A Student of History

October 29, 2010

Historians’ Code

Filed under: What is History? — John Maass @ 8:29 am

A Historian’s Code:
1. I will footnote (or endnote) all of my sources (none
of this MLA or social science parenthetical referencing
2. If I do not reference my sources accurately, I will
surely perish in the fires of various real or metaphorical
infernal regions and I will completely deserve it. I have
been warned.
3. I will respect the hard-won historical gains of those
historians in whose steps I walk and will share such knowledge
as is mine with all other historians (as they doubtless
will cheerfully share it with me).
4. I will not be ashamed to say “I do not know” or to
change my narrative of historical events when new sources
point to my errors.
5. I will never leave a fallen book behind.
6. I will acknowledge that history is created by people
and not by impersonal cosmic forces or “isms.” An “ism”
by itself never harmed or helped anyone without human
7. I am not a sociologist, political scientist, international
relations-ist, or any other such “ist.” I am a historian and
deal in facts, not models.
8. I know that I have a special responsibility to the truth
and will seek, as fully as I can, to be thorough, objective,
careful, and balanced in my judgments, relying on primary
source documents whenever possible.
9. Life may be short, but history is forever. I am a servant
of forever.

From: Richard W. Stewart, Ph.D., in Army History, Fall 2010, p. 46.

June 17, 2008

Facing an Identity Crisis

Filed under: The past that is still with us,What is History? — John Maass @ 7:11 am


NEWS RELEASE   June 3, 2008

Contact:xSteven Hofman
301-520-1306 or 970-871-4551

The Bradley Project
Releases its Report, “E Pluribus Unum.”
Calls for National Dialogue on America’s National Identity.

Report Finds that America is Facing an Identity Crisis and is in Danger of
Becoming not “From Many, One” – E Pluribus Unum – But its Opposite,
“From One, Many.”

Sixty-Three Percent of Americans Believe our National Identity
is Weakening, and One in Four Believe the Nation is So Divided That a
Common National Identity is Not Possible.


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, Washington, D.C.    The Bradley Project on America’s National Identity today released its Report, “E Pluribus Unum,”the product of a two-year study involving a number of our nation’s leading academics, public figures, journalists, educators and policy experts.  The report examines four aspects of American life crucial to American identity: historical memory, civic education, assimilation, and national security.

The report finds that America is facing an identity crisis and calls for a national dialogue on America’s national identity.  According to James Ceaser, professor of politics at the University of Virginia and a participant in the project, America’s understanding and appreciation of diversity is important but must be balanced by an emphasis on what we share.  “In selecting the title E Pluribus Unum, the Project embraces the conviction that plurality and unity are not necessarily in tension with one another, but are supporting ideas of the same national experiment,” Ceaser said.  “Plurality is only made safe when it when it is grounded in a deeper commitment to national unity.  Unity is the precondition for healthy diversity.”

To inform its work, the Bradley Project asked HarrisInteractive to conduct a study on Americans’ views on national identity.  The good news is that most U.S. citizens believe there is a unique national identity that defines what it means to be an American.  The troubling news is that over six in ten believe our national identity is getting weaker.  And “even more troubling is that younger Americans – on whom our continued national identity depends – are less likely than older Americans to believe in a unique national identity or in a unique American culture.” Indeed only 45 percent of 18-34 year old Americans believe that the U.S. Constitution
should trump international law in instances where there is a conflict.

According to Professor Ceaser, “The weight of all this evidence suggests mounting confusion about the meaning of American national identity and a loss of commitment to its promotion.”

“The findings from the report are sobering and significant.  They raise subjects that are vital to our future, transcend partisanship, and clearly resonate with the American people,” said Rick O’Donnell, Executive Director of the Bradley Project.  O’Donnell continued: “Our intention is that the report be the starting point for a national conversation on these important issues.  Silent Spring in 1962 started a conversation that brought about significant changes in our environment.  A Nation at Risk in 1983 launched an ongoing national conversation that continues to reshape American education.  It is in that tradition that we release E Pluribus Unum.

A number of notable scholars have already joined this conversation and commented on the Bradley Project report.

Walter A. McDougall, Pulitzer-prize winning historian and professor at the University of Pennsylvania calls the report: “An eloquent defense of America’s intellectual, civic, and moral identity that deserves wide circulation, especially among American youth.”

Harry Lewis, former Dean at Harvard College, says of the report: “A stirring reminder that America is more than the union of our differences, and a rational program for preserving the nation by passing American ideals on to the next generation of citizens.”

Amy A. Kass, of the University of Chicago, writes: “The Bradley Project’s report addresses the urgent problem of American identity in our global and multicultural age, and its wise recommendations for promoting civic consciousness and civic understanding couldn’t be more timely or more fitting.”

James C. Rees, Executive Director of Mount Vernon, said: “This report confirms what we experience at Mount Vernon every day – that most Americans know precious little about their own history.  George Washington’s face is still familiar to most Americans, because we see it each day on the dollar bill.  But when asked about Washington’s character and leadership, which made all the difference in the world to the founding of our nation, the average citizen is rendered speechless.”

The report makes clear that we didn’t get to this point overnight, and that addressing our challenges is a long-term imperative.  In addition to its call for an immediate and comprehensive national dialogue on America’s national identity, it recommends:

  a renewed focus on the teaching of American history,
  embracing America’s heroes and historic landmarks,
  affirming the benefits of diversity, but not adopting policies that perpetuate divisions or compromise our national identity,
  inaugurating an initiative to ensure immigrants learn English, understand democratic institutions, and participate fully in the American way of life,
  and creating an annual Presidential Award for American Citizenship for students and new citizens who demonstrate exemplary understanding of and commitment to American ideals and institutions.

Professor Ceaser concludes: “The report speaks of a nation ‘founded not on a common ethnicity,’ but ‘on an idea.’  And it argues that ‘a nation founded on an idea starts anew with each generation and with each new group of immigrants.’”  “Knowing what America stands for is not a genetic inheritance,” said Ceaser.   “It must be learned, both by the next generation and by those who come to this country.  From this premise follow many of the recommendations to strengthen the serious study of American principles and the American founding at all levels of education, including college.”

November 21, 2007

A Defeat of Historical Proportions

Filed under: The strange place called the South,What is History? — John Maass @ 5:12 pm

At a recent news conference, a defeated commander described his side’s loss by trying to place it within the outline of history.

“Changes in history usually occur after some kind of catastrophic event,” he said. “It may be 9/11, which sort of changed the spirit of America relative to catastrophic events. Pearl Harbor kind of got us ready for World War II, and that was a catastrophic event.”

What was this debacle the leader refered to?  

The University of Alabama’s loss to the University of Louisiana-Monroe on the football field last weekend.   To be accurate, Alabama Coach Nick Saban didn’t compare the embarrassing 21-14 loss to Louisiana-Monroe to those events, but picked those historical references to illustrate that this could be a pivotal week for the Crimson Tide.  Nevertheless, it goes to show us that a little knowledge is dangerous, and that some folks have lost all perspective.

Mind you, Saban is the highest paid coach in NCAA football, and his team has lost 4 games.

October 17, 2007

Short Quiz

Filed under: The Academy,What is History? — John Maass @ 8:10 am

OK, here’s a short quiz that I use to show how academic historians are learning more and more about less and less, and gradually fading into irrelevancy.  Which of the following paper topics is NOT one that was presented at the AHA meeting in Atlanta in January 2007?


Orthodoxy and the National Soul: Crainic, Staniloae, and the Politics of Theological Rhetoric 

Geographies of the Self: Rethinking the Public Work of an Underground Nationalist in Communist Hungary, 1948—56 

The Yellow-Skinned Population is Strongly Given to Homosexuality: Envisioning China before the Cold War 

The Coca-Cola Campaign in India: Asserting Human Rights and Environmental Justice


Home on the Range: Gay Cowboys, Celibate Friars, and the Spanish Colonial Frontier, 1608-1729.  

“So, Your Daughter Is a Sportsman”: Gender Anxiety and Nationalism in the Golden Age of Sports 

Creating the Neighborhood Butcher Shop: Technology and Meat Shopping in the American City, 1850 — 1950 

Dichotomies of Uzbek Childhood: Gender and Education after Stalin Anticlericalism and Masculine Crisis: Satire, Sex, and Clerical Celibacy in Wilhelmine Germany 

Asylum of Disgrace: Sanitizing and Disciplining the Prostitute Body in Havana’s Hygiene Hospital, 1870 — 1900

October 1, 2007

The “Forgotten 7”

Filed under: What is History? — John Maass @ 12:25 pm

“News” sites like CNN.com are for some reason driven to present “articles” on goofy US History themes, much of which can’t really be proved one way or the other.  Maybe it is a slow day?  Witness today’s installment of this genre.  The piece is entitled “Seven Presidents Nobody Remembers.”  If that is the case, why do we need to read about them on CNN!

If you are interested in reading about the “Forgotten 7,” click here.


September 28, 2007

What does ‘American’ mean?

Filed under: The world today,What is History? — John Maass @ 6:08 am

U.S. immigration authorities Thursday unveiled 100 new questions immigrants will have to study to pass a civics test to become naturalized American citizens.

Here are a few of the test questions.

According an article, “Several historians said the new questions successfully incorporated more ideas about the workings of American democracy and better touched upon the diversity of the groups — including women, American Indians and African-Americans — who have influenced the country’s history.  Immigration officials said they sought to move away from civics trivia to emphasize basic concepts about the structure of government and American history and geography.”

A related article by Monica Davey is here

September 25, 2007

For Sale: Magna Carta

Filed under: What is History? — John Maass @ 5:54 am

Sotheby’s will announce plans Tuesday to auction a copy of the Magna Carta in New York in mid-December, and estimates that the document will sell for $20 million to $30 million.

June 28, 2007

Is “300” a homoerotic film?

Filed under: What is History? — John Maass @ 5:59 pm

Interesting Slate piece on masculinity and films.

June 12, 2007

Vote for your commander!

Filed under: Wars,What is History? — John Maass @ 7:56 pm

At The History Net, a website devoted to trying to sell us subscriptions to non-academic/serious research magazines, they have a poll I find a bit amusing/interesting. 

“Which General would you have liked to serve with?” they ask in an unscientific poll, as if you’d have had the choice or as a private, it would have meant something different to have been killed while in Robert E. Lee’s army as opposed to that of Alexander.

Anyway, just for fun, you get the “choice” of Lee, Alexander, Napoleon, Caesar, Hannibal, Genghis Khan, and Patton.  Who “won”?

I won’t spoil it for you if you plan to “vote,” but it was not surprising to me. 

June 6, 2007

History should be taught “properly”

Filed under: What is History? — John Maass @ 1:56 pm

If ever there was an issue under the category of “what is history,” this is it.

History should be taught properly in schools as a way of teaching immigrants what it means to be British, David Cameron claimed yesterday. The Tory leader warned that national identity had been deliberately weakened by constant attacks on the nation’s culture.  “You do not earn respect by constantly denigrating and repudiating your own culture,” he said.  He called for history to be taught “properly” in schools in a way that celebrated our positive achievements at home and abroad.  “This does not mean we have to gloss over all the things we are not entirely proud of, but we should at least celebrate the many positive things Britain has achieved both at home and abroad,” he said.

The rest of this Daily Mail article is here, but you get the gist of it.

There are 2 points to be made here, I think, although I am sure others will find more.  First, I think Cameron has a point with regard to academic history, in that so much of it atthe university/research level is mired in negativity, bent on relentlessly pointing out injustices, travesties, brutalities, and in some sense, showing all of the faults of (especially) The West and its institutions.  I think to a large extent this is a result of the holy academic Trinity of race, class, and gender, which serves to encourage students and faculty to delve into topics of negativity and depravity.  That’s what makes so many academics so petty, peevish, humorless, and hyper-sensitive.  This is where we get PC from, the legacy of the modern left.

However, the flip side is an unsatisfactory alternative.  Celebratory history commits its own injustice by leaving out the victims, oftentimes.  This is not to say that we should ignore triumphs and achievements, so long as they are truly that.  But when we get the histories of such things as “colonization” or “world exploration,” we run into trouble when we forget all of the consequences.  So many folks today seem embarrassed about their countries’ histories, and in some cases they should.  But, a middle ground needs to be reached between the dour, morose history being written and preached in ivy covered halls of college campuses, and that which exalts in conquest, or hides the actual results from the readers.

In the case of the Tories, noted above, Cameron seeks history to be taught “in a way that celebrated our positive achievements at home and abroad.”  Can one teach a celebratory history of Britain’s barbarities in Ireland, India, America, Acadia, South Africa…the list could of course go on.

March 23, 2007

Women’s History Month

Filed under: What is History? — John Maass @ 8:26 am

Here’s a link to a funny Onion piece on WHM….

And while we are at it, a joke (very rare) about an historian:

An historian walked into a bar and the bartender offered him a beer. The historian looked puzzled. “You’re allowed to serve alcohol in this establishment? What about the 18th amendment?”The bartender said, “Are you crazy? That was repealed in 1933!”

“According to some,” said the historian, “but I don’t subscribe to revisionist theories.”

March 12, 2007

Can Movies Do More than Deliver a Message?

Filed under: What is History? — John Maass @ 9:29 pm

Cool piece from National Review a week or so ago from Rebecca Cusey, about movies and history:

In the 1700s, when a small band of English activists founded an audacious campaign to end slavery, a pottery maker named Josiah Wedgewood created a round medallion designed to hang on the wall. Showing a shackled slave kneeling, pleading, “Am I not a man and a brother?” The Wedgewood medallion became the symbol of the abolitionist cause and a tool to turn hearts and minds toward the plight of the slave. Later, another abolitionist, Harriet Beecher Stowe, wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, an abolitionist book that President Lincoln famously credited with starting the Civil War. When a piece of art taps into a groundswell of moral passion, it has an ability far greater than words to spark a movement. Today we are much more likely to be moved by music and moving pictures, whether on the small screen, computer screen, or movie screen, than by literature, to say nothing of pottery. Does this medium have the ability to alter history? Can a movie become a movement?

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