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 (∞)
Ben Wallace-Wells,"The Death Lovers,"The Book, 29 June, reviews Elisabeth Hardouin-Fugier's Bullfighting: A Troubled History, translated by Sue Rose.
David Greasley reviews Joel Mokyr's The Enlightened Economy: An Economic History Of Britain, 1700-1850 for BBC History, nd.
Laura Miller reviews Christiane Bird's The Sultan's Shadow: One Family's Rule at the Crossroads of East and West for Salon, 27 June.
Adam Kirsch,"Emily Dickinson's New Secret," Slate, 28 June, reviews Lyndall Gordon's Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family's Feuds.
Jonathan Rée,"Variety," New Humanist, July/August, recalls the life of William James a century later.
Marie Gottschalk,"American Hell," The Book, 28 June, reviews Robert Perkinson's Texas Tough: The Rise of America's Prison Empire.
Chris Bray,"The Fog of War Writing," bookforum, June/August, reviews Benjamin Tupper's Greetings from Afghanistan, Send More Ammo and Megan Stack's Every Man in This Village Is a Liar.
Since 1968, a handful of nominees (Stevens, O’Connor, Ginsburg, Scalia) have sailed through the confirmation process essentially unscathed. But the Fortas Rules have been the more common.
Thurgood Marshall (1967) was the last Supreme Court nominee to experience the pre-Fortas system—but, as TPM points out, Judiciary Committee Republicans used today’s Kagan hearings to relitigate Marshall’s confirmation.
The most striking aspect of the anti-Marshall sentiment, however, came from the comparatively moderate Orrin Hatch. Asked if he would have voted to have confirmed Marshall had he served in the 1967 Senate, Hatch replied, “It’s hard to say.”
For the record: eleven senators—almost all segregationists—voted against Marshall’s confirmation. The list includes Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia), James Eastland (D-Mississippi), Allen Ellender (D-Louisiana), Sam Ervin (D-North Carolina), Lister Hill (D-Alabama), Spessard Holland (D-Florida), Fritz Hollings (D-South Carolina), Russell Long (D-Louisiana), John Sparkman (D-Alabama), Herman Talmadge (D-Georgia), and Strom Thurmond (R-South Carolina). It surprises me that Hatch would want to position himself with this cohort.
H. W. Brands reviews Leo Damrosch's Tocqueville's Discovery of America for the Washington Post, 27 June.
Randy Malamud,"Eadweard Muybridge, Thief of Animal Souls," CHE, 27 June, reviews"Helios: Eadweard Muybridge in a Time of Change," an exhibit at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. See also:"Muybridge Stop-Motion Sequences, Animated," CHE, 27 June.
Andrew Hussey reviews Jonathan Fenby's The General: Charles De Gaulle and the France He Saved for the Guardian, 27 June.
Andrew Bacevich,"Endless war, a recipe for four-star arrogance," Washington Post, 27 June, argues that de facto perpetual war is severely damaging both America's military forces and American democracy. Thanks to Brad Smith for the tip.
Max Rodenbeck,"The Muslim Past," NYT, 27 June, reviews Bernard Lewis's Faith and Power: Religion and Politics in the Middle East and Fred Donner's Mohammad and the Believers: At the Origins of Islam.
Peter Conrad reviews Andrew Graham-Dixon's Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane for the Guardian, 27 June.
Adam Kirsch,"Positively Jewish," The Book, 25 June, reviews Jonathan Sacks's Future Tense: Jews, Judiasm, and Israel in the Twenty-First Century.
Judith Thurman,"Debenedetti Confesses!" New Yorker, 24 June, has Tommaso Debenedetti's admission that his five dozen published interviews with major literary figures are fictions.
Michael Dirda reviews Hugh Trevor-Roper's History and the Enlightenment for the Washington Post, 24 June.
Robert Fulford,"French dissing, the scandalous literature that liberated a country," National Post, 21 June, reviews Robert Darnton's The Devil in the Holy Water, or the Art of Slander from Louis XIV to Napoleon.
Paul Kennedy,"A Time to Appease," National Interest, 22 June, argues that there's a time to appease.
Stephen M. Walt,"Question for the day," Foreign Policy, 25 June:"Are there good historical examples where a great power withdrew because a foreign military intervention wasn't going well, and where hindsight shows that the decision to withdraw was a terrible blunder? If there are plenty of examples where states fought too long and got out too late, are there clear-cut cases where states got out too early?"
Leigh Phillips,"Ex-commissioner calls Congo's colonial master a 'visionary hero'," euobserver.com, 22 June, tests the limits of historical delusion. See also: Chris Bertram,"Plucky King Leopold," Crooked Timber, 24 June.
Joanna Moorhead,"Henrietta Lacks: the mother of modern medicine," Guardian, 23 June, reviews Rebecca Skloots's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
A. C. Grayling reviews Leo Damrosch's Tocqueville's Discovery of America for the Barnes & Noble Review, 18 June.
Martin Gardner,"Abstract adventuring," New Criterion, June, reviews Amir Alexander's Duel at Dawn: Heroes, Martyrs, and the Rise of Modern Mathematics.
Jonathan Barnes,"Conan Doyle and the creeping man," TLS, 23 June, reviews Arthur Conan Doyle, The Complete Works.
Louisiana police detained a private citizen [added: who had lawfully videotaped the exterior of a BP facility, without entering BP's property] so BP security officials could interrogate him. Also see the astonishing video at the same link.
Compare to this (news video starts after a short advertisement).
Adam Kirsch,"Redrawing Boundaries," Tablet, 22 June, reviews Michael Brenner's A Short History of the Jews.
Edward Glaeser,"Thinkers and Tinkerers," The Book, 22 June, reviews Joel Mokyr's The Enlightened Economy: An Economic History of Britain, 1700-1850.
Robert Pinsky,"Firmness in the Write," Slate, 22 June, considers the poetry of Abraham Lincoln.
Stephen Kinzer,"Israel's Shady Arms Deal," Daily Beast, 22 June, reviews Sasha Polakow-Suransky's The Unspoken Alliance: Israel's Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa.
Michael Hastings,"The Runaway General," Rolling Stone, 8 July, is the article that brings General McChrystal to the White House today.
As recently as 25 May, Northwest History's Larry Cebula justified non-renewing his OAH membership in part on the grounds that the organization offered no recommendations about promoting and tenuring public historians. Er, read this and this, Larry.
Katherine Bouton,"Sorting Through the History of Science, With Plenty of Side Trips," NYT, 21 June, reviews Steven Shapin's Never Pure: Historical Studies of Science as if It Was Produced by People With Bodies, Situated in Time, Space, Culture, and Society, and Struggling for Credibility and Authority.
Max Byrd,"Man on the Run," Wilson Quarterly, Spring, reviews Michael Kranish's Flight from Monticello: Thomas Jefferson at War.
Laura Miller,"The First War on Terror," Salon, 20 June, reviews Alex Butterworth's The World That Never Was: A True Story of Dreamers, Schemers, Anarchists and Secret Agents.
Michael Levenson,"Aspects of the Novelist," Slate, 21 June, reviews Wendy Moffat's A Great Unrecorded History: A New Life of E. M. Forster and Frank Kermode's Concerning E. M. Forster.
Geoffrey Wheatcroft,"Eating Vichyssoise in Athens,"National Interest online, 30 April, reviews Pascal Bruckner's The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism and Theodore Dalrymple's The New Vichy Syndrome: Why European Intellectuals Surrender to Barbarism.
Robert Sullivan,"Geopolitical Cycles," NYT, 20 June, reviews David V. Herlihy's The Lost Cyclist: The Epic Tale of an American Adventurer and His Mysterious Disappearance.
Kevin Starr reviews Michael Hiltzik's Colossus: Hoover Dam and the Making of the American Century for the Washington Post, 20 June.
Bernard Porter,"Pariahs Can't Be Choosers," LRB, 26 June, reviews Sasha Polakow-Suransky's The Unspoken Alliance: Israel's Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa.
The Washington Post's profile of Brown's Ted Widmer claims he has"a gallimaufry of identities." You wouldn't want that on your cv, would you? Widmer also has a short piece in the Post about writing speeches for Presidents.
Kate Butler,"What Broke My Father's Heart," NYT, 20 June, recalls the slow death of her father, Wesleyan University's historian of South Africa, Jeffrey E. Butler. Clair Potter, Sunday Radical Roundup: Father's Day Edition," Tenured Radical, 20 June, recalls the death of a retired department colleague.
Mark Mazower,"‘War and Peace': The Fact-Check," NYT, 20 June, reviews Dominic Lieven's Russia Against Napoleon: The True Story of the Campaigns of"War and Peace".
Simon Schama,"The Patriarch," TNR, 19 June, reviews Abigail Green's Moses Montefiore: Jewish Liberator, Imperial Hero.
Noemie Emery,"Beautiful and Damned," WS, 21 June, reviews Bill Patton's My Three Fathers and the Elegant Deceptions of My Mother, Susan Mary Alsop.
William Dalrymple,"Road Tripping With Sufi Mystics," Daily Beast, 18 June, recounts his recent book tour, promoting Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India.
Nate Barksdale,"Subtitles," Cardus, 11 June, reviews the history of subtitles in film.
Ebony has an excerpt from Jelani Cobb's current book, The Substance of Hope: Barack Obama and the Paradox of Progress. Our former colleague is currently guest-blogging for Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic. He was teaching at Moscow State University this spring and writes about it in"A View from the East," 17 June, and"That's Russian for Hope," 18 June.
Scott McLemee reviews H. Aram Veeser's Edward Said: The Charisma of Criticism for the Barnes & Noble Review, 8 June.
Michael Sims,"All the Dead Are Vampires," CHE, 13 June, draws from work on Sims's new anthology, Dracula's Guest: A Connoisseur's Collection of Victorian Vampire Stories.
Christopher Corbett,"The Pony Rides Again (and again)," American Heritage, 14 June, debunks the Pony Express mythology.
Philip Kennicott,"Upward Dog," The Book, 15 June, reviews Robert Love's The Great Oom: The Improbable Birth of Yoga in America and Stephanie Syman's The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America.
Scott McLemee,"Psyched Out," bookforum, June/August, reviews Francois Dosse's Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari: Intersecting Lives.
Peter Steinfels,"All in the Mespoche," Democracy, Summer, reviews Benjamin Balint's Running Commentary: The Contentious Magazine That Turned the Jewish Left into the Neoconservative Right.
Alexandra Mullen,"The artful Dickens," New Criterion, June, reviews Michael Slater's Charles Dickens.
James Longenbach,"Ardor and the Abyss," The Nation, 5 July, reviews Lyndal Gordon's Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family's Feuds.
Harold Evans,"Bloody Sunday: How the Truth Came Out," Daily Beast, 16 June, recalls the Times's investigative journalism.
Janice P. Nimura,"Remember the General Slocum," The Morning News, 16 June, recalls New York's deadliest tragedy before 9/11.
Jessa Crispin,"Two Women's Modern Odyssey," Barnes & Noble Review, 16 June, locates her review of Keri Walsh's edition of The Letters of Sylvia Beach in the classroom of Cliopatria's friend and colleague, Manan Ahmed. Where else?
Michael Tomasky,"Against Despair," Democracy, Summer, argues that"our misreading of history harms progressivism today."
I agree with Zelizer that Nancy Pelosi has been an extremely effective (and powerful) Speaker, but second Chait’s argument that Harry Reid can’t be judged by the same standard. Post-2006 GOP tactics (combined with the remarkable ideological unity of nearly all the Senate Republican caucus) have produced what amounts to a constitutional amendment by procedure, so as to require 60 votes on virtually all Senate bills. If Pelosi needed 60 percent on all measures, her record wouldn’t be anywhere near as impressive.
Indeed, the 60-vote problem that Reid faces illustrates how much harder it is for Obama to pass legislation than was the case for Carter. From 1977-78, Carter had 62 Democratic senators; Obama has 58 (or 59, if you want to count Joe Lieberman). Several of Carter’s 62—take, for instance, Mississippi’s Jim Eastland—were never reliable administration votes, but liberal Republicans (Mathias, Weicker, case, Javits) often supported the Carter’s domestic initiatives. Carter didn’t face the constant threat of Republican filibusters against all of his administration’s proposals—he had far more legislative freedom of action. That he struggled nonetheless to come up with a coherent legislative agenda won’t do anything for his historical legacy.
Zelizer faults Obama for not championing sufficiently progressive policy proposals on such matters as the stimulus or the health care bill. Yet because of the newly aggressive use of the 60-vote requirement, the stimulus bill (voted on before Al Franken’s swearing-in) required the vote of conservative Ben Nelson, the anti-Democrat Lieberman, and at least two Republicans. Even in retrospect, it’s hard to see how Obama could have gotten much more out of this quartet than he did. Similarly, on the health care bill, Zelizer is correct that Obama’s proposal strayed very far from the single-payer approach, but there’s no reason to believe that anything close to a single-payer option would have obtained majority support in the Senate, much less the 60 votes now necessary.
It’s also worth pointing out just how different the situation that Obama inherited than that which Carter experienced in 1977. While the U.S. position internationally would dramatically weaken beginning in mid-1978, and while the economy wasn’t particularly strong in 1977, Carter certainly didn’t come to office—like Obama—amidst a massive economic downturn and two wars.
In this respect, perhaps a more appropriate comparison to Obama is FDR. A pretty strong case can be made that FDR didn’t go to the left in his first two years, but instead focused almost exclusively on trying to ameliorate the Depression’s effects—including adopting some pretty conservative (NRA) policies. Only when Democrats gained seats in the 1934 midterm elections, and the economy had at least marginally stabilized, did FDR move to the left in 1935 and 1936.
Perhaps Obama could have done the same—for several months in 2009, it looked as if Democrats would be able to take advantage of GOP retirements plus a pretty favorable map to gain three or four seats in the Senate. Now, of course, such an outcome seems impossible. But it’s interesting to wonder if Obama could have maintained the political upper hand for a longer period if he had deferred health care to 2011 and had focused, FDR-like, on recession-related initiatives.
In any event, I’m not convinced that moving to the left (even if he could do so) would benefit Obama politically, and I’m not at all convinced by the Carter analogy.
"Allen said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Energy Secretary Steven Chu are reviewing a plan that BP filed at the government's request for how it will capture oil going forward, increase the capacity of the system, and have backups in place in case there's a problem or the ships reach their capacity."
Look closely at that sentence. What purpose does the phrase"going forward" serve, given that it follows"how it will" -- how it will, necessarily in the future -- capture oil?
But that horrible phrase has percolated into our political discourse like, this is too easy and I apologize, oil into the Gulf of Mexico. It seems to have emerged in a particular context, and it seems to serve a particular purpose. Here's Obama last night:
"Tonight I'd like to lay out for you what our battle plan is going forward: what we're doing to clean up the oil, what we're doing to help our neighbors in the Gulf, and what we're doing to make sure that a catastrophe like this never happens again."
Take out the"going forward": do you lose information? Does the paragraph become unclear? So why is everyone in politics using it?
It seems to me that this phrase first started to spread like cancer during the last year of the Bush administration, at the end of a long political disaster, and that it was meant to point the listener away from the past: No, the topic isn't some ancient set of decisions from way back in 2003, the topic is what we'll do from here.
Now, at the end of a year and a half of metastasizing political disaster -- and two months of shoddy stumbling around during the worst environmental disaster in immediate memory -- the phrase is meant to do the same thing: The issue isn't what we did in late April, the issue is what we'll do next week.
It's"don't look back" language, meant to dismiss as meaningless a past that embarrasses the speaker. I doubt it's a deliberate rhetorical strategy -- more like a reflex, an I-don't-want-them-to-look twitch.
Thoughts? I'd be particularly interested to read historical examples of similar history-erasing political language.
I can also, going forward, offer hundreds of other examples of the use of this phrase. But maybe we should save ourselves the pain.
Following a couple of linksthat Ralph posted some while back brought me back some old memories and an old debate. Richard Overy, renowned UK historian of the Second World War, wrote in Times Higher Education about the division that he sees between popular history and academic history, the one being consumer-driven recycling of infotainment (I paraphrase) and the other, at its peak,"intentionally complex and linguistically sophisticated," with,"no less reason to be inaccessible than physics or biochemistry". He says that no line can be drawn between the two, but it's fairly clear on which side of the line that he can't draw he sees himself. He also expresses great misgivings about the use of history as a source of guidance for public policy, which makes for an interesting comparison with the other link I picked on, an article on the History and Policy forum website complaining about the then-government of the UK consulting historians about what should happen if no clear victor emerged in the then-upcoming British general election. These two make interesting comparisons.
Richard Overy was perhaps the first academic historian your humble writer, who has an amateur enthusiasm for World War II history years deep, ever encountered. I did about half of my History A-Level (the top-level school qualification in the UK, on a par with an International Baccalaureate) on the Third Reich; indeed this was so widespread at the time that most of the candidates for university places I met at open days could share a joke that our subject was 'Hitler studies'. As part of this, however, my school took the students on that option to see a public lecture by Overy. I don't remember what he talked about, though I remember that he seemed very tired, but he must have impressed me as authoritative because I subsequently obtained his book, The Air War in Europe 1939-1945, which remains on my shelf even now, the first real academic book I ever bought. It wasn't perhaps easy going for an eighteen-year-old but I've met many worse, and my main problem with it at the time was that its argument seemed to be entirely logistical and to leave no room for tactics or individual or even unit-level courage and daring, in which I was much more interested.
Nonetheless, Overy does not need to protect himself against a possible accusation of inaccessibility. It's rather odd therefore to find him here arguing for, essentially, an immunity to accountability to the public, so"that experimental research can be undertaken without the close supervision of the current review apparatus". I have always felt myself that a subject that one can't explain at least the basics of in a pub inside ten minutes (and ideally five) in such a way that an interested layman or laywoman understands why you would want to study it is, well, probably not really very interesting. This doesn't, in my experience, mean restricting oneself to the well-known characters of school history syllabi and the History Channel, because history has been full of other characters to whom you can introduce the notional interlocutor. I'm surprised Overy thinks differently, but as I say, his history has few individuals in it, and maybe that's why.
Nonetheless, Overy is doing something potentially valuable here, which is to argue for a citadel where a kind of really difficult history can be practised, by academics for academics. It's something like an argument for blue-sky scientific research, though I don't know what the equivalent would be for history: archive-dusty, perhaps.... This should be possible, though, I agree. This kind of work may not inform the public but it informs the people who inform the public, and as long as it's not regarded as somehow better or more serious than work in which a wider audience is interested I would defend it, and I agree with him that the result of having it is not:
an invisible discipline but one that is constantly refreshing intellectual life in imaginative, intuitive but rigorous ways.
But in order to protect this sort of history Overy is prepared to cut the lines joining it to the more popular fields of endeavour, most especially 'the heritage industry' (where, I should disclose, I currently earn my crust). His axe falls first and foremost, however, on history that wants to inform policy, and thus my indrawn breath of critique is briefly bated, because as you may remember I've worried about the History and Policy group before for the same reason that I was just about to use on Overy: they have found what they hope is a way to save their part of the field and damn everyone else for not being as useful. Their part of the field, however, is a lot less broad than Overy's blue-sky sector, it being roughly equivalent to twentieth-century British political history, for all that they have ranged wider. And, it is not without justice that Overy says:
This [market pressure] is a particular issue for public policy, with the idea that history must find ways of engaging more with those who produce policy to justify itself. History is not a congenial tool for doing this. It is in essence a critical discipline, characteristically ambiguous on many key issues, subversive of popular myth and prejudice, and unlikely to supply any advice that is not hostage to paradox and uncertainty. It is hard to imagine the government asking a panel of historians to explain the pros and cons of military engagement in Afghanistan, useful though that might have been. It is the historian's job to ask awkward questions, not to validate current assumptions.
This gives a particular irony to the content of the History and Policy forum article I mentioned, which is a post by Andrew Blick expressing very similar worries, for all that it is hosted on the website of an advocacy group exactly for the consultation of historians about public policy. Witness:
As argued in a recent Democratic Audit paper, the study of precedents is exceptionally subjective. For every precedent pointing one way, it is often possible to find another contradicting it. And the same precedent can be interpreted in different ways. History cannot provide the constitutional exactitude which the Cabinet Office seems to claim for it.
The odd thing is, however, that the Cabinet Office had done exactly what Overy found 'hard to imagine', albeit not about Afghanistan (my feeling is that the Cabinet probably know the arguments from history about Afghanistan already and were hoping to be able to ignore them), as Blick describes:
In his session with the Justice Committee, [Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus] O'Donnell said, 'we have looked back to history', and mentioned professors 'Bogdanor, Brazier, Hazell and Hennessy' among the constitutional experts who had assisted him. But we are not told precisely what advice the professors gave, and the draft chapter of the Cabinet Manual largely lacks explanations as to how history supports its assertions about the UK constitution. This approach is methodologically unsatisfactory, particularly when it involves claims that are contested.
It's hard not to read this as a whine that the Cabinet Office didn't consult the right historians, i. e. the History and Policy team, but the point is still there and it seems to undermine the whole History and Policy endeavour. Why should the government pay for consultants who won't reach a verdict? In the same time as they would take to read the inconclusive report, they could, you know, read a book.
So I'm not really much impressed by the History and Policy approach. Obviously, as a medievalist, such an approach is hardly open to me—I've taught Magna carta but I don't want to work on it, and anyway, that only matters legally in the USA these days or so I've read—but even what they are doing, I don't think is saleable in the terms they want to sell it (which seems to be 'please appoint us all to a quango for the rest of our intellectual lives'). Overy's position, on the other hand, is a lot more robust and indeed respectable. It even comes close to being the holy grail, a sturdy defence for the humanities, which could be expressed as 'having us around will make people think better', or as Overy puts it:
Historical writing at its best is critical, exciting, thought-provoking, frustratingly ambiguous and uncertain. It is the reflective element of the collective mind. If history becomes just heritage studies, the collective intelligence will be all the poorer.
Unfortunately, as you can see, not all the humanities would be allowed in Overy's arx. This is a shame, as this argument could serve more widely, working in terms of self-knowledge, mutual understanding and some protection against being deceived easily; it could in fact be an argument based on humanity, as we western liberals (well, I am) like to think of it. Instead, although he says:
Historians have to accept collectively that the pressure of public fashion and political utility may well undermine the foundation of the discipline unless they are willing to stand up and defend the nature of what they do. Finding their own ways to construct a more effective interface between their discipline and the public would help.
... it seems to me that what he is in fact preaching is demarcation, as, implicitly, are History and Policy. In Overy's case, unlike H&P's, I might be able to talk my way into the citadel, but I think that to stay there would be to fundamentally miss our mission. And what's more, he surely knows this, or he would never have been in that lecture, would he?