A Student of History

February 20, 2007

Slavery Issue Still Hot in Va.

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Maass @ 6:02 pm

From today’s Richmond Times Dispatch:

The game plan designed to reach a compromise on the slavery-apology resolution almost got derailed in the Senate Rules Committee yesterday.

The Senate was expected to adopt a tougher resolution expressing the state’s contrition for slavery, while the House of Delegates was expected to adopt a milder version expressing profound regret for slavery. The measure then was expected to go to a conference committee to settle differences between the two bodies.

But the Rules Committee adopted the milder version instead, which would have prevented a conference committee.

February 19, 2007

Religion and Violence in Early America

Filed under: The Academy — John Maass @ 6:41 pm
Religion and Violence in Early America
Call for Paper Proposals

A Conference Co-Sponsored by Yale University and the
Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture
April 10-13, 2008

From the perspective of the bloody wars of religion that consumed various parts of Europe during the Reformation and Counterreformation eras, religious violence in early American can seem negligible or even benign. Yet violence, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder, and the inhabitants of early North America certainly knew the pain of what anthropologists have called “sacred violence.” We hope the very definition of “sacred violence” will be a focus of debate at the conference, sparking conversations about how violence was sacralized in a colonial context but also about the ways religious beliefs and practices were used to mitigate or redirect violence in less destructive channels. This conference seeks to explore a variety of sites in North America from the seventeenth through the early nineteenth centuries–the church, the courtroom, the scaffold, the battlefield, and the slave quarters, for example–where the relations of religion and violence are laid bare. The collision of European, Native and African cosmologies and practices make early North America a unique testing ground for theories about the role of violence in sustaining cultures of faith, economy, and collective and personal identity in a hostile and alien environment.

We encourage proposals that address how and in what venues violence was performed; how violent acts affected actors, victims, and spectators; why certain forms of violence were preferred or feared over others; and which elements of the intricate repertoire of sacred violence created by Europeans, Africans and Native Americans in their respective cultures were absorbed and transformed in the colonial encounter. Possible topics might include but are not limited to: the role of religion in colonial wars; the legal prosecution of heterodox beliefs or practices; the creative uses of violence within religious cultures; the destruction of religious objects, buildings, or communal sites; the violent reordering of cosmologies through the process of forced and voluntary migration; the role of print in fostering or mitigating religious violence; theologies of pain and suffering in cultural context; the psychological rupturing of notions of self and other in the act of conversion. We especially welcome proposals that are explicitly interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary in nature, or which address the relationship of religion and violence from a transatlantic or crosscultural perspective.

Please submit written proposals of one to two pages outlining the subject, argument, and relevance to the conference theme, along with a brief c.v. Send as an email attachment, with the subject line “Religion and Violence Conference,” to Kim Foley at kawahl@wm.edu by March 1, 2007. Questions may be directed to Christopher Grasso, Editor, William and Mary Quarterly, at cdgras@wm.edu.

10 Big Losers

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Maass @ 3:47 pm

Although of very little historical value, US News on its website has a story on the “10 Worst US Presidents.” 

W. H. Harrison (all that bad?)

U.S. News has averaged the results of five presidential polls to make a gallery of the worst chief executives. The years before the Civil War produced an era of failure: Six of seven presidents who served from 1841 to 1861 made the list. 

Now of course it should come as no surprise that Nixon is on the list, and I think anyone could have guess that.  But where the list gets very–debatable–is its emphasis on the sectional crisis.  For instance, the list inlcudes Millard Fillmore, because “He backed the Compromise of 1850 that delayed the Southern cessation by allowing slavery to spread.”  Wow!  He also postponed war for a few years too, but gets no credit.

The most absurd inclusion is William Henry Harrison.  Come on, he died in a month–what harm could he have done?

And the losers are…..

Where is George?

Filed under: The past that is still with us — John Maass @ 3:39 pm

Kathleen Parker has a syndicated opinion piece from Sunday entitled “Knowledge of history has gone the way of Washington’s portrait.”  While a bit simplistic, it is a decent read, and starts like this:

In today’s anti-patriarchal climate, it isn’t surprising that the birthday of America’s Father, (celebrated this Monday but really on Thursday) has been reduced to a free day and cheap sheets.

She gives a few stats about how badly students are doing in history, particularly college students. “Part of the problem is that many schools don’t require students to study history,” Parker writes. “Another is that schools tend to measure their quality in terms of expenditures, ethnic diversity and class size, rather than by knowledge imparted. Thus, if there’s a problem, they don’t see it.”

Parker goes on to point out that she sees it as a problem that so many classrooms do not have portraits of George Washington in them–a victim of modern PC feelings.  It is a debatable claim, but a column worth reading either way.

New find on Roanoke Island creates stir

Filed under: Historic Places — John Maass @ 3:39 pm

Has the fort of the famous English settlers on Roanoke Island finally been discovered?  Could be, although some folks suggest that perhaps what Scott Dawson, a native of Hatteras Island, has found is a Civil War fort instead.

The article is here.

February 18, 2007

Pope Pius XII is also “Pope Innocent”

Filed under: The past that is still with us — John Maass @ 4:22 pm

For years it has been a mantra of anti-Catholic polemicists to repeat ad nauseum that Pope Pius XII (Eugenio Pacelli) did (at best) nothing to help the Jews during WWII, or (at worst) he was a willing tool of the Nazi regime and thus could be dubbed “Hitler’s Pope.”  This characterization has been so successful that even those uninvoled with purposefully tainting Pius XII still seem to be under the impression that it is based on fact.  Others continue to buy into this “history” and can be found on the web in droves.  Click here for just one painful example.

One of the worst examples of this shoddy history is Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII, by John Cornwell (1999).   It garned all sorts of (unsurprisingly) favorable reviews from those in the media and academia who for other reasons oppose the Church and its political and social positions.  The book concludes that Pius XII’s actions or inactions allowed Hitler to gain power and eventually exterminate Jews in the Holocaust.  To be sure, this “party line” has not been swallowed by everyone, and some very good refutations have been written, such as Donald Devine’s article here

Devine states that “the campaign against Pacelli is a defamation.”  Moreover, the future pope in 1935 told hundreds of thousands of Lourdes pilgrims

that the “church will never come to terms with Nazis as long as they persist in their racial philosophy.” Throughout 1936 and thereafter, his Vatican Radio broadcast against these racial laws. Following the encyclical, on Jan. 9, 1939, Pacelli told the world’s archbishops that their governments should accept Jews trying to escape Germany, and the next day sent the same order to the American cardinals. By March, he was pope.

His first encyclical defines human nature as “neither gentile nor Jew,” but universal. On Oct. 28, 1939, the New York Times explained it as: “Pope condemns dictators, treaty violators, racism.” Its Jan. 23, 1940, leading item was, “Vatican denounces atrocities in Poland; Germans called even worse than Russians.” On March 11, 1940, Pius confronted German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, which the Times headlined three days later as, “Pope is emphatic about just peace: Jewish rights defended.” After the fall of France in 1940, Pius sent a secret letter telling bishops to help those suffering from racism, reminding them racism is “incompatible with the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

Seems pretty clear…..now however, evidence is turning up to show that the enemies of Pius XII were indeed wrong, either willfully or they were duped.  Most recently is a Times On-Line article which reports that the “KGB hatched a plot to smear the late Pope Pius XII as an antisemitic Hitler supporter and fostered a controversial play that tarnished the pontiff, according to the highest-ranking Soviet bloc intelligence officer to have defected to the West.”  This is not from a far-out Catholic website (of which there are more than a couple) but from a reliable news source. 

One should also read “Moscow’s Assault on the Vatican,” a column on the National Review’s website, as well, in order to see the long-time Soviet attempt to smear the name of the Vatican as part of their Cold War strategy.  

February 16, 2007

And speaking of Lincoln…

Filed under: The past that is still with us — John Maass @ 10:22 am

If you are going to quote somebody, it helps to get the quote right!  This, from the Washington Post:

During floor debate on the Iraq war yesterday, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) quoted Abraham Lincoln as advocating the hanging of lawmakers who undermine military morale during wartime.

“Congressmen who willfully take action during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs, and should be arrested, exiled or hanged,” Young declared.

The problem is that Linciln never said it!  The article explains the rest here.  By the way–Congressman Young seems to have an tiny Abe beard thing going on, doesn’t he?

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) quoted a contemporary scholar, not Abraham Lincoln. 

February 13, 2007

Lincoln Movie

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Maass @ 3:18 pm

For those who have not heard, nextyear will see the release of a MMP (major motion picture) on Lincoln, starring Liam Neeson (of Co. Antrim, by the way).  It’ll be directed by Steven Spielberg, based on Doris K. Goodwin’s very popular book, Team of Rivals.  Rumors have it that Spielberg has put this project on hold, until the fourth ‘Indiana Jones’ movie gets underway (Harrison Ford in a wheelchair?).

From totalfilm.com, there is an interview with Neeson who talks about this picture.  Neeson revealed that he’s been doing his research like a good student. “We know a lot about him, it’s not hearsay,” the actor admits. “There are over two thousand books written on this man. Two thousand! Some of them are great books. I’ve read about 22 maybe.”

And he’s not just been hitting the books – he’s been visiting Lincoln’s haunts and memorials: “I’ve been to Washington, I’ve held his wallet, I’ve said a prayer on the Bible he was inaugurated on. I read his personal letters and stood on the stage at Ford’s Theatre.” But even his star power couldn’t get him access to the fateful balcony of the theatre, where Lincoln breathed his last after an assassin’s bullet. “It’s sealed off. But I love the fact that he loved the theatre. There’s not too many presidents you see going to see plays every so often. Lincoln did, all the time! He supported live theatre, which is terrific.”

Too much of a good thing

Filed under: Historic Places — John Maass @ 2:16 pm

“The number-one threat to tourist treasures, paradoxically, is tourism itself. The challenge is how to keep the world’s most esteemed monuments from being loved to death. ”  So says an article on MSNCB’s website, regarding the influx of tourists at some delicate places in the world, such as the Great Wall, to the point that they are being wrecked.

“Tourism carries a tremendous potential that must be acknowledged as essential for the future of world heritage’,” says Bonnie Burnham, president of the World Monuments Fund (WMF). “But without proper management we can easily get out of control.” For all Hurricane Wilma’s wrath, patching Cancún back together will be easy compared with taming the monster that the tourist economy has unleashed. The 7 million visitors a year who descend on this megaresort and surrounding patches of the Mexican Caribbean coast already represent a conservation nightmare, straining water supply, sewers, and marine life. And it’s not just Mexico. Conservation International reckons that “unsustainable tourism” poses the main threat to half the cultural heritage sites in Latin America and the Caribbean, and to one in five sites in Asia and the Pacific. Cambodia’s once-remote Angkor temples now receive a million visitors a year; the Taj Mahal is subject to 7 million. Rising prosperity in the developing world, more and more elderly on the move, and cheap flights to anywhere will only hasten the human flood. China alone reported a staggering 1.1 billion domestic tourists in 2004.

The rest is here.

February 11, 2007

Thomas Paine in Arkansas?

Filed under: The past that is still with us — John Maass @ 1:06 pm

 From the NYT comes an interesting article on the failed attempt to create a ”Thomas Paine Day” in Arkansas.  The vote Thursday was 46-20 in favor of the measure, but 51 votes were needed to pass. 

My first reaction was “why”?  Why does Arkansas need a Paine holiday, as opposed to some other figure or cause for comemorization?  Then I went on to read why it was defeated:

The proposal by Rep. Lindsley Smith, D-Fayetteville, to commemorate Jan. 29 as ”Thomas Paine Day” failed in the state House of Representatives after a legislator questioned Paine’s writings criticizing the Bible and Christianity.  Rep. Sid Rosenbaum, R-Little Rock, quizzed Smith about Paine and quoted passages from Paine’s book, ”The Age of Reason,” which Rosenbaum criticized as anti-religion. ”He did some good things for the nation, but the book that he wrote was anti-Christian and anti-Jewish,” Rosenbaum said. ”I don’t think we should be passing things out like this without at least debating it and letting people in the House know what we’re voting on.”

February 10, 2007

But what can you do with a history major?

Filed under: The Academy — John Maass @ 4:21 pm

 That is a not infrequent question I hear, and have heard, since my undergrad days at W&L.  Dr. Robert Pace of McMurray Univ. (TX) has an interesting essay on this at his website, and I have pasted same below.

Students approach me every year with the above sentiment. I imagine there are many more who ask the same question, then give themselves the discouraging answer: “I can’t do anything with a history major, so I guess I’ll just major in ____.” I understand this reasoning. In fact, I had a similar conversation with myself in 1984 when I started college. I only became a history major in my junior year (after I had first majored in biology, then psychology, then religion). I have not once regretted my decision to major in history since I made that switch over a decade ago. I have also learned that the answer to the big question, “What can I do when I graduate?” is: anything you want to do!

Let’s face it, there are people who do not enjoy the study of history. Personally, I don’t understand them, but I accept that this is the case. But there are also those who either come to college with a great love and appreciation of history, or become inspired in that first world civilization class (it happens) and start thinking they would like to devote a large part of their education to the discipline. There is, nevertheless, always someone (friend, family member, legislator) who says: “It’s okay to like history; just don’t major in it, because you’ll never get a job.” Therefore, I am writing this to provide another point of view: it’s great to major in history. Below is just a sampling of the opportunities available to history majors after graduation.


This, of course, is the route that I took. But to teach at the collegiate level these days, one has to complete a doctorate in history. Personally, I recommend it, but many people would prefer to teach at the secondary level. For those of you who have this goal, what can I say? You are some of the most important people in our society. You will help to shape young minds in some of the most crucial years of adolescence, and for that, I commend you and thank you. History, of course, is a terrific major for those seeking employment as a secondary teacher.

But I don’t want to teach…

I understand; and, frankly, we don’t want you to teach unless you have a burning desire to do so. But history is still a great major for you as well. The opportunities are limitless. For instance:

Law school

Applications to law schools across the country have skyrocketed in the last couple of decades, and it certainly is a competitive career to pursue. History is an excellent major for undergraduates who plan that route. Knowledge of history is assumed in law school. One cannot grasp the legal system without a firm historical base, so history majors have a solid preparation for legal study.

Public history and historic preservation

These are fast-growing fields in our country and many history majors find employment after college in these areas. Museums, historical societies, national parks, official historic sites, and tourism bureaus all need employees with a knowledge of history. Scholarly presses hire history graduates as sales representatives, editors, copy editors, and researchers. Libraries, archives, state and local historical societies, and government offices all hire history majors with increasing regularity. And in recent years, a real spark has been put into efforts to save historical landmarks. Historic preservation societies and organizations have sprung up all over the country and are looking for well-trained workers to help protect this country’s cultural and physical heritage.

Christian ministry

A lot of people assume that if you want to go into the ministry, you need to be a religion major. But bear in mind you’ll get all the theology you need in your divinity school; some divinity schools actually prefer undergraduate study in some other discipline for the breadth of mind necessary for successful ministry. Nothing fits this billing better than history.


History majors are well prepared in the art of communication. And with the communications field exploding in the past decade with the introduction of the Internet, hundreds of cable channels, and a variety of other new technologies, employment opportunities abound for those who not only know how to say something, but who also have something to say. Movies, television programs, news programs, newspapers, and magazines all require people with solid communication and research skills. History majors are especially suited for these areas.


Federal, state, and local governments are the largest employers in the nation. These have positions for college graduates with and without particular degree specialties. They look for graduates skilled in critical thinking, research, communications, and with an understanding of how the system works. History majors have an advantage over other applicants in that these skills are essential to the discipline.

Business and industry

A myth perpetrated upon our nation’s college students is that a business degree is necessary for a job in business and industry. If you love accounting, finance, or marketing, then great, major in business. But these are not required for students to enter the business world. Most corporations want independent thinkers who know how to find information and apply it to the tasks at hand. Many want people who have knowledge of other countries and other cultures. What better major than history to prepare a student for all of these opportunities? Corporations will train their employees in the nuts and bolts of how the business works — this includes business majors as well as others — so it is not absolutely necessary to have that training going in the door. History is an excellent discipline for those interested in business.

Yeah, these are great, but what else do you have?

Careers for history majors are only limited by their own imaginations. I know history majors who became artists, small business owners, military officers, insurance agents, bankers, politicians, restauranteurs, lobbyists, archivists, doctors, musicians, city planners, architects, writers, newspaper editors, physical therapists, professional athletes, actors, social workers, travel agents, and retired millionaires (and I don’t know that many people, so imagine what else is out there). The next time someone asks, “What can I do with a history major?” say to them, “You can become a leader of your society who is well educated, interesting, informed, reasonable, and employed!”

Institute for Southern Studies grants

Filed under: The Academy — John Maass @ 6:32 am

Through the generosity of the Watson-Brown Foundation, the Institute for Southern Studies at the University of South Carolina offers travel grants for scholars who will visit Columbia for at least one week to conduct research. Selection of applicants will be based on the strength of academic qualifications, the potential of the project to contribute to scholarship on the South, and the specificity of plans to make use of local research resources. Grants of $500 will be awarded to fellows in residence for a minimum of one week; a higher level of funding may be available to promising projects that will involve a longer period of residence. Residents of the Columbia area are not eligible for travel grants. The institute welcomes applications from PhD candidates. Applicants should send a letter of interest, c.v., one letter of recommendation, and two-page project description to Bob Ellis, Business Manager, Institute for Southern Studies, University of South Carolina, Gambrell Hall, Columbia, SC 29208. Applications will be considered through May 1, 2007.

Application deadline: May 01, 2007

Related URL 1: http://www.cas.sc.edu/iss

Related e-mail: bobellis@sc.edu

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