Friday, October 27, 2006

Spinning Clio : Best of 2006

With nominations for the 2nd Annual Cliopatria Awards opening soon, I thought I'd offer up some of my best/favorite posts over the past year. Sure, I'd like some of 'em nominated (if they deserve it), but I also think it's a worthy exercise in and of itself. Blogging can get a little ephemeral and rediscovering one's own work may inspire further investigation down a forgotten path. Anyway, they are with a brief blurb about each:

Meet the new boss, will he turn out like the old boss?: Prompted by a Peggy Noonan column about the insular elite, I tied in a discussion of a "new elite," Glenn Reynold's Army of Davids, Alan Taylor's William Cooper's Town and Turner's frontier thesis.

I Like Medieval Women (Especially Queens) : An introduction to the study of medieval queens, with a few suggested readings.

A Positive Historical Baseline : I argue that we should be truthful about the missteps in America's past, but "[w]e should teach our kids to give their own nation and those who built it the benefit of the doubt" when first exposing them to American history.

The Historiography of the Early Middle Ages and National Homogeneity : After reading a piece by Götz Aly on re-contextualizing the Holocaust in which he mentions the medievalist Jacob Burchhardt, I delved into how current medievalists have shown that the concept of ethnically pure nation-states was a myth.

Qualifying Bennett's Jefferson: How Jefferson Was Able to Wage War on the Pirates : An excerpt from William Bennett's America: The Last Best Hope seemed to me to give too much credit to Thomas Jefferson--and to be too dismissive of the efforts of George Washington and John Adams--for how the U.S. finally dealt with the Barbary Pirates. In short, Jefferson used a Navy that he had previously and repeatedly tried to scuttle.

Historical Consumerism : Historian Stephen Fry spoke about why history matters and I explained why, and how, I discovered it matters to me.

And there you have 'em. The six bests post of the past year, IMHO.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Cliopatria Awards: 2006 -- Nominations Opening Soon

Ralph Luker has announced that nominations for The Cliopatria Awards, 2006 edition will be opened on November 1.
Nominations for the Best Individual Blog, Best Group Blog, Best New Blog, Best Post, Best Series of Posts, and Best Writer will be open through November. The eligibility time-frame for the Awards is 1 December 2005 through 30 November 2006. Nominations will be judged during December. Winners will be announced at the 4th Annual Banquet of the Cliopatricians at the AHA convention in Atlanta and, subsequently, here at Cliopatria in early January. Here are last year's winners.
I was honored to be nominated last year for my series on historiography. To make it easier for anyone who may be looking my way this year (wink wink), I'm going to compile a list of what I believe to be my "Greatest Hits" of history blog posts from the last year. Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The "Muslim Ages"?

Apparently, there is a move amongst the ubiquitous "group of academics" to get rid of the terms "Dark Ages" and "Middle Ages".
The ambitious project, backed by the British foreign office, aims to contest the very notion of a period that is known in the West as the Dark Ages, and highlight what has been called by Prince Charles of Wales as the "indebtedness" of Western civilisation to the Muslim world.

"We are told that nothing happened between the Roman Empire and [the Renaissance]. How can we accept that humanity went to sleep for that long?" asked Salim Al Hassani, the Iraqi-born British professor of mechanical engineering behind Muslim Heritage, which held a lecture about 1001 Muslim inventions at the Madinat Theatre on Tuesday, also featuring an address by the British consul general in Dubai, John Hawkins.

The term 'Dark Ages', Al Hassani told Gulf News, is losing ground and the period is more commonly referred to as the 'Middle Ages', which according to him is also misleading.

"'Middle Ages' refers to a period between two ages. Why don't we just give that period a name?" he asked, adding that the only appropriate name for the period would be the 'Islamic' or 'Muslim' age. Al Hassani said it is time for historians in the West to give due credit to Muslim academics.

Richard Brown, spokesperson for Muslim Heritage, said the response the programme has received has been overwhelming. A recent exhibition held by Muslim Heritage in Manchester, UK, attracted 80,000 visitors and was extended from three months to six, due to popular demand.

According to Brown, there is growing interest in the project's work in the West. Interestingly, he said, the largest number of requests for the exhibition came from the United States.

"'Middle Ages' refers to a period between two ages. Why don't we just give that period a name?" asks Al Hassani.
Sure....but wouldn't it strike today's medievalist as a bit disconnected to be called a "Muslim Age" scholar while they are studying, say, Eleanor of Aquitaine or St. Patrick? Others have attempted to rid us of this particular set of historiographical baggage and have failed. Heck, couldn't China lay claim to just as much "progress" during this time as the Muslim world? Maybe we should call it the "Eastern Age" or something. Anyway, I seriously doubt that such a generic appellation would catch on, but I'm nearly certain that naming an entire age after a specific culture isn't going to be widely accepted.

Military Path to Citizenship

Writing in the Washington Post, Max Boot and Michael O'Hanlon propose a military path to citizenship and National Review's Stanley Kurtz thinks it's a good idea while John Derbyshire and Mark Krikorian do not. Kurtz offers some historical examples of non-citizens contributing to the national defense (and asks for more) and is supported by emailers (one, two, three) who explain that, indeed, this is already going on in the U.S. military (which Boot and O'Hanlon mention in their piece).

Derbyshire's specific complaint against the idea is this:
The difficulty Boot notes in increasing troop levels ought to be a clue that, while we're happy to sign on to kill Saddam or nuke Japan or burn Atlanta (sorry to you Georgians out there), not enough of our people are interested in playing nursemaid to a bunch of crazies to make that a sustainable policy. To ignore that, and call instead for the recruitment of foreign soldiers, stems from the same impulse as Brecht's crack about "dissolving the people and electing a new one" — if the American people aren't interested in signing up for police duty in Araby, lets find people who are.
My college roommate's family was a beneficiary of the military path to citizenship. A Filipino, his father enlisted in the Navy, did his time and wound up in San Diego as a U.S. citizen. I have no doubts that there are non-U.S. citizens who would jump at the chance to obtain expedited U.S. citizenship.

Searching for Local History

Sarah Sutton of the Warwick Beacon (a local paper) writes:
When Steve Insana, Buckeye Brook activist and champion of environmental preservation in the Conimicut area, stepped out of his truck with a chainsaw in hand, I wondered what I had gotten myself into.

I’d agreed to meet him Saturday morning at the fire station on West Shore Road and Sandy Lane, which was to be the starting point for his attempt to uncover a 200-year-old burial plot located somewhere in the brambles near Buckeye Brook. I hadn’t realized we’d be blazing a trail through tangles of vines, climbing over logs and ducking under branches to make our way to the site.
They found it!

Brown University Slavery Report

Around 3 years ago, Brown University president Ruth Simmons organized a commission to investigate the school's ties to slavery. As anyone who has read Charles Rappleye's Sons of Providence knows, the Brown brothers benefitted from the slave trade and some of that money undoubtedly went towards the founding and expansion of the University. Yesterday, the commission released its report. According to the Providence Journal:
About a third of the report focuses on Brown’s deep ties to slavery and the slave trade; a third explores modern day slavery and reparations; and the remainder is recommendations and footnotes.

The recommendations include:

•Publicly acknowledging the participation of Brown’s founders and benefactors in the slave trade by revising Brown’s history to incorporate its connection to slavery and by the creation of an on-campus memorial.

•Establishing a university center for research on slavery.

•Adopting a more transparent and socially responsible investment strategy and policy for accepting gifts.

•Recruiting more economically disadvantaged students and diverse faculty, and offering more financial aid to diverse and international students. This includes actively recruiting students from Africa and the West Indies, “the historic points of origin and destination for most of the people carried on Rhode Island slave ships.”
The ProJo also termed "surprising" the recommendation that "Brown intensify and consolidate its efforts to improve education in Rhode Island, particularly the public schools in Providence." I don't know if it's surprising, but it's certainly a case of putting your money where your angst is. Instead of simply saying your sorry, it sounds like Brown is going to take some of the millions they make/have in their endowment and help out under-priveleged kids in Providence.
“To appreciate the dimensions of the crisis, one need look no further than Providence, where 48 of the city’s 49 public schools currently fail to meet federally prescribed minimum standards for academic achievement,” the report states. “This situation represents a direct challenge to Brown University. One of the most obvious and meaningful ways for Brown to take responsibility for its past is by dedicating its resources to improving the quality of education available to the children of our city and state.”

Brown’s previous and current efforts — tutoring and mentoring programs, arts and literacy initiatives and teacher training programs — are well intentioned, but “highly decentralized,” “ill-coordinated,” and “chronically underfunded,” the report states.

“If Brown is to make a meaningful impact in local schools, it will require a sustained, substantial commitment of energy and resources for many years,” the report states.

The committee suggests that Brown create more classes for teachers and allow public school teachers to take one Brown course a semester free of charge. The group also wants the university to expand its Brown Summer High School program, which prepares Rhode Island students for college-level work. The committee recommends an increase in financing for the university’s master’s degree in teaching program, including full tuition waivers for students who commit to teaching in local public schools for three years. The group also recommends that Brown faculty offer enrichment courses in local schools and help schools develop new programs.

The committee urges the university to expand its new urban education policy program. The committee also advocates expanding internships for Brown undergraduates interested in teaching; coordinating with other colleges in Providence that are active in the schools; and providing administrative and staff support for the education initiatives.
Good for them. I hope the University follows through.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Medieval Expert Witness

In "How French TV fudged the death of Mohammed Al Durah", Boston University professor Richard Landes describes what he has discovered about the Al Durah film and how his expertise in the area of medieval blood libel has landed him in the middle of a court case involving the French TV station that has refused to allow critics view the original film.

I have become involved for two reasons. First of all, I noted almost immediately that Palestinians and anti-Zionists, insisting that Israel killed the boy on purpose, used Al Durah in a way familiar to medievalists--as a blood libel. This was the first blood libel of the twenty-first century, rendered global by cable and the Internet. Indeed, within a week, crowds the world over shouted "We want Jewish blood!" and "Death to the Jews!". For Europeans in particular, the libelous image came as balm to a troubled soul: "This death erases, annuls that of the little boy in the Warsaw Gherro," intoned Europe1 editorialist Catherine Nay. The Israelis were the new Nazis.

And second, when I saw the raw footage in the summer of 2003--especially when I saw the scene Enderlin had cut, wherein the boy(allegedly shot in the stomach, but holding his hand over his eyes) picks up his elbow and looks around--I realized that this was not a film of a boy dying, but a clumsily staged scene.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Tapera-DHH Survey of History Blogs

A couple weeks ago, I filled out a questionaire for the Tapera-DHH Survey of History Blogs, sponsored by Tapera and Digital History Hacks. They have now put their results online and are looking for more respondents. First, here is the questionaire:




First post (mm/dd/Y):


  1. Which history-related blogs do you visit most frequently? (1-5)
  2. What factors do you think are involved in your choice of blogs to read? (For example: quality of information, writing, institution, author profile, rankings, entertainment value…)
  3. What factors characterize your own blog? Which are most important?
  4. Have you changed the objectives of your blog since you created it?
The most interesting data is contained within this graphic of the links between history blogs (I love these web-like/linkage things!). From what they've compiled, I find it interesting that 3 of the history blogs that I indicated that I visited most frequently (Question 1) didn't respond to the survey themselves nor did they have any other links from other history bloggers. These were Blogenspiel (15), Albion's Seedlings (50) and In The Middle (51). (Supplemental data--including reference numbers--is in this spreadsheet). One of my "top 5" is The Rhine River (27), who also didn't respond to the survey, but is mentioned in the top 5 of The History Librarian (76) and Far Outliers (101). The final one of my top 5 is the King of All History Blogs, Cliopatria (17). Looking at the graph, it looks like I'm clustered with Far Outliers and Rhine River. Interesting.

Here are the Top 5 (according to the survey)

Digital History Hacks
Old is the New New
Early Modern Notes

No real surprise, though I think that DHH's involvement in the survey has biased the results a bit (no slight intended guys!). The rest of the top 5 seem right on, even Edwired, which I would deem more academic than history-related. After all, most history bloggers are in academia. Not me.

King Richard's Faire

To many here in southern New England, Autumn means it's time for King Richard's Faire:
...a vivid recreation of a 16th century English marketplace at festival time. Actors, dancers, puppeteers, jugglers, minstrels, mimes, magicians and musicians perform each weekend for the favor of his Royal Highness King Richard.

Royalty and beggars, highwaymen and guards, knights and wenches, swordsmen and soothsayers roam throughout the 80 acre wooded village while artisans hawk and display a wide array of unique hand-made wares.

The Royal Chefs prepare delectable edibles authentic to Renaissance times. Exotic animals, jousting knights on horseback, challenging games and Renaissance merriment round out a day at the Faire.
Now, don't blame the denizen's of poor Richard's Faire, they aren't the only ones participating in such "creative" anachronisms (thinly veiled reference to the SCA intended). In Murphysboro, Illinois, there was a similar "medieval" fair that included a pirate parrot!!! To be fair, none of the performers or organizers claim that historical accuracy is the primary goal nor do they claim to be exclusively medieval in content. For instance, the Illinois fair said it was medieval-Renaissance-early modern. In essence, these little festivals aren't medieval so much as they are "before America"--centric. So, for unbelievably high prices, one can be treated to anachronistic fashion--buxom beauties!--dashing knights--wooden swords!--and, well, a lot of fun. Just don't expect to encounter the bubonic plague, the Inquisition or a Crusader!!!

Congressional Medievalism

John Tierney:
Suppose Nike’s founder, Phil Knight, asked taxpayers to subsidize a program for 16-year-olds to leave their homes to become “squires” running errands at Nike headquarters. Or suppose, before his death, Sam Walton had asked Congress to build a dormitory in Arkansas to house teenage “serfs” spending a semester away from their schools to work on a Wal-Mart loading dock.

These executives would become national jokes. They’d be denounced for trying to revive 19th-century child-labor practices and 12th-century feudalism. There would be no public money appropriated for Knight’s Squires or Sam’s Serfs.

Yet Congress sees nothing strange about dragging teenagers from their families and schools to become pages, one step below a squire in the feudal food chain. They’re not being forced to wear Prince Valiant haircuts, but they have to do scut work that’s probably even less useful than what they could learn at Nike or Wal-Mart.
How true.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Military History Foundation

Mark Grimsley has tired of the "hand wringing" and proactively started The Military History Foundation:
I have created The Military History Foundation in response to my perception that at present, a dearth of ideas and strategies exists concerning the advancement of military history as an academic field. The tone among many senior scholars in the field -- including those who hold, or have held, leadership positions -- is strikingly defeatist. Along with their rank-and-file counterparts, they complain about the marginalization of the field, blaming it on a blind prejudice against miltary history among academics in other fields.

This may be true. It is also irrelevant.

I happen to think the thesis of an unreasoning hostility toward the field is overblown. But even if it is not, this does not relieve us of the responsibility for developing and executing plans to strengthen the academic military history. Since others do not seem to be shouldering the burden, I've decided to embark on the work myself....

...I am going to do what I can to generate constructive plans and insist that the leadership of the Society for Military History either adopt them or develop constructive plans of its own.

That is the immediate task of The Military History Foundation. At the moment, it consists of a domain name purchased for $23.90 and a few web pages.

But it won't stay that way.

Instead of perpetuating a debate whereby many continue to talk past each other, Grimsley has provided a potential avenue for change. Kudos for the proactive approach!

A Royal A**hole

JJC at In the Middle explains the significance of King Alfred's hemorrhoids by examining his biography. Of course, his biographer's name was....Asser.