Author Archives: Eric Rauchway

June 11, 2012, 8:08 pm

In which I say some things about railroads, and digital history, and other matters.

The TLS teases the article here.

June 11, 2012, 4:39 pm

“The real meaning of academic freedom.”

On Friday, UC Davis Provost Ralph Hexter issued this statement on academic freedom:

In March, 1953 the Association of American Universities (AAU) adopted a statement articulating “The Rights and Responsibilities of Universities and Their Faculties.” It includes these words: “A university must … be hospitable to an infinite variety of skills and viewpoints, relying upon open competition among them as the surest safeguard of truth. Its whole spirit requires investigation, criticism, and presentation of ideas in an atmosphere of freedom and mutual confidence. This is the real meaning of ‘academic’ freedom.”

A committee of our campus’s Academic Senate has devoted considerable time and effort to examining an assertion by a faculty member of the UC Davis School of Medicine that his academic freedoms were compromised by school administrators. Our Senate’s Representative Assembly earlier…

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June 9, 2012, 6:54 pm

Some notes on Prometheus and Jesus and Lawrence of Arabia.


Prometheus wasn’t anywhere near as bad as the Star Wars prequels, but my saying that tells you about how good it was. And it tells you what kind of movie it is, too - it is after all a prequel, that exists to explain a lot of the weird stuff in Alien. The thing is, as Patton Oswalt shrewdly notes, just because we like ice cream doesn’t mean we’d like to eat a bag of rock salt. We don’t actually want to see Darth Vader as a little kid; we don’t, really, need to know where the Alien came from and what the space jockeys were unless it’s wrapped in a story bigger than “oh, that’s what that thing was.”

There are, though, some parts of Prometheus that are truly excellent. Michael Fassbender is the main one. His performance as the android David is excellent. Fassbender should have been in a decent adaptation of an Asimovian robot story; he knows how to wrestle …

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June 2, 2012, 2:29 am

Shall we play a game of Humiliation?

I actually don’t know what a historian’s version of David Lodge’s game of Humiliation would quite look like, but a fun and potentially humiliating online game for US historians is the College Board’s practice exam.

May 25, 2012, 12:53 pm

My new course will be titled “US History: The Awesomeness of Awesome Americans.”

Updated to add, “Hello, Paul Krugman readers!”1

“A Crisis of Competence,” which bills itself as “A Report Prepared for the Regents of the University of California by the California Association of Scholars, A Division of the National Association of Scholars,” (hereafter CAS, for short) has garnered a great deal of attention. It was, apparently, the basis for Rick Santorum’s laughably false claims that California’s universities do not teach US history – though to be fair to the report, Santorum evidently misunderstood what was in it. It was the subject of an April 1 news story (no, not an April Fool’s) in the Los Angeles Times. And it was the basis for a May 20 op-ed in the LA Times. To be fair to the LA Times, its own editorial, on April 7, was skeptical of the report, describing it as “a mélange of anecdotes.”

This is correct: the paper’s methodology is highly suspect,…

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May 22, 2012, 7:09 pm

This American Epistemological Crisis.

I cannot understand the alleged crisis now reportedly plaguing This American Life – a program I have loved and listened to since its beginning. Indeed, even before I liked it, I liked Ira Glass’s reporting on NPR and even his stint hosting Talk of the Nation. I am, I think it’s fair to say, a TAL nerd. And the reason is the same reason people become nerds for anything – they believe they’ve found a group of people who share the same sensibility. But this sudden po-faced shock that David Sedaris’s stories might not be strictly factual reportage makes no sense in this sensibility, and leads me to wonder if I have been listening to a different program than TAL has been producing.

I always thought TAL aired stories chosen for their goodness as stories, and they might be true or not. Each episode of TAL is divided into “Acts” – which is something you do with a theatrical production, not…

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May 17, 2012, 12:06 am

A Euroskeptical note, from the archives.

Seems appropriate unto the day, or week anyway. Robert Henry Brand, of the UK Treasury delegation in Washington, to John Maynard Keynes, March 3, 1945, about Jean Monnet returning to France

to ‘think’. He is deeply interested in the future political organisation of Western Europe, having in my opinion some not very well-thought views, and wants to clear his thoughts on this subject with the object of exercising some influence with regard to it later. To find a solution will certainly test even his persuasive powers.

It’s easy to snark, and it’s hard to call your shots, but just at the moment it seems a sadly apt sentiment.

May 14, 2012, 10:00 pm

Louis Brandeis would have words with JPMorgan Chase.

Ninety-nine years ago Louis Brandeis explained why letting investment bankers ruin the country was a bad idea. Bankers were lousy managers; they ran companies with an eye to increasing the value of stock, rather than efficiently providing a service or product; they – contrary to stereotype – exhibited “financial recklessness.” By their very bigness alone they posed a threat to politics and the economy. Running his eye over and over the various problems with the money trust, he kept coming up with the name J.P. Morgan.

It is enough shame that we are facing the exact same problems the Progressives and the New Dealers laboriously fixed. But it adds an extra pain to the historically aware that we are dealing with zombie malefactors bearing the exact same names as their forebears.

May 14, 2012, 1:07 pm

Are there any drachmas?

As everyone knows, money is a medium of exchange as well as a store of value. Suppose Greece leaves the Euro: are there any drachmas around to serve as a medium of exchange? As of January, apparently, no. (Though rumors say otherwise.) Have some been printed or minted meanwhile? Probably not; it would create a panic.

“I don’t think you could do it much faster than four months,” says Mark Crickett, one of De La Rue’s consultants.

But a government could not commission and take delivery of a new currency without word leaking out and panic spreading.

It is much more likely that a withdrawal for the euro would be announced suddenly, and then there would be an interim period – those four months, say – during which a temporary national currency would be used.

Euro notes previously in circulation in a withdrawing country might be overprinted, or have special stickers added.


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May 11, 2012, 4:35 am

Universitas 21 ranks US no. 1 in higher ed – on some counts.

Universitas 21, which is “an international network of 23 [sic] leading research-intensive universities in fifteen countries,” says:

Overall, the top five countries, nominally providing the ‘best’ higher education were found to be the United States, Sweden, Canada, Finland and Denmark. However, broken down into the smaller sections, it was interesting to see that the US, traditionally seen as a country with one of the strongest education systems, did not always hit the top spot. Government funding of higher education as a percentage of GDP is highest in Finland, Norway and Denmark. Taking private expenditure into account changed this significantly: on that measure funding is highest in the United States, South Korea, Canada and Chile, unsurprising, given the structure in these counties.

Some other interesting findings showed that investment in Research and Development is highest…

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May 10, 2012, 8:38 pm

Growth is better than austerity: on the origins of Bretton Woods.

Paul Krugman often offers his head, talking: I’m going Krugman one better – here‘s my whole person, talking, about the origins of Bretton Woods, at Dartmouth – mere miles from Bretton Woods – last week. I’m terrified of watching it, so I’ve no idea whether it includes the Q&A or not.

May 10, 2012, 2:38 am

Ban college gridders – FNL scribe.

… college football has no academic purpose. Which is why it needs to be banned … Who truly benefits from college football? Alumni who absurdly judge the quality of their alma mater based on the quality of the football team. Coaches such as Nick Saban of the University of Alabama and Bob Stoops of the University of Oklahoma who make obscene millions. The players themselves don’t benefit, exploited by a system in which they don’t receive a dime of compensation. The average student doesn’t benefit, particularly when football programs remain sacrosanct while tuition costs show no signs of abating as many governors are slashing budgets to the bone.

If the vast majority of major college football programs made money, the argument to ban football might be a more precarious one. But too many of them don’t—to the detriment of academic budgets at all too many schools.

What fresh…

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May 9, 2012, 9:44 pm

Further in “all the good Jews are dying.”

Vidal Sassoon, age 84, the “anti-fascist warrior hairdresser.” More here and here; maybe Radio 4 will rebroadcast A Rage in Dalston.

May 9, 2012, 12:00 pm

Steve Jobs as FDR.

That is all, really. Obviously this is in-jokey, and inappropriate, and too long. But it features Steve Jobs as FDR.

Embedding is disabled, so you’ll have to click through: Here.

May 2, 2012, 6:58 pm

Serious: it is a thing you cannot be.

Do we need any other political/historical commenter than John McEnroe? Greg Sargent points to this plaintive request to the President from a wealthy donor:

They felt unfairly demonized for being wealthy. They felt scapegoated for the recession … and they blamed the president and his party for the public’s nasty mood. The administration, some suggested, had created a hostile environment for job creators.…

One of the guests raised his hand; he knew how to solve the problem. The president had won plaudits for his speech on race during the last campaign, the guest noted. It was a soaring address that acknowledged white resentment and urged national unity. What if Obama gave a similarly healing speech about class and inequality? What if he urged an end to attacks on the rich? Around the table, some people shook their heads in disbelief.

“Most people in the financial world,”…

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