Thursday, August 31, 2006

Google Offers Free Books!

It has been widely publicized amongst the bibliophile world that Google was scanning books and offering those images up for public viewing via the web. Well now, they are offering downloadable copies of public domain works. Just go to Google Book Search, select the "Full View Books" button (and a search term!) and you will have the chance to download to your hearts content!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Pollution (and Global Warming?) as a Historical Tool

Hmm. I see that "Metal Pollution From Medieval Mining Persists" (via Cronaca), and that a "summer heat wave has unearthed a historic past" (via Mirablilis). Then I learned from Brian Ward-Perkins in his Fall of Rome) that archaelogists have used the polution caused by Roman metalsmithing--as found buried in the Arctic ice cap--to gauge the extent of industry prior to Rome's fall. All in all, I'd say some good can come from global warming and pollution!

Trying Too Hard to Learn from History

Josh Manchester writes:

Our attempts to compare every conflict to World War II or Vietnam hinder our ability to fight different kinds of wars, including the current one.

In the pantheon of American warfare, no conflict garners as much popular admiration as the Second World War, which holds the title of ideal war...Whereas World War II is the gold standard for US warfare in most Americans' reckoning, the specter of Vietnam forever haunts our every move in any conflict that does not appear to resemble World War II...

The result of these two national experiences is that warfare exists along a one-dimensional axis for most Americans. World War II exists as the positive terminal of this circuit, and Vietnam as the negative; the tendency then is to reinforce the one, while eschewing the other.
As he also writes, "[t]he truth is something more complicated."  Indeed, much historical work has been done to strip away the "preferred remembrances" of WWII and there have also been attempts to play out various "what if?" scenarios with regards to Vietnam. Such revision and counterfactual assessment are the bread and butter of History.  However, too often, we all (myself included) fall into the trap of trying too hard to learn from the past.  No contemporary situation is ever exactly like something that's happened before.  As Manchester explains, searching for similarities between "then" and "now" can lead to simplistic and faulty conclusions:

Many observers across the political spectrum today seek to account for our failures or defeats in the War on Terror by partaking in complicated analogies to determine whether we are in a particular phase of World War Two, say, 1939 for example, and have thus really not begun to fight at all, or whether we are in the midst of the folly that characterized the Johnson White House, say in 1967, and thus are destined to lose.

But we would be better served as a nation to take a cold, hard, sober look at our position in 2006 and note that while similarities can always be found throughout history, each incident is strikingly different and the future is never foretold. We would be better served as a nation to note that we are engaged in a counterinsurgency and nation-building campaign in Iraq that resembles Vietnam in some superficial ways, but does not make failure a foregone conclusion; and moreover, that while counterinsurgency tactics and strategies might currently apply in Iraq, that does not mean they will always apply everywhere...
We can take our cues from the mistakes and successes of our history, but we shouldn't deceive ourselves by taking history as a preordained script.  "It happened before, it'll happen again" is a pithily accurate statement in a generic sort of way,  but the particulars and contingencies of any given historical moment vary from time and place to time and place. History does provides us with cautionary tales that can (hopefully) make us more deliberate in considering our future actions. But it is only one portion of all that needs to be considered.  What we know (or think we know) about a current situation is still the largest determinant of future action. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Albion's Seedlings on The Fall of Rome

James McCormick has a review of Brian Ward-Perkins The Fall of Rome: And the End of Civilization. I made a few comments, but still intend on doing my own review of both it and Peter Heather's latest book--once I get Heather's book! (A first: an Amazon re-seller is woefully late in shipping, didn't provide me a tracking number and hasn't responded to my request for one...UPDATE: He responded to email #2, and said he shipped it 2-3 weeks ago, didn't have a tracking number. Still waiting.)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity - We Need 'Em All

I'd recommend reading Danny Kruger's Prospect piece about the struggle between the two main political philosophies in Great Britain (and in America, for that matter). To pithily summarize:
In our politics, then, the thesis of the left—the pure governing idea that is realised through the dialectic—is equality. The thesis of the right is liberty. And for both, the antithesis—the messy reality into which they are accommodated—is fraternity.
Liberty and fraternity may be in tension, but they are not incompatible. The free market depends on the values of trust and reciprocity that are generated by the traditional family and nation, and these in turn are best preserved in a climate of freedom.
While the article has much that is specific to Great Britain, there are some general observations well worth digesting for all.

Monday, August 21, 2006

OUPblog: The Fall of Rome - an author dialogue

I'm back from 2 weeks of vacation. The one scholarly thing I did do whilst away was read this author dialogue (via Cliopatria) between Bryan Ward-Perkins (The Fall of Rome: And the End of Civilization) and Peter Heather (The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians). I actually already have Heather's book on order and I was significantly intrigued by the blog post to go out and get Ward-Perkins book from the library. The latter work was a pretty easy read (it's relatively thin). I took some notes whilst reading it and once I get Heather's work, I think I'll do a compare and contrast.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Vacation Time

Well, time to recharge the batteries. I may peek in over the next two weeks, but during the first week I'll be tooling around here:

and maybe here

and then going around here

for the weekend (though staying here).

I don't suspect I'll get (or want) much computer time.

After that, it's back to the home state for another week of R-and-R, and the chances are a bit higher that I'll get online.

But no promises.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Blogs are just like pamphlets version 8.0 (or so)

Michael Barone points to Nicholas Lemann who has a recent article that likens Blogs to the pamphlets of yore. I wonder if Lemann read AJStrata and Howard Kurtz back in April? Or if they read Frederick Turner in 2004? Or if he read John Palfrey in 2003? Or if he read Dan Bricklin in 2001, who heard the idea from Chris Daly who in turn took the idea from Bernard Bailyn's Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, which was written in the 1960's. (BTW, I know that a blogging historian wrote a good article on this topic, but I can't remember who!!! Anyone?) What's my point? Either the blogs=pamphlets meme will never take hold and continue to be some sort of locust-like, ephemeral notion, or it finally will take permanent hold because the likes of Barone, Kurtz and The New Yorker have started to promulgate it. Incidentally, I think it's a good analogy (and have for a couple years ;).