Historians for the most part believe that knowledge about the past which helps explain and contextualize a present-day problem is a good thing. The stories we tell are not always (or even very frequently) soothing, but somehow in telling stories that feature historical information over the longue durée we feel like we can get a handle on the problem before us. I don’t feel that way today, and it’s disorienting.
I have no hot takes. I have no opinions or ideas worth sharing. Every time I’ve thought about writing a blog post this week, another fresh hell is being reported, making anything I meant to write about a previous nightmare seem irrelevant. While a major theme on this blog is the racialized and gendered violence that underlays the United States in both its past and its present, and gun violence in particular, I have nothing new to add to that observation today. And while I’m a bigger fan of continuity than change as an explanatory framework for understanding history, I would like to see a heck of a lot of change just about now. For all of us. Continue reading
We love your brave and adventurous journalism, Suki Kim!
Click away from this blog immediately and go read Suki Kim’s angry and disturbing article “The Reluctant Memoirist” about the marketing and reception of her book Without You There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea’s Elite. It’s a fascinating exploration about the intersection of journalism, marketing, race, and sex.
Some of you may remember hearing about her book, which recounts her daring and adventurous mission to penetrate and report on North Korea by working as an ESL teacher at an evangelical Christian university that catered to the DPRK’s elite young men. In her article for The New Republic, where she serves as a contributing editor, she recounts the potential danger she faced in the service of reporting on the world’s most locked-down and closed off dictatorship, or “virtual prison state,” as Kim calls it: Continue reading
Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
I’ve been meaning to write for weeks about Donald Trump’s nickname for Elizabeth Warren. As a historian who has written a few books that include some Algonquian (Eastern woodlands Indian) history, and a lot of women’s history, it’s been on my mind.
But first, a little background: last month, Trump started calling her Pocahontas, intending to smear her for once checking a box on an employment form claiming Native American ancestry: Continue reading
Ursuline chapel and convent, Quebec City, 2015
I know I’ve been very quiet lately. I’ve been traveling for nearly three weeks, mostly tending to family affairs and doing a little research along the way. I’ve also had the chance to spend valuable time in conversation with friends in Michigan and New England, a rare pleasure all the more precious because of current events, which utterly bristle with hostility and violence now. I feel very sheltered and cared for by all of you, in comparison to so much of the rest of the world.
Although I’ve blogged extensively about the peculiar ferocity and gendered nature of gun violence in the United States over the past 8-1/2 years, I must admit to being completely hollowed out by the horrors of the mass murders in Orlando 10 days ago. What does it matter what I or any of us write here, with that kind of nihilism plus access to semi-automatic weaponry living among us? Unsurprisingly, the killer was a 100% homegrown American man, and like so many other American men, he was deranged by anger, misogyny, and his own sexual desires.
I may have more to say about this, especially the fact that the murderer targeted a largely LGBT and Latinx crowd, something that’s been lost in the panic about his supposed motivation to join ISIS/ISIL. I’ve been happier living in my imagination in some of the more peaceful corners of eighteenth and nineteenth centuries for the past few weeks. We all must consider how we can take the best of the past and make it a living tradition, and leave behind the worst: injustice, brutality, corruption. Historians struggle with these issues more than most people, I suppose.
A few weeks ago, I was invited by Edward Carson (@ProfCarson44) of the Christian Century to write something for their history blog, Then & Now. Here’s an excerpt from “What future is there for religious women in the west?” Continue reading
From a Candidate of Very Little Brains
Bernie Sanders is officially cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. After a number of his supporters in Nevada behaved very aggressively at the Democratic convention in that state over the weekend, throwing chairs, screaming at party leaders, and leaving vile and harassing voice mails for party officials, he says this today:
The Democratic Party has a choice. It can open its doors and welcome into the party people who are prepared to fight for real economic and social change – people who are willing to take on Wall Street, corporate greed and a fossil fuel industry which is destroying this planet. Or the party can choose to maintain its status quo structure, remain dependent on big-money campaign contributions and be a party with limited participation and limited energy.
First woman U.S. Secretary of State, or “War Criminal?”
Scripps College (the women’s campus of the Claremont Colleges) has invited Madeleine Albright to be their commencement speaker, and some students and faculty don’t like it. These students and faculty accuse Albright of being a “war criminal.” I think that’s a ridiculously overblown charge. My guess is that she’s a proxy receptacle for leftist resentment of Hillary Clinton’s presidential candidacy, but the accusation that anyone who complains about a choice of commencement speaker is somehow against free speech or are not “letting her speak” is equally hysterical. So let’s rehearse:
- Students who write op-eds for campus newspapers (or any newspapers) aren’t “silencing” anyone. They’re exercising their right to free speech.
- Faculty who sign letters of protest and/or promise to boycott graduation because they dislike the speaker are not “silencing” anyone. They’re exercising their liberty of speech and association.
Repeat until no longer outraged! Continue reading
Dude gets my vote for Second Worst. Can you guess who’s Worst Ever?
Enjoy this fascinating review of “The Worst Presidents in American History,” a panel recorded for C-SPAN 3: American History TV at the recent Organization of American Historians annual conference in Providence, Rhode Island. It features panelists David Greenberg (whose “The Last Great Republican Rupture” about the Republican primary of 1976 I highly recommend from last weekend’s Wall Street Journal), the always-awesome Annette Gordon-Reed, and Slate’s Jacob Weisberg, all of whom are presidential biographers and have loads of thoughtful ways of thinking about successful versus unsuccessful presidencies. And our pal Claire Potter, AKA Tenured Radical, is the panel Chair! Continue reading