Roundup: Talking About History
This is where we excerpt articles about history that appear in the media. Among the subjects included on this page are: anniversaries of historical events, legacies of presidents, cutting-edge research, and historical disputes.
SOURCE: Newsweek (11-26-10)
When Bill Ayers authored Prairie Fire in 1974, the self-proclaimed “revolutionary” and “anti-imperialist” book included a page with the words “To All Who Continue to Fight” and “To All Political Prisoners in the U.S.” Sirhan Sirhan, the assassin of Robert F. Kennedy, was among those listed. Now Ayers, who recently retired as a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has become eligible for the status of professor emeritus. The title requires the approval of the school’s board of trustees, however, and the board is headed by Christopher Kennedy, who was 4 years old at the time his father was murdered.
“My own history is not a secret,” Kennedy told fellow board members in September, explaining why he would vote against conferring the title on Ayers. “There can be no place in a democracy to celebrate political assassinations or to honor those who do so.” Kennedy said he would ask any who criticized his...
SOURCE: National Review (11-24-10)
In grade school, we’re taught that the story of the First Thanksgiving illustrates the importance of teamwork and charity. That’s true, so far as it goes. But on this Thanksgiving Day, in the wake of a Tea Party’s electoral victory, it’s worth pondering the other moral of the holiday of thanks: capitalism works.
The hapless English parishioners who moved to escape religious persecution — first to the Netherlands, and then to America — didn’t actually plan to settle near Cape Cod; their original land grant was for the area around the mouth of New York’s Hudson River. But after delays and unfavorable winds, they arrived on the Mayflower in late 1620 at what would later become Plymouth, Mass. With winter on the horizon, they settled on a recently abandoned Indian village named Patuxet. (A few years before their arrival, an epidemic had killed most of the Indians then living along the...
SOURCE: RealClearPolitics (11-24-10)
Had today's political class been in power in 1623, tomorrow's holiday would have been called "Starvation Day" instead of Thanksgiving. Of course, most of us wouldn't be alive to celebrate it.
Every year around this time, schoolchildren are taught about that wonderful day when Pilgrims and Native Americans shared the fruits of the harvest. But the first Thanksgiving in 1623 almost didn't happen.
Long before the failure of modern socialism, the earliest European settlers gave us a dramatic demonstration of the fatal flaws of collectivism. Unfortunately, few Americans today know it.
The Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony organized their farm economy along communal lines. The goal was to share the work and produce equally.
That's why they nearly all starved.
SOURCE: openDemocracy (11-25-10)
Today, 25 November, is Thanksgiving, the warmest and most cherished of public holidays in the United States. It is a private, domestic festival. Independence Day is more likely to be associated with bunting, brass-bands and bombast, Thanksgiving is intimate, quiet and non-commercial: an occasion when tens of millions of Americans gather at home to celebrate with a family meal (turkey, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie) their gratitude for the blessings America has brought them.
At least, that was the prevailing idea. Now, Kate Bernike reports in the New York Times, the devotees of the Tea Party maintain that what Thanksgiving really celebrates is Americans’ liberation from socialism. The early settlers may have arrived more than two centuries before socialism came into...
SOURCE: I.H.T. (11-24-10)
THANKSGIVING 1971, the 350th anniversary of the “first” of the harvest celebrations in Plymouth, Mass. Invited to speak to a local historical society about that long-ago event, I described the ritual significance of food to the colonists and the Native Americans who attended. Afterward, someone asked, “Did they serve turkey?”
This was no idle question, for it captured the uneasiness many of us feel about the threads that connect past and present. Are our present-day values and practices aligned with the historical record, or have they been remade by our consumer culture? Is anything authentic in our own celebrations of Thanksgiving? And isn’t the deeper issue what the people who came here were like, not what they ate in 1621?
To return to the first of these harvest...
SOURCE: Philadelphia Inquirer (11-24-10)
Here's a quick quiz culled from our contemporary culture wars: Who said, "There are two sides to every story, two sides to a conflict, and while it would seem simple to record and report history, it has always been open to different interpretations"?
A. An NAACP official.
B. À La Raza activist.
C. A Sons of Confederate Veterans member.
If you said "A" or "B," you're wrong. The statement comes to us courtesy of John A. Griffin, the "History Education Project Coordinator" for Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp No. 674 in Moultrie, Ga.
Griffin's comment highlights a rich irony: When it comes...
SOURCE: CHE (11-21-10)
Collaborative writing is not as common as it should be in the humanities. Faculty members often consider it too risky for professional advancement, based on what they hear—either in the form of explicit warnings or more subtle suggestions—from chairs, deans, and tenure committees.
Ever since we began writing a scholarly book together, it's been the source of frequent quizzical confusion ("But why would you want to do that? Don't you have a lot of disagreements?") and what might be described as professional envy ("Oh, fun! I wish I could do that!"). One friend, an accomplished teacher and writer, wondered how it was possible to...
SOURCE: Smithsonian Magazine (12-1-10)
The image looks like a computer-generated joke, or maybe a snapshot from some parallel universe where the dead icons of the 20th century hang out together—even Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon.
But the picture is genuine, an official White House photograph of a bizarre encounter that occurred in this universe, in the Oval Office on December 21, 1970.
The story began in Memphis a few days earlier, when Elvis' father, Vernon, and wife, Priscilla, complained that he'd spent too much on Christmas presents—more than $100,000 for 32 handguns and ten Mercedes-Benzes. Peeved, Elvis drove to the airport and caught the next available flight, which happened to be bound for Washington. He checked into a hotel, then got bored and decided to fly to Los Angeles.
"Elvis called and asked me to pick him up at the airport,...
SOURCE: The Nation (11-22-10)
With one word, "blowback," Chalmers Johnson explained the folly of empire in the modern age.
In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, true American patriots—as opposed to the jingoists and profiteers whose madness and greed would steer a republic to ruin—needed a new language for a new age.
They got it from Johnson. His 2000 book, Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire (Macmillan), gave currency to the old espionage term—which referred to the violent, unintended consequences of covert (and sometimes not so covert) operations that are suffered even by superpowers such as the United States—and became an essential text for those who sought to explain the attacks and to forge sounder and more...
SOURCE: Huffington Post (11-20-10)
As we approach another anniversary of that fateful day in Dallas, it is useful to reassess the role that Lyndon Johnson played in the critical 24 hours after the assassination. As I argue in my book, The Kennedy Assassination: 24 Hours After, history has not been fair to LBJ.
William Manchester created the popular narrative of LBJ's role in his bestselling book, The Death of a President. Leaning heavily on the accounts of disgruntled Kennedy aides, Manchester painted a portrait of a boorish and overbearing vice president, insensitive to the needs of a grieving widow, driven by a combination of megalomania and insecurity. Released in early 1967, Manchester's story of presidential arrogance and deception made sense to Americans disillusioned with the war in...
SOURCE: NYT (11-22-10)
IT was with great trepidation that I approached 3704 N Street in Washington on Nov. 10, 1960. I had just been given the assignment of providing protection for the wife of the newly elected president of the United States, and I was about to meet her for the first time.
I soon realized I had little to worry about. Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, just 31 years old at the time, was a gracious woman who put me immediately at ease. She was the first lady, but she was also a caring mother; her daughter, Caroline, was nearly 3 years old, and she was pregnant with her second child. Three weeks later, she went into early labor with John Jr., and I followed her through the entire process. It would be the first of many experiences we would have together.
Being on the first lady’s detail was a lot different from being on the president’s. It was just the two of us,...
SOURCE: WSJ (11-22-10)
For many Americans over the age of 55, Nov. 22 rarely passes without a wistful sense of sadness and the thought: What if? But today, 47 years after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the initial feeling of shock and disbelief has long since been replaced by the sense that the world took a very bad turn on that day in 1963—one that we have never quite been able to correct.
An obscure tape clip has recently surfaced on YouTube that offers no better proof of this redirection. It's almost as if a voice from our past has come back to guide us through the most serious national security threat we face today.
The date is Sept. 25, 1961. Kennedy is standing in front of the United Nations General Assembly. And we hear a president of the United States assert a direct and unapologetic definition of who we are as Americans as he offers a response to,...
SOURCE: Telegraph (UK) (11-22-10)
Twenty years ago this morning, having slept on the matter, Margaret Thatcher got up and decided to resign. At 7.30, she rang her principal private secretary and got the process rolling.
At 9am, in a tearful session, she announced her resignation to the Cabinet. The news was put out at 9.25, and the Cabinet then turned to normal business. At 12.45, she went to see the Queen.
And then, in great British parliamentary tradition, Mrs Thatcher had to continue almost as if nothing had happened. It was a Thursday, so the then twice-weekly Prime Minister’s Questions fell that afternoon. They followed pretty much the same random pattern as usual. The first question she answered was about whether she had any plans to visit Belfast South. She would, she said, but ''perhaps in a slightly different capacity’’....
SOURCE: Salon (11-21-10)
There was a time in the not so distant past when Americans could safely assume that the Civil War, which claimed 620,000 Northern and Southern lives, resulted in two immutable outcomes: It forever settled the issue that secession was illegal, and it forever abolished the institution of slavery.
Lately, though, those truisms seem not to have been written in stone. Ironically, it’s the Republican Party -- the party of Lincoln and the Northern victors -- that has voiced challenges to the old received wisdom about the legacies of the Civil War. In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry has openly spoken about secession (and opting out of -- in other words, nullifying -- federal programs such as...
SOURCE: Huffington Post (11-17-10)
[Rebecca Taylor is a Senior Communications Specialist at the J. Paul Getty Trust, a contemporary art history instructor at UCLA extension, an arts writer, and an active member of the Los Angeles art scene.]
When I grow up I want to be a...
Children often fill in the blank with a myriad of respectable positions -- doctor, lawyer, police officer, teacher, etc. -- but few proclaim their intent to be an art historian. I was that rare exception -- a fourteen year-old irrevocably captivated by an experience with art and pre-declaring art history my major before I'd even applied to university. My father, the consummate business professional with the principles of economics coursing through his veins, responded,"What career will you have? The arts are a terrific hobby, but they will not pay the bills."
At the time, I had little retort, other than my deep-seeded passion for the arts and instinctual belief that this was the direction my life had to...
SOURCE: Salon (11-17-10)
BEIJING -- It's open-mic night at an expat bar called Paddy O'Shea's located in the embassy district in central Beijing. While an American newly arrived to to the country warbles The Stylistics' "You Make Me Feel Brand New" to an appreciative audience, Dionysius, a half-Greek, half-Albanian expat is telling me of his adventures teaching English in China. Dionysius has been stunned to discover that some of the older Beijingers he meets are able to speak a few words of Albanian.
The linguistic surprise is a relic of the virulent Sino-Soviet split of the late early 1960s. Albania was the only European Communist bloc nation to side with the Chinese when Mao broke with his longtime allies....
In solidarity with their stout Balkan ally, China's leaders sent grain shipments, technical assistance, and apparently encouraged a program of language study....
SOURCE: Minding the Campus (11-17-10)
What's in a name? A great deal, if it happens to be Stephen A. Douglas.
A hundred and fifty years ago, Stephen Arnold Douglas was the most powerful politician in America. He had begun his political career as a hyper-loyal Andrew Jackson Democrat, snatched up one of Illinois' U.S. Senate seats in 1846, and rose from there to the heights of Congressional stardom by helping the great Henry Clay cobble together the Compromise of 1850 - which effectively averted civil war over the expansion of slavery into the West for another decade. No man was a more obvious presidential candidate than Douglas, and in 1860, he won his party's nomination to the presidency.
That, unhappily for Douglas, was when the cheering stopped.
Still, Douglas's name was revered by Illinois Democrats for a generation afterward....
Douglas Hall, a 200...
SOURCE: The Root (11-15-10)
It's been almost two years since the end of the administration of George W. Bush. Nine years since 9/11. Nine years since the massive roundup of Muslim and Arab men without probable cause. Seven years since the invasion of Iraq on false pretenses. Eight years since lawyers at the Department of Justice published the torture memos, and government interrogators received approval to engage in the practice of waterboarding.
It's been seven years since Afghan General Abed Mowhoush was interrogated and beaten over 16 days, and finally suffocated after being stuffed in a sleeping bag by U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan. Six years since the famous "Taguba Report" (pdf) documented the abuses at Abu Ghraib. Six years since the cover-up of the circumstances surrounding the death of Pat Tillman, the former NFL player and Army volunteer killed by friendly fire...
SOURCE: The New Republic (11-16-10)
Kanye West yelling that George Bush didn’t care about black people in the wake of Hurricane Katrina was not, in itself, interesting. He had a CD to plump for (Late Registration), as well as just plain himself to plump for, as he was a newer phenom then than the source of regular episodes of galumphing megalomania that he is now.
Interesting, however, is West’s acute discomfort in his recent interview with Matt Lauer at actually being confronted with footage of his accusation, good and loud and right in his face. With all of his cockiness about so much, he couldn’t take it. The sight of this was especially haunting in that West, like so many artists, is hyperarticulate in his creations but not especially so when speaking casually (not a knock on rappers, mind you – there were times when it was hard...
SOURCE: American Conservative (11-15-10)
Simone de Beauvoir wrote of the 20th-century conservative thinker: “Gloomy or arrogant, he is the man who says no; his real certainties are all negative. He says no to modernity, no to the future, no to the living action of the world; but he knows that the world will prevail over him.” That T.S. Eliot at least partly resembled this portrait he himself acknowledged. As he wrote to a friend in 1921: “Having only contempt for every existing political party, and profound hatred for democracy, I feel the blackest gloom.”
In daily life, Eliot was neither gloomy nor arrogant but serene and gracious, generous and humble. At the height of his fame, his courtesy even to the callow and importunate was legendary. Yet however Eliot achieved this extraordinary equableness, he doubtless saw himself as a man whose vocation was to say no, to stand athwart history strenuously wielding negative certainties. Why...