But you can call me Scott. You may remember me from my star turns as “electrician” in Brick(2005) or “electrician: Los Angeles” in The Kid Stays in the Picture (2003), but that’s not the real me. This is the real me. (But this will be my legacy.) I know what you’re thinking. Why would Ari and Eric invite a guy who studies literature to join them on the edge of the American West?
I don’t know either.
I don’t “do” history. I’m an historicist. Understanding the difference between the two would require I provide you a detailed account of why the items on this list are on it, but such an account would desecrate the very thing it describes. (Sins of non-omission make the Baby Greenblatt cry.) This is because historicism is less about evidence and attentiveness and archives and more about Hayden White and Michel Foucault giving me permission to make shit up.*
If history teaches us anything, it is that Presidents cannot lie about major political events that have potentially serious ramifications—particularly those relating to war and peace—with impunity. In almost all cases, the problem or issue that gives rise to the lie refuses to go away, even while the lie complicates the President’s ability to address it. He must now address not only the problem itself but also the ancillary problem his lie has created…. The point here is that in telling the truth to the nation, Presidents may often have to deal with complex, difficult and frequently dangerous problems they would no doubt prefer to avoid. But at least these are genuine problems that would have arisen irrespective of the leader’s actions. This is, after all, inherent in the job description. But once a…
This blog and many like it try to clamber over the wall between scholarly cloisters and citizens’ agora. I know many of my professional colleagues disapprove heartily of such efforts, while others believe passionately we should pursue them.
I confess I do not have a thoroughly thought through theory of why I stand in the latter camp. In honesty perhaps this blog and other non-scholarly publications I do as much from reflex as forethought.
But I’m trying to think through the problem. Below the fold, a step in this process (and no doubt a real hum-dinger of a fun blog entry) — the reading schedule for my graduate seminar this quarter, whose theme is the history and structure of modern intellectual life.
And, you’ll note, I’m doing something here I’ve done in the last few graduate seminars — leaving a space for student choice in the last week. You can help, too! Any nominations…
After I wrote about Troublesome Young Men, a friendly correspondent posted me Roy Jenkins’s excellent Churchill: A Biography, which I am greatly enjoying and hope to say more about at length. For now, though, I am struck by how underrated was Clementine Churchill, Winston’s wife. Even Jenkins says sniffily, “There were many contemporary references to her great beauty, which does not however entirely come through in photographs.” (134) Look to the right; taste not a matter of dispute, different strokes and all that, but still. Others were even meaner, and wronger. Violet Asquith (later Bonham Carter [in answer to your question: yes]) on the news of their pairing: “Whether he [Winston Churchill] will ultimately mind her being as stupid as an owl I don’t know — it is a danger no doubt….” (138)
Here are two letters from her to Winston, during the Great War. Both come just after…
Sometimes even your index does interpretive work. The title of this post is a real index entry from Henry Adams’s History of the United States, which does not handle Thomas Jefferson and the Purchase tenderly.
Adams first shows Napoleon in the bath — “the water of which was opaque with mixture of eau de Cologne,” thank heaven for small favors — mocking his brother Lucien, who objects that the cession of Louisiana would be unconstitutional without consulting the Chambers.
Constitution! unconstitutional! republic! national sovereignty! — big words! great phrases!… Ah, it becomes you well, Sir Knight of the Constitution, to talk so to me! You had not the same respect for the Chambers on the 18th Brumaire!
Thus did Napoleon dismiss fraternal scruples — boldly, as a despot should. Contrast Adams’s portrait of Jefferson, who writes that conscience and his strict construction…
Jackson called in 1824 for “adequate and fair protection,” saying “it is time we should become a little more Americanized, and, instead of feeding the paupers and laborers of Europe, feed our own, or else in a short time by continuing our present policy we shall all be paupers ourselves.”
That’s not too hard to understand, is it? Even without animation. What, we all need to have animation now?
In fact, Jackson was so clear on this point that, as the invaluable Dewey puts it:
Recourse was consequently had to political strategy, which it was hoped would prevent legislation and…
… Already in the decade from 1924 to 1935, the total national income of the US averaged three times more than that of Great Britain, nearly four times more than that of Germany, and around five times more than that of France or the Soviet Union…. Over the same period, British per capita Gross Domestic Product was running at 89 percent of the comparable US figure, French at 72 percent, German at 63 percent, and Soviet at 25 percent.
European contemporaries were very much aware of these facts; and none more so than Adolf Hitler. Already in his unpublished “Second Book,” written in 1928, he was declaring that “the European, even without being fully conscious of it, applies the conditions of American life as a yardstick for his life.” For Hitler, who read the Wild West novels of Karl May during his childhood and adolescence, it seemed obvious that America had…
So like a fool I agreed to write a piece on globalization and American politics for a reputable historian’s edited collection. I started by staking a claim to a specific definition of globalization i.e., the process of opening borders to exchange of money, goods, and people/labor. This process has waxed and waned over American history. So, I said, how has globalization affected politics over time?
Here’s my top ten:
Columbian exchange made way for the relatively easy transplantation of European institutions (Alfred Crosby); led to rise of Iberian and Netherlands powers (Ronald…
This was a bedtime read for me, which tells you something already. It’s a very pleasantly told story of how a bunch of rebels within the Conservative Party worked to bring Chamberlain and his appeasement policy down. They wanted the good-looking Anthony Eden to become PM, but he turned out to be an utter drip. So they settled on Churchill, whom everyone knew as a mad hangover from the high-Victorian New Imperialism associated with Chamberlain’s father Joe (he of the omelette/eggs aphorism). And everyone was right — but the country responded exceedingly well to a mad hangover from the high-Victorian New Imperialism playing the role of cornered British bulldog.
The book reminds me of Taylor Branch’s treatment of Martin Luther King, Jr., on two counts (although it is gratifyingly shorter). Both are narratives that force the reader to slow down and see the flow of events as they must …
So this Welsh bastard1 walks into New Orleans, starts telling people he’s been adopted by a rich American bloke and changes his name. Wanders up to Arkansas where someone sends him a petticoat, which is as much as to say he’s a coward; can’t have that so he signs up with the Confederate Army in 1861. Taken prisoner, Battle of Shiloh, impressed into the U.S. Army. Deserts. Joins the U.S. Navy in 1864. Deserts. Goes off for what is to David Gilmour an unspecified but “bizarre and foolhardy adventure in Ottoman Turkey” then comes back to America in 1867 to cover the U.S. Army’s campaigns against the Plains Indians.
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This blog is a blog about history, Yiddishkeit, and the Muppets, neither exclusively nor necessarily in that order. And as William Gibson said about this very blog (no, really), “History can save your ass.” Yiddishkeit and the Muppets are just extras.
is the associate director of the Cornell in Washington program and a senior lecturer at Cornell University. He teaches courses on European history, modern military history, guerrilla war, and the role of popular will in waging war.
is a professor of history at UC Davis. He is the author of A River and Its City: The Nature of Landscape in New Orleans, which won the Abbott Lowell Cummings Prize in 2004, and his new book, A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling Over the Memory of Sand Creek, will be published by Harvard University Press in fall 2012.
is a professor of history at UC Davis. She is the author of Real Enemies: Conspiracy Theories and American Democracy, World War I to 9/11 (Oxford, 2009); Red Spy Queen: A Biography of Elizabeth Bentley (North Carolina, 2002); and Challenging the Secret Government: The Post-Watergate Investigations of the CIA and FBI (North Carolina, 1996).