Monthly Archives: April 2009

April 30, 2009, 8:03 pm

I hope he nominates Harriet Miers.

Souter’s retiring. I suspect this isn’t how President Obama envisioned the beginning of his term in office. Oh well, idle hands are the Devil’s playthings.

April 30, 2009, 12:54 pm

A decades-long ruse exposed!

My wife just received a certified letter alerting me to the odd news that I’ve somehow received tenure and promotion to the rank of associate professor. (more…)

April 29, 2009, 4:11 pm

It’s not that wingnuts are ignorant; it’s that they know so much that isn’t so

As a companion to Eric’s post below, Kevin Murphy offered a helpful survey of the recent efforts among conservatives to say exceedingly dumb things about the past. (He wrote it a week ago, but [insert several tedious excuses here on the subject of infants and toddlers and the howling nexus thereof, plus some stuff about grading and general existential lethargy] and so I’m just beginning to catch up on my rss feeds.)

I don’t know if there’s something qualitatively unique about the historical butchery that’s dominated right wing discourse during the first few months of the Obama administration.  As Eric and many others have been chronicling across the internets, the history of Great Depression and New Deal have been grotesquely misrepresented in a variety of venues — like cable news, the Washington Post or the Wall Street Journal – that the young and/or the gullible continue to revere…

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April 29, 2009, 10:52 am

I’m laughing. And ashamed.

This is the good stuff—undiluted crazy ignorance—as peddled on the floor of the United States House of Representatives.

FDR wanted so badly to cause the Depression he traveled back in time to get a bad law passed, and for good measure, took a side trip so he could pick up the Reverend Spooner to make the name of the act even sillier.

For bonus points, Coolidge was apparently president during the recession of 1920-21.


April 29, 2009, 9:14 am

The Future of the Past: History Beyond the Book

[Editor's note: Karl Jacoby's Shadows at Dawn: A Borderlands Massacre and the Violence of History is a must read. And the website he created to support the book is a model for the future. Below, he shares some thoughts on what that future might look like. Thanks, Karl.]

As the American newspaper industry collapses around us, its economics imploding under pressure from the worldwide web, we can begin to see hints that the book publishing industry is on the cusp of the same downward spiral. History book sales are down. Penguin and other presses have announced layoffs. The once venerable Houghton Mifflin may soon cease to publish trade books altogether.

Such changes ought to be sobering to historians. Ever since history first emerged as an academic profession in the mid-nineteenth century, the basic unit of production has been the book. One needs to publish a book to get…

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April 28, 2009, 10:49 am

The Ghost at the (Democratic) Banquet

Arlen Specter can read a map, an electoral map particularly. His switch to the Democratic party today is the continuing culmination of dual regional political realignments that have been going on over the last several decades. In 1976, Jimmy Carter won election to the Presidency by winning every southern state, a spine of states running up the Appalachians to New York, several Midwestern industrial states, and only one state west of the Mississippi (Texas). This was the last gasp of the old Democratic coalition, built on the “Solid South” and the Rust Belt.


That coalition was decisively fractured by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the subsequent Republican exploitation of disaffected white southerners. Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” effectively made the Solid South solid for Republicans, not Democrats. Slowly, over the next several decades, the southern realignment…

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April 27, 2009, 7:22 pm

Concerning the inherent superiority of printed text to irresponsible online drivel.

Is it absolutely necessary for the image gracing the cover of the most recent issue of the official mouthpiece of my professional organization to depict something that, when seen on my desk by a colleague from another department, compelled her to ask where a viper fish would even get a detachable penis to whack off against a shrimp-wielding toucan? Do other departments not laugh at us literary folk enough already?

Why does this same issue contain a write-up of a forum from the 2007 MLA convention? Did it really take two years and change to transform that panel into something print-worthy? So I take it the first sentence is supposed to read:

In contributions to this 2007 panel of the division on Comparative Studies in Romanticism and the Nineteenth Century, titled “Untiming the Nineteenth-Century: Temporality and Periodization,” periodization, a venerable mainstay of comparative…

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April 27, 2009, 10:46 am

“The pretense of debate.”

[Editor's note: Our good friend, awc, elaborating on this comment, sends along the following from the far eastern edge of the American West. Thanks, awc.]

Politico’s recent feature on Amity Shlaes’ The Forgotten Man is an example of one of my pet peeves: the evaluation of economic policy in terms of statistical factors like growth, the stock market, and unemployment rather than systemic qualities like equality. The piece discusses the popularity of the book among D.C. conservatives, briefing mentioning Professors Rauchway and Krugman, who have skillfully defended the efficacy of New Deal recovery policies. When Shlaes responds that she intended the book to question the ethics of the New Deal, not just its utility, Politico simply drops the pretense of debate. They ask neither scholars nor ordinary folks to evaluate her celebration of the poor beleaguered corporation. The…

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April 26, 2009, 5:23 am

Boxers: Such is China.

S.M.W. Brooks in
upper right hand corner

The month of April, 1900, started off on a hopeful note. “The Chinese Government,” the Times announced, “has settled the controversy arising out of the murder, December 31 last, of the Rev. Mr. Brooks of the Church Missionary Society on the following terms: Two of the murderers will be beheaded, one imprisoned for life, one for ten years, another for two years, a memorial chapel will be built upon the site of the murder, and a tablet will be placed in Canterbury, England, at the expense of the Chinese Government.” The murder, the Times reminded its readers, had been committed by “the seditious society known as ‘Boxers,’ who had been very active in destroying villages and slaughtering native Christians.” [1] The Great Powers were applying pressure to the Chinese directly:

The American, British, German, and French Ministers have sent a joint note …

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April 25, 2009, 9:25 am


Next in our speakers’ series, Rick Perlstein on life in Nixonland.

Please join us if you possibly can; CHSC lectures are free and open to the public.

April 24, 2009, 1:21 pm

Saving the Banks’ Artistic Assets

[Editor's Note: Adam Arenson (bio below), a friend and occasional commenter here, has graciously provided us with a guest post. Thanks, Adam, for doing this.]

Quick: What does your bank look like?

I admit it; I don’t know either. There are glassed-in tellers. There’s a metallic sheen off the ATMs. Some peppy posters promoting savings plans for dream retirements. But it all adds up to a rather anonymous décor. More than once the names and the colors have changed, and I hardly noticed.

But there are banks I remember. Growing up in San Diego, I recall the grand lobbies of the Home Savings banks, some with gurgling fountains and sculptures. They had parking lots, and wide arches framed the entrances. Most spectacular were the mosaics: thousands of little tiles arranged to show carefree beach scenes, vaqueros from the Californio past, Victorian ladies in their bonnets, Chinese …

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April 23, 2009, 3:54 pm


This video has probably already been everywhere. Since I’m usually only here, though, I wouldn’t know. Anyway, I haven’t had the heart to write much about the torture memos, but the above struck me as oddly appropriate.

April 23, 2009, 9:17 am

How denialism works.

The problem with Politico reporting of Amity Shlaes’s Forgotten Man that

Critics of the book, including economist Paul Krugman and historian Eric Rauchway, have challenged Shlaes’ use of data, noting, for example, that the unemployment statistics she uses do not count Works Progress Administration jobs. Shlaes defends her approach, arguing that make-work jobs are not evidence of economic growth and noting that President Barack Obama recently used the same data series she did in discussing unemployment during the Great Depression.

is not that it’s “they-said, she-said” journalism, but that it’s an inadequate representation of the truth. It’s not just Shlaes versus a famously shrill Nobelist and some dude at an ag university; it’s Shlaes versus the accepted academic consensus.

As previously noted, if you were a sufficiently honest and competent researcher located like Amity Shlaes …

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April 22, 2009, 1:31 pm

Say What?

From the “Official Account of the Military Operations in China, 1900-1901″ (PRO WO 33/284) compiled by Major E.W.M. Norie, Middlesex Regiment, page 113:

Between the 21st and 23rd July eleven English and American members of the China Inland Mission were murdered at Ch’u-chou by the local train-bands, which had been organized to defend the town against a rising of the secret society of Vegetarians.

Italics original.

April 22, 2009, 8:38 am


I feel unmoored when this sort of thing happens.