History

Excerpt: Who Freed the Slaves?

March 19, 2015
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Excerpt: Who Freed the Slaves?

An excerpt from Who Freed the Slaves?: The Fight over the Thirteenth Amendment  by Leonard L. Richards *** Prologue WEDNESDAY, JUNE 15, 1864 James Ashley never forgot the moment. After hours of debate, Schuyler Colfax, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, had finally gaveled the 159 House members to take their seats and get ready to vote. Most of the members were waving a fan of some sort, but none of the fans did much good. Heat and humidity had turned the nation’s capitol into a sauna. Equally bad was the stench that emanated from Washington’s back alleys, nearby swamps, and the twenty-one hospitals in and about the city, which now housed over twenty thousand wounded and dying soldiers. Worse yet was the news from the front lines. According to some reports, the Union army had lost seven thousand men in less than thirty minutes at Cold Harbor. The commanding general, Ulysses S. Grant, had been deemed a “fumbling butcher.” Nearly everyone around Ashley was impatient, cranky, and miserable. But Ashley was especially downcast. It was his job to get Senate Joint Resolution Number 16, a constitutional amendment to outlaw slavery in the United States, through the House of Representatives, . . .

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Blood Runs Green: Your nineteenth-century Chicago true crime novel

March 6, 2015
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Blood Runs Green: Your nineteenth-century Chicago true crime novel

Below follows a well-contextualized teaser, or a clue (depending on your penchant for genre), from Sharon Wheeler’s full-length review of Blood Runs Green: The Murder that Transfixed Gilded Age Chicago at Inside Higher Ed. Blood Runs Green is that rarer beast—academic research in the guise of a true crime account. But it leaps off the page like the best fictional murder mystery. Mind you, any author presenting these characters to a publisher under the banner of a novel would probably be sent away to rein in their over-fertile imagination. As Gillian O’Brien says: “The story had everything an editor could want: conspiracy, theft, dynamite, betrayal, and murder.” So this is far more than just a racy account of a murder in 1880s Chicago, a city built by the Irish, so the boast goes (by the late 1880s, 17 per cent of its population was Irish or Irish-American). At the book’s core is the story of Irish immigrants in the US, and the fight for Irish independence through the secret republican society Clan na Gael. In England, and running parallel to events in America, is the saga of Charles Stewart Parnell, a British MP and leading figure in the Home Rule movement. Who . . .

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Sandra M. Gustafson on the State of the Union (2015)

January 29, 2015
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Sandra M. Gustafson on the State of the Union (2015)

As with the past few years, we are fortunate enough to have scholar Sandra M. Gustafson contribute a post following Barack Obama’s annual State of the Union address, positing the stakes for Obama’s rhetorical position in light of recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City (while pointing toward their more deeply embedded and disturbing legacies, respectively). Read Gustafson’s 2015 post in full after the jump below. *** Lives that Matter: Reflections on the 2015 State of the Union Address by Sandra M. Gustafson  In his sixth State of the Union address, President Barack Obama summarized the major achievements of his administration to date–bringing the American economy back from the Great Recession, passing and implementing the Affordable Care Act, advancing civil rights, and winding down wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while shifting the emphasis of US foreign policy toward diplomacy and multilateralism – and presented a framework for new initiatives that he called “middle class economics,” including affordable child care, a higher minimum wage, and free community college. Commentators compared the president’s emphasis on the successes of his six years in office to an athlete taking a victory lap. Some considered that tone odd in light of Republican midterm victories, while . . .

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Free E-Book for January: The Hunt for Nazi Spies

January 2, 2015
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Free E-Book for January: The Hunt for Nazi Spies

  Our free e-book for January is Simon Kitson’s The Hunt for Nazi Spies: Fighting Espionage in Vichy France; read more about the book below: From 1940 to 1942, French secret agents arrested more than two thousand spies working for the Germans and executed several dozen of them—all despite the Vichy government’s declared collaboration with the Third Reich. A previously untold chapter in the history of World War II, this duplicitous activity is the gripping subject ofThe Hunt for Nazi Spies, a tautly narrated chronicle of the Vichy regime’s attempts to maintain sovereignty while supporting its Nazi occupiers.Simon Kitson informs this remarkable story with findings from his investigation—the first by any historian—of thousands of Vichy documents seized in turn by the Nazis and the Soviets and returned to France only in the 1990s. His pioneering detective work uncovers a puzzling paradox: a French government that was hunting down left-wing activists and supporters of Charles de Gaulle’s Free French forces was also working to undermine the influence of German spies who were pursuing the same Gaullists and resisters. In light of this apparent contradiction, Kitson does not deny that Vichy France was committed to assisting the Nazi cause, but illuminates the . . .

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Free e-book for November: Mr. Jefferson and the Giant Moose

November 3, 2014
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Free e-book for November: Mr. Jefferson and the Giant Moose

  Lee Alan Dugatkin’s Mr. Jefferson and the Giant Moose, our free e-book for November, reconsiders the crucial supporting role played by a moose carcass in Jeffersonian democracy. *** Thomas Jefferson—author of the Declaration of Independence, US president, and ardent naturalist—spent years countering the French conception of American degeneracy. His Notes on Virginia systematically and scientifically dismantled Buffon’s case through a series of tables and equally compelling writing on the nature of his home state. But the book did little to counter the arrogance of the French and hardly satisfied Jefferson’s quest to demonstrate that his young nation was every bit the equal of a well-established Europe. Enter the giant moose. The American moose, which Jefferson claimed was so enormous a European reindeer could walk under it, became the cornerstone of his defense. Convinced that the sight of such a magnificent beast would cause Buffon to revise his claims, Jefferson had the remains of a seven-foot ungulate shipped first class from New Hampshire to Paris. Unfortunately, Buffon died before he could make any revisions to his Histoire Naturelle, but the legend of the moose makes for a fascinating tale about Jefferson’s passion to prove that American nature deserved prestige. In . . .

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Chicago 1968, the militarization of police, and Ferguson

August 29, 2014
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Chicago 1968, the militarization of police, and Ferguson

John Schultz, author of The Chicago Conspiracy Trial and No One Was Killed: The Democratic National Convention, August 1968, recently spoke with WMNF about the history of police militarization, in light of both recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, and the forty-sixth anniversary (this week) of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Providing historical and social context to the ongoing “debate over whether the nation’s police have become so militarized that they are no longer there to preserve and protect but have adopted an attitude of ‘us’ and ‘them,'” Schultz related his eyewitness accounts to that collision of 22,000 police and members of the National Guard with demonstrators in Chicago to the armed forces that swarmed around mostly peaceful protesters in Ferguson these past few weeks. The selection below, drawn in part from a larger excerpt from No One Was Killed, relays some of that primary account from what happened in Grant Park nearly half a century ago. The full excerpt can be accessed here. *** The cop bullhorn bellowed that anyone in the Park, including newsmen, were in violation of the law. Nobody moved. The newsmen did not believe that they were marked men; they thought it was just a way for the . . .

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“Never have empty bedrooms looked so full.”

July 3, 2014
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gilbertson_bedrooms cover

The Fourth of July will be marked tomorrow, as usual, with barbecues and fireworks and displays of patriotic fervor. This year, it will also be marked by the publication of a book that honors patriotism–and counts its costs–in a more somber way: Ashley Gilbertson’s Bedrooms of the Fallen. The book presents photographs of the bedrooms of forty soldiers–the number in a platoon–who died while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. The bedrooms, preserved by the families as memorials in honor of their lost loved ones, are a stark, heartbreaking reminder of the real pain and loss that war brings. As NPR’s The Two-Way put it, “Never have empty bedrooms looked so full.”   {Marine Corporal Christopher G. Scherer, 21, was killed by a sniper on July 21, 2007, in Karmah, Iraq. He was from East Northport, New York. His bedroom was photographed in February 2009.} A moving essay by Gilbertson tells the story of his work on the project, of how he came to it after photographing the Iraq War, and about the experience of working with grieving families, gaining their trust and working to honor it. As Philip Gourevitch writes in his foreword, “The need to see America’s twenty-first-century war dead, and to make them . . .

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Excerpt: D-Day through French Eyes

June 5, 2014
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Excerpt: D-Day through French Eyes

As World War II continued to rage, and though they yearned for liberation, by late spring 1944, the French in Normandy nonetheless steeled themselves for war, knowing that their homes and land and fellow citizens would have to bear the brunt of any incoming attack. The result of events that took place that June 6th—the largest seaborne invasion in history—led to a restoration of the French Republic and in story familiar to many, shifted the tide in favor of the Allied Forces. In D-Day through French Eyes, historian Mary Louise Roberts turns those usual stories of D-Day around, taking readers across the Channel to view the invasion from a range of gripping first-person accounts as seen by French citizens throughout the region. And as we approach the 70th anniversary of one of the most iconic military events of the twentieth century, we’ll be running an excerpt from the book (today) accompanied by a Q & A with Roberts (tomorrow), to honor, expand upon, and reinvigorate the story we thought we knew. *** CHAPTER ONE THE NIGHT OF ALL NIGHTS For Normans, the invasion began with noise. Just before midnight on Monday night, the fifth of June, hundreds of airplanes could be heard flying south over the . . .

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The Democratic Surround

February 24, 2014
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The Democratic Surround

The jacket copy for Fred Turner’s The Democratic Surround summarizes the book: In this prequel to his celebrated book From Counterculture to Cyberculture, Turner rewrites the history of postwar America, showing how in the 1940s and ’50s American liberalism offered a far more radical social vision than we now remember. One of the tricks of writing jacket copy, of course, is condensing the voluminous particularities of scholarship into an affable soundbite that neither undermines the intelligence of its reader nor offends the sensibilities of its author, who is most often the expert on her particular topic. The copy for Turner’s book is a classic example of this—and the excerpt below, from a recent post at Public Books, demonstrates just how much depth informs that single, sparse sentence. This is nothing new: the marketing of scholarly works has been around at least as long as the 1771 edition of  Encyclopedia Brittanica and parallels roughly the development of industrial capitalism. Maybe it is because I’m a fan of Turner’s work that I find the pantomime between what’s printed on the jacket and what informs that encapsulation so fascinating—or perhaps it is a much more unwillingly narcissistic positioning of myself as a consumer—either way, you . . .

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Michael Kammen (1936–2013)

December 19, 2013
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Michael Kammen (1936–2013)

Michael Kammen (1936–2013) “Underpinned by exhaustive research and abundant documentation, Professor Kammen’s books, essays and criticism—he was a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review and other publications—were noteworthy for remaining accessible to the general reader. His work, which stood at the nexus of history, folklore, psychology and sociology, helped cast the form of the modern scholarly field known as memory studies.” This clip, culled from the New York Times obituary, helps contextualize the prolific contributions of Pulitzer Prize–winning historian, American culture scholar, and longtime Cornell University professor Michael Kammen, who passed away earlier this month after a long illness. The Newton C. Farr Professor of American History and Culture emeritus at Cornell University, Kammen authored more than a dozen volumes situated between history, remembrance, and the composition of American character, including People of Paradox: An Inquiry Concerning the Origins of American Civilization, which won the 1973 Pulitzer Prize for history. In addition to his frequent scholarship and journalistic contributions,  Kammen also served as past president of the Organization of American Historians (1995–96) and was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His final book Digging Up the Dead: A History of Notable American Reburials was published . . .

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