Category Archives: guest post

November 12, 2013, 2:25 pm

Inner Lincoln

(Guest post! David Fitzpatrick is back, with more words of wisdom)

I am a military historian by training though my graduate coursework at the University of Michigan included a heavy dose of American history. Because I teach at a community college, however, my teaching load is heavy on the “bread and butter” U.S. history surveys while, occasionally, I teach a military history course.

The Crittenden Compromise
A cure for republican

As almost all military historians know, it can be VERY tempting to see parallels and from them to draw prescriptive conclusions from military history (e.g., the generals in the First World War ought to have learned from the American Civil War that frontal assaults were doomed to failure). Such conclusions are, almost always, fatally flawed due to the simplicity of their analysis and for finding parallels when the contexts of those “parallel” events were wildly different.

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October 16, 2013, 6:44 pm

A National Blessing

(Guest Post! David Fitzpatrick is back. He’s still a retired US Army lieutenant colonel who taught military history at the United States Military Academy and who now teaches United States history at Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor, Michigan.)

“A national debt, if it is not excessive, will be to us a national blessing”
        ––Alexander Hamilton

Hamilton5I have been having numerous conversations with friends on Facebook regarding the deficit, the debt, and the debt limit. Several of them have encouraged me to consolidate much that I have written into one coherent essay. This is my (likely feeble) attempt. And let me here say that if this essay appears to privilege one side or the other of the argument, then so be it. Unlike much that is out there in the media and that appears to be dominating the public discourse, what follows has the benefit of being based in fact.

First,…

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September 9, 2013, 2:53 pm

You May Not Be Interested In Digital Humanities, But The Digital Humanities Are Interested In You.

(Guest post! Michael Doidge is a historian at the Combat Studies Institute where he created the U.S. Army’s first digitally interactive military history. Here he tells us about how he went about it. With bonus Russian Reversal title!)

VanguardvalorDuring the first days of my MA, my professor asked the incoming classes to go around the room and say something about ourselves. The student sitting next to me casually stated, “I can read and speak several languages.” It was my turn next. I had nothing to follow that act, so I offered a meek and self-deprecating riposte.

“I am also fluent in several languages.”

As expected, the professor asked which ones.

“C, C++, Visual Basic, Java, Pascal…”

The class got a laugh, the nerd in me smiled, and the digital historian working ten years later thinks “And that ain’t bad.”

In March of 2013 the Combat Studies Institute (CSI) released…

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September 3, 2013, 7:08 pm

Asphyxiation

(Guest Post! David Fitzpatrick is a retired US Army lieutenant colonel who taught military history at the United States Military Academy and who now teaches United States history at Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor, Michigan.)

Yesterday, while enjoying a football game in The Big House with 112,000 of my closest friends, President Obama took the relatively unprecedented step of moving away from the precipice and stating that he was going to ask Congress for authority to attack Syria. The question of whether or not he already had that authority under the War Powers Resolution of 1973, or under the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force is now rendered moot. Yet, a more interesting and somewhat philosophical question remains: why was the use of chemical weapons by Syria a “red line” for the president? Why is there near-universal outrage now when there has been…

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June 10, 2013, 2:31 pm

A Crisis in the Humanities?

(Guest post! Ben Schmidt is the visiting graduate fellow at the Cultural Observatory at Harvard, and a graduate student in history at Princeton University. His research is in intellectual and cultural history and the use of computational techniques for historical research. He writes about digital humanities on the blog Sapping Attention. Beginning fall 2013, he will be an assistant professor of history at Northeastern University. He blogs at Sapping Attention. I’m glad to have him here to give his analysis of the crisis in the humanities. Thanks, Ben!).

Last week, the Wall Street Journal ran an article about falling enrollments in the humanities disciplines. The news hook is a Harvard report about declining enrollments in the humanities; the moral they draw is that humanities enrollments are collapsing because the degrees don’t immediately lend themselves to post-graduate jobs….

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February 23, 2012, 11:32 am

Recycling the cycle of poverty.

We are fortunate to have a guest post today from Robin Averbeck. Ms. Averbeck is a doctoral candidate working on the community action programs of the Lyndon Johnson administration, and has some insights appropriate to the current interest in Charles Murray’s new book and the idea of a culture of poverty. It’s always a privilege to work with a student whose research is interesting on its own terms and also engages current events in an intriguing way.

In the winter of 1963, the sociologist Charles Lebeaux argued that poverty, rather than merely a lack of money, was in fact the result of several complex, interrelated causes. “Poverty is not simply a matter of deficient income,” Lebeaux explained. “It involves a reinforcing pattern of restricted opportunities, deficient community services, abnormal social pressures and predators, and defensive adaptations. Increased income alone is…

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December 1, 2011, 7:25 pm

A Global Great Society.

[Editor's Note: Bob Reinhardt, a PhD candidate in our department, submitted this TDIH before the late unpleasantness on our campus. He then asked if I would hold off on posting for a bit. Well, a bit has passed, and it's time to talk about smallpox. Really, though, when isn't it the right time to talk about smallpox? Thanksgiving dinner, I suppose. Anyway, thanks, Bob, for doing this.]

23 November

On this day in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson declared all-out war on a universally despised enemy. The announcement didn’t concern Vietnam — Johnson had escalated that police action months before — nor poverty, against which the US had allegedly been fighting an “unconditional war.” This particular declaration targeted a different enemy, older and perhaps more loathsome than any ideological or socioeconomic affliction: smallpox. As the White House Press Release explained, the US…

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December 23, 2009, 1:00 am

The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution in storage

This is a guest post by our friend andrew, over by the wayside. Many thanks!

(Image from W.H. Michael, The Declaration of Independence, Washington, 1904)

On this day in 1941, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were taken out of their exhibit cases at the Library of Congress, carefully wrapped in acid-free and neutral packing materials, and placed inside a bronze container designed especially to carry them. When the packing was complete, the “top of the container was screwed tight over a cork gasket and locked with padlocks on each side.”*

The documents remained in this state for the next few days, until the Attorney General ruled on December 26th that the Librarian of Congress could “without further authority from the Congress or the President take such action as he deems necessary for the proper protection and preservation of these documents.” At which point the…

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August 12, 2009, 11:43 am

History for kids

[Editor's note: Our friend Michael Elliot sends along the following request for help. And yes, at some point I really should respond to the Wilentz essay linked below. You know what else I really should do? Post a review of Nixonland.]

Like any self-respecting parent, my main goal is to indoctrinate educate my children so that they can share my own nuanced take on the world. My second goal is to avoid having to read the insipid dreck that passes for children’s literature at bedtime. For these reasons, I’m looking to pick up some books that will shove my five-year-old down the path toward becoming an American historian. (After reading Sean Wilentz, God knows I don’t want him to become a literary scholar.) So, any recommendations on books about U.S. history for the kindergarten set?

For the record, I’ve recently tried out a couple of short picture-books on Lincoln. My so…

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July 27, 2009, 9:27 am

Code-switching.

Commenter Charlieford wants to put this to the EotAW community.

Last week I read a blog entry by a friend slamming Obama for, among other things, being our TOTUS, “Teleprompter of the United States.” He was offended by Obama’s use of a script (apparently) during his televised tribute to Walter Cronkite. Like a lot of conservatives, he was quick to pile on the criticisms—the delivery was cold and emotionless, not “from the heart,” the speech may not even have been written by Obama, and it included “large words embedded into the speech to ensure that only half of the Americans who heard the speech would understand it.”

That last one didn’t sound at all right and I went back and re-listened to the speech. I didn’t notice anything egregiously arcane or overly sophisticated in his vocabulary. I asked the author what had offended him in that regard, and he didn’t…

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June 25, 2009, 6:37 pm

“The rush of the flames…”

[Editor's Note: When Jacob Remes isn't using his superpowers to fight crime, he toils as a PhD candidate in history at Duke University, where he's writing a dissertation about the Salem Fire and the Halifax explosion. You can find more information here. And if you'd like to write a TDIH, please let me know.]

The workers at Korn Leather Company in Salem, Mass., made embossed patent leather by coating leather with a solution made of scrap celluloid film, alcohol, and amyl-acetate, and then applying steam heat. On this day in 1914, at about 1:30 in the afternoon, something went terribly wrong, and—perhaps not surprisingly given the flammable nature of the work—the whole rickety structure caught fire. Half an hour later, the fire had spread to fifteen more buildings, forcing 300 workers to flee. By 7:00 that evening, the fire crossed into the Point, a tightly packed neighborhood…

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May 29, 2009, 2:53 pm

California’s crisis and the collapse of the Republican Party.

Louis Warren once again helps us understand the historical roots of California’s current crisis. Thanks, Louis.

California’s crisis is such that the number one manufacturing and farming state is unable to sell its bonds. As I explained in my last post, this condition stems in part from constitutional requirements of the supermajority.

Some commentators on the right prefer a different explanation. This is the useful canard that California is congenitally left, and that liberal policies lead inevitably to financial collapse.

To be sure, the left is not blameless in this debacle. But much of California’s political upheaval of the last decade and a half has been driven by the collapse of the state’s once-formidable Republican Party. Alarmingly, national Republicans now seem to follow their lead. Progressives may think this cause for celebration – - but if the Republican…

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May 21, 2009, 6:20 pm

How We Got Here: Thoughts on the State of California

[Editor's note: Louis Warren, our colleague and friend, returns to write about why you should care that California has decided to self immolate.]

[Editor's note II: This post has been updated to reflect author's changes.]

While the scolding and the tut-tutting goes viral — “California, such a shame those weird, flaky people can’t live within their means” — it’s time for some serious reflection about how the nation’s richest, most populous state got where it is. California, home to one in eight Americans, has a GDP bigger than Canada’s. And it’s in the middle of an on-going fiscal calamity which threatens to rip our legislature apart (again). This week, the governor went to the White House to beg for federal backing of state bonds, a move which threatens to make California’s predicament a national drama.

So, whatever the solutions to California’s problems, re…

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May 8, 2009, 10:25 am

Partisanship and budget crises.

[Editor's note: Seth Masket, a good friend from my days at the University of Denver, has a new book out. He also has this post, about California's budget politics, for us. Thanks, Seth, for doing this.]

During a difficult economic year in which the state faced a severe budget shortfall, California’s Republican governor worked with Democratic leaders in the state legislature to craft a budget that contained a mixture of tax increases and service cuts. The Republican party stood together on the vote, with the exception of one holdout in the Senate.

Sound familiar? Actually, the year was 1967. Many of the story’s details are familiar because they recur from time to time in California. The real difference, though is the fate of the Republican state senator who refused to vote with his party. Instead of being driven out of politics, John Schmitz was renominated by the Republicans and…

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May 6, 2009, 11:57 am

Lies, Damn Lies

[Editor's note: Michael Elliot returns! Thanks, Michael, doing this.]

While I was a graduate student, I went to a meeting during which the Director of Graduate Studies was asked about the department’s “placement rate.” The DGS wanted to emphasize the positive, and so he stated that it was nearly one hundred percent: Everyone who had kept looking for a tenure-track position and not given up, he said, eventually found one.

Even I could see the fallacy of the argument: after two or three or four tries at landing a tenure-track professorship, most PhDs will find other kinds of paying work because, well, they need to be paid. (I didn’t bother to ask how such a badly managed department was actually keeping records to document this miraculous job placement.) I thought about this exchange when, in response to Mark Taylor’s antiestablishment polemic, Sunday’s New York Times

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