Monthly Archives: October 2007

October 30, 2007, 5:13 pm

Q & A

The corollary to what Eric describes in his excellent post is the scholar in the audience who, after hearing a talk or paper, “asks” a seven-minute question that isn’t a question at all. Instead, it’s an opportunity to say: “Here’s what I know. Here’s what you should have said. Here’s how very, very smart I am.”

For example, Speaker A gives a talk on, well, on FDR’s New Deal coalition. The talk is just fine, though, if we’re shooting for verisimilitude in our scene-setting, it’s probably not that great, because most talks aren’t. But then, during the Q & A, Scholar B stands up — these people almost always stand to “ask” their question — and begins nattering on about Habermas or Foucault or the rise of the proto-facists in Argentina under Peron or whatever. The best part is: Scholar B usually isn’t even self-aware enough to end their monologue with a few words delivered at a …

Read More

October 30, 2007, 4:26 pm

Thou shalt not.

Historians’ cardinal sins, no. 1. Commenting on a paper or reviewing a book or refereeing a manuscript and saying, in effect, “But you didn’t say what I would have said!”

This is too bloody common. There’s a type of whom I know a few examples, a very decent man whose specialty is, let’s say, transcendentalism. He has his own particular view of transcendentalism, which is wrong, but that’s fine. He also manages to think that EVERYTHING is explained by his version of transcendentalism. So at a panel on the Whig party, he’ll say “But this is about transcendentalism.” At a panel on the slave trade? “But this is about transcendentalism.” The Cold War? “But this is about transcendentalism.” You’re very nice, you know, but I wouldn’t want to sit next to you on a long airplane ride.

Or there’s the similar book review. I got two for my most recent book that were basically just like…

Read More

October 30, 2007, 3:51 am

Mile Low

Somebody do the right thing here: confiscate the city of Denver’s belt and shoelaces. Seriously, if you care at all, reach out to a friend in Denver. That place is the anti-Boston right now. Plus, it’s hard to breathe. And you have to moisturize constantly. Itchy.

October 30, 2007, 1:57 am

Let’s hire all the lawyers.

I just went and saw our colleague Kathy Olmsted do a panel with Carlton Larson of the law school and Jeffrey Callison of Capital Public Radio (speaking of interviewers) on the Pentagon Papers. (Where were you, you deadbeat?)

Kathy was, as usual, very good, pointing out the links between the Pentagon Papers and Watergate and talking about the latest releases of the Nixon tapes, in which the 37th president explains that a conspiracy of Jews is out to get him. Because Ellsberg, though Christian, had a name ending in -berg, see? Kind of like the joke about how the Jews sank the Titanic. (“But an iceberg sank the Titanic!” “Eissberg, Greenberg, what’s the difference.”)

Larson was pretty good too, except when he tried to blame the Bush administration’s novel view of executive power on their lack of lawyers. Which may be a fair point, Bush and Cheney and Rove not being of the guild,…

Read More

October 30, 2007, 12:44 am

Not Ready — Or Not

Over the past few days, Democratic partisans have been showing off their thinly veiled racial and gender anxieties. Which, by the way, aren’t quite the same thing as their slightly better hidden racism and sexism. On the one hand, people are worrying that the mainstream of the nation’s electorate isn’t ready for a woman president (see: here and here). So Hillary is doomed in the general election. She’s just too damn girlie for a nation that craves another manly man at the helm. Because, you know, that’s worked out so well for us these past seven years. Based on this line of argument, the inevitable Hillary might not even get the nomination. If, that is, Democratic voters express either their good sense — weighing electability — or their latent sexism by voting for John Edwards or Barack Obama in the primaries. But wait, Obama has a problem too. It seems voters aren’t ready…

Read More

October 29, 2007, 6:35 pm

Lincoln did it

Andrew Sullivan, stealing ideas from Glenn Greenwald, today writes: “The drift toward a nakedly partisan military, operating primarily through partisan blogs and partisan journalists, is truly disturbing.” And while I agree with Sullivan (I didn’t enjoy writing that clause, by the way), it’s worth noting that the military has a long history of partisanship.

A few months back, I reviewed a couple of books for, well, for a place that I sometimes review books. The review hasn’t appeared, by the way, which is annoying me. Whatever. Anyway, one of the books, Jennifer Weber’s “Copperheads: The Rise and Fall of Lincoln’s Opponents in the North,” included a number of fascinating anecdotes about the ways that the Lincoln administration — and oh how Sullivan loves him some Lincoln — used the troops to advance its electoral prospects. Some of those stories, of soldiers furloughed home …

Read More

October 29, 2007, 5:32 pm

A Question of Politics

Obama, I read, has moved into a statistical tie with Hillary in Iowa. So now I’m wondering: when is it no longer going to be “too soon” to say what’s going to happen in this race? At this time four years ago, Dean was creaming Kerry. And it’s hard to even fathom how little most of us knew about William Jefferson Clinton at this point in the race in 1991. So when can I expect to handicap, with some certainty, who’ll be the nominee next year? Because I’m nothing if not a friend of the frontrunner. And I’m worried that the bandwagon may leave without me if I wait too long to put a bumper sticker on my baby jogger.

Seriously, Mr. Political Historian, I’m asking you. I know the primary calendar has been rejiggered, so the past may not be prelude. But what does history tell us about when a presidential primary crystallizes? C’mon man, get to googling.

October 29, 2007, 2:23 am

Official History

So, Oxford UP has finally published Dan Howe’s opus, on the years 1815-1848, in its quasi-definitive “History of the United States” series. And the luminaries are already lining up to review the massive thing. Although “What Hath God Wrought” is pretty darn good, at least the first 200ish pages I read last night, the best part about the book is its own literary history. Howe took so long filling this gap in the Oxford series because he wasn’t supposed to in the first place. Charles Sellers originally had the commission. But when Sellers submitted “The Market Revolution” to C. Vann Woodward, then the series editor, Vann Woodward rejected it because it offended his delicate sensibilities (too many pages devoted to masturbation). Oxford published “Market Revolution” anyway, and it became a runaway hit — though many readers (okay, maybe just me) clamored for more not less sex.


Read More

October 28, 2007, 11:06 pm

Because he can.

I do not know much about gods, but I think that Paxman is a kind of god — crusty, untamed and truculent. When we moved to England he was all over the airwaves, hosting Newsnight and University Challenge on BBC television and Start the Week on Radio 4. His great virtue was not caring a tinker’s cuss about anyone, cabinet ministers or toffee-nosed Oxbridge swots or war criminals. His run-in with Henry Kissinger was a thing of beauty and a joy to hear: “Did you feel a fraud accepting the Nobel prize?” He famously asked an evasive Michael Howard the same question a dozen times.

Perhaps best of all, he’s credited as saying something like “the appropriate relation of journalist to politician is that of dog to fireplug.” Though I can’t find a citation. And though he did not first say it, you can tell he’s often asking himself, “‘Why is this lying bastard lying to me?’”

If we’re lucky, …

Read More

October 28, 2007, 10:17 pm


I didn’t watch the game. Football should be played in the United States of America, as God intended. Football, by contrast, can be played in England. Meanwhile, the Patriots are destroying the Native Americans in the third quarter. It’s like the Gnadenhütten massacre all over again. Yeah, I said it: Gnadenhütten massacre. Suck it. I’m a historian. And I’ll drop the knowledge when and where I please. Seriously, though, it’s a good time to be a fan of New England sports. Massholes everywhere are celebrating. That’s not swearing, by the way.

October 28, 2007, 10:09 pm

Meet the Diva

I’m not sure this is going to work out unless I have complete artistic freedom. I’ll fax you a copy of my rider later today. In the meantime, you can begin picking all of the brown M&Ms out of a five-pound bag of the peanut variety. I said PEANUT dammit. What the hell is wrong with you? God, it’s hard to find good tech help these days.

October 28, 2007, 10:00 pm


Cuss as you see fit. I believe Bérubé did not; plenty of people do.

No, we shouldn’t be excessively nice. The word “edge” is in the title for a reason, right? Speaking of which, did you watch the NFL game at Wembley with the constant whining about the weather and the turf?

As for being old, dude, I don’t think we can help it.

October 28, 2007, 9:52 pm

The Cranberries?

Dude, you’re old. If we’re doing this because this is what the kids are doing, I think we’d better update our pop-culture references. But I guess we’re historians, so our Ipods are allowed to be covered in chalk dust. So here’s another question: what about anonymity? If we’re using our real names, does that mean we can’t use foul language? And what about fowl language, like calling an author whose book we’ve just read a chicken? Or something worse even? Seriously, what are our ground rules? Will we always be nice? Or will we be ourselves?

October 28, 2007, 7:28 pm

Here’s why.

Why blog? Lots of reasons.

  1. To offer a loss leader; Tyler Cowen laid this out pretty clearly when he was our guest here. You got a book to sell? Your blogging helps sell it. Or your product may just be you, in which case
  2. To increase your influence, or mind-share. You want people to know who you are? you blog; you get out there and you engage other bloggers in discussion, you link to them, and you get more people talking about what you think and what you say.
  3. To provide yourself a google-searchable commonplace book. You can’t remember everything you surf, but you can find it if you blog it.
  4. To change the profession: be the academic discourse you want to see in the world. You want historiography to move quickly, have relevance, be sharper? You can’t make it that way book review by book review: but you can if you blog.
  5. So that all that reading doesn’t go to waste….

Read More

October 28, 2007, 7:19 pm

Why blog?

Good question. So what’s the answer?