A Student of History

May 13, 2006

History as a Literary Art

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Maass @ 12:17 am

The New Yorker, not one of my favorite magazines to be sure, has shown us that, like a stopped clock that's right twice a day, even it can have some columns worth reading. The April 24th edition includes an essay by Harvard historian Jill Lepore (The Name of War) on Samuel Eliot Morison, most known for his work on Columbus (Admiral of the Ocean Sea) and a multi-volume history of the U.S. Navy in WWII. What Lepore likes about SEM is his enthusiasm for fine writing, stated in a pamphlet of his called “History as a Literary Art: An Appeal to Young Historians,” printed in 1946. In it, Morison complained that “American historians, in their eagerness to present facts and their laudable concern to tell the truth, have neglected the literary aspects of their craft. They have forgotten that there is an art of writing history.” Lepore goes on at length about the traditions of writing history (not doing history as so many younger graduate students say these days.) by William Bradford, et. al. in what is a nice read. Click here to go to the article.

Lepore makes an interesting observation too:

Because he wrote more for the public than for his fellow-historians, Morison has few academic disciples today, and, if the chain reaction of dullness continues unbroken, Morison is as much to blame as anybody. But it could be argued that there has been a sea change: there now is a School of Morison, a school of history writers who are not professors, not all of whom care as much as Morison did about context and argument and, above all, evidence.

Who could we lump into this group of authors who don't care too much about evidence? 

May 12, 2006

Why do history courses never reach close to the present?

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Maass @ 4:27 pm

This is a question taken up by Glen Jeansonne in the AHA Perspectives, here.  His introduction goes like this:

It is Karl Marx's specter "haunting Europe." It is Betty Friedan's "problem with no name." It is the question history students from junior high through graduate school asks: "Why do my history courses never reach very close to the present?"

This is followed by an interesting statement:

It is time to face the question and confess: historians change less rapidly than history.  The reason we do not come near the present is because most courses are backloaded—the courses contain more years and events in the second half than in the first half. Most baby boom professors such as me simply don't try to reach the present, trailing off in the 1970s or 1980s. When we do cover these periods we do a better job at covering the politics than the popular culture because it is easier to name the great books of the 1920s and 1930s than to judge and rank more recent cultural artifacts such as rap music. Yet these are the kinds of things many of our students are interested in.

Good article from a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  He is the author of Messiah of the Masses: Huey P. Long and the Great Depression. New York: Longman's, 1993.

May 10, 2006

British to Pay Off Last WWII Debts

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Maass @ 4:35 pm

From the BBC:

On 31 December, the UK will make a payment of about $83m (£45.5m) to the US and so discharge the last of its loans from World War II from its transatlantic ally. For the rest of this interesting story, click here

May 9, 2006

2007 SMH Meeting

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Maass @ 11:00 pm

Although the 2006 meeting of the Society for Military History will meet this weekend, here's some information for next year:

The Catoctin Center for Regional Studies located at Frederick Community College will host the 74th meeting of the Society for Military History. The conference will take place April 19-22, 2007 in historic Frederick, Maryland which is located forty-five miles west of Washington, D.C.

The theme for the conference will be Crossroads of War. The Program Committee seeks papers and panels that address those intersections during the war-time experience between the military and other sectors of society, including, but not limited to, the home-front, the economy, politics and constitutionalism, as well as culture. This topic includes both the impact of the military on society as well as the influence of societal factors in shaping and defining the military experience during war. Although the conference will focus on the Crossroads of War, the Program Committee also desires papers and panels dealing with any facet of military history.

Point of contact:

Dr. Conrad C. Crane
Program Chair
SMH Papers 2007
PO Box 839
Carlisle, PA 17013
Visit the website at http://catoctincenter.frederick.edu/

I could not make the 2006 meeting in Kansas, at KSU, but will try to get on the program at Frederick.

May 1, 2006

Looking for a certain answer

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Maass @ 7:33 pm

Lisa Jardine has written an entertaining column for the BBC website, called "Believe it or not: The battle over certainty." It is the 1st of her weekly columns.  From the article:

Sometimes, if you're lucky as a historian, you find a bit of evidence which illuminates a big idea. That happened to me this week in the Pepys Library at Magdalene College, Cambridge. The thought uppermost in my mind was how odd it is that non-scientists think of science as being about certainties and absolute truth. Whereas scientists are actually quite tentative – they simply try to arrive at the best fit between the experimental findings so far and a general principle.

What made her think along these lines? "a ship's journal kept by a 17th Century English sea captain, who had offered to carry some state-of-the-art scientific equipment on a voyage to the west coast of Africa and back – two new pendulum clocks."  She goes on to tell of his experiment, to "know" for sure what's what, especially in science. That is her point–we tend to want definitive answers from science (especially medicine?), and get frustrated when we don't. "Because most of us want more certainty, we're on the side of the 17th Century's ship's captain, believing the experiments ought to prove the scientific theory once and for all. Unfortunately, where arguments about the ecology are concerned, time is not on our side," she concludes. 

History paved over in Spain, this time….

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Maass @ 3:39 am

This kind of thing does not just happen in the US.  From Times Online:

THE archeologists could barely hide their excitement. Beneath the main square of Ecija, a small town in southern Spain, they had unearthed an astounding treasure trove of Roman history.

They discovered a well-preserved Roman forum, bath house, gymnasium and temple as well as dozens of private homes and hundreds of mosaics and statues — one of them considered to be among the finest found.

But now the bulldozers have moved in. The last vestiges of the lost city known as Colonia Augusta Firma Astigi — one of the great cities of the Roman world — have been destroyed to build an underground municipal car park.

It seems that the town's mayor ran on a pledge to revitalize downtown, which included the car park.  Wow.  Complete article here.

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