Category Archives: History

Posts about history and the profession of history

Formalism and the article

Getting a Ph.D. is pretty hard. You have to amass a lot of information, but beyond that, you have to learn a specific language–not just professional jargon, but the form of academic discourse. That form is usually casually taught, by experience, rather than formally, as a set of precepts. But there is a form, and […]

The Humane Sensibility

Years ago, I can’t remember exactly where, I read a Norman Mailer argument that cops feel nervous and anxious even at traffic stops not simply because there’s danger, but because at that moment the cop is confronting his fundamental desire to be the criminal. People who go into police work are people who feel the […]

No thing’s any good

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” (Hamlet) “A bad book is as much of a labor to write as a good one, it comes as sincerely from the author’s soul.” (Aldous Huxley) With those words in mind, consider the music of Shooby Taylor, “the Human Horn” Stout Hearted Men Lift […]

The Strange Career of King Louie

Millions of kids grew up watching Disney’s 1967 version of The Jungle Book. The most memorable scene probably comes when Louie, the King of the Apes, tries to convince Mowgli to tell him the secret of fire. There are a number of secrets in the scene, it turns out. Here’s the clip: I saw it […]

Goldman Sachs Confessional

The’re been a lot of buzz about Greg Smith’s editorial in the New York Times, explaining why he resigned from Goldman Sachs. It’s mostly a load of nonsense, not because he’s wrong about Goldman Sachs, but because of the way he sets the story up. Smith says he’s resigning, after 12 years at the firm, because […]

The existential despair of teaching

I teach American history at a state university. I like the job, for many reasons, not all of them noble. But I walk out of nearly every class with a feeling of having failed. Nearly every class. I suspect that’s true of most teachers. This could just be neurosis, because according to the standard metrics […]

Greenbacks, Negro Soldiers, and the President

In honor of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, an excerpt from my book Face Value. During the Civil War, Lincoln’s opponents saw African Americans in uniform and Greenback dollars as the same thing: inflated. We can see the same phenomenon today. The Civil War wasn’t all that popular in the North. Despite a […]

The Crazy Uncle Email

Crazy uncle emails. You get ’em: a long long chain of forwards and re-forwards to lists of family members and friend and further down, total strangers: the subject header says something like “shocking video!” or “what are the politicians up to now!” or “you won’t believe this.” And most of the time, indeed I don’t: […]

The Lincoln-Douglas-Gingrich Debates

Newt Gingrich, who stands a very good chance of getting the GOP nomination for President, wants to challenge Barack Obama to “a series of seven Lincoln-Douglas debates.” It’s worth looking at the proposal in light of the original Lincoln Douglas debates The Lincoln-Douglas debates live in the mind of most people as a symbol of […]

Joe Frazier

Joe Frazier died last night. He was a very important figure in my childhood and his fights with Ali, which took place when I was in middle and high school, taught me a lot about race, class and masculinity. The big shadow Ali cast distorted Frazier’s public character. It’s hard to recapture what a big […]