Category Archives: History

Posts about history and the profession of history

Reclaiming the flag

Today is the fourth of July, and we’ve decided to fly a flag. My wife and I have both hesitated to put out a flag. We both felt it’s become associated with jingoistic rightwingery, with eagle-and-flag empty bluster and an odor of compulsion. My wife grew up on military bases, where the raising and lowering […]

The physical book

After about a decade and a half of work, I finally got the first copies of my latest book, Face Value. It’s out! It’s a history of money, of the ways Americans imagined what money was and what value was. Some of it’s been adapted for this blog. It’s my third book, if you count editing […]

19th century wierdness

Part of an occasional series on “lesser-known DC” The “building” is so grotesquely out of place on the Senate side of the Capitol lawn. Surrounded by hurrying self-important staffers, high-priced lobbyists, and the constant hot bluster of politics, it’s quiet, cool, and enigmatic. It’s hopelessly impractical. It passes time, not legislation. Hundreds of thousands of […]

The Real People

Maybe you’ve seen this astonishing Obama ad featuring Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue talking about all the incredible women she gets to meet including Sarah Jessica Parker, and urging you to enter a contest to have dinner with Wintour, “Sarah Jessica,” and the Obamas. It’s pretty amazing. I find it deeply creepy, but I’m suspicious […]

Freedom IS Free

“Freedom is not free:” We hear this a lot. In the DC area, we hear it also in in the form of thousands of motorcycles that arrive ever Memorial Day, under the guise of “supporting” veterans and prisoners of war. 1 Freedom is free, though. If people are born with free will, if free will […]

book costs again

I’ve had some very interesting exchanges about “saving the AHA.” Just to revisit the idea, let’s imagine you wrote a very nice piece of very specialized research. The ready audience for the book is probably 1000 people, including academic libraries. Imagine you sent it to the AHA, and they sent it to reviewers who were […]

Saving the AHA

Recently a colleague recommended a book, an academic history, and I went to amazon to look for it. They were charging  $45 for the hardcover, $42.35 for the Kindle edition. I won’t mention the book, or the press, so no one is embarrassed, but I don’t have to–this is an increasingly common phenomenon. It took […]

Technology and individualism

I recently re-read C.J. Chivers book The Gun, a history of the Kalashnikov (the AK-47) and its American-made rival, the M-16. Basically the story goes like this: the USSR produced a weapon of hideous destructive power, an automatice rifle capable of shooting a LOT of bullets very quickly. It was made all the more hideous […]

Academic ethics and material necessity

At one time, not so long ago, access to archives was very scarce. It took time and money, discipline and focus; university affiliation and professional reputation, to get into special collections and archives and even the stacks of the Library of Congress. It took a socialization into a culture, a discipline. An historian would sit […]

The slave and the dollar.

The following is adapted from my book Face Value, which is supposedly coming out in May from the University of Chicago Press. In 1788, an anonymous satirist proposed using the body parts of black people as money, since their bodies were already for sale. To save trouble in “counting or calculating the value of this new […]