This page includes, in addition to news about historians, news about political scientists, economists, law professors, and others who write about history. For a comprehensive list of historians' obituaries, go here.
SOURCE: NYT (6-28-08)
The death was confirmed by his wife, Carol Clark. As a lieutenant in the Navy and a trained art historian, Mr. Parkhurst was deputy chief of Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives in Germany immediately after the war. The team, which was approved by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in June 1943 and widely known as the Roberts Commission, after its chairman, Justice Owen J. Roberts of the Supreme Court, attracted an international group of young museum directors and curators, art professors and architects. Known as the “monuments men,” their mission was to identify art works and buildings in need of protection and to ferret out caches of stolen art.
Beginning in the last year of the war, the group found and returned more than five million artifacts and art works to their rightful owners.
Mr. Parkhurst and a team of more than 30 investigators, operating from the former national headquarters of the Nazi Party in Munich, ultimately identified 1,056 repositories of looted art.
SOURCE: Simon Winchester in the NY Sun (6-25-08)
SOURCE: http://www.eveningsun.com (6-26-08)
Using plenty of animated gestures, Boritt pointed out troop alignments in the field, showed how the landscape played a decisive role and described deadly mistakes made by both the Confederate and Union sides. It's a story Boritt, a Civil War history professor at Gettysburg College, knows well and is almost always happy to share.
But this time Boritt was not showing the battle to one of his seminar students or distinguished colleagues, or even to an interested tourist. No, this time Boritt was explaining the famous event to a camera crew, early in the morning and against his better judgment.
"A big part of this film is that he didn't want to do it," said Jake Boritt, a filmmaker and Gabor's son. "It seems to be at the crux of the film. That this world-famous historian doesn't want to go over his own history."
In 2003, Gabor's son Jake, a documentary filmmaker, decided to film one of the most difficult stories he has ever tried to record: his father's.
Titled "Budapest to Gettysburg," the film followed Gabor as he rediscovered his own history, with the help of his son - from his birth in war-torn Hungary to his involvement in the 1956 Hungarian Revolution to his escape to the United States and to his eventual academic success.
"It is a great story about overcoming tremendous odds to get where he is today," Jake said. "Any filmmaker would love to make this story. It's just that I'm in the unique position of being the only filmmaker who could do it."
SOURCE: http://www.citypaper.com (6-25-08)
He tried to leave it behind in 1994, but the three-story rowhouse across the street from his own home on the 500 block of Wilson Street caught up to him--or anyway, the back taxes did. The city took him to court, and he lost, so he paid them.
And then Brunson's nightmare really began.
The history of 562 Wilson St. and Alvin K. Brunson (friends call him Kirby) is told in a two-inch-thick stack of documents Baltimore Housing released recently to City Paper under the Maryland Public Information Act. There are court files, tax bills, e-mails, letters, building permits, and housing-inspection reports.
Combined with Brunson's own records, which his family shared with City Paper, the documents depict a 15-year rolling tragedy of bureaucratic error, legal bluster, and plain bad luck. In the end, it appears that Brunson's decision to make something good of the situation led to his death under tons of rubble when the house collapsed on March 30 ("Hot Property," Mobtown Beat, April 23; "In Appreciation," Mobtown Beat, April 16; "Building Collapse Kills Local Historian," The News Hole, March 31). Cheron Porter, director of communications for Baltimore Housing, says the city is not commenting further on the Brunson situation, but questions remain about the city's role in the tragedy....
Brunson, who has written some books on Baltimore history and landmarks, had founded the nonprofit Center for Cultural Education, which he operated from his home at 541 Wilson St ("Street of Dreams," Feature, Feb. 2 and 9, 2005). He also did significant work to that house, attaching a two-story brick addition to its western side. ...
SOURCE: Jewish Press (6-25-08)
Last month brought the much-awaited publication of the second volume of Perlstein’s projected trilogy on American conservatism. Nixonland (Scribner), as should be obvious from the title, focuses on American politics from the mid-1960’s to the early 1970’s, a time and an era dominated by Richard Nixon.
The Monitor asked Perlstein about the book and his perception of Nixon.
Monitor: Were you more sympathetic to Nixon or less so after writing the book?
Perlstein: Here I have to exercise the intellectual’s classic cop-out and say: both. We all know about Nixon’s reputation for iniquity. I kept finding myself yet more astonished at how bottomless this quality in him truly was. The example I keep coming back to is the revelation by Leonard Garment, in his 1997 memoir Crazy Rhythm, that as early as 1966 Nixon didn’t believe the Vietnam War could be won militarily – even as, for the next seven years, he ruthlessly savaged any political opponent who dared say the same thing, even as 50,000 more American soldiers went to their deaths for this war he thought couldn’t be won.
But on the other hand, there was rarely a week that went by when I didn’t discover some hidden store of nobility in the man – in his courage, coolness under pressure, and especially, his refusal to back down under adversity.
My favorite example is his famous visit [as vice president] to Peru in 1958. He was set upon by a mob chanting calls for his death. What did he do? He waded into the mob, and managed to talk them down! Later on the same trip, the mob wielded stones, and attacked his limousine. Secret Service agents were ready to fire, but Nixon ordered them to holster their weapons, realizing that shots would only make the chaos worse.
As I point out in the book, that’s “the kind of presence of mind for which battlefield commanders win medals.” Not a bad quality for a commander-in-chief – until, that is, that same quality was turned to iniquity, as it so often was....
SOURCE: Susan Jakes at China Beat (blog) (6-25-08)
I first heard Jonathan Spence give a lecture thirty minutes or so after the first time I heard his name. It was the beginning of my fourth semester at Yale in 1995 during the chaotic week known on campus as “shopping period,” when students are allowed to attend any classes they choose. My roommate had announced that she was going to “shop Spence” and invited me to join her. Fortunately, she wasn’t too aghast to bring me along after I’d replied, “Sure, I’ll come with you, but what’s Spence?”
I don’t remember precisely how she answered, but whatever she said persuaded me to get dressed in a hurry and follow her to Yale’s largest auditorium a full half hour before the first lecture of History of Modern China was scheduled to begin. As my roommate had predicted, the huge room filled up quickly. A few minutes after we arrived, a figure in a hooded coat slipped through the crowd toward the blackboard and began, silently, to fill it with a list of unfamiliar words written in slender uppercase letters. When he took the lectern, he made no sales-pitch to the assembled shoppers. He said only, “I’d like to start now” and began a lecture he called, “Ten Things I Find Fascinating About China.” I’ve lost the notes I took that day—though I’m fairly certain the list included the Three Gorges Dam, the future of the one-child policy and the legacy of June 4th—but what has stuck with me, indelibly, is how quickly after Spence began to speak I knew that anything he found fascinating was something I needed to hear more about.
I wasn’t the only one. When the lecture ended, there was applause. I don’t how long it lasted because my roommate, whose wisdom I was beginning to appreciate, insisted we sprint to the bookstore a block away and buy the books for the course before they sold out. Which they did. Before we’d even left the store.
Spence lectured three times a week that year, which meant he had about forty lectures to span the period from just before the Manchu conquest to the present, or roughly a decade per each 50 minute class. The course moved chronologically, but it did so at what felt like an unhurried pace, with time for detours into art or literature and often deep within the layers of individual lives.
The lectures had the feel of finely crafted short stories, and at times full-length novels. They were beguilingly titled—“The View from Below,” “All in the Translation,” “Into the World,” “Bombs and Pianos”—and they built in intensity to end in startling revelations or quietly delivered lines of poetry. Often they played on the juxtapositions in their titles to explore social tensions: “Famine and Finance,” “Sects and the Social Fabric,” “Warlords and Bandits,” “Socialists and Revisionists.” Spence liked to put two biographical sketches side by side to capture different dimensions of a given moment, a technique he used to electrifying effect on Yuan Mei and Zhang Xuecheng in the “The Poet and the Historian,” and on writers Ding Ling and Xu Zhimo in a lecture called “Being Modern.”
Even in less experimental modes, he always put individuals front and center. No event worth mentioning was too large to be refracted through a single human life and no life was too minor to have its humanity summoned up from the past alongside the abstraction of its historical significance. Spence could manage this level of detail even in a 50 minute lecture because of his knack for drawing a profile out of a single image—the Kangxi Emperor advising a bondservant on his health, Ding Ling’s mother running around an athletic field on her newly unbound feet, a Boxer victim’s Steinway piano, Mao aboard his private train. He could “catch the essence,” as he sometimes describes it, of people and of historical moments so they lit up like lightning bugs in a jar.
Not that his delivery was flashy. He spoke casually, musingly, from behind a sheaf of yellow notepaper, in a way that sometimes made it sound as if what he was saying was only dawning on him at the moment he said it. The effect was disarming. There was an open-endedness about the way he presented even the subjects he knew best that invited us to feel a part of them. Seldom did a lecture not include the phrase, “I’ve always hoped someone would write an essay on this subject.” Questions were as much a part of the lectures as exposition and from time to time he answered them, “Well, we’re not sure.” But for the most part, his lectures held out the promise that China and its past could be, if not quite within our reach, than at least a little closer than they seemed.
Among some of my classmates this promise produced an almost instantaneous decision to reorient their studies or move to China. I came more hesitantly to the subject and the country, but I am sitting in Shanghai as I write this, quite as certain as one can be about historical causes and effect, that had I not found my way to that lecture hall in the spring of 1995, or if Spence had been lecturing on astrophysics or on Luxembourg, I would not be here.
That first Spence lecture was very much on my mind this January as I returned to the auditorium, amid the hubbub of another shopping period, to hear Spence teach a course now called “History of China: 1600 to the Present”—this time as a graduate student and one of his teaching assistants. Little had changed at Yale in the intervening 13 years, but China was a different place or at least it meant something different to my students than it had to me. During my first meetings with them I asked them to write a few sentences about why they were taking the course. A few wrote that they had heard the class was excellent or that Spence was “awesome.” But the vast majority explained their interest in terms of China’s prominence in world affairs, its power, its “rise.” Some of them explicitly related their interest to future careers in business. One described the class as “a necessity.” They were at least as interested in China’s future as they were in hearing about its past.
That China had become a much more forceful presence in the consciousness of his students must have been on Spence’s mind as he began his first lecture. He spoke about what he called “the extraordinary drama of emotions aroused by China,” and said he found “depressing” the recent “great emphasis on the negative aspects of China.” In place of 1995’s list of ten fascinating things, he gave two lists, one on China’s frequently emphasized negative sides (pollution, corruption, tainted products, Tibet, etc.) and the other on developments he saw as more encouraging, including “the development of urban restoration” and “Chinese presence in Africa” along with the transformation of the middle class, stability in recent leadership transitions, the Olympics and the fact that “China [was] working enormously hard on energy.”
If I found it hard to share his optimism on some of these counts, I was reminded at the end of that first lecture of just how much change in China’s present Spence has witnessed in the years he has been studying its past. “I started out studying China here at Yale in 1959,” he told the final group of students who would hear him teach the course, “We weren’t being told very much...We really didn’t realize that one of the largest famines in China was happening—a missing cohort of 20 million to 30 million people…The People’s Republic was only 10 years old—now it’s 58 years old and somewhere in there is my life.”
This year’s lectures moved more briskly than they had in 1995. There were only two a week now and an extra decade to cover. But even in more compressed form they teemed with the kind of detail that had captivated me the first time around. Spence reflected more often about the development of his scholarship, and on his own encounters with contemporary China. Often when the class ended, he would climb down to the corner of the room where the teaching assistants sat and regale us with anecdotes or questions he hadn’t had time to include in the formal part of the class.
One side of the class I hadn’t remembered was the way Spence used humor, the way his formal British diction could give way to a reference to Kangxi as Yongzheng’s “old man” or a description of people in the 17th century “visiting tea houses for R&R.” He likened the life of a low-level Chinese scholar to “being trapped in high school your entire life—a grim prospect for many of us.” When the Yankee Doodle, a local greasy spoon where Spence had eaten his first American meal in 1959 closed its doors this winter, he asked the class for a moment of silence. Then he said, “Don’t write this on the midterm but Kangxi would have liked the Doodle and Qianlong wouldn’t have gone near it and that may explain my feelings about those two emperors.” Watching my students respond to these moments of playfulness, the way their affection and awe for their teacher drew them closer to his subject, I understood a little better how I had wound up where I was.
Spence used his final lecture to explore seven “enduring themes” in Chinese life that spanned the four centuries covered in the course—and new pressures on Chinese society. Another two lists. The first included the absence of permitted public debate on leadership transition, the closeness to power of highly educated male elites, the lack of a powerful nationwide religious structure, “good order” as a high state priority, changing borders and ideas about borders, pressure on scarce resources and rich aesthetic and cultural realms including wit, erudition, sensuality and history. Among the new stresses were the internationalization of China’s strategic interests, the scale of urbanization, the collective leadership of the CCP, the availability of capital for “colossal projects,” environmental degradation, the battle for control of information technology and “seeing China as a source of change for the rest of the world.”
In closing, Spence turned toward one last enduring theme, one that was much closer to home and yet more fleeting. To an unusually packed house full of former as well as current students and a good number of colleagues, he read aloud Mark Strand’s poem, “The Whole Story.”
How it should happen this way
I am not sure, but you
Are sitting next to me,
Minding your own business
When all of a sudden I see
A fire out the window.
I nudge you and say,
“That’s a fire. And what’s more,
We can’t do anything about it,
Because we’re on this train, see?”
You give me an odd look
As though I had said too much.
But for all you know I may
Have a passion for fires,
And travel by train to keep
From having to put them out.
It may be that trains
Can kindle a love of fire.
I might even suspect
That you are a fireman
In disguise. And then again
I might be wrong. Maybe
You are the one
Who loves a good fire. Who knows?
Perhaps you are elsewhere,
Deciding that with no place
To go you should not
Take a train. And I,
Seeing my own face in the window,
May have lied about the fire.
“The only gloss you need is that ‘train’ is Yale,” he had said as he began to read, “and the fire is China.”
SOURCE: NYT (6-25-08)
His death was confirmed by Linda S. Ferber, the historical society’s museum director.
Mr. Koke was curator of the museum, at Central Park West and 77th Street in Manhattan, from 1947 to 1983. A roster of just a few of the shows mounted under Mr. Koke takes in American quilts, granite milestones from post roads, portraits of eight generations of the Stuyvesant family, drawings of uniforms from the American Revolution, cannons from the War of 1812, an array of 19th-century toys and a history of the Hudson River.
Founded in 1804, with Thomas Jefferson and James Madison among its earliest members, the society was for much of its history essentially a vast private collection of books, letters, official documents, photographs and art. Although the society presented some exhibitions, Ms. Ferber said, it was primarily a research institute before Mr. Koke’s tenure.
Mr. Koke, she said, led a curatorial staff “that plumbed the depths of these extraordinary collections in a way that provided a model for the interdisciplinary work that we follow here today.” His work, she added, “did a great deal to open up these collections to the broader public.”...
SOURCE: Charles W. Hayford at the China Beat blog (6-23-08)
In the third "> lecture of the Chinese Vistas series, “American Dreams,” Jonathan Spence talked about American dreams of China and, more tantalizing, Chinese dreams of America. He sees a series of “paradoxes” from the American Revolution to the present which set Chinese and American dreams at odds.
In the question period, another paradox emerged, one between different uses of history. The lecture was broadcast from the Asia Society on Park Avenue in New York, where the initial questions came from Richard Holbrooke, President of the Asia Society and heavyweight diplomat, and Henry Kissinger, an even heavier weight (Spence had written about him, so it must have seemed strange). The questions asked if China had been more xenophobic than other countries, if industrialization would change Chinese mentalities, if China would be expansionist, and so on.
After responding to several questions, Spence started his answer to another by saying “I don’t know.” This was refreshing but perhaps it was also a tactful rebuke to the type of questions he was getting. Spence is not a present minded policy advisor, he is a public intellectual who writes about history to address questions of general meaning. Another Qing historian was recently asked what he told policy makers who sought his advice. He replied “as little as possible.” One of the few authentic lessons of history is that history does not offer “lessons,” much less predictions or tips on the horses, only stories of complications and confusion.
Of course, we might conclude, along with my Alan Baumler, my colleague at Frog in a Well, that Chinese History Sucks, but we could also just admit that historians are a feisty bunch and that they work in different ways.
Some historians use explicit theory to fit their material into patterns and compare it to other times and places. Theory works for them but tends to limit their audience to fellow academics. Other historians, including Spence, want to show us what is often called “the strangeness of the past.” Like poets, they give us the particular and the peculiar. Spence takes contemporary poetry seriously but his favored genre is biography, which by nature does not demand theoretical generalization and PhDs tend to avoid it.
Yet Spence’s work shows that writing history without explicit theory does not have to be mere antiquarianism nor do biographies of unrepresentative people have to be, in the phrase of a contemptuous scientist, “stamp collecting.”
Spence’s To Change China: Western Advisers in China, 1620-1960 (Little Brown, 1969) almost off-handedly set up a framework which we all still use. The biographical sketches, a seeming patchwork, start with the Jesuits, then tip toe through several Protestant missionaries, Michael Borodin, and Joseph Stilwell.
These “China helpers” certainly showed the “strangeness of the past” and Spence did not connect them to the Vietnam War, but he put his judgments clearly in the “Conclusions”: After a long cycle, China regained the right of “defining her own values and dreaming her own dreams without alien interference,” so the virulent anti-imperialist pronouncements of the 1960s were a “paradoxical combination of hostility and relief.” Westerners had thought that packaging technology and Western values together would change China. They were wrong.
The phrase “to change China” entered our vocabulary, but to my mind Spence’s most fruitful book on East-West perceptions is The Chan's Great Continent: China in Western Minds (1998), originally a series of lectures. It’s a tour de force of insights yet there is scarcely a theoretical generalization in it, simply groupings of Western “sightings” of China. Like a good host at a party, without seeming to strain, Spence introduces us to any number of voluble guests from history and by his craft lets them tell their stories. Among his subjects was Henry Kissinger, whose memoirs portrayed Mao in the “grand exotic tradition of the Chinese emperor,” ascribing “enormous calculation and cunning.”
Which brings us back to the Reith Lectures and the series of paradoxes. Spence at one point confesses that he “jotted down” ideas for the paradoxes, and, to be honest, some of them seem forced. The initial paradox involves Americans on board the ship Empress of China who arrived in Canton in 1784. The British there apologized for the recent wars and offered their support: together, we’re unbeatable. On the other side, the Chinese government forbade the teaching of the Chinese language on pain of death (Chinese language teachers should have a prize in memory of Liu Yabian, who was executed in 1759 for that crime).
Spence inserts a fascinating little discussion of a problem in political science which frustrated the Chinese. In figuring out the nature of the American system they debated how to translate the word “president” – should it be “head man”? At one point baffled translators simply call him “huangdi,” or “emperor.”
The next paradox was that Protestant translations of the Bible sparked the Taiping Rebellion which the Christian powers then supported the imperial government in suppressing. Another was that sympathy for the Chinese Republic did not mean that Wilson’s call for self-determination was extended to Asia. Chinese who dreamt that their own world would be made safe for democracy felt betrayed by Versailles, a partial explanation for the bitterness and complexity of the 1920s radical revolution.
American missionaries and the YMCA brought a package of technical aid, education, science, and Christianity, but the Nationalist Party unbundled it and removed the democratic values. An even more bitter paradox was between Open Door paternalism and American refusal to confront Japanese aggression until the attack on Pearl Harbor.
These are some of the well turned vignettes, but they leave me wanting something richer. I’d like to have heard Spence take the whole four lectures to talk about any one of the topics. Then we’d have more gems like that fact that in the nineteenth century there were ninety different Chinese terms for “America.”
If Chinese had trouble fitting concepts such as “president” into Chinese, English lacked important words to fit what Westerners saw in China. In the second lecture Spence remarked on the usefulness of Pidgin, which, like chop suey, has been disrespected for fear that it’s not “authentic,” whatever that means, there was also a China Coast vocabulary. For instance, government office in England and North America was allotted by patronage or aristocratic inheritance, but China had no aristocracy, so office was given on merit as determined by examination. What word would translate guan? The British adopted “mandarin” from Malay, originally from the Sanskrit for “official.” Did there need to be a new word for “common laborer”? “Coolie” was taken from Hindi to fill the gap (it later made its way into Chinese).
I’d be willing to skip lunch to hear Spence talk about this and how he chose the word “dreams” for the title of this talk. Of course, dreams come up often in his writings, such as Hong Xiuquan’s dreams of his Heavenly Father in God's Chinese Son : The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan (Norton 1996), and in the common Chinese view dreams reveal alternative realities. I can see why Spence passed over “images,” which is tired and misleading, even though many works used it creatively. The metaphor behind the word implies that China is just passively out there and impinges on our eyeballs and is interpreted by our brains. The process only goes one way. An image just sort of happens spontaneously, not like an analysis or interpretation or observation or representation or construction, which require thought.
In the end, the policy questions from Holbrooke and Kissinger miss Spence’s point. History is definitely (in another historians’ cliché) the search for a “usable past,” but not for answers to a quiz. No prognostications. When the United States and China wake up from their “American dreams,” the policy makers take charge, not historians. We can only hope that their eyes have been trained by history as they deal with the “strangeness of the present.”
SOURCE: US News & World Report (6-3-08)
What made you first ask the question,"Just how stupid are we?"
There's been no issue more important in the last generation than 9/11 and the Iraq war, and Americans didn't understand basic facts about it. I found that very disturbing, and I wanted to explain how to account for that and then how to have an intelligent conversation about this. It's a very sensitive subject. I want us to be able to sit down, calmly review the evidence, and one, like alcoholics, admit we have a problem; and, two, try to figure out how we remedy that problem.
What evidence most concerned you?
Even after the 9/11 Commission, a majority of Americans believed there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq even after the Commission said there weren't. Only a third of Americans understood that much of the rest of the world opposed our invasion. Another third thought the rest of the world was cheering our invasion, and a third thought the rest of the world was neutral. If you're going to get that much wrong about the most important issue facing us, it's hard to have much confidence in our democracy....
SOURCE: Financial Times (6-20-08)
That dank room contained the hundreds of reports written during the second world war by ordinary men and women for the Mass Observation research group. They had been lying neglected for years. Calder, who has died at 66, was to use them as the basis for his groundbreaking books The People’s War: Britain 1939-1945, published in 1969, and later, in 1991, The Myth of the Blitz. His work challenged the cherished view of a plucky Britain that came smiling through the blitz with people of all classes united by humour, tolerance and the volunteer spirit.
True, Calder found fortitude and courage at all levels of society. Yet as he showed in his vividly written and meticulously researched books, wartime Britain also saw industrial unrest, anti-Semitism, rising crime – the blackout was ideal for thieving – and a growing divide between rich and poor. “The forces of wealth, bureaucracy and privilege,” wrote Calder, who was a passionate socialist, “survived with little inconvenience.” He details, for example, the outrage of middle-class households when asked to take in vermin-infested evacuees from the slums. One rural council even turned away evacuees on the grounds that large houses could not be used because “the servant problem is acute and it would be unfair to billet children on them”.
As well as being a historian, Angus Calder was a poet, critic, essayist and teacher who made a big contribution to literature. Yet The People’s War, written when he was still in his 20s, was the first to give the views of ordinary people and the first to question established myths about the war. It influenced people from Sir David Hare, the playwright, to Gordon Brown, the prime minister, who knew Calder when both were historians and Labour party supporters in Edinburgh....
Dan Todman: Angus Calder
SOURCE: NYT (6-19-08)
SOURCE: Elisabeth Grant at the AHA Blog (6-22-08)
SOURCE: Robert Townsend at the AHA blog (6-23-08)
It is difficult to find a fair benchmark for assessing the progress of women in the history discipline. As you probably know, history is much less diverse than the larger American population, so setting the benchmark at 51 percent seems unfair. So for comparisons sake, let me use a benchmark that seems more comparable—the representation of women at the last Republican National Convention.
According to CBS, 43 percent of the delegates to the Republican convention were women. Unfortunately, history fails even by that modest test. The latest federal snapshot shows that just barely 30 percent of the history faculty in American colleges and universities are women. At the AHA we do slightly better, but only by just a bit. Currently 37 percent of our members are women. The only place where the discipline comes close to the Republicans is in the representation among new PhD’s—where women account for 42 percent.
The static picture depicted here seems troubling enough, but I think when viewed over time, the long-term trends appear even worse than this suggests. On each of these benchmarks it appears we have hit the glass ceiling and even modest progress has stopped....
SOURCE: Marc J. O’Reilly at the Middle East Strategy at Harvard (MESH blog) (6-23-08)
Unexceptional started as a Ph.D. dissertation. As a graduate student in political science and history in the late 1990s, I wanted to write on a U.S. foreign policy topic with contemporary relevance and historical antecedents. I had read some works on empire—a fascinating, albeit maligned, subject—and wondered if American behavior in the Middle East could be considered imperial, rather than simply hegemonic. In those pre-9/11 days, very few political scientists and historians were writing on the issue of U.S. empire. Yet, given America’s imposing military presence (especially in the Persian Gulf), vested interest in Gulf hydrocarbons, and political role in the Middle East, I thought the case could be made that the country had created and evolved a regional imperium comparable to the British, Ottoman, and other previous empires. Historian Doug Little, with whom I discussed the matter, thought so as well, but only if I confined my case to the Persian Gulf. With his advice in mind, I spent three years researching and writing on the U.S. experience in the Gulf since 1941.
The United States never intended to reprise the British role in the Middle East, especially in the Gulf. But global and regional events, as well as developing geopolitical and economic interests, prompted Washington to intensify its involvement in that part of the world. The American role proved modest initially, as administrations mostly sought to assist London to maintain regional authority. As British power receded in the late 1960s in the wake of two exhausting global wars, and with Cold War imperatives preoccupying U.S. policymakers, Washington graduated to a new status in the early 1970s. As the primary extra-regional power in the region, the United States adopted a number of imperial strategies (which I dub proxy, alliance, and unilateral) in an effort to achieve its national-security objectives. Some of those strategies, which pre-dated the Nixon Doctrine, worked well; others disappointed or failed. The history of empires recounted many similar episodes, yet many scholars I encountered at conferences dismissed the comparison. I finished my dissertation in August 2001 still convinced that an “informal” U.S. empire existed in the Persian Gulf, but cognizant that my conclusion invited much academic skepticism.
The U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003 and the bungled occupation that followed rekindled the empire debate in the United States, essentially dormant since the Vietnam War. In short order, many scholars, journalists, and policymakers were enthusiastically addressing the formerly taboo issue of American empire. A plethora of books and articles, many of them insightful, examined this controversial subject. These works provided valuable additions to my literature review on empires and the U.S. variant and enabled me to rethink my manuscript. I inferred, for example, that the American empire possessed both classical and liberal features. From International Relations scholar John Ikenberry, I realized that the United States could proceed hegemonically in Europe, a zone of peace that emphasizes economic competition via well-established institutions, but imperially in the Persian Gulf, a zone of conflict where violence (or the threat of it) could still carry the day. America’s classical-liberal hybrid was well suited to a post-colonial world but, like all empires, subject to setbacks and defeats. My students may typically think of an empire as omnipotent and therefore always successful, but imperial history belies such thinking.
Although much literature emphasizes the supposedly inevitable “rise and fall” of empires, I argue in my book that imperial trajectories tend to mimic the dramatic lines on a seismogram during an earthquake. For me, such a sequence of apexes and nadirs called to mind the spectrum of U.S. experiences in the Gulf since 1941. Each of the stages I discuss in my book (1941-47, 1948-58, 1959-72, 1973-89, 1990-2000, 2001-7) highlights parts of the sequence. In 1957, for example, the United States achieved a post-World War Two peak following the Suez crisis. However, from 1958, the year of the Iraq coup, until the 1979 Iranian revolution, American influence steadily declined. Following the hostage crisis, Washington started to reassert itself. Its success culminated in April 2003, when its position in the Gulf seemed unassailable. Yet four years later, America seemed ensnared in a familiar imperial conundrum in Iraq. As Washington pondered what to do, its influence within the region ebbed and popularity plummeted. Ironically, its “formal” empire in Iraq was undermining its informal imperium (what Chalmers Johnson calls the “empire of bases”) in the Gulf Cooperation Council area.
The juxtaposition of formal and informal empire in the Gulf underscores two issues. First, achieving successful formal empire in the twenty-first century seems near impossible and therefore not worth the considerable military, economic, and political efforts necessary. Second, informal empire can work, especially if you do not call it that. This variant has not guaranteed perpetual U.S. success in the Gulf, but it has secured American objectives better than any alternative.
Several scholars disagree with that assertion, but at least they admit to the existence of an American empire, both in the Gulf and worldwide. Although Michael Mann and others consider the global U.S. empire a failure, Bradley Thayer considers it exceptional. My analysis contradicted his assertion, however, so I edited my introduction to reflect the new impetus of my work. If the U.S. empire qualifies as exceptional, then its behavior ought to be easily distinguishable from that of previous empires. Yet my case study underscores that, in the Persian Gulf, the United States proceeded in a manner similar, if not identical, to the British, Ottoman, and other imperia. Thus, I characterize the American empire in the Gulf as unexceptional.
My hope is that Unexceptional contextualizes the current U.S. occupation of Iraq and the overall American position in the Persian Gulf. The U.S. experience in that region is not new, nor is it particularly innovative. Americans may not recognize it as imperial, but as Walter Lippmann wrote in 1927, they do not know how empire should feel. Does that mean that, like most imperia, the U.S. empire in the Gulf is doomed to an ignominious end? Not necessarily. But the history of empires should be instructive as Washington considers how to proceed in the coming years, if not decades, especially if the price of oil remains high and the threat of transnational Islamic terrorism continues.
SOURCE: PRnewswire (6-23-08)
The Pritzker Military Library Literature Award recognizes a living author for a body of work that has profoundly enriched the public understanding of American military history. The recipient's contributions may be academic, non-fiction, fiction, or a combination of any of the three, and his or her work should embody the values of the Pritzker Military Library. A national panel of historians, writers and individuals related to the study of American history and heritage -- including the first recipient of the award James M. McPherson -- reviewed nominations and definitive works submitted by publishers, agents, book sellers and other professional literary organizations. The finalist recommendation was unanimously endorsed by the executive council of the Foundation established to oversee the award process.
SOURCE: http://www.thebulletin.us (6-24-08)
Alvin Felzenberg, a professor of communications at the University of Pennsylvania, noted that George Washington does not enjoy the kind of prominent cinematic representation that HBO recently gave to John Adams or that Steven Spielberg aspires to give to Abraham Lincoln. He inquired of Mr. Brookhiser as to why.
America's first president, the historian answered, had some albatrosses as a public man. He had little gift for oratory and - at least compared to such contemporaries as Thomas Jefferson, Gouverneur Morris and Thomas Paine - a modest gift for writing.
"We're a very verbal culture," Mr. Brookhiser explained. "Maybe Washington falls behind because of that."
But what the first commander-in-chief lacked in eloquence he compensated for with a sense of the visual and the theatrical. He was a talented surveyor whose Mount Vernon estate in Virginia surpasses in elite opinion the beauty of Jefferson's Monticello. And he had a commanding appearance; he stood tall and strong, rode his horse gracefully and looked impressive in uniform.
Although an undaunted and charismatic revolutionary, Mr. Brookhiser observed, Washington determination did not preclude compromise and humility. He admired the intelligence of his cabinet secretaries Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and Henry Knox although he found his occasional disagreements with them, particularly with Jefferson, to be pointed.
"He had the confidence to employ smart people," Mr. Brookhiser said, suggesting later presidents who emulated him on that score have been wise to do so....
SOURCE: Inside Higher Ed (6-23-08)
Between sets at Washington, D.C.’s gay strip clubs – unique institutions while they lasted, where hands-on experiences were encouraged — he graded papers, “red pen in hand.”
“The truth was that stripping had long called out to me. It offered something different from my grad school grind of dealing with students, grading papers, and sitting through seemingly endless seminars.”
So Seymour writes in his new memoir, All I Could Bare: My Life in the Strip Clubs of Gay Washington, D.C. (Atria, 2008), his tell-all tale of getting eyed and groped while an American studies Ph.D. student (and teaching assistant) at the University of Maryland at College Park. The racy book doesn’t seem to have hobbled him on the academic hiring circuit: After three years at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth’s English department, he heads to Northern Illinois University as an associate professor of journalism this fall, with credit toward tenure status. “It’s clear that he is working in defined academic traditions of ethnography and journalism, so I didn’t hear any hue and cry about it,” Jeffrey Chown, incoming journalism chair at Northern Illinois, says of faculty reaction to Seymour’s publication history.
“I actually read an excerpt,” Seymour, now 39 and with significantly more time logged as a journalist than as a stripper, says of his NIU campus visit. “I’m at the point in my career that I don’t want to be anywhere if people don’t want me exactly as I am.”...
SOURCE: Telegraph (UK) (6-22-08)
Professor Skinner, a Fellow of Christ's College whose work has been translated into 23 languages, said: "It is very hard to understand why such a huge and arbitary cut should be made. We always have enough money to fight wars, but we don't seem to have enough money to educate talented young people."
SOURCE: http://www.naplesnews.com (6-21-08)
But her role now has limits. Term limits to be exact.
Naples City Council voted 4-3 at their recent meeting to limit the historian to two consecutive three-year terms. The decision will not retroactively affect Reynolds’ 2006 appointment, which means her first term will end in June 2011.
Mayor Bill Barnett, Councilman Gary Price and Councilwoman Teresa Heitmann cast the dissenting votes. Both Barnett and Price said they weren’t in favor of creating a term limit for the position.
“I think that if the time ever came that (she) felt she wouldn’t be able to be the city’s historian any more, she’d be the first one (to say so),” Barnett said. “Doris Reynolds for all intents and purposes is a historian ... she knows about Naples history.”
Reynolds, a columnist for the Naples Daily News, was appointed to her position in June 2006. Council at the time voted unanimously to name her the city’s official historian.
Councilwoman Penny Taylor in April said she felt it was appropriate to assign term limits to the city historian position.
SOURCE: HNN Staff (6-23-08)
Nasaw is on the left, Wallace on the right.
SOURCE: Times (UK) (6-20-08)
The opening day session will feature Ilan Pappé, an historian once dubbed “the most hated Israeli in Israel”, who is scheduled to discuss his project Nakba: Return of the Soul. Nakba means catastrophe and is the word used by Palestinians to summarise the founding of Israel in 1948.
In an article published last month, Dr Pappé accused the Zionist movement of ethnic cleansing in Palestine and linked its policies with the Holocaust. “Europe's guilt at allowing Nazi Germany to exterminate the Jews of Europe was to be cured by the dispossession of the Palestinians,” he wrote.
These views, and the programming of events in Edinburgh, have infuriated some.
“The organisers are politically illiterate,” said Colin Shindler, reader in Israeli and Modern Jewish Studies at London University. “The unsaid agenda is not to recall the Palestinian Nakba - a legitimate subject for discussion - but to underline the fact that the Jews really do not have a right to national self-determination in Israel. The festival's ‘outrage' is selective and they do a disservice to intellectual debate in this country,”
Geraldine D'Amico, the director of Jewish Book Week, told the Jewish Chronicle that Catherine Lockerbie, the director of the Edinburgh book festival, was “a friend and a role model” who had rejected calls for a boycott of Israeli speakers in 2006.
However, she added that she was “saddened” that “in 2008 the only recognition of Israel's 60 years of existence is a talk on the Nakba, with no-one to make the case for Israel”.
SOURCE: New Republic (6-23-08)
To: Sean Wilentz
I've been wielding my Nixon hammer for so long now--I signed the book contract for Nixonland in November of 2001--that sometimes the whole world starts to look like Nixon-shaped nails. Ask my friends: I've got a Nixon story for every occasion. And I mean every occasion: You call my book "sassy," and that reminds me of a story about Alger Hiss's car. ...
And your opening thoughts get to that issue of hammers and nails: Do I see Nixonland everywhere, to the exclusion of Reaganville? How much influence should Nixon be granted as midwife of our present political moment, and how much Reagan? It's a question I'm not entirely comfortable with, because I never intended to write a book with direct relevance to our present political moment.
My book originally ended this way: Richard Nixon, the greatest Electoral College victory in hand since James Monroe in 1820, is brooding angrily about the Republican Party's failure to capture the Senate. He's berating the press ("that's how they'll piss on it"), and he's getting ready to reward his cabinet by firing them all. My editor Colin Harrison, whose judgment is superlative, sent me back to the drawing board. My readers had come this far (746 pages!), and they wouldn't be satisfied with a mere reflection on the mood of Richard Nixon because the main character of the book was actually "the voter who, in 1964, pulled the lever for the Democrat for president because to do anything else, at least on that particular Tuesday in November, seemed to court civilizational chaos, and who, eight years later, pulled the lever for the Republican for exactly the same reason." I needed, my editor said, to explain what happened to that voter. And so I gave Colin and Nixonland two more pages--one thousand words to explain what the previous 325,000 had been "about." I'm proud of what I wrote, and stand by my words. But it's left me in the position of having to talk more about the snappy conclusion than the messy book--which means defining what it means to say that we're still living in Nixonland.
Sean, with your usual severe intelligence, you argue that Nixonism was a "hiccup" and that the last 25 or so years of American history tie more directly back to Reagan. Because, on the one hand, Reagan sanded the edges off Nixon-style Republican tactics, and on the other, he sharpened the edges of Nixon's ideology.
I'm not sure if that's entirely true, though. For my next book, which will cover the years from 1973 to 1980, with Reagan's ascent to the presidency as its frame, I'll be testing my hypothesis that the differences between the two presidents are overstated. ...
SOURCE: NYT (6-23-08)
The cause was complications of leukemia, said his daughter, Lisa.
As director for many years of the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota and in numerous scholarly articles and books, including “The People of New Jersey” (1965), and “A Century of American Immigration, 1884 to 1984,” Mr. Vecoli argued against the notion that immigrants to the United States left their cultures behind and did their best to blend into mainstream American society. Rather, he wrote, they clung tenaciously to their traditions and developed strategies to retain their heritage and resist pressures to embrace the American social and economic system.
SOURCE: Reason Magazine (July) (7-1-08)
The first histories of the 1960s and early ’70s weren’t always sure how to treat such events, when they deigned to notice them at all. But over the last decade, there has been a surge of interest in the right-wing movements that produced or cheered on such rallies. In studies ranging from Rebecca Klatch’s A Generation Divided to Lisa McGirr’s Suburban Warriors to John Andrew’s The Other Side of the Sixties, a new wave of scholarship has pored over the defining institutions, personalities, and moments of the ’60s right, deepening our understanding of the decade and illuminating the subsequent rise of Reaganism.
The most acclaimed of those books was probably the independent historian Rick Perlstein’s mammoth Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus (2001), an intelligent and absorbing account of the conservative insurgency that seized the Republican Party in 1964 only to be crushed in the November election. Now Perlstein has published an engrossing, almost novelistic sequel that extends the story through the Republican landslide of 1972. The protagonist of Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America (Scribner) is not Richard Nixon himself, Perlstein writes, but “the voter who, in 1964, pulled the lever for the Democrat for president because to do anything else…seemed to court civilizational chaos, and who, eight years later, pulled the level for the Republican for exactly the same reason.”
Nixonland takes its name from a speech that John Kenneth Galbraith wrote for Adlai Stevenson during the 1956 presidential campaign: “Our nation stands at a fork in the political road. In one direction lies a land of slander and scare; the land of sly innuendo, the poison pen, the anonymous phone call and hustling, pushing, shoving; the land of smash and grab and anything to win. This is Nixonland.” One lesson of the book is that men like Stevenson and Galbraith weren’t above slander, scare, and innuendo themselves, even if they preferred to pretend these faults existed only in the opposition. Nixonland was much larger than Nixon....
SOURCE: NYT (6-22-08)
His death was announced by Cambridge University, where Professor Chadwick taught and held administrative positions.
In an obituary written for the newspaper The Guardian, Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, called Professor Chadwick, who was knighted in 1989, an “aristocrat among Anglican scholars.”
The archbishop wrote, “His erudition was legendary, particularly in all areas of late antiquity.”
Professor Chadwick tried to put this powerful scholarship to use in the 1970s when he served on the Anglo-Roman Catholic International Commission, whose task was to find common ground between Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism. As a part of the path to denominational reconciliation, he put forward first principles that his research had shown had been shared by most early Christians.
Professor Chadwick once called ecumenism “a good cause to die for.”
SOURCE: NYT (6-20-08)
For months, Kentucky officials have been angry at Steve Shaffer, the Ohio historian who last year raised the boulder from the Kentucky side of the Ohio River and took it to Portsmouth, Ohio, where it now sits in a city garage. On Thursday, a Kentucky grand jury indicted him.
The state is charging Mr. Shaffer, 51, with the removal of an object of antiquity, a felony that carries a sentence of up to five years.
“I obviously need to talk to an attorney,” said a surprised Mr. Shaffer, who first heard of the indictment on Thursday morning from a reporter seeking comment. His research and diving work led to the rediscovery of the rock, which had been submerged in the river and largely forgotten for the better part of a century.
Mr. Shaffer said Kentucky officials were seeking revenge for his removal of the rock, whose crude etchings and graffiti have long figured in Portsmouth’s local lore. But the rock has lingered on an official Kentucky antiquities list since 1986, and state officials say Mr. Shaffer should have sought a permit from the University of Kentucky’s archaeology department to move a protected artifact.