Monday, December 29, 2008

Medieval Scottish "Rap"

According to Professor Ferenc Szasz, contemporary "rap battles" (which I thought originated from "the dozens") "derive from the ancient Caledonian art of 'flyting'."

According to the theory, Scottish slave owners took the tradition with them to the United States, where it was adopted and developed by slaves, emerging many years later as rap.

Professor Szasz is convinced there is a clear link between this tradition for settling scores in Scotland and rap battles, which were famously portrayed in Eminem's 2002 movie 8 Mile.

He said: "The Scots have a lengthy tradition of flyting - intense verbal jousting, often laced with vulgarity, that is similar to the dozens that one finds among contemporary inner-city African-American youth.

"Both cultures accord high marks to satire. The skilled use of satire takes this verbal jousting to its ultimate level - one step short of a fist fight."

The academic, who specialises in American and Scottish culture at the University of New Mexico, made the link in a new study examining the historical context of Robert Burn's work.

The most famous surviving example of flyting comes from a 16th-century piece in which two rival poets hurl increasingly obscene rhyming insults at one another before the Court of King James IV.

Titled the Flyting Of Dunbar And Kennedy, it has been described by academics as "just over 500 lines of filth".

Professor Szasz cites an American civil war poem, printed in the New York Vanity Fair magazine on November 9, 1861, as the first recorded example of the battles being used in the United States.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Burgundians Blog

I mentioned my new Burgundians in the Mist blog earlier. Turns out I had inadvertently restricted access. That's been rectified and it's now open to the public. The Burgundians are the central topic, but I aim to also talk a lot about the Germanic tribes of Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Bush Legacy? Too Soon to Tell

Patrick Reddy has a fair recounting of the Bush Presidency and how history will view it. His conclusion (emphasis added):

What will be very difficult for Bush’s historic reputation to overcome is that the country is in worse shape than when he came in; that he will likely suffer in comparison to his two immediate successors, his father and Bill Clinton; and that he governed very differently than he campaigned. In 2000, Bush ran as “a uniter, not a divider” and on a “humble” foreign policy! It’s true that voters didn’t get the moderate course from Bush they expected, but this is somewhat due to events.

Right now, people are focusing on the recession, possible national bankruptcy and Iraq, so the president is leaving town quite unpopular. But since economic cycles come and go, the guess here is that the legacy all comes down to the Bush Doctrine. If Iraq becomes a stable democracy and staunch U. S. ally, if Bush’s nation-building works as well as Truman’s in Germany and Japan, then historians will upgrade him. It could be 20, 30 or even 50 years before we get a final verdict on his Iraq policy. His long-term reputation is very dependent on future events. The odds do not look good now, but things can change.

Bush may well be someday seen as the “father of Arab democracy.” By definition, the new government in Iraq is a vast improvement over Saddam. If the Iraq situation turns around, historians will write that it was an occasionally mistake-prone administration that still got the big issues right. If not, they’ll judge him to have squandered thousands of lives and trillions of dollars on a foolish policy. If Iraq never turns around, that — combined with the financial mismanagement — will probably leave Bush in the bottom quartile of presidents. But if it does, he’ll be raised to the middle of the pack. This is one presidency that will almost surely require the passage of many years before we can get a true final perspective.

Monday, December 15, 2008

"A certain kind of hubris"

From the Politico:
[T]here are early rumblings of a backlash to Obama's ostentatious embrace of all things Lincoln, with his not-so-subtle invitations to compare the 44th president to the 16th, the "Savior of the Union."

Simply put, some scholars think the comparisons have gone a bit over the top hat.

Sean Wilentz, a scholar in American history at Princeton, said many presidents have sought to frame themselves in the historical legacies of illustrious predecessors, but he couldn't find any examples quite so brazen.

"Sure, they've looked back to Washington and even, at times, Jackson. Reagan echoed and at times swiped FDR's rhetoric," said Wilentz. "But there's never been anything like this, and on this scale. Ever."

Eric Foner, a Columbia historian who has written extensively on the Civil War era, agreed that comparing one's self to Lincoln sets a rather high bar for success, and could come off like "a certain kind of hubris."

"It'd be a bit like a basketball player turning up before his first game and saying, 'I'm kind of modeling myself on Michael Jordan,'" he said. "If you can do it, fine. If you're LeBron James, that'll work. But people may make that comparison to your disadvantage."

As it happens, Obama may find this an entirely apt comparison.

"I'm LeBron, baby," he told a Chicago Tribune reporter at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. "I can play on this level. I got some game."

That kind of preening highlights a risk that many presidents have encountered as they gaze in history's mirror.
Of course, one must remember that Wilentz is persona non grata in the historical profession. Don't know about Foner.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Blogroll updated

I took the shears to the blogroll and links (to the right) pruned a lot and planted a couple new ones.

Oh, and I clipped the post ":" part of the blog title.....just "Spinning Clio" now.

Monday, December 08, 2008

NEW PROJECT - Burgundians in the Mist

I've decided to go in a new direction and start blogging about that area of history most near and dear to my heart--the history of the Burgundians of late antiquity. Not sure if I'll have anything new to add to the scholarship, but my goal is to educate and explain why the period that is now called Late Antiquity is so fascinating. I'll provide sources (both dead tree and online) as I go and will cover the historiography as well as "the facts."

This isn't to say the I'm done around here, but over the past year, I've felt less compelled to focus on "where history and politics meet." Suffice it to say "they do" and "they always will."

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

History Needs to be More Accessible for Historians

Tim Lacy is worried that historians are engaged in "a dichotomous conversation" based on their ability to pay for (and thus access) historical sources. This follows a similar concern he expressed about the costs involved in doing good intellectual history. In short, Tim thinks there is a class problem whereby better-financed historians have access to journals that lesser-financed, and usually younger, historians do not. At the same time, the latter are generally more reliant upon--and willing to use--on-line (read "free") sources. The essence of his point is this:
It seems to me then that digital subscription issues tend to detrimentally affect non peer-reviewed output by history professionals more than other kinds of writing. This means writing on subjects where historians are acting as public intellectuals. Of course this also extends to audience---print and online audiences are only seeing writings by those who work in each medium. It's an obvious point, but it is important to remind ourselves of the consequences.

If historians can't afford the time, energy, and money to go to their home institution's library to read print subscription output, their non-peer reviewed, public-intellectual work will likely be based on easily accessible web resources, resulting in two tracks of professional conversation about larger subjects.
Tim is seeking input, so here's mine: You bet it's a problem, especially for independent types like me. As a non-academic making my living in an entirely separate field, there's no way I can regularly keep up with the latest in scholarship. However, I also understand that I'm significantly in the minority and that the entire profession needn't change to suite me!

That being said, it is worth considering how younger historians on an academic track regard these access and financial roadblocks. As a profession, historians had better work towards easier and more cost-effective individual access to journals. A new generation that is used to operating on their own (ie; without having to be "affiliated") and having vast amounts of information at their fingertips is coming fast and they correctly expect that the "scholarly superstructure" of their profession is up-to-date and "user friendly." Right now, their in for some considerable disappointment.