Thursday, April 29, 2010
I’ve never been big on class projects. The careful, OCD part of me sees millions of things that could go wrong. I’ve also not been much of a fan of student presentations. Ditto from above. Imagine hours and hours of classroom time eaten up by: “Webster’s Dictionary defines the Cold War as . . . In this presentation I plan to try to discuss why Khrushchev was so mad at America.” Or: “Mr. Abraham Lincoln stood head and shoulders above his contemporaries. According to Wikipedia, Abe was best known for writing down the emancipation renunciation . . .”
In recent years, though, I’ve begun to let go of past prejudices. With the right prep work and with plenty of guidance, student presentations can be educational, if not top notch, and they can be a wonderful end-of-semester exercise. So, on to class projects, I thought.
Eastern Nazarene College is right next to the Josiah Quincy House (built in 1770). It’s a beautiful colonial home and a national treasure sitting right in our backyard. But none of the students in my class even knew where it was located. So for my course on historiography, methods, and the practice of history I decided to have the students help me build a resource website for this storied home. The result was pleasantly surprising.
The students were interested in the project, if not wildly enthusiastic about it. We started with an early-March guided tour of the house. Eyes lit up when our guide Leah Walczak spoke of prominent visitors to the home: Benjamin Franklin, the Marquis de Lafayette, and, of course, John and John Quincy Adams. (The Quincys and the Adamses had a little rivalry going on, which added a dash of drama to the project.) The students invested considerable time in tracking down sources and finding out about this amazing colonial home and its remarkable history over the ages.
We tried to make the site a useful little guide for anyone who might be interested in the mansion and the illustrious Quincy family. So, along with some general information about the house and the Quincys, we've included architectural information; an extensive bibliographical page (the students went to town on this!); a JQ family line; hi res photos of the house; numerous maps, prints, and paintings; a video interview with Leah Walczak (chief curator); and a variety of links dedicated to local and regional history. We have also included links to as many full-text books, articles, and manuscripts related to the family and the mansion that we could find. I was impressed with student initiative. They were tracking down items and working on leads that had escaped me.
I plan to do it again. Next time around, though, we’ll be building a resource website on the now-destroyed second Josiah Quincy Mansion. That Victorian edifice once actually stood on our campus. (It was leveled in 1969 to make way for a Cold-War-styled modernist religion building. Sorry business.)
But, in the end, what do students take away from such a project? What use is it? Well, they certainly seemed to hone their research skills. They also have thought about how best to present history to a broader public. We discussed the layout of the website, the order and title of subpages, and more. I have hoped students come away from a class like this with renewed curiosity. I have also hoped they will think more about how history connects to the world around them. Among other things, their work on the Josiah Quincy site, it seems to me, linked past to the present quite effectively.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Franklin D. Roosevelt was stricken with polio in 1921. From then on he could only walk with the help of others or the use of crutches. That did not keep him from thinking about feet and walking in politically metaphorical terms. "A radical is a man with both feet firmly planted—in the air," he told a radio audience in the desperate year of 1939. "A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned to walk forward. A reactionary is a somnambulist walking backwards. A liberal is a man who uses his legs and his hands at the behest . . . of his head." Critics howled with disbelief. The federal government was treading all over regular Americans, walking up one side of the common man and down the other.
Eric Arnesen reviews Alan Brinley's biography of FDR over at the Chicago Tribune. He begins with the words of one vociferous critic, who worries that Big Government boots are going to walk all over liberty.
Eric Arnesen, Franklin Delano Roosevelt
By Alan Brinkley
Oxford University Press, 2009, $12.95, 129 pages
At a time of crisis in the American economy, one critic of federal programs charges the administration with stumbling “into philosophies which lead to the surrender of freedom.” It is a “false Liberalism that interprets itself into government dictation,” poisoning “political equality” and “equality of opportunity.” The policies pursed by the administration constitute “the road not to liberty but to less liberty.” What is needed is the “release of the dynamic forces in initiative and enterprise” which “are alone the methods by which these solutions can be found and the purpose of American life assured.”
What had so exercised this critic? The rescue of AIG, the financial sector, and the domestic auto industry? The health care bill that recently emerged triumphant by the narrowest of legislative margins? President Barack Obama’s recess appointments? And just who was so exercised? The Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele? Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin? A libertarian activist? A tea party-er?
This time, President Obama is off the hook. The contemporary ring of the attack notwithstanding, this denunciation of liberalism and federal authority and celebration of free enterprise is over seventy-five years old. The critic was former President Herbert Hoover; the year 1934. And what so agitated him was President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal. Just as Obama has his political enemies to the Right, so too did Roosevelt.
Along with Washington and Lincoln, political historian Alan Brinkley observes, Franklin Roosevelt remains for most Americans “part of the triumvirate of our greatest leaders.” The only political figure to be elected president four times, FDR had his work cut out for him: he not only presided over the nation’s most severe economic crisis ever but he successfully led the United States to victory in a bloody world war that threatened to extinguish democracy around the globe. His legacy during “dark and dangerous years” was “extraordinary,” Brinkley reminds us. “No president since the nation’s founding has done more to shape the character of American government.”
Not surprisingly, then, FDR has attracted considerable attention from historians over the decades. From Arthur M. Schlesinger and James McGregor Burns in the 1950s to Conrad Black, Jean Edward Smith, and H.W. Brands in the early 21st century, the 32nd president has been the subject of numerous biographies, some multi-volume and many extremely long. For all of the thousands of pages – tens of thousands, actually – devoted to exploring his life, Roosevelt remains, Brinkley argues, an “enigmatic man” who has “defied the efforts of so many people who have hoped to understand him fully.” read more >>>
Sunday, April 25, 2010
We're talking about philosophies of history this week in my course on historiography and method. (Everyone's favorite class and subject, I know.) Rather than have students tweet their #1 philosopher of history to each others' phones, I thought of something else. I'd like to give the students some scenarios from history and have them explain why one or another philosophy of history makes the best sense of the historical record. Progressive, cyclical, Marxian, Freudian, Niebuhrian . . . ? They'll have something to draw from, I hope. We're using Mark T. Gilderhus's historiography text and we're working through--as lightly as possible--Voltaire, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Spengler, Toynbee, Freud, and . . . Niebuhr.
I came across a 1949 Irving Kristol review of Niebuhr's Faith and History. (Props to Commentary magazine for the open archive.) The review might add something to our discussion in class. And, I thought the readers of the blog would like to see it. (Some harsh criticism below: "each of his successive books" is "progressively less interesting." Yikes.)
Judaism is tormented by the fact that the Messiah has not come, while the gas chambers have. Christianity is tormented by the fact that the Messiah did come, almost two thousand years ago, and what difference did it make? Hegel spoke of the “slaughter-bench of history” to which mankind was delivered as part of the “cunning of reason,” that is, as part of the larger scheme of historical providence; thus did he nobly synthesize, as only an academic sage could, radical suffering with radical optimism. But the majority of men are too undisciplined to submit to such a theodicy, and they persist in asking with Job: why, why? It is with the stubborn endurance of unredeemed history that these two books by Protestant theologians are concerned.
Reinhold Niebuhr has earned an enviable reputation both as man and thinker; but that does not prevent each of his successive books from being progressively less interesting. He is not saying anything he has not said before, and he seems to be less concerned with thinking problems through than with convincing others of truths with which he is well satisfied. So earnest is he in his persuasion, so American in his need to convince his countrymen, that his theology, often accused of being pessimistic, actually has a pervasive “uplifting” tone: he has been enticed by the democratic ethos into representing ideas in their public relations, rather than in their important, private ones.The themes, then, of Faith and History are not unfamiliar. The modern secular notion of progress is shown to have substituted a faith in history for a faith in Christ, or to have even identified history, as being itself redemptive, with the Christ. Evil is rooted in man's liberty, which tends to self-centeredness and which introduces “provisional meaninglessness” into history; “ultimately this rebellion of man against God is overcome by divine power.” (But this crucial term, “ultimately,” is never explicated.) . . . >>>>
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
This weekend I'll be taking part in an interesting new conference on public intellectuals. The organizers Larry Friedman (Harvard) and Damon Freeman (UPenn) hope to draw interested parties to the conference. All sessions (held in Harvard's William James Hall) are open to the public.
Here's the summary:
The conference will take place over a period of two days, Friday and Saturday, 23-24 April 2010 at Harvard University. It is free and open to the public. The conference venue is in Room 1305 of William James Hall, 33 Kirkland Street on Harvard's campus. Sixteen papers are spread over four sessions: Public Intellectuals as Cultural Icons; Religion, Science, and Tolerance; and Race, Gender, and Protest, Parts One and Two. The conference also features two plenary sessions on Career Reflections. The conference is also working in conjunction with "The Future of American Intellectual History" symposium taking place Friday afternoon, 23 April in the Lower Level Conference Room at Harvard's Busch Hall.
See the full program here.
Friday, April 16, 2010
"But with the slow menace of a glacier, depression came on," Frances Perkins lamented in 1934. "No one had any measure of its progress; no one had any plan for stopping it. Everyone tried to get out of its way." How did this thing happen and when will it end? Common questions back in the Dirty Thirties.
Today, journalists, historians, policymakers, and so many others are grasping for some handle on the current economic slump. What's the historical context of economic trouble? What went wrong? Could it have been avoided? "Some brilliant scholar has to write a comprehensive history of modern economics," says David Brooks in the NYT, "because the evolution of this field is clearly one of the most consequential things happening in the world today." Brooks' speculates: "One gets the sense, at least from the outside, that the intellectual energy is no longer with the economists who construct abstract and elaborate models. Instead, the field seems to be moving in a humanist direction."*
Others disagree. Over a month ago Diane Coyle penned an essay for the Chronicle on how "Economics Is on the Verge of a Golden Age." "An astonishing explosion of creativity and intellectual progress has been under way for years in a number of areas," observes Coyle. "Consider competition economics (should the Department of Justice challenge the Google Books settlement on antitrust grounds?), the application of game theory or the use of market design (what's the best system for matching newly qualified doctors or Ph.D.'s to jobs?), development economics, the economics of technological change and network markets (what prices should mobile-phone companies charge for access to one another's networks?), and the study of long-term growth."*
The latest issue of Historically Speaking (April 2010) features a forum on "The Neglected Field of Economic History?" Senior editor Donald Yerxa organized the forum with a generous grant from the Earhart Foundation. I paste below Yerxa's intro to the forum and short excerpts from each essay. (Read the full forum and other material from the new issue of HS at Project Muse.)
No graduate student in history in the 1970s could escape economic history. One of the major professional debates of that era—about the cliometrics of Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman’s Time on the Cross—went well beyond historiographical interpretation to encompass seemingly fundamental differences over the nature of historical methodology. But where does economic history stand now? In this our third in a series of four forums we asked several leading economic historians to assess the state of their field. Robert Whaples gets our conversation started with the forum’s lead essay. Philip Hoffman, Deirdre McCloskey, Joel Mokyr, and Werner Troesken respond, followed by a rejoinder from Whaples.
"Is Economic History a Neglected Field of Study?"
In the fall of 2008 and early 2009 it looked to many weary and wary workers, investors, policy makers, and analysts as though the U.S. economy was about to fall off a cliff into an abyss as bottomless as the Great Depression. What on Earth was going on? Everyone wanted to know, and many turned to history—economic history—for answers. The press burgeoned with interviews and insights from economic historians who were called to Washington and New York to offer advice. Indeed, Christina Romer, an economic historian from University of California, Berkeley, whose pioneering early research examined historical trends in economic volatility and who has done influential research on the causes of the Great Depression and the recovery from it, was tapped by President Barack Obama to be chair of the Council of Economic Ad- visors. And Ben Bernanke, a former Princeton University economist and author of Essays on the Great Depression (2000), held—and still holds—the most powerful economic policy making position in the world as chair of the Federal Reserve.
In these turbulent times, it became obvious to almost everyone that understanding economic his- tory is useful, indeed essential, and economic historians are indispensible. And yet many economic historians have the sense that their discipline is a neglected field, a field on the margins, caught in a no man’s land between two disciplines: ignored and underappreciated by economists and misunderstood, feared, and perhaps even despised by historians. Most economic historians sense that the discipline has almost always been on the margins and that this marginalization has increased appreciably since the end of a brief golden age that glimmered during the 1960s and into the 1970s.
To understand this situation, I’ll begin—as economic historians almost always begin—by doing some counting. . . . read on>>>
"Response to Robert Whaples"
Philip T. Hoffman
To make the picture even more depressing, Whaples (being the good economic historian that he is) backs up his assertions with solid evidence. One could easily add to it. To judge by the titles of articles in mainstream history journals (the American Historical Review, the Journal of American History, the Journal of Modern History, Past and Present), interest in economic history is vanishing.1 Dissertations in economic history in history departments are rare.2 And citations suggest that major works of economic history can pass unnoticed by the history profession even when they address issues that once fascinated many non-economic historians.3
My personal experience, if it is worth anything, suggests much the same. Older historians I know who were trained in the 1970s may not write economic history, but they do seem willing to pay attention to it. They also seem open to borrowing from the social sciences and to the possibility of generalization—in other words, to the notion that what they have unearthed in the archives is not necessarily a special case. . . . read on>>>
"One More Step: An Agreeable Reply to Whaples"
Deirdre N. McCloskey
I agree with every word of Robert Whaples’s elegant and well-grounded essay.1 Whaples doesn’t say things until he has the goods—and as he says, we people from the economic side tend to think of the goods as numbers. It’s very true, as he also says, that our numerical habits have repelled the history-historians, especially since they have in turn drifted further into non-quantitative studies of race, class, and gender (it is amusing that the young economic historian Whaples quotes gets the holy trinity slightly wrong, substituting “ethnicity,” a very old historical interest, for “class,” a reasonably new one; it is less amusing that historians believe they can adequately study race, class, and gender without ever using numbers, beyond pages 1, 2, 3).
But it’s also true, as is shown by the fierce and ignorant quotations he reports from other economists and economic historians, that quantitative social scientists don’t get the point of the humanities. “Whenever I read historians,” said a young economic historian to Whaples, “my response is: How can you say that without a number? Do you have a number?” Many social scientists, and especially those trained as economists, believe adamantly that, as Lord Kelvin put it in 1883, “when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meager and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely in your thoughts advanced to the state of Science.” The young economists nowadays believe this so fervently that rather than deviating ever from their faith they insist on collecting sometimes quite meaningless numbers (such as what is known as “statistical significance,” or what they are pleased to call “calibrations” of a hypothetical model unbelievable on its face). . . . read on>>>
"On the Supposed Decline and Fall of Economic History"
Much like the West, the field of economic history has experienced endless lamentations of its imminent decline and fall. Whaples’s basic argument that economic historians as a group are disrespected by economists and feared and despised by historians is typical of this kind of premature eulogy. The Cliometric Revolution had all been so promising back in the 1970s, and now all we are good for is telling a few stories about past economic crises to entertain our fellow economists or supply them with a telling historical anecdote to decorate the first paragraph of some technical paper. How bad are things, really?
It has never been easy to be an economic historian. Much like Jews in their diaspora, they belong simultaneously in many places and nowhere at all. They are perennial minorities, often persecuted, exiled, accustomed to niche existences, surviving by their wits and by (usually) showing solidarity to one another. They must work harder, and know more. . . . read on>>>
"Toward a Richer, More Diverse Intellectual Marketplace? A Response to Whaples"
Mostly I agree with Robert Whaples. Economic history is a neglected field in both economics and history. I have only two concerns. First, Whaples quotes a historian who characterizes cliometrics as generating “trivial” and “unreliable” results. I spent nearly fifteen years in a history department producing work in cliometrics. While I often felt isolated, which is the reason I left, my experience was nothing at all like that implied by the quotation. With a few unimportant exceptions, I always felt that my colleagues in history respected my work. I realize that my experience might not be representative, but I want to offer that qualification up front. Second, I think Whaples overstates the degree to which economists reject historical evidence and the broader enterprise that cliometricians call economic history. Although economic history could be held in higher esteem by economists than it currently is, there is evidence to suggest that economic history still has its place in economics departments.
But, whatever my quibbles, Whaples raises an important question: What is it about the field of economic history that undermines its position among both economists and historians? What follows is a crude and preliminary attempt to answer this question. . . . read on>>>
"Is Economic History a Neglected Field of Study? Final Thoughts"
There is considerable good sense in the comments of my four colleagues. I certainly didn’t mean to suggest that economic history is “ready for hospice care” and “doomed to extinction,” or to deliver a “eulogy.” Rather, my fundamental point, which all seem to agree on, is that, despite manifest evidence that economic historians continue to produce a high-quality product that more historians and economists should go out and read, the current amount of output in the economic history industry is below the social optimum. The demand is too low.
I don’t blame economic historians for this. Collectively, we are not as haughty as some of my quotes may suggest. And although we may not have all the breadth, polish, and ability to marshal evidence suggested by my commentators, economic historians are immensely practical. . . . read on>>>
Saturday, April 10, 2010
The program for the 2010 History Society conference--"Historical Inquiry in the New Century"
June 3-5, 2010, Marvin Center, George Washington University, Washington, DC--is now on-line. Participants will address a wide range of questions and issues, including: Where do particular fields now stand? What are the truly “big questions” historians face, and are we adequately grappling with them? How do we think historical inquiry will change in the 21st century?
The three-day meeting includes the following plenaries:
Peter Coclanis, University of North Carolina, “Lee’s Lieutenants: The American South in Global Context”
Christopher Lasch Lecture: Adam Hochschild, “How History Looks Different Over Time: The Case of the First World War”
Michael Barone, American Enterprise Institute, “The Enduring Character of America’s Political Parties in Times of Continual Change”
Comment: Sean Wilentz, Princeton University
Comment: Leo Ribuffo, George Washington University
A sampling of sessions:
Session IID: DOES IT TAKE A SMALL WINDOW TO SEE THE BIG PICTURE?
Chair: Melvin Patrick Ely, College of William and Mary
Melvin Patrick Ely
"What Reviewers Should Have Criticized about Israel on the Appomattox, But Didn't"
Nancy A. Hillman, College of William and Mary, "Drawn Together, Drawn Apart: Biracial Fellowship and Black Leadership in Virginia Baptist Churches Before and After Nat Turner"
Jennifer R. Loux, Library of Virginia, "How Proslavery Southerners Became Emancipationists: Slavery and Regional Identity in Frederick County, Maryland"
Ted Maris-Wolf, Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture
"Self-Enslavement in Virginia, 1856-1864: How Two Free Black Men Shaped a Law That Fueled the National Debate Over Slavery"
Comment: Melvin Patrick Ely
Session IID: THE WESTERN ASCENDANCY IN HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE: NEW INTERPRETATIONS
George Huppert, University of Illinois at Chicago, "What Can Be Learned from the Diary of a 17th-Century Merchant?"
John M. Headley, University of North Carolina, “On Constructing a Global Context for American History”
Ricardo Duchesne, University of New Brunswick,"On the Primordial Origins of Europe's Unique Restlessness: A Preliminary Discussion"
Session IIIA: STATE OF THE FIELD: AMERICAN LABOR HISTORY
Chair: Grace Palladino, The Samuel Gompers Papers, University of Maryland
Leon Fink, University of Illinois at Chicago, "The Great Escape: How LABOR Has Met the Challenge of Hard Times"
Donna T. Haverty-Stacke, Hunter College, CUNY, "Rethinking U.S. Labor History: Thoughts on the Recent Past and Future of the Field"
Melvyn Dubofsky, Binghamton University, "The Ugly Secret of U.S. History"
Ronald Schatz, Wesleyan University, "What's Wrong with U.S. Labor History"
Session IVA: STATE OF THE FIELD: TWENTIETH-CENTURY AFRICAN-AMERICAN HISTORY
Daniel Letwin, Pennsylvania State University, "Black Political Thought in the Age of the New Negro"
Carol Anderson, Emory University, "Freedom Fighters on the Cold War Plantation: The Histories of African Americans' Anticolonialism"
Mary Ellen Curtin, University of Essex, "Race, Gender, and American Politics since 1965"
Session IVC: COMPARATIVE WAYS OF WAR
Chair: James Carafano, Heritage Institute
Robert Citino, University of North Texas, “The German Way of War Revisited”
Brian McAllister Linn, Texas A&M University, “Reflections on the American Way of War”
Peter Lorge, Vanderbilt University, “The Many Ways of Chinese Warfare”
Ralph R. Menning, Kent State University-Stark Campus, “Recent Trends in the Historiography of the Origins of World War I”
Comment: James Carafano
Session IIE: INVESTING IN HISTORY’S VALUE: THE EVOLUTION OF THE HISTORICAL SOCIETY
Chair: Mark M. Smith, University of South Carolina
Wilfred McClay, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
Pamela Edwards, Jack Miller Center
Tad Brown, Watson Brown Foundation
Jack Womack, Harvard University
Heather Cox Richardson, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Session IVA: RETHINKING THE COLD WAR AT HOME
Chair: Eric Arnesen, George Washington University
Richard Fried, University of Illinois at Chicago, “McCarthy and ‘the 50s’: Friends or Foes”
Jennifer Delton, Skidmore College, “The Cold War as the Triumph of New Deal Liberalism”
Eric Arnesen, George Washington University, “The ‘Opportunites Lost’ Thesis Reconsidered: What, Precisely, Did the Demise of the Communist Left Mean for Civil Rights in America?”
Session VB: HISTORY DEPARTMENTS AND THE PROBLEM OF HISTORICAL GENERATIONS
Chair: Katrin Schultheiss, George Washington University
William Palmer, Marshall University
“Historical Generations and Changes in History Departments”
James M. Banner, Jr., National History Center
"My Generation of Historians"
John Harvey, St. Cloud State University
"The Rise of Modern Europe and the American Idealization of European Civilization, 1928 to 1986"
Comment: Howard Segal, University of Maine
Early registration and hotel information is available here.
Monday, April 5, 2010
The following appeared in recent days. Just when you thought there could not be any more essays or forums on the decline in liberal arts education of the crisis of the humanities. . .
Nancy Cook, "The Death of Liberal Arts," Newsweek, April 5, 2010
. . . . But there's no denying that the fight between the cerebral B.A. vs. the practical B.S. is heating up. For now, practicality is the frontrunner, especially as the recession continues to hack into the budgets of both students and the schools they attend.>>>
Richard A. Greenwald, "Graduate Education in the Humanities Faces a Crisis. Let's Not Waste It," Chronicle Review, April 4, 2010.
I was recently reading Dr. Seuss to my 2-year-old daughter, when, bored of The Cat in the Hat and The Lorax, I picked up a lesser book from the Seussian canon: I Had Trouble Getting to Solla Sollew. To my surprise, the plot of that little-known children's book reminded me a great deal of the current crisis of American higher education.>>>
"Graduate Humanities Education: What Should Be Done?" Chronicle Review, April 4, 2010.
Does graduate education in the humanities need reform? By nearly all indications, the answer is yes. The job picture is grim. The Modern Language Association is projecting a 25-percent drop in language-and-literature job ads for the 2009-10 academic year, while the American Historical Association announced that last year's listings were the lowest in a decade.>>>
Simon Jenkins, "Scientists may gloat, but an assault is under way against the arts" the Guardian, March 25, 2010.
Which is more important, science or the humanities? The right answer is not: what do you mean by important? The right answer is a question: Who is doing the asking?>>>
Elizabeth Toohey, "The Marketplace of Ideas: What’s wrong with the higher education system in the US and how can we fix it?" Christian Science Monitor, March 11, 2010.
The structure of the American university has long been a subject of contention, and now is no exception, especially given the current economic climate. Last year, Mark Taylor called for an end to tenure and traditional disciplines in The New York Times op-ed, “End of the University as We Know It,” and William Pannapacker’s column, “Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don’t Go,” was among the most viewed links on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s website.>>>