Luker, Tim Burke, Jonathan Dresner. Picture by Rick Shenkman.
"There are not enough jails, not enough policemen, not enough courts to enforce a law not supported by the people." -- Hubert H. HumphreyAt lunch today I attributed that to Herbert Hoover.... I had the great pleasure of lunching with some of my favorite people whom I've never met. Well, technically, I met Ralph yesterday, but it's still a new experience, and great fun. Tim Burke is as smart in person as he is in cyberspace: it's hard to keep up, but fun to try. Greg Robinson has only just begun to blog with us, and I am even more convinced now that he belongs in this group: wide-ranging interests and experiences, and I'll always look forward to hearing what he has to say. And technically this isn't the first time I've met Rick Shenkman, but it has been three (or four?) years: I remembered him looking more like Ralph and he remembered me without the beard which I've had since 1988. Between them, I think they know something about everyone doing American history today. You've been warned.
That would be the highlight of my day, if it weren't for the fact that my panel was this morning, so I'm going to have to call it a tie. It may be true, as my father says, that anything worth doing is worth doing at the last minute... but the next time I give a paper I'm going to try to have a thesis and a structure, not just"a confused heap of facts," more than 24 hours before the panel presentation. (Note to self: Just because the neon sign says"24 Hours" doesn't mean that the copy shop is open after midnight Friday. Check the actual hours on the door in small print.) That said, once I realized that chronology wasn't getting me anywhere and went to a functional organization, the paper took shape quite naturally and the presentation went pretty well: by which I mean that only the people who had read my draft knew how different it was from the presentation (OK, you know now, too). Our discussant was very kind to me in his comments, nonetheless.
My copanelists gave very interesting papers. Marnie Anderson's research is on a discussion of women's voting rights in the early Meiji (1870s, for the purposes of this panel) which hinged on the question of whether female heads of household could have voting rights to go along with the economic and legal privileges of household headship: political rights for men were also bound up with property, and there were serious proposals that the equation of property and political rights be consistently applied to both genders. The proposals were not adopted (except perhaps in some small localities), but it points to great complications in undestanding what Meiji Japanese meant when they used languages of rights and equality: my favorite odd fact from her talk was the Japanese writer who argued that men and women were equal, but husband and wife were not.
Abby Schweber's paper was, as she said it, something like a French farce: incomplete translations, secret policy meetings, and educational reforms modeled on French laws that were thirty years out of date and which actually missed the point of the originals. In 1872, when the oligarchic leaders of Meiji Japan went on a tour of the West known as the Iwakura mission, the" caretaker" government went ahead and made some fundamental law, including an educational law that was supposed to wait until the educational study mission returned from overseas. The law they wrote was based on a partial translation of an outdated French legal code (instead of the"best practice" we usually associate with Japanese borrowings) which resulted in a highly centralized and expensive compulsory attendance primary education system instead of the low-cost, decentralized compulsory availability primary system of France. Best odd moment: when two leaders of the Iwakura mission returned mid-trip to consult about some treaty matters, the committee drafting the law stopped meeting so as to avoid tipping their hand; when word finally got back to the Iwakura mission, the men responsible for education studies were genuinely surprised and horrified.
My own paper also had a connection to the Meiji oligarchs: one of the odd facts about Yamaguchi prefecture is that it was Chōshū before it was Yamaguchi, and a goodly portion of the Meiji oligarchs were born and came to power there. But after they moved to the central government, they abandoned their ties to the hometown (one actually moved his parents to Tokyo, and most of the rest only show up in Yamaguchi histories when passing through on their way to somewhere else), quite in contrast with the traditional image of Japanese as loyal to"blood and soil" (as our discussant put it). Only a few -- Kido Takayoshi and Inoue Kaoru -- played a role in Yamaguchi affairs, and the former was using Yamaguchi as leverage for national policy at least as much as he was giving Yamaguchi special attention. One of our audience (which would probably have been larger had we not been up against a Presidential Panel including papers on Japanese gardens and anime, but the turnout was solid, and clearly interested) was Sidney Brown, who translated Kido's diary, so we had some lively discussions of his role in our several papers.
I also went to the Marshall Lecture by Ronald Spector: normally I'm not much for military history, but this was about the post-1945 occupations and demobilization of Japanese territories. This was a huge and complex challenge, as the Japanese Empire had been huge and complex, complicated by the fact that we went into the job with too few troops and no clue about most of the societies we were occupying. Spector didn't make direct comparisons to Iraq, but he did say that we could draw our own conclusions.....
One of the fundamental problems faced by US military authorities is that they had a variety of what Spector described as contradictory jobs to accomplish:
- disarm Japanese soldiers and repatriate military and civilian Japanese to their homeland
- maintaining law and order in liberated territories
- locate and release Allied POWs
- reestablish civil governments, including colonial rules
- avoiding conflict with local nationalist movements
- another priority he listed elsewhere in the talk was the Cold War priority of resisting local communist movements.
- our failures of planning and resources
- our belief that we were acting as apolitical neutrals when we were in fact taking sides
- using Japanese as anti-communist forces and regional experts, which belied our role as liberators and their role as defeated and demobilized
- British and French colonial beliefs that their former subjects would be sufficiently tired of Japanese rule that previous masters would be welcomed back with open arms.
There were a few questions, then the talk adjourned before the allotted time had elapsed. In fact, every panel and event I've gone to so far has run out of discussion and questions before the allotted time (two hours for most panels; the lecture was only scheduled for 90 minutes). Not sure why. Two more panels tomorrow: marginal Japanese and scandalous historians. Then this conference is.... history.
Nice to see that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has his priorities straight: on a"fact-finding" mission to Sri Lanka, he and his staff took up two of the five military helicopters available for relief efforts; he then concluded his visit by having staffers photo him, with the following advice:"Get some devastation in the back."
An on-line petition supporting academic freedom at Columbia now has over 800 signatures (including mine). An effort of the newly established group Columbians for Academic Freedom, the petition supports"a zero-tolerance policy toward any harassment and abuse of professorial power in the classroom and on campus, with clear and effective consequences for those who violate the policy" and"diversification of the Middle Eastern and Asian Languages and Cultures department for the sake of academic integrity and intellectual diversity." It's worth a signature.
The New York Times wonders why everyone suddenly wants to go to Bhutan.
The Arab media is offering its version of fair and balanced coverage of the tsunami.
The BBC went ahead with its Jerry Springer--The Opera broadcast, to the anticipated protests.
Several of her readers (this one included) want more from Erin O'Connor on her argument that"academe is one microculture whose inner workings [Tom Wolfe, in his latest novel] badly bungled."
And, for those needing a lesson in overcoming discouragement, give a thought to the Hartford Hawks basketball team. Earlier this week, Hartford fell to BU 73-22. They had more turnovers (24) than points, and didn't have a basket in the last 15 minutes, scoring the lowest point total in the history of the conference. Yet Saturday they came back with not only a win but a comfortable one, over Maryland-Baltimore County. Of course, I don't think we'll be seeing UMBC in the NCAA tournament this spring.