A Student of History

May 30, 2006


Filed under: New books,Wars — John Maass @ 5:23 pm

History's Age of Hatred (Allen Lane History S.) 

Niall Ferguson has just published The War of the World, though it has apparently appeared only in the UK for now.  I can not find it on Amazon at all in the US but it is available at Amazon's UK site.  There is one review though, in which the quotes below are found.  The premise is very catching:

Why, asks Niall Ferguson, the Laurence A. Tisch professor of history at Harvard, was the 20th century so uniquely ghastly for so many people? “It was not a war between worlds that the twentieth century witnessed,” he argues, “but rather a war of the world.”

Good question, though not a new one. Others have asked why the so-called modern world has been its bloodiest during the last century, despite "progress." Nevertheless the review is positive, and includes this as well:

Ferguson’s writing is full of epigrams, witticisms and thought-provoking paradoxes and ironies. For example, Stalin, “one of the most paranoid, untrusting individuals in modern history”, completely fell for Hitler’s promises of peaceful intent, right up to the Wehrmacht’s invasion of the USSR in June 1941. “The Soviet dictator only trusted one man,” he writes. “Unfortunately, that man was the most unscrupulous liar in history.” By 1942 the Germans had captured more than half of Russia’s economic capacity, but as Ferguson points out, three-quarters of world oil production came from the US by 1944 – compared with just 7 per cent from the whole of North Africa, the Middle East and the Gulf – so Hitler’s declaration of war against America in December 1941 had been a suicidal error.

Hopefully the book will appear in the USA soon too….

June 10th: just found another review of the book, by Max Hastings, here.

By the way, Ferguson is also the author of another thoughtful book on WWI, The Pity of War.

British Professors Seek to Cut Ties to Israeli Scholars

Filed under: The Academy,Uncategorized — John Maass @ 1:17 pm

From Inside Higher Education, an article/report that "one of Britain’s two faculty unions on Monday adopted a policy under which its members are urged to avoid contact with Israeli universities or professors unless they demonstrate their opposition to various policies of the Israeli government with regard to Palestinians."  This measure, which may not have any teeth to it aat all as far as enforcement, "has also infuriated many academics in Britain and elsewhere because it effectively sets up a political litmus test for Israeli academics (if they take certain stands, they are OK to deal with), and the idea of subjecting academics to political tests offends standards of academic freedom in Britain, the United States and elsewhere."

Is this just another of many, many examples of the academy's hypocrisy?  As the article points out, some opponents of this move see "it as a serious attack on principles of academic freedom and of international scholarly cooperation." Other academics have stated that “a boycott strikes against free speech and the free exchange of ideas, limiting the ability of academics to contribute to mutual understanding. Academic life is about building bridges, not destroying them; opening minds, not closing them; hearing both sides of an argument, not one alone. Boycotts are a betrayal of these values.”

I'm most wary of the so-called litmus tests on ideas.  These people in favor of the ban I would assume are the same ones who decry the so-called McCarthyism in the US during that Senator's heyday in the 1950s, in which (they say) people were persecuted or blacklisted because of their beliefs. What is the difference here then?

See a related article here from the BBC, and one from the NY Times. An opinion piece from the National Review is here, entitled "Academic Anti-semitism."

May 29, 2006

The death of postmodernism?

Filed under: The Academy — John Maass @ 5:09 pm

A POSTMODERN interpretation of history that analyses the use of language and challenges the truth of historical facts has had its day, influential historian Henry Reynolds said yesterday.

This is the lead off to a story in THE AUSTRALIAN of May 27th.  Prof. Reynolds' verdict on postmodernism is that "it just goes round and round, with lots of lights and colours and doesn't get you anywhere".  While this will not of course end the debate, its a great contribution to refuting the silliness of postmodernism that has become so popular (though not universal) in the academy.  There's a useful primer on postmodernism here.

I ran across an article too at a website of a Christian perspective, so it has than angle and I neither endorse nor condem it. Its just another view on things.  It is here.  One excerpt:

Postmodernism is a term which describes a way that many people think today. There has been a revolution in popular values over the last several decades. No longer are people so ready to think in absolute terms. Postmodernism arms us with a method of calling everything into question and promoting a new cultural agenda. For some, this path promises great liberation while for others it seems to lead to despair and nihilism. Something has been happening in our culture.

May 27, 2006

Remember the Titans

Filed under: New books — John Maass @ 6:55 pm

What Made the Founders Different

In the WP, there’s a book review on Gordon Wood‘s new one, REVOLUTIONARY CHARACTERS: What Made the Founders Different (Penguin Press. 321 pp. $25.95).  As the review states,

Eight of the 10 chapters of Revolutionary Characters are biographical, featuring Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, John Adams, Thomas Paine and Aaron Burr. The founders are often considered as a group, as indeed they are here, and widely admired as being “different” (the key word in Wood’s subtitle) from our current leaders in their commitment to enlightened principles. Looking at the founders together, it is hard not to conclude that though they deserve our admiration, they may not have constituted the group we have imagined. Certainly, they acted at times as if they had nothing in common.  All of the essays in this volume are of a high intellectual order. The most interesting may be “Is There a ‘James Madison Problem’?” — in which the question is whether Madison transformed himself from a nationalist in the 1780s, eager to create an active, energetic government with broad powers, into a “strict constructionist” in the 1790s.

I met Wood when he came to Ohio State University to give a paper about this chapter, and discuss it with faculty and graduate students.  Not surprisingly, few faculty out of the early US field or constitutional history bothered to show up, despite Wood’s powerful influence in his own field.  So much for lifelong learning I suppose!  Many fellow graduate students complained that Wood was too old fashioned, or traditional or did not engage in the new cultural history, etc. One asked him if he though the body could be a useful metaphor for exploring the early history of the US or the Revolution. He of course said no. 

The very favorable review is by Robert Middlekauff, Professor of History emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789.  However, my review is loctaed here, and is more limited in praise. 

Slaves and the American Revolution

Filed under: New books — John Maass @ 12:54 pm

In a recent New Yorker review article, Jill Lepore has an excellent review of two new books on slaves and the American Revolution.  One is Simon Scama's Rough Crossings, the other is Cassandra Pybus’s Epic Journeys of Freedom: Runaway Slaves of the American Revolution and Their Global Quest for Liberty.  From Lepore's review:

No one knows how many former slaves had fled the United States by the end of the American Revolution. Not as many as wanted to, anyway. During the war, between eighty thousand and a hundred thousand (nearly one in five) left their homes, running from slavery to the freedom promised by the British, and betting on a British victory. They lost that bet. They died in battle, they died of disease, they ended up someplace else, they ended up back where they started, and worse off. (A fifteen-year-old girl captured while heading for Dunmore’s regiment was greeted by her master with a whipping of eighty lashes, after which he poured hot embers into her wounds.) When the British evacuated, fifteen thousand blacks went with them, though not necessarily to someplace better.

On the Scama book, a summary from Booklist says: "African-American history, as well as American history, is too often geographically restricted in focus and content, lacking larger global context. Schama, a much-hailed Columbia University history professor and writer, frees us from those debilitating limitations. In the American Revolution, he exposes the complex dimensions of black interests associated with both the loyalist and patriot forces. For those of slave status, the American quest for liberty had hollow virtue without its companion of freedom. The slavery issue impacted both the revolution and our nations' early formation far more than is commonly known." 

Booklist also notes that "Historian Pybus traces the paths of several former slaves, including those of George Washington, as they fled America for freedom, and she profiles famous and lesser-known figures who fought for freedom for enslaved blacks during the American Revolution. Pybus also offers a rare look at how the former slaves were received in London and how they fared in the two colonies set aside by the British for them in Sierra Leone, Africa, and Botany Bay, Australia. Along with detailing the personal challenges facing these former slaves and showing how they managed, while enslaved, to forge ideals of individual freedom, Pybus demonstrates that the Civil War and the civil rights movement have roots in the American Revolution."

For more on Simon Schama, click here.   Also–there's a review of Schama's book in the Washington Post here.

May 26, 2006


Filed under: The strange place called the South — John Maass @ 8:15 pm

The Program in the Carolina Lowcountry and Atlantic World (CLAW) at the College of Charleston seeks papers on the Irish in the Atlantic World.   Interdisciplinary conf. will be held in Charleston SC Feb 27-Mar 2, 2007.   Conf. will examine experiences of Irish around the Atlantic and Irish impact on the Atlantic World as a whole, from 16th-20th centuries; from the U.S. & Canada to the Caribbean , Latin America & Africa. One-page c.v. & proposals due Aug 15 to Dr. David T. Gleeson, Dept. of History, College of Charleston, 66 George St., Charleston, South Carolina 29424 or email gleesond@cofc.edu   More information: http://www.cofc.edu/atlanticworld/

May 25, 2006

Jackson’s ‘colored Sunday school’ class

Filed under: The strange place called the South — John Maass @ 12:49 pm

In the May 6 Washington Times is an article on Stonewall Jackson's pre-Civil War sunday school classes for local blacks in Lexington, Va.  I worked at the Stonewall Jackson House Museum for three or four years back in the 1980s, so this is a special link for me.  "Jackson was an enigma: a poor, uneducated orphan from the mountains of western Virginia who would graduate from West Point; a shy, backward young man who would become a competent debater and professor at Virginia Military Institute; a staunch Calvinist Presbyterian who questioned the doctrine of predestination; and a fearless Confederate Joshua who would teach slaves and free blacks the way of salvation," according to the column.

The place where SJ had the class was the Lexington Presbyterian Church, which suffered a terrible fire in 2000 but was rebuilt. A photo of the church is here.

What Would the Founders Do?

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Maass @ 12:36 pm

In a previous post, I mentioned Richard Brookhiser’s new book What Would the Founders Do?  As part of the promo for the book, there is an interview RB by Kathryn Lopez, National Review senior editor found here.

Here is a taste:

Jefferson would be dismayed by taxes and spending, Hamilton would be incensed by Katrina screw-ups, Adams and Gouverneur Morris would laugh at efforts to encourage democracy in the Middle East, Abigail Adams would demand that the government shut down the MSM, the young Franklin would mock Mexican immigrants as “boors” (he changed his tune later). I was asked to add the following note: “My dear Miss Lopez: I intrude on your time only to remind gentlemen, and ladies, that we are engaged in war with an enemy that is a determined as he is indifferent to the rights of men. The safety and happiness of our country, and of the millions unborn who are to follow us, demand that we give our attention to the task at hand. Your obedient humble Servant, G. Washington.”

May 24, 2006

Ireland Paved Over-Part 2

Filed under: Ireland — John Maass @ 6:55 pm

Looks like the road in the area of the Hill of Tara will be built afterall.  From the Japan Times on-line is a piece (more an opinion than an objective news column) on this tragic development (NPI). 

The article is called "A road to ancient history's ruin" by Stephen Hesse.  Some extracts:

Not just one or two historical sites, but demolition on a grand scale: a 60-km, four-lane motorway that will condemn 700 hectares of land to development, including at least 156 known archaeological sites ranging from burial sites and buildings to settlements.

The motorway, known as the M3, is projected to run between Clonee and Kells and will supplement the N3, a two-lane road that runs through County Meath, just northwest of Dublin. Inevitably the M3 will also bring increased traffic, mounting air pollution, urban sprawl — and even more development.

This kind of thing is far worse than the old observation tower at Gettysburg, which could be–and was–torn down.  The road once built will never be abandoned.  Do the Irish not know how much their economy is based on tourism?  To trash their heritiage to save another 15 minutes on the way to work each day is more than a shame, its stupid.  We in the US know only too well how sprawl or "progress" trashes our landscapes and history.  One need only look at Manassas, or the Civil War battlefields around Fredericksburg, VA to see it. 

May 20, 2006

New on-line history journal up & running…

Filed under: The strange place called the South — John Maass @ 11:23 am

Volume 1, #1 of the new Journal of Backcountry Studies is now on-line, with articles and book reviews. Go here. The editor is Professor Robert M. Calhoon, of UNC Greensboro.  This inaugural issue also has four reviews of Warren Hofstra's new book, The Planting of a New Virginia: Settlement and Landscape in the Shenandoah Valley (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004).

Publishers fear drop in reading

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Maass @ 11:14 am

This is from an AP story found in the 20 May Washington Times, and other papers as well:

The publishing industry enjoyed a strong year in 2005, with increases in both revenue and the number of books sold. But projections for long-term growth remain limited because people increasingly don't read, according to a study released yesterday.

Of course the way our culture is today, the story's "angle" is that this is bad news for….business!!!  We dutifully get the news that "The average amount of time and money spent by the general population on books has been declining and we don't see anything that's going to change that," said Bob Wharton, also a senior researcher at the Institute for Publishing Research, based in Bergenfield, N.J.

But what about the real cultural and social impact of this news–why doesn't the story say anything about what it means for us that people no longer are buying books?  Does that also mean that they are not reading as much?  Or are books now too expensive, so that many just go to libraries?  I can tell by the experiences I have will my undergraduate students that they indeed do not read much at all, besides pop magazines. 

May 14, 2006

Lawrence of Arabia – Liar?

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Maass @ 11:51 pm

From the Telegraph we now learn that "The most controversial incident in the colourful life of Lawrence of Arabia was made up by the celebrated hero, according to new forensic evidence."  Apparently there is evidence that he made up the story of the attack "in order to smear political opponents and fulfil his own sado-masochistic urges."  The story is here.

Next Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.