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 (∞)
Michael Dirda reviews Robert Morrison's The English Opium-Eater: A Biography of Thomas De Quincey for the Washington Post, 29 December.
Kevin Sieff,"Some Va. history texts filled with errors, review finds," Washington Post, 29 December, reports disturbing findings about K-12 texts in Virginia history.
Ellen Handler Spitz,"Life Lessons," The Book, 29 December, reviews two children's biographies of important American modernists, Charles Ives and Gertrude Stein.
Finally, farewell to David F. Noble, a controversial historian of education, science and technology.
Daniel Mendelsohn,"God's Librarians: The Vatican Library enters the twenty-first century," New Yorker, 3 January, looks at the reopening of Rome's Vatican Apostolic Library. For a tantalizing taste of its extraordinary riches, see Macy Halford's slideshow,"Treasures from the Vatican Library," New Yorker, 27 December.
David Blight,"Cup of Wrath and Fire," Disunion, 28 December, considers Frederick Douglass's welcome of South Carolina's secession.
In Steve Mangold,"Barbour wrong on Yazoo history," Clarion Ledger, 28 December, the best friend of Haley Barbour in their youth corrects the Mississippi governor's memory.
David Kaufmann,"Gathering Storm," Tablet, 28 December, reviews Uwe Steiner's Walter Benjamin: An Introduction to His Work and Thought, translated by Michael Winkler.
The NYT's David Brooks gives his Sidney Awards for 2010 to two historical essays:
Vox Tablet,"Monumental Embrace," Tablet, 27 December, features the controversy over Berlin's memorial to gay victims in Nazi concentration camps.
Michael Sean Winters,"Churchman and Statesman," The Book, 27 December, reviews Raymond Schroth's Bob Drinan: The Controversial Life of the First Catholic Priest Elected to Congress.
David Stelfox, A History of Violence," The National, 24 December, reviews Sean Birchall's Beating the Fascists: The Untold Story of Anti-Fascist Action.
Patricia Cohen's series on the digital humanities:
Bee Wilson,"Hugh Plat, alchemist, courtier and all-round inventor," TLS, 22 December, reviews Malcolm Thick's Sir Hugh Plat: The search for useful knowledge in early modern London.
Claudio Vita-Finzi,"Galileo's explosive life and legacy," TLS, 22 December, and Owen Gingrich,"Starry Messenger," NYT, 24 December, review J. L. Heilbron's Galileo and David Wootton's Galileo: Watcher of the Skies.
Blake Gopnik,"An encyclopedia of artistic greatness," Washington Post, 24 December, considers Diego Velazquez's"Las Meninas." Painted in 1656,"the absolutely greatest work of art in the Western tradition" is on exhibit at the Prado in Madrid. Look more closely at the painting in"Blake Gopnik at the Prado Museum."
Michael Korda,"The Splendidly Soaring Seas," Daily Beast, 23 December, reviews Simon Winchester's Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories.
Robert Perkinson,"The Gutted Writ: On Habeas Corpus," Nation, 10 January, reviews Paul D. Halliday's Habeas Corpus: From England to Empire and Wilbert Rideau's In the Place of Justice: A Story of Punishment and Deliverance.
David M. Kennedy,"A Question of Character," Boston Review, Nov/Dec, reviews Claude S. Fischer's Made in America: A Social History of American Culture and Character.
Felicia R. Lee,"Scholars Say Chronicler of Black Life Passed for White," NYT, 26 December, seems to think Henry Louis Gates' and Rudolph Byrd's piffle is a contribution to scholarship. They've uncovered no new evidence and, to argue that Jean Toomer tried to pass for white, you have to accept racial essentialism and make allowances for a"one drop" theory of racial identity.
Ben Macintyre,"Arabian Knight," NYT, 24 December, reviews Michael Korda's Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia.
In Felipe Fernández-Armesto,"In agony? Don't fret: Uncle Felipe offers a shoulder to cry on," THE, 23 December, the Notre Dame historian offers advice to self-doubting senior administrators.
Farewell to journalist and historian Dan Kurzman.
Rebecca K. Morrison,"Did the Germans invent Christmas?" TLS, 22 December, reviews Joe Perry's Christmas in Germany: A cultural history.
A.W. Purdue,"Christmas in Nineteenth-century England," THE, 23 December, reviews Neil Armstrong's Christmas in Nineteenth-century England.
Brian Hayes,"Electrifying Language," American Scientist, Nov/Dec, reviews Dennis Baron's A Better Pencil: Readers, Writers, and the Digital Revolution.
Nigeria's growing influence via Nollywood is clearly of continental, if not global, significance.
John Gray,"What Rawls Hath Wrought," National Interest, 16 December, reviews Samuel Moyn's The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History.
Dwight Garner,"The Curies, Seen Through an Artist's Eyes," NYT, 21 December, reviews Lauren Redniss's Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout.
Ian Johnson,"Finding the Facts About Mao's Victims," NYRBlog, 20 December, interviews Yang Jisheng, a Chinese historian who is the author of Tombstone (Mubei). It is a major work on the Great Famine (1958–1961), which appears to have been"one of worst human disasters in history."
Rick Perlstein,"What Haley Barbour's amnesia tells us," War Room, 22 December, takes a hard look at the Mississippi governor's memory.
Oleg Gordievsky,"Spooked Out," Literary Review, Dec/Jan, reviews Andrei Soldatov's and Irina Borogan's The New Nobility: The Restoration of Russia's Security State and the Enduring Legacy of the KGB.
Sim Chi Yin,"Lens, 20 December, reproduce A Yin's photographs documenting an end of nomadic life in Inner Mongolia.
George Chauncey,"Last Ban Standing," NYT, 20 December, celebrates the end of the American military's"don't ask, don't tell" policy.
George Chauncey,"Last Ban Standing," NYT, 20 December, celebrates the end of the American military's"don't ask, don't tell" policy.
The Barbour remarks, however, are also significant for the light they shine on an educational travesty that likely will persist after the Barbour-for-President bubble has burst. Yesterday brought news that the NAACP and LULAC are threatening a (longshot) lawsuit against the state of Texas, to try and stop implementation of the state’s new history and social studies curriculum. Among the curriculum’s other anti-intellectual items is an attempt to encourage teachers to portray Republicans as the key figures in the passage of 1960s civil rights legislation. The amendment, as originally offered, was as follows:"describe presidential actions and Congressional votes by party to address minority rights in the United States, including desegregation of the Armed Forces, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965." The final amendment dropped an explicit reference to the party breakdown.
This agenda seizes upon a kernel of truth—in the Senate, a higher percentage of Republicans voted for the act than did Democrats—to falsely portray history, in multiple ways.
Some congressional Republicans did play important roles in the passage of civil rights legislation—William McCullough in the House; Jacob Javits and especially Everett Dirksen in the Senate. But the impetus for the legislation came from the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and the most important figures on the bills in both the Senate and the House were Democrats (Manny Celler, Hubert Humphrey, Mike Mansfield). To claim otherwise is to rewrite the past.
Politically, the suggestion that Republicans in the South were in any way sympathetic to civil rights is absurd. The handful of Southern Republicans then in Congress—such as the three Republicans in Texas’ own 1964 delegation, John Tower in the Senate, Bruce Adler and Ed Foreman in the House—passionately opposed the Civil Rights Act. The modern GOP in Barbour’s state, and in neighboring Alabama and Louisiana, trace their origins to passage of the act—the first 20th century Republicans elected to the House from Alabama and Mississippi came thanks to the Goldwater landslide in the Deep South. (Republicans just missed knocking off House majority leader Hale Boggs in 1964.)
And while there’s been some interesting literature (such as Matthew Lassiter’s book) repudiating a mono-causal link between the growth of the Southern Republican Party and civil rights backlash, it’s pretty clear to which party voters hostile to civil rights migrated. Take a case Barbour would know well, that of Trent Lott in Mississippi. Lott served as a staffer for a segregationist Democrat, William Colmer; when Colmer retired in 1972, Lott joined the Republican Party and easily won election to the House. He was elevated to the Senate in 1988; no Democrat has come within 10 points of winning a Senate election in Mississippi since. From South Carolina through to Texas, state Republican parties are overwhelmingly white; the state Democratic parties are overwhelmingly black (or, in Texas, black and Hispanic).
Like the Texas educational board, Barbour has championed a view of the Southern GOP’s past that defies reality—in his portrayal, the Democrats lost ground because of their support for segregation, and vibrant, race-neutral Republicans ascended in the 1970s and 1980s. In short, the GOP wants to reap the benefits of the Southern Strategy without accepting any of the tarnish. This is the whitewashing of history for the most nefarious of purposes—advancing the standing of a political party. It should not be allowed to stand.
Bob Blaisdell reviews Ian Davidson's Voltaire: A Life for the CSM, 17 December.
Michiko Kakutani,"A Marriage That Defied Separation and War," NYT, 20 December, reviews Joseph Ellis's First Family: Abigail and John Adams. Pauline Meier,"Justice Breyer's Sharp Aim," NYT, 21 December, argues that James Madison would have no problem with state or local gun control ordinances.
Manisha Sinha,"South Carolina's Secession at 150," Huffington Post, 20 December, marks the 150th anniversary. Blain Roberts and Ethan J. Kytle,"Dancing Around History," Opinionator, 21 December, look at Charleston's celebration of the anniversary. Emily Badger,"Of Course the Civil War Was About Slavery," Miller/McCune, 20 December, talks with historians about the reason for secession and the war. Paul Finkelman,"States' Rights, but to What?" Opinionator, 20 December, probes claims for the rights of states.
Hillary Kelly,"The Missing Subject," The Book, 21 December, reviews Susan Cheever's Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography.
Finally, farewell to Jacqueline de Romilly, the distinguished French classicist.
Update: Haley Barbour has second thoughts.
Pauline Maier,"Partners in revolution," Washington Post, 19 December, reviews Andrew Burstein's and Nancy Isenberg's Madison and Jefferson. David Sehat at US Intellectual History, 14 December, and Jack Rakove,"American Ratification," Harvard Magazine, Jan/Feb, review Pauline Maier's Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788. Hat tip.
Nathan Glazer,"Speech Acts," The Book, 20 December, reviews Kenneth L. Marcus's Jewish Identity and Civil Rights in America.
If you haven't seen the NYT's"Immigration Explorer", try it out. Pick a year between 1880 and 2000 and a specific immigrant nationality and it will show you their distribution across the United States. It even has county-level data. Hat tip.
Bill Kaufman,"An Eccentric Evangelist for Ecstatic Bliss," WSJ, 11 December, reviews Leigh Eric Schmidt's Heaven's Bride: The Unprintable Life of Ida C. Craddock, American Mystic, Scholar, Sexologist, Martyr and Madwoman. Hat tip.
Michael Dirda,"Giving new voice to Leopardi's songs of love and longing," Washington Post, 16 December, and Peter Campion,"The Solitary Life," NYT, 17 December, review Giacomo Leopardi's Canti, translated and annotated by Jonathan Galassi.
Andrea Wulf,"The Patriarch," NYT, 17 December, reviews Virginia Scharff's The Women Jefferson Loved; and Jill Lepore,"Paul Revere's Ride Against Slavery," NYT, 18 December, argues that Longfellow's poem was more about the American Civil War than its Revolution.
Claude R. Marx,"The men who ruled on FDR's Supreme Court," Boston Globe, 16 December, reviews Noah Feldman's Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR's Great Supreme Court Justices.
Patricia Cohen,"Conversation Across Centuries With the Father of All Bloggers," NYT, 17 December, reviews Sarah Bakewell's How to Live; Or a Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer.
Sarah J. Young,"Russians in London: Alexander Herzen, with a note on Nikolai Ogarev," Sarah J. Young, 28 November, is a chapter in her e-text series,"Russians in London".
Garrison Keillor,"Mark Twain's Riverboat Ramblings," NYT, 16 December, reviews Harriet Elinor Smith, ed., Autobiography of Mark Twain, I.
Peter Bergen,"The Generals' Victory," The Book, 16 December, reviews Bob Woodward's Obama's Wars.
Finally, alas, farewell to The Edge of the American West, which won a Cliopatria Award for Best Group Blog in 2008.
John Ferling,"Myths of the American Revolution," Smithsonian, January, identifies and debunks seven of them.
Two weeks ago, I posted Hans Rusling's dramatic visualization of"Longevity & Wealth/200 Countries for 200 Years." University of Oklahoma economist Kevin Grier points to its misleading flaw."... have you looked at the horizontal axis of his chart?" he asks.
The distance between $400 and $4000 is the same as the distance between $4000 and $40000. That is incredibly misleading. Properly plotted on a linear scale, it would be clear that there was way way way LESS income inequality in 1810 or that magic year of 1948 than there is in 2010. We are NOT living in an"age of convergence" with respect to per-capita incomes.Hat tip.
Carolyn See reviews Hazel Rowley's Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage for the Washington Post, 16 December.
Manan Ahmed,"Recall America's imperial past, understand its present," The National, 17 December, reviews Robert D. Kaplan's Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power.
Randy Kennedy,"Lawyers Fix Their Eyes on Blind Lady Justice," NYT, 15 December, reviews Judith Resnik's and Dennis Curtis's Representing Justice: Invention, Controversy, and Rights in City-States and Democratic Courtrooms.
Elaine Showalter reviews Susan Cheever's Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography for the Washington Post, 14 December.
Deborah Lipstadt,"Monumental," Tablet, 10 December, and Timothy Snyder,"The Holocaust We Don't See," NYRBlog, 15 December, recall Claude Lanzmann's"Shoah" 25 years after its first release. The film is showing again this month in New York City and will show nationally in 2011.
Robert Boyers,"After the Revolution," The Book, 15 December, reviews Gabriel Josipovici's What Ever Happened To Modernism?
Lucien R. Karhausen,"Mozart's 140 causes of death and 27 mental disorders," BMJ, argues that the plethora of diagnoses is a function of our need to reduce the great musician to a human scale.
Edward Rothstein,"Reopening a House That's Still Divided," NYT, 14 December, is a critical review of"The Presidents House" museum that opens today in Philadelphia.
Karolyn Shindler,"Richard Owen: the greatest scientist you've never heard of," Telegraph, 7 December, celebrates the founder of Great Britain's Natural History Museum.
R. M. Healy,"The most intelligent man in the world," Bookride, 12 December, introduces William Sidis (1898-1944), whose real accomplishments are so remarkable that they are difficult to distinguish from apparently false claims.
Adam Kirsch,"The Structuralist," Tablet, 14 December, reviews Patrick Wilcken's Claude Lévi-Strauss: The Poet in the Laboratory.
Congratulations to our colleague, Aaron Bady, whose"Julian Assange and the Computer Conspiracy; ‘To destroy this invisible government'," zunguzungu, 29 November, is one of nine finalists for 3 Quarks Daily's 2010 Prize in Politics. From them, Lewis Lapham will select first, second, and third place winners.
Earlier this year I was tutor for a subject which explored the idea of genre, using books, films and plays about war for this purpose. One of the texts we read was Primo Levi's account of his time in Auschwitz, If This Is A Man.1 One of the sections I found most interesting was Levi's lengthy account of the camp's internal, unofficial economy, which used 'prize-coupons' (sometimes given as a reward, exchangeable for Mahorca, a kind of tobacco) as currency, which could be used to buy things like shirts or extra rations of bread. Prisoners (or 'Häftlinge') would try to think up new ways to get coupons which could ultimately help them survive even a little longer. All the trading in prize-coupons going on meant that their value fluctuated 'in strict obedience to the laws of classical economics'.2
Among the ordinary Häftlinge, there are not many who search for Mahorca to smoke it personally; for the most part it leaves the camp and ends in the hands of the civilian workers of the Buna. The traffic is an instance of a kind of 'kombinacja' [combination] frequently practised: the Häftling, somehow saving a ration of bread, invests it in Mahorca; he cautiously gets in touch with a civilian addict who acquires the Mahorca, paying in cash with a portion of bread greater than that initially invested. The Häftling eats the surplus, and puts back on the market the remaining ration. Speculations of this kind establish a tie between the internal economy of the Lager [camp] and the economic life of the outside world: the accidental failure of the distribution of tobacco among the civilian population of Cracow, overcoming the barrier of barbed wire which segregates us from human society, had an immediate repercussion in camp, provoking a notable rise in the quotation of Mahorca and consequently of the prize-coupon.3
It occurred to me that one way to better understand how this economy dominated the lives of the Häftlinge and shaped their chances of survival would to participate in a simulation of it. Start out with the basic daily ration and the clothes on your back, and see what chances come your way in the course of (say) a week to work, save, beg, borrow or steal your way to a profitable kombinacja. Balance that profit against beatings received and rations foregone. If you end the week a little stronger than you began it or even the same, you win. But if you are weaker you lose, for you are closer to becoming one of the drowned, as Levi puts it: those too weak (whether in flesh or in spirit) to keep fighting for life.
I haven't created such a simulation. But when I suggested the idea to my students, the most common response was revulsion, that this would be an inappropriate thing to do. I was a bit surprised: as an economic system we should be able to simulate it like we would any other, regardless of its horrific context. But then these were first year Arts students, not third year Economics ones, and the idea of simulation may not have been familiar to them. On the other hand they are of a generation which has, knowingly or not, been using simulations all their lives: look at the highly successful The Sims series, for example. Why should they then baulk at simulating life in a concentration camp?
The reason perhaps has to do with two words I've been avoiding up until now: 'play' and 'game'. I did not, in fact, ask my students if we could learn anything by trying to 'simulate life in a concentration camp', I asked them if we could learn anything by playing it as a game. Games are fun; the Holocaust is not something you should enjoy on any level.
It's true that simulations and games are not quite the same thing. Instead they overlap. Simulations are very similar to ludic (structured, rule-bound) games, except they aren't necessarily fun. (Clearly they can be, even the extremely detailed ones: witness the popularity of flight simulators.) And of course games are not necessarily simulations, even the ludic ones (what does noughts and crosses simulate?) So it was probably unwise of me to use the word 'games'.
On the other hand, fun is in the pleasure centres of the beholder's brain. There are all sorts of simulations which I don't enjoy but which others do (the aforementioned flight simulators, for example). Highly abstract and detailed simulations of the Second World War aren't for everyone either, including flightsim fans, but I've enjoyed them in the past. So there's no absolute reason why Auschwitz: The Game could not exist. The question is rather, should it?
If it can teach people something (absolutely, never everything) of what the Häftlinge had to go through, then I would answer yes. Call it a simulation (or a serious game, perhaps), and experimenting instead of playing, if that helps suppress the queasiness. But I think the opportunities gained through 'playing' Auschwitz as a 'game' would be worth the risk of somebody, somewhere enjoying it.
I'll close with a couple of other ideas for serious-but-seriously-offensive games:
- Eichmann in Berlin. As Transportation Administrator for the Final Solution, it's your job to dispatch Jews and other undesirables to the camps via the railway system. You will have to navigate the Nazi polycratic bureaucracy in order to ensure you get enough rolling stock for your needs over the competing claims of the armed forces, industry and agriculture. Victory is determined by the proportion of European Jewry you manage to exterminate, combined with the amount of war production your camps contribute to the war effort, two goals which unfortunately conflict with each other.
- You Are Bomber Harris! You control Bomber Command in the years of its greatest power, 1942-5. Your objective is simple: to destroy as many square miles of German urban area as possible. Nothing else matters. Your opponents are the Luftwaffe and your own commanders, who insist on ordering you to bomb less important oil and transportation targets. You choose the targets and the forces sent to attack them. At the end of the game, you gain points for every German working-class house destroyed; you lose them for every dead Bomber Command airman. A positive balance means victory.
Challenging in more ways than one.
- To me a Holocaust memoir didn't seem to fit into the category of 'war' as well as most of the other chosen texts, but that's neither here nor there now.
- Primo Levi, If This Is A Man/The Truce (London: Abacus, 1987), 86.
- Ibid. The whole of this chapter can be found online.
Edited: per Chris Williams' suggestion.
Among other noteworthy items in the clip: Kissinger's shameless flattery of Nixon; Kissinger's accusing American Jews of"behaving traitorously" (shades of Stephen Walt!) for backing the amendment; and, in a crude conversation with anti-semitic overtones, Nixon accusing other politicians of being" crude" and"anti-semitic."