Monthly Archives: December 2007

December 31, 2007, 9:00 am

Let’s Go Exploring


On this day, in 1995, Calvin and his friend, a stuffed tiger named Hobbes, toboganned off into history. This site seems to be the comprehensive archive. I hope you weren’t planning on getting anything done today.

December 31, 2007, 12:01 am

Speaking of the Legacy of Wounded Knee

Several lurkers have written in to note that Pretty Bird Woman House, a women’s shelter on the Standing Rock Reservation, still needs plenty of help. So, if you’ve resolved to secure your legacy in the coming year by giving away some your gazillions to worthy causes, or if you just want to learn more about how some remarkable people in Indian Country have transfigured a terribly sad episode into something inspirational, you might want to click on the above link.

Another lurker points to this site, which promises, if you’ll take the time to test your vocabulary, to improve people’s lives — even if your New Year’s plans include drinking a case of Cristal. While soaking your troubles away. In a platinum tub filled with thousand-dollar bills. (I’m looking at you, Silbey).

Finally, these folks are on the radical end of the spectrum, which may or may not be your cup of tea. But they’re…

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December 30, 2007, 8:00 am

It is divided into three parts.

Some of the neon has gone out at the UC Davis Galleria.

December 29, 2007, 8:31 pm

Wounded Knee

wounded knee

Louis Warren is also known as “Theory Man.” His most recent book, Buffalo Bill’s America, won a host of prizes last year, including the American Historical Association’s “Beveridge Award…given annually for the best book in English on the history of the United States, Latin America, or Canada from 1492 to the present.” That’s an easy get, obviously. Being asked to write for this blog, on the other hand, is something to crow about. I’ve invited Louis to stop by and say a few words because I’m lazy he’s currently writing about the Ghost Dance. And given that I’ve blogged a bit about the need for a reinterpretation of the Indian Wars, the following post is particularly welcome. So thanks, Louis, for taking the time to do this.

“Wounded Knee” — Louis Warren

On this day in 1890, the United States Seventh Cavalry massacred dozens of Minneconjou Sioux beside Wounded Knee Creek in…

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December 29, 2007, 7:30 am

Failing Upward

Progressives have been annoyed, for some time now, that pro-war pundits keep their jobs no matter how often they’re wrong: about Iraq, foreign policy more broadly, or, come to think of it, just about anything else that pops into their heads. Not only that, but said pundits maintain their prestige, as though their reputations exist independent of their work product. Which, I’ll grant you, is quite odd, because a pundit’s words and ideas should be the very foundation of their reputation. If their opinions are rotten, in other words, the foundation should crumble.

Alas, the relationship between cause and effect, in Punditland at least, has apparently been been severed. So it’s not surprising to hear that Bill Kristol is leaving Time for a post at the New York Times, bastion of American liberalism.

Matthew Yglesias writes about this today:

After all, everyone knows that…

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December 28, 2007, 4:30 pm

“if the politicians were as clever as they thought they were….”

In the spirit of Professor Silbey’s observation that students are “not patient with a historian’s sense of ‘yes, but’ or ‘no, but’…” here’s a juicy information fix, without easy interpretation. So when you get to the end and realize there was a bunch of neat stuff but no punchline, you can’t say you weren’t warned.

On this day in 1913, the New York Times printed a story beginning, “If all the aliens who live in the County of New York became citizens they would outnumber those persons of native birth by more than 200,000.”

December 28, 2007, 12:05 pm

“The Lumières’ initial success was built on the sheer spectacle of moving images.”

Editor’s Note: I’ve changed the title. Sorry if this offends anyone. I was in a hurry when I originally put this post up, and this title is a better tease. I hope.

The following comes courtesy of Ben Alpers, frequent commenter and gifted film historian. I was going to do the Peggy Eaton affair and John C. Calhoun’s resignation (on this day in 1832), which would have been: HOTT! But I’m tired of the Civil War, for the moment at least, and Calhoun kept bringing me back to nullification. So Ben bailed me out.

(Thanks to Ari for tossing me this guest slot!)

On this day in 1895, the brothers Auguste (1862-1954) and Louis Lumière (1864-1948) held what is usually said to be the first ever public screening of projected motion pictures at the Salon Indien in the basement of the Grand Café on the Boulevard de Capucins in Paris. The screening lasted a total of twenty minutes and…

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December 28, 2007, 10:49 am

Habeas Corpus in Swim Trunks

I’m in Florida right now, on vacation, staying in an apartment on the beach. The complex has a nice pool, so I can go back and forth from fresh to salt water with my son, who thinks he’s a fish. The problem is, the other day I got into an argument with someone, another dad, I’d just met at the pool. I don’t usually do that, pick fights with folks I hardly know. I prefer to wait an appropriate interval before making people hate me. But in this case I made an exception. I had no choice. The guy had it coming: after hearing that I’m a history professor, and that I teach the Civil War, he insisted that President Bush’s approach to disregard for habeas corpus is no different than Lincoln’s was. Right, he said? Right? And if I like the one (Lincoln), why don’t I support the other (Bush)?

So I tried, as politely as I could — while also doing my best to keep my son from drowning (he…

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December 28, 2007, 6:23 am

It’s a dessert topping.

From the Department of Accomplished Former Historians, we hear of someone who “wrote a dissertation on the role of Jews in the U.S. civil rights movement,” but “decided that rather than sit alone in a library, I’d try and make people laugh.”

And that little boy grew up to be… Sacha Baron Cohen.

But who told him people don’t laugh at professional historians?

December 27, 2007, 10:36 am

Free Charles Darwin!

Christmas Day… Boxing Day… why not keep up the holiday cheer with Beagle Day? On 27 December 1831, Charles Darwin set sail on HMS Beagle out of Plymouth Harbor, and promptly got seasick. Which is worth mentioning because Darwin has become more than a man to us. As Lewis Mumford wrote, “he is like some great earth-god mingling with his own creations.” We hold him responsible for much — too much. Darwin and his -ism did much less than we think. Especially, and for the love of Mike, would people please stop writing about “social Darwinism”?

It’s a cliché of the history paper that during the industrial era, misery and suffering stalked the land: Infernal mills sent vile plumes up to cloud the skies. Steam machines sank their filthy limbs into the earth to draw forth its riches. Steel rails and tractor furrows bound nature to the unyielding grid of reason, enslaved to the god…

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December 27, 2007, 10:30 am

Mapping Slavery


My former colleague, Susan Schulten, whose history of geography in the United States is both fantastic and still the industry standard, recently completed an essay for a new edited collection about the history of cartography. Susan’s piece opens with a discussion of the above image: Francis Bichnell Carpenter’s First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln. (It’s not snowing in the original, I don’t think. But having never seen it in person, I can’t say for certain.)

If you click on this link (I urge you to do so), you’ll be transported to the University of Chicago Press website, where you’ll be able to mess around with the map that appears on the right in Carpenter’s painting. The “slave map” is an amazing document, which, Susan suggests, “organized information in fundamentally new ways.” If people are interested in how, perhaps I can convince Susan to…

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December 26, 2007, 1:03 pm

Consumer Culture

On this day in history, regardless of the year, it seems that people were availing themselves of after-Christmas sales. They were at the mall: arguing with the jerk who tried to steal their parking space, fighting the crowds, and wondering if $19.95 really was a good deal for a rayon codpiece in a lovely shade of dusty plum.

Which explains why not much else happened on this day. Except that: In 1776, General Washington’s troops fought the Hessians at Trenton. This blog can always count on Washington for content. Thanks again, George. Also, the coffee percolator was patented in 1865. I’m guessing there’s actually an interesting post, about the Civil War and technological advance, lurking beneath that fact. But it would take a better, more dedicated blogger than I to run down the story. Come to think of it, I’d be curious to know more about the history of the after-Christmas…

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December 26, 2007, 11:18 am

About forty-five years ago. When did you start?

[Updated, 12/28/2007: Welcome, Matthew Yglesias readers (and Matthew Yglesias, who evidently is a Matthew Yglesias reader). Also, if you're looking here too, welcome Bruce Bartlett. Please, y'all, feel free to look around and comment.]

Possibly if you are not crazy, or ignorant, you know this, but: The Democratic Party was the party first of slavery, and then of white supremacy. You see, the Republican Party was created to oppose the spread of slavery, and the election of Abraham Lincoln — without a single southern state’s support — occasioned the secession ultimately of eleven southern states.

And then beginning in around 1889-90, partly to keep down the Populist, or People’s, Party, Democrats in the South promoted the disfranchisement of African Americans. And racist southerners hewed to the Democratic Party so long as — and only so long as — the Democratic Party remained…

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December 26, 2007, 12:44 am

Ron Paul: Not a Third Party Candidate

Commenter Ben Alpers, who’s an excellent historian and good friend, writes:

I’m coming very late to this discussion and don’t have much to add (at this point at least) to the discussion of the Civil War (boring as it may seem, I share ari’s commitment to the current–and as always evolving–historical consensus on these issues, though I welcome an open discussion of alternate views).

But I did want to pick up on one comment by Rick B that raises an interesting side issue:

“The structure of our political system prevents any third party from being effective, so the choice is Republican and Democrat. The option is to choose the lesser of the two evils, and then try to take it over. That is what the religious right did with the Republicans, and now for the rest of us that is what will drive us to the Democratic Party.”

This comment struck me as fascinating for its apparent…

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December 26, 2007, 12:01 am

Authorial Voice

Blogging anything in the New Yorker is a total sucker’s bet. Lots of people consume the magazine cover to cover, and so the idea that I’ll bring something new to a reader’s attention is a long-shot. At best. Still, this article by Paul Rudnick, on the professional relationship between Raymond Carver and his editor at Knopf, Gordon Lish, is one of the most fascinating things I’ve seen in some time.

Here’s Rudnick’s lede paragraph, which is its own primer on good writing.

On the morning of July 8, 1980, Raymond Carver wrote an impassioned letter to Gordon Lish, his friend and editor at Alfred A. Knopf, begging his forgiveness but insisting that Lish “stop production” of Carver’s forthcoming collection of stories, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” Carver had been up all night reviewing Lish’s severe editorial cuts––two stories had been slashed by nearly…

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