Category Archives: History

Posts about history and the profession of history

History, Technology, and the Shuffle Beat.

There’s a kind of beat called a “shuffle.” You’ve heard it thousands of times, maybe without knowing it. It’s an amazing beat when it’s played well, a unique combination of relaxed and urgent. Wikepedia has a long explanation which will be hard to make sense of. I think of a shuffle as triplets—1,2,3—played against four […]

Privacy, Slavery and Weiners

Why can’t I have an indentured servant? Let’s say you’re down on your luck, jobs are scarce; I offer you room and board for three years, and in return I own you. You clean my house, tend my garden etc. It’s a voluntary agreement: at the end of the three years you’re free, or you […]

Strong Dollar/Weak Dollar

The dollar is weak! President X’s policies have weakened the dollar! We need a strong dollar, a dollar with vigor and health! Political debates about money are never just about money. Money is central to who we are. We buy things that express out taste, out political beliefs, our “lifestyle choices,” and these things confer […]

Ignorant and Proud

We often see polling showing that Americans are remarkably ignorant of our history. They can’t name the dates of the Civil War, they don’t know what happened at the Alamo or why: they don’t know the Soviet Union was on our side in WWII. Does that really matter? You could argue there’s really no reason […]

The end is very precisely nigh

Harold Camping, a radio preacher in California, has scrutinized the Bible and confidently predicts the end of the world will begin tonight, at 6pm–“wherever it’s 6 pm.” First will be the rapture, in which the chosen will vanish. Then there will be few months of great unpleasantness and then god will say the hell with […]

Subject to Your Attention: Texting and the Movies

We’re closer now to the world first imagined in the movies, a world here the self is “decentered” and dislocated, in multiple places at once. Complaining about this new form of “subjectivity” is a waste of time. It’s neither better or worse: it’s a new paradigm. The other day I taught a class on early […]

Yearning for Land

Can sentimental attachment to land persist without religion? My ancestors were driven off their land in Ireland by the Brits in the 1840s. They emigrated to the US, and now we’re American. I don’t yearn to reclaim my ancestral land in Ireland. Does, say, CIA Chief Leon Panetta dream of reclaiming his great grandfather’s olive […]

EagleFlag in Infinite Variety

Everybody knows that the Eagles and Flags together are the modern symbols of American patriotism. Just Google “Eagle, Flag” and you’ll be dazzled by the sheer number of photoshopped eagles in front of waving flags, air-brushed eagles soaring over flag-colored clouds, ceramic eagles with flags in their talons; hybrid eagleflags of various sorts: Escher-like eagle flag conundrums, or eagles […]

Digital rent-seeking

I’m preparing illustrations for my book on the history of debates about money and value, which the University of Chicago Press will be publishing next year. Apparently they’re having the type hand-drawn by irish monks. For those who’ve never done it, this is how it works. For every illustration, you need to “secure permission.” Sometimes […]

The Always-Imminent Collapse

My research on the history of debates about money in the US involved a lot of looking at libertarians and the gold standard. One of the things you quickly notice about libertarians is their fondness for the idea of imminent collapse. “Fiat money” is always about to crumble, and bring down civilization with it. Often […]