Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Historians in the News Roundup

Ta-Nehisi Coates, "The Civil War Isn't Tragic Cont.," The Atlantic, August 16, 2011

Anyone who's going to deal in Civil War studies really needs to take a moment to grapple with James McPherson's This Mighty Scourge. I doubt that this was McPherson's intent, but the first essay in the book is really what set me on the path of questioning the "Civil War as American Tragedy" narrative on to the "Civil War as American Revolution" line of thinking.

I suspect McPherson might not agree with my reframing--I'm probably being a bit too pat. Nevertheless, his essay demonstrates that the idea of the Civil War as avoidable tragedy didn't materialize out of thin air; it comes not just out of American popular memory, but right out of American historiography.>>>

Charlotte Higgins, "Historians say Michael Gove risks turning history lessons into propaganda classes," Guardian, August 17, 2011

Leading historians are to hit out against Michael Gove's plans for history teaching, saying they risk "going down the route of propaganda".

Gove has said history in schools ought to "celebrate the distinguished role of these islands in the history of the world" and portray Britain as "a beacon of liberty for others to emulate".

But Tom Devine, professor of history at the University of Edinburgh, said: "I am root and branch opposed to Gove's approach. It smells of whiggery; of history as chauvinism. You cannot pick out aspects of the past that may be pleasing to people.">>>

Karen Valby, "Black Women Historians come out against 'The Help,'" Entertainment Weekly, August 11, 2011

The Association of Black Women Historians released a statement today, urging fans of both the best-selling novel and the new movie The Help to reconsider the popular tale of African American maids in 1960s Jackson, Miss., who risk sharing their experiences with a young white journalist. “Despite efforts to market the book and the film as a progressive story of triumph over racial injustice, The Help distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers,” the statement read.>>>

David Barrett, "Historian Starkey in 'racism' row over riot comments," Telegraph, August 14, 2011

Dr Starkey cited Enoch Powell’s infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech from 1968, which criticised Commonwealth immigration, and suggested it had been “absolutely right in one sense”.

He was described as a “racist” and accused of “tribal bigotry” for his provocative comments.

Referring to last week’s riots, Dr Starkey told BBC2’s Newsnight: “But it was not inter-community violence, this is where he (Powell) was completely wrong.>>>

Richard Florida, "The inchoate rage beneath our global cities," Financial Times, August 16, 2011

. . . . Then there is this: our greatest cities are not bland monocultures but the very features that make them dynamic also contribute to their instability. Eric Hobsbawm, the Marxist historian, long ago noted that a combination of density and the poor being close to centres of political power transformed old-style cities into centres of insurrection. It is no accident that the most innovative US cities also have the highest levels of protest and among the lowest levels of social capital and cohesion. Much the same is true of London.>>>


PW said...

I completely disagree with Levine and other critics of Gove's plans for revamping historical teaching in Britain's schools.

At the moment, the post-colonial, we-should-be-ashamed-of-ourselves viewpoint rules, to the point that nationhood and valid historical analysis of Britain's triumphs are undermined, if not extinguished. True, we must be wary of hagiography or an ethnocentric curriculum, but this is not what Gove is proposing. The pendulum has swung too far the other way, and it needs to come back toward the center. A more detailed dive into Gove's proposals would reveal that, contrary to the selective criticism against him, he's not going for a "Rule Britannia" approach at the exclusion of objectivity.

PW said...

By Levine, I meant Devine.

Randall said...

I think the point has to do with what is the purpose of the past. How will it be used? Numerous historians are suspicious of anything that looks vaguely like nationalist, or celebratory history.