February 10, 2014, 8:17 pm

This Month In Military History, February 1945 Edition

February 6, 2014, 7:56 am

Are Entitled To Against Every Government On Earth

I have some suggestions for Constitutional amendments:

The 28th Amendment:

The right of the people to move freely about the United States shall not be abridged by the federal government or the states.


The 29th Amendment:

The people shall have full ownership and control of their own personal information.

Why. Also why.

The 30th Amendment:

The right of an adult to vote shall not be abridged for any reason.


The 31st Amendment:

Corporations are not people and shall not be treated as such, especially by the ^$*&^^%$&%& SUPREME COURT!.


The 32nd Amendment:

The President of the United States shall be elected by direct vote of the people of all the states [updated!] and areas over which the United States has jurisdiction.*


Call them a mini-Bill-of-Rights, one for the 21st century.

(The title is part of a Jefferson quote about the original Bill of Rights.)


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February 4, 2014, 2:44 pm

Leading Edge: Patrick Rael on the Long Death of Slavery in the United States, 1777-1865

Today’s Leading Edge takes up the issue of slavery. Patrick Rael, a historian at Bowdoin, tells us that the end of slavery is a bit more complicated than the Civil War, the 14th Amendment, and Daniel Day-Lewis Abraham Lincoln.

Produced after the Civil War, this map effectively depicted the national “house divided” that in 1858 Republican Abraham Lincoln warned could not stand. Courtesy Library of Congress.

When we think of the ending of slavery in the United States, what comes to mind? Perhaps images of victorious Union armies, of Lincoln promulgating the Emancipation Proclamation, or — as depicted in Steven Spielberg’s 2012 film — of Congress’ fateful 1865 vote to amend the Constitution to abolish slavery. The desperate violence of the Civil War dominates the story of the end of slavery. But that’s not quite the way it happened.

We seldom remember that the Civil War…

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February 3, 2014, 2:44 pm

Monday Readings & Comments

Why, yes, I’ll take your survey
Starfish Oregon coast

First, the perils of surveying people, especially teenagers:

So imagine the surprise and confusion when subsequent revisits to the same research subjects found more than 70 percent of the self-reported adolescent nonheterosexuals had somehow gone “straight” as older teens and young adults.

“We should have known something was amiss,” says Savin-Williams. “One clue was that most of the kids who first claimed to have artificial limbs (in the physical-health assessment) miraculously regrew arms and legs when researchers came back to interview them.”

Well, yes, unless you’re interviewing starfish, the regrowth of limbs would seem to throw a fair number of the survey responses into doubt.

Next up, James Fallows eloquently argues that the Cory Remsburg tribute in the State of the Union was misguided here and here:

But while that moment…

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January 28, 2014, 1:00 pm

The Leading Edge: Robert Thompson and Vietnam

Our second Leading Edge takes us to the provinces of Vietnam to figure out what exactly the US meant when it talked about “pacification.” Robert Thompson, a graduate student at the University of Southern Mississippi, is working on a dissertation on exactly that, and here he explains it for us.

“Pacification” is a broad term that encapsulates all the ambitions of both military and civilian entities. It is a single word, describing a much more complex reality. My project (at the dissertation stage right now) is a study of language and wartime priorities in Phu Yen Province during the Vietnam War, figuring how how that word reflected reality. An examination of “pacification” shows that the prevailing definition points towards the existence of only one war in southeast Asia. Continuity, not change, best characterized the Vietnam War. “Conventional” large unit warfare under General…

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January 27, 2014, 5:16 pm

Floated Through The Air Like Autumn Leaves Dealing Death And Destruction

1938 hurricane September 21 1938 weather mapThe Great New England Hurricane of 1938 was the first substantial hurricane to hit New England since the 19th century. It was a powerful storm (peaking at Category 5 and making landfall at Cat. 3), and the weather forecasting of the day was off in both its severity and its timing. This latter was particularly bad, as the hurricane arrived well before it was predicted to, and thus caught many before they had finished (or started!) their preparations. The eye went over New Haven, CT. Colonel Edwin Bowden, who we last saw losing money in the 1925 Florida housing boom was stationed in Devens, MA when the hurricane hit. He and a friend set out in the middle of the storm to rescue his wife, who was visiting friends at an exposed location. Bowden’s story (sorry for the image file!):

Library of Congress Veterans Collection. Photo copyright David Silbey 2013

The Bowden family survived…

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January 25, 2014, 8:36 pm

Saturday Things Worth Reading

1. Information destruction through history infographic final revisedLovely graphic of information destruction through the ages at Global Data Vault:

Throughout the ages, it has happened again and again. Whole libraries of clay tablets, papyrus scrolls, bark codexes and paper books have been destroyed by natural disasters, fire and war. The Royal Library of Alexandria, where the accumulated knowledge of ancient scientists, physicians and philosophers was stored, was destroyed by fire. The destruction likely started during Caesar’s Civil War when Julius Caesar purposefully set his own ships ablaze, and many scholars believe the library suffered numerous other tragic fires throughout history. More than 120,000 volumes written by classical Greek and Roman authors were lost when fire destroyed the library at Constantinople in 473A.D.. Virtually all of the codexes recording the history, beliefs and sciences of the Maya were intentionally destroyed by…

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January 22, 2014, 2:18 am

Answer to Kevin Drum’s Question “Can 3 Lawmakers Revive the Voting Rights Act After the Supreme Court Trashed It?”


January 20, 2014, 6:00 am

The Leading Edge: Erica Hannickel

Welcome to the Leading Edge, a series on new works in history. We start things off with Dr. Erica Hannickel, Assistant Professor of Environmental History at Northland College, whose work on the history of American wine reveals all sorts of fascinating connections to immigration, race, and the Industrial Revolution. And, notably, the “Croesus of Cincinnati.”

15162How is it that historians don’t include Cincinnati land speculator and winemaker Nicholas Longworth in our panoply of most powerful 19th century moguls? For a time, Longworth was considered the second-richest man in America, behind John Jacob Astor.[1] Antebellum America knew Longworth as the “Western Bacchus” and “Croesus of Cincinnati”; today, a few historians crown him the “father of American wine” (in truth, he was the father of American sparkling hock). [2] Indeed, Longworth transformed Cincinnati into the …

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January 17, 2014, 7:13 am

Pressing Down

From “address made by Sgt. McLin Sheddan Choate of Battery F, 113th Field Artillery at the 65th reunion in 1983.”

At 11:00 am on November 11, 1918, after years of war, the firing ceased. The silence was as if one was in a small room and the ceiling was pressing down until you could hardly breathe. Then the realization came that it was all over–like an explosion. “Thank God. It is all over.”

From the Library of Congress Veterans Collection.

January 15, 2014, 4:43 pm

Frenzied Finance

Real estate bubbles did not pop into existence in the 21st century. There’s a long tradition of land speculation in American history, something of which I was reminded of during my research today. I was reading the 1943 memoirs of Colonel Edwin Bowden, a career Army officer, and he was discussing his involvement in the Florida land boom of the 1920s. As one historian described the boom:

There was nothing languorous about the atmosphere of tropical Miami during that memorable summer and autumn of 1925. The whole city had become one frenzied real-estate exchange. There were said to be 2,000 real-estate offices and 25,000 agents marketing house-lots or acreage. The shirt-sleeved crowds hurrying to and fro under the widely advertised Florida sun talked of binders and options and water-frontages and hundred thousand-dollar profits; the city fathers had been forced to pass an ordinance for…

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January 13, 2014, 4:54 pm

The Life and Death of Technologies

The dial tone is nearly a century old, leading the New York Times to do a magazine piece on it. The article is interesting, and you should read it, but it made me think of the life and death of technologies. Something like the dial tone has already largely disappeared from American life. My daughter will likely have no idea what it was. Phrases associated with disappearing technologies will shift out of everyday use:


And “video cassette recorder:”


Something much less familiar, pneumatic tubes, which were quite frequently used in the mid-20th century:


My sense is that technologies go from being leading-edge to being standard to being old fashioned to being antique. At first, a new technology is a marvel, then it is assumed, then it is past it, and then they are answers to Trivial Pursuit questions. Ten years ago, an author might have given their fictional character a…

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January 3, 2014, 4:34 am

Introduction: The Leading Edge

Just in time for the American Historical Association meeting (or #AHA2014 as the cool twitter kids have it) I’m starting a new feature on this blog. Modeled after John Scalzi’s “Big Idea” pieces, this series will give historians a chance to submit a piece about their current project – dissertation, book, etc. – and have that piece run in front of a wider audience. They can use the slot to talk about what they’re working on, why they think it’s important and interesting, and how it fits into the larger historiography.

The project doesn’t have to be complete/published/contracted but it should be reasonably far along and substantially well developed. The closer to it being in some tangible form, the more people are going to be able to do (buy, read, etc) with it. The Chronicle gets seen by a lot of people, and Edge by some fraction of that, so it’s a pretty sizable audience to parade…

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January 2, 2014, 5:13 pm

Evolution and Tribalism

The left blogosphere has been remarking on a Pew Center poll showing that Republican belief in evolution has been dropping over the last four years.

Evolution2013 4

Kevin Drum thinks it’s tribalism:

I don’t think it shows that conservatives are becoming more hostile to science, or even more hostile to evolution. Like so many poll questions these days, it gets interpreted by a lot of people as little more than “Are you a liberal or a conservative?” As Krugman says, between the pollster’s mouth and the respondent’s ears, it morphs into a tribal marker, not an actual question about an actual policy.

Which isn’t that worrying, except in the magnitude of the effect. But he’s not sure and “Perhaps some enterprising political scientist at the Monkey Cage can review the evidence about this for us?” Well, I’m only a historian, but let me suggest another interpretation. The Republicans answering the…

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December 31, 2013, 3:51 pm

The Military, Unleashed


Until the pendulum swings back and Congress proves willing to issue declarations of war in circumstances that permit no-holds-barred fighting, the military will continue to be asked to act with finesse.

is a myth. There has never been an American war in which Congress permitted “no-holds-barred fighting.” Even in World War II, perhaps as close as we’ve ever gotten, the US deliberately refrained from using chemical or biological weapons. The US has always limited what it is willing to do in wars, sometimes to a greater degree, sometimes to a lesser. Imagining that it hasn’t doesn’t help our understanding of the past, or our understanding of the present.