Top Young Historians: 106 – Pekka Hämäläinen

Top Young Historians

Pekka Hämäläinen, 42

Basic Facts

Teaching Position: Associate Professor of History, University of California, Santa Barbara and Co-Director of Indigenous Studies Minor
Area of Research: U.S. History, Borderlands, Native American History
Education: Ph.D. in History, University of Helsinki, 2001
Major Publications: Hämäläinen is the author of The Comanche Empire, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008. Paperback in 2009. Awarded the Recognition of Excellence, Cundill International Prize in History at McGill University. Winner of Pekka Hämäläinen JPG Bancroft Prize, Merle Curti Award, Caughey Western History Association Prize, Norris and Carol Hundley Award, William P. Clements Prize, Great Plains Distinguished Book Award, Philosophical Society of Texas Award of Merit, and Kate Broocks Bates Award. ForeWord Magazine’s History Book of the Year. An alternate selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club, Book-of-the-Month Club 2, History Book Club, and Military Book Club. El imperio comanche. Translation of The Comanche Empire by Ricardo García. Peninsula Press, forthcoming 2010. He is currently working on The Shapes of Power: Frontiers, Borderlands, Middle Grounds, and Empires of North America, 1600-1900. Under contract with Yale University Press.
Hämäläinen is the editor of When Disease Makes History: Epidemics and Great Historical Turnings Points, ed. Helsinki: Helsinki University Press,2006, and currently working on Major Problems in North American Borderlands History, ed. with Benjamin H. Johnson. Under contract with Houghton Mifflin Company.
Hämäläinen is also the author of numerous scholarly journal articles, book chapters and reviews including among others: “Into the Mainstream: The Rise of a New Texas Indian History,” in Beyond Texas through Time: Evolving Interpretations, ed. Walter Buenger and Arnoldo DeLeon. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, forthcoming; “The Politics of Grass: European Expansion, Ecological Change, and Indigenous Power in the Southwest Borderlands,” William and Mary Quarterly 67 (April 2010), 173-208. Reprinted in Major Problems in North American Borderlands History, ed. Pekka Hämäläinen and Benjamin H. Johnson. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, forthcoming; “Pathogens, Peoples, and the Paths of History,” in When Disease Makes History: Epidemics and Great Historical Turnings Points, 1-16, ed. Pekka Hämäläinen. Helsinki: Helsinki University Press, 2006; “The Rise and Fall of Plains Indian Horse Cultures,” Journal of American History 90 (Dec. 2003), 833- 862. Winner of Arrell Morgan Gibson Award. Reprinted in American Encounters: Natives and Newcomers from European Contact to Indian Removal, 1500-1850, 361-92, ed. Peter C. Mancall and James H. Merrell. New York: Routledge, 2006; and The American Indian: Past and Present, 6th ed., 53-77, ed. Roger L. Nichols. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2008; “The First Phase of Destruction: Killing the Southern Plains Buffalo, 1790-1840,” Great Plains Quarterly 21 (Spring 2001), 101-114; “Beyond the Ideology of Victimization: New Trends in the Study of Native American-Euroamerican Relations,” Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society 26 (Oct. 2001), 45-49; “Of Lethal Places and Lethal Essays,” with John R. Wunder, American Historical Review 104 (Oct. 1999), 1229-1234; The Western Comanche Trade Center: Rethinking the Plains Indian Trade System,” Western Historical Quarterly 29 (Winter 1998), 485-513. Winner of Bert M. Fireman Prize. Reprinted in Major Problems in American Indian History, 238-257, ed. Albert Hurtado and Peter Iverson. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001; “Hevosen leviäminen ja sen vaikutukset Pohjois-Amerikan tasangoilla sekä Länsi-Afrikan savanneilla” [The Spread and Influence of the Horse on the North American Great Plains and the Western African Savanna], with Pekka Masonen, Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society 21 (1996), 31-41.
Awards: Hämäläinen is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including among others:
Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies, University of Helsinki, 2010-2012 (declined);
Institut d’Etudes Avancées in Nantes, 2010-2011;
Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, 2009-2010;
Turku Institute for Advanced Study, University of Turku, 2009-12 (declined);
Recognition of Excellence, Cundill International Prize in History at McGill University, 2009;
Bancroft Prize in American History, the Trustees of Columbia University, 2009;
Merle Curti Award for the best book on social and/or intellectual history, the Organization of American Historians, 2009;
Caughey Western History Association Prize for the most distinguished book on the history of the American West, the Western History Association, 2009;
Norris and Carol Hundley Award for the most distinguished book on any historical subject, the American Historical Association Pacific Branch, 2009;
The William P. Clements Prize for the best non-fiction book on Southwestern America, the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies at Southern Methodist University, 2008;
Great Plains Distinguished Book Award, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Center for Great Plains Studies, 2009;
Award of Merit for the best fiction or non-fiction book on Texas, the Philosophical Society of Texas, 2009;
Kate Broocks Bates Award for the best book on Texas history prior to 1900, the Texas State Historical Association, 2008;
History Book of the Year, ForeWord Magazine, 2009;
Silver Medal, Independent Publisher Book Awards in History, 2009;
Honorable Mention, PROSE Award in U.S. History and Biography/Autobiography, Association of American Publishers, 2009;
Finalist for Carr P. Collins Award for the best book of non-fiction, the Texas Institute of Letters, 2009;
Nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, 2009;
Arrell Morgan Gibson Award for the best essay on Native American history, the Western History Association, 2004;
Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies, University of Helsinki, 2003-2005;
Most Distinguished Dissertation of the Year (all disciplines), the University of Helsinki, 2002;
William P. Clements Center in Southwest Studies, Southern Methodist University, 2001-2002;
Bert M. Fireman Prize for the best student essay published in the Western Historical Quarterly, the Western History Association, 1999;
Fulbright Fellowship, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 1995-1996.
Additional Info:
Formerly Assistant Professor of History, Texas A&M University, 2002-2004.

Personal Anecdote

This happened many times in 2006 and 2007:

It is 2 AM, and I’m suddenly wide awake. I’ve had less than an hour of sleep, but the adrenaline jolt has eliminated any chance of getting more. I know the cause of my unwelcome alertness: panic. The writing is too slow, the tenure deadline is too soon, my kids are growing up too fast, and my insomnia is worse than ever. I suppress the urge to howl in frustration, and instead get dressed and leave the house. I walk the half-mile to the office, convinced that the night is ruined-as is the following day, which will find me exhausted and unable to think or write. I cling to the idea that if I get down just one half-decent sentence tonight, surely it must be better than nothing.

I ended up staying in the office for twenty hours, writing more than I had managed in weeks. I couldn’t count on this pattern, but it happened often enough for me to finish the book and become a professional historian. I found writing my first book-a book that I knew would be controversial-a dreadful and debilitating task, and I don’t think I would have made it without those moments when expectations and self-criticism were temporarily suspended. Most of the thinking and conceptualizing happened while I was busy with other things. They still do. I sleep better these nights, but getting anything worthwhile on paper still requires mind tricks; insights only come when I’m preoccupied with things-running, hanging out with the kids, cleaning the house-that seemingly have nothing to do with the job.

This, of course, is commonplace. Anyone who has tried to write on a sustained basis knows the workings of the subconscious. And they know that for mind tricks to work, they must catch one by surprise; they must be-or at least feel-thoroughly accidental. One can’t force them, or even be aware of them. One can only appreciate them in hindsight.

Like almost all my friends in academia, I wrote my first book slightly scared and enormously annoyed, thinking that there was little in the way of method to my madness. I’m glad that I didn’t realize at the time that I did have a method, all along.

Quotes

By Pekka Hämäläinen

  • To understand the particular nature of Comanche imperialism, it is necessary to understand how Comanche ascendancy intertwined with other imperial expansions-New Spain’s tenacious if erratic northward thrust from central Mexico, New France’s endeavor to absorb the interior grasslands into its commercial realm, and the United States’ quest for a transcontinental empire. Comanches, to simplify a complex multistage process, developed aggressive power policies in reaction to Euro-American invasions that had threatened their safety and autonomy from the moment they had entered the southern plains. Indeed, the fact that Comanche territory, Comanchería, was encircled throughout its existence by Euro-American settler colonies makes the Comanches an unlikely candidate for achieving regional primacy. But as the Comanches grew in numbers and power, that geopolitical layout became the very foundation of The Comanche Empire JPG their dominance. Their overwhelming military force, so evident in their terror-inspiring mounted guerrilla attacks, would have allowed them to destroy many New Mexico and Texas settlements and drive most of the colonists out of their borders. Yet they never adopted such a policy of expulsion, preferring instead to have their borders lined with formally autonomous but economically subservient and dependent outposts that served as economic access points into the vast resources of the Spanish empire.
    The Comanches, then, were an imperial power with a difference: their aim was not to conquer and colonize, but to coexist, control, and exploit. Whereas more traditional imperial powers ruled by making things rigid and predictable, Comanches ruled by keeping them fluid and malleable. This informal, almost ambiguous nature of Comanches’ politics not only makes their empire difficult to define; it sometimes makes it difficult to see. New Mexico and Texas existed side by side with Comanchería throughout the colonial era, and though often suffering under Comanche pressure, the twin colonies endured, allowing Spain to claim sweeping imperial command over the Southwest. Yet when examined closely, Spain’s uncompromised imperial presence in the Southwest becomes a fiction that existed only in Spanish minds and on European maps, for Comanches controlled a large portion of those material things that could be controlled in New Mexico and Texas. The idea of land as a form of private, revenue-producing property was absent in Comanche culture, and livestock and slaves in a sense took the place of landed private property. This basic observation has enormous repercussions on how we should see the relationship between the Comanches and colonists. When Comanches subjected Texas and New Mexico to systematic raiding of horses, mules, and captives, draining wide sectors of those productive resources, they in effect turned the colonies into imperial possessions. That Spanish Texas and New Mexico remained unconquered by Comanches is not a historical fact; it is a matter of perspective. — Pekka Hamalainen in “The Comanche Empire” pp. 4-5.
  • “The rise of this Comanche-centric order and its ecological underpinnings illuminate the complex and unexpected ways in which transoceanic exchanges, biological encounters, and human ambition could intertwine to shape power relationships in early America. They form a counternarrative to conventional colonial histories by revealing a world where Indians benefited from Europe’s biological expansion, safeguarded their homelands by displacing ecological burdens on colonial realms, and debilitated European imperialism with imperial aspirations of their own. It is a counternarrative that expands the scope of indigenous agency from the social to the biological sphere because it shows how Indians could determine not only the human parameters of colonial encounters but also the ecological ones. As such it is a story that may help bridge the gap that separates the declensionist narratives of American Indian environmental history from the works that emphasize the resilience of indigenous polities and cultural forms. Native survival in colonial America was often a race against ecological degradation and the loss of land and its resources. As the rise of the Comanches shows, however, the outcomes of that contest could remain undetermined for a long time.” — Pekka Hämäläinen in “William and Mary Quarterly” (April 2010)

About Pekka Hämäläinen

  • “The Comanche Empire is a landmark study that will make readers see the history of southwestern America in an entirely new way.” — David J. Weber, author of “Bárbaros: Spaniards and Their Savages in the Age of Enlightenment”
  • “This exhilarating book is not just a pleasure to read; important and challenging ideas circulate through it and compel attention. It is a nuanced account of the complex social, cultural, and biological interactions that the acquisition of the horse unleashed in North America, and a brilliant analysis of a Comanche social formation that dominated the Southern Plains. Parts of the book will be controversial, but the book as a whole is a tour de force.” — Richard White, author of “The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815”
  • “The Comanche Empire is an impressive achievement. That a major Native power emerged and dominated the interior of the continent compels a re-thinking of well worn narratives about colonial America and westward expansion, about the relative power of European and Native societies, and about the directions of change. The book makes a major contribution to Native American history and challenges our understanding of the ways in which American history unfolded.” — Colin G. Calloway, author of One Vast Winter Count: The Native American West before Lewis and Clark
  • “For many readers, [The Comanche Empire] will be an eye-opener because of its vigorously advanced argument that for much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the Comanches created a mid-continental empire that controlled the economy of a huge part of the West, turned the northern Spanish and Mexican territories into its colonial appendages, and dominated the geopolitics of the both the Republic of Texas and, for a time, the United States in their imperial designs on the Southwest. If you are unused to thinking of American Indians as having this kind of agency in western history, The Comanche Empire will rearrange the furniture in your head.” — Dan Flores, “Montana: The Magazine of Western History”
  • “Perhaps we can simply stipulate that The Comanche Empire is an exceptional book-in fact, one of the finest pieces of scholarship that I have read in years. . . . Hämäläinen has given us a closely argued, finely wrought, intensely challenging book.” — Joshua Piker, William and Mary Quarterly
  • “Cutting-edge revisionist western history. . . . Immensely informative, particularly about activities in the eighteenth century.” — Larry McMurtry, “The New York Review of Books”
  • “A fascinating new book, details [the Comanches] unusual and colorful history. . . . Hämäläinen writes well and his narrative has an infectious verve and flow. . . . His broad themes are never in doubt, and the evidence he marshals is both compelling and convincing. He has rescued the Comanches from myth and distortion and given them their due in the sprawling epic that is our American story.” — John Sledge, “Mobile Press-Register” (AL)
  • “Comanche Empire is an impressive, well-written, and important study that should significantly influence future metanarratives, whether they include all or parts of Texas, the West, the Borderlands, or even general histories of the United States and Mexico.” — Ty Cashion, “Journal of Military History”
  • “Hämäläinen’s treatment of the complex relationships between the Comanches and other European and Native American societies is unique . . . Hämäläinen collates and narrates the events of the eastern and western frontiers through time in such an effective manner that the reader is swept in the flow of an almost seamless narrative.” — Mariah F. Wade, “Great Plains Quarterly”
  • “The Comanche Empire connects “the West,” understood by American historians to mean the trans-Mississippi Western United States, with “the West” as understood by world historians, through the materialist lens of world systems theory. What emerges is formerly unthinkable: a world of “reversed colonialism” in which the Comanche consciously created a functional empire by exploiting and controlling a huge geographic area and the several Euroamerican states that contested for it. . . . The construction and maintenance of this empire by the Comanche and their sometimes surprising allies, and its Carthaginian destruction by the massed might of US forces, form a grand narrative, convincingly told.” — John Harley Gow, “Canadian Journal of History/Annales canadiennes d’histoire”
  • The mere existence of a Native empire is important, but it is the impact of that indigenous imperialism on traditional perspectives of colonial North America and American western expansion that is truly critical. Demographic and geographic growth meant that Comancheria had eastern and western poles of power. But a political and cultural unity remained, and the Comanches still had the ability to counter-act any and all Spanish attempts to establish greater control over Texas and New Mexico. Indeed, by the early nineteenth century, Spanish administrators could not avoid the fact that Comanches had blunted or defeated all efforts at military intimidation or political manipulation. . . . The blueprint of Comanche empire relied on Comanche perspectives of space, and New Mexico and Texas can clearly be viewed as part of a growing Comanche dominion. Instead of a cohesive, if sparsely populated, northern colonial state, for example, Texas “spent its last years under Spanish rule as a raiding hinterland of the Comanches, who used it as a stockroom for their export-oriented livestock production system” (p. 187). This truly represents a crucial reconfiguration of political space in colonial North America. Just as notably, it reinforces the significance and impact of geographic perspective, a notion similarly enhanced by scholars like Daniel Richter.” — John O. Bowes, “Reviews in American History”

Posted on Saturday, June 12, 2010 at 11:31 PM

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History Buzz June 7-14, 2010: Robert Remini Retires as House Historian, Reviewing Nathaniel Philbrick

HISTORY BUZZ:

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor/Features Editor at HNN. She has a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.

POLITICAL HIGHLIGHTS:

    This Week’s Political Highlights

  • Pelosi Announces Retirement of House Historian, Search Committee: Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced today that Dr. Robert V. Remini, the House Historian, has chosen to retire from the post on August 31. Dr. Remini has served as Historian for the past five years, having reestablished the office in 2005.
    “Dr. Remini has been a tremendous asset to the House of Representatives,” Speaker Pelosi said. “It has been an honor to have so distinguished an historian serving the House for the past five years. He has worked diligently to initiate the House Fellows Program and an oral history program for current and former Members. On behalf of my colleagues, I want to thank Dr. Remini for his service and wish him the best in his future endeavors.”…. – PRNewswire-USNewswire, 6-11-10
  • Barbara Weinstein, Sean Wilentz, David Greenberg, Tony Michels: Historians for KaganNew Yorker, 6-7-10

IN FOCUS:

  • Who Is Crying Wolf? Developing Controversy over New Program: Some prominent liberal academics are soliciting short essays from faculty members and graduate students to document a pattern in American history of major social advances being opposed by conservatives who “cry wolf” about the impact of proposed reforms. The campaign — known as the “Cry Wolf Project” — hasn’t been officially announced. But conservative bloggers obtained some of the solicitations of essays and published them this week, along with considerable criticism.
    A series of posts on Andrew Breitbart’s Big Journalism Web site have called the program “Academia-Gate” and suggested that the effort is inappropriately political. The creators of Cry Wolf, meanwhile, say that what they are doing is awfully similar to the ways that right-leaning scholars have used academic work to advance their causes over the years.
    The goal of Cry Wolf is to build an online database of short essays showing examples of crying wolf by the right. If people today are reminded that conservatives in the past predicted devastating impacts from minimum wage laws, or requiring cars to have seat belts, or Social Security, the theory goes, they may be more skeptical if they hear, say, that the Obama health care plan will result in the creation of death panels. A letter seeking these 2,000 word essays — and offering to pay $1,000 for them — has been circulating among liberal academics (and at least one who sent it off to conservative bloggers)…. – Inside Higher Ed (6-11-10)
  • “Cry Wolf” draws the ire of Breitbart’s Big Hollywood: But if you haven’t thought of the labor movement as a cerebral bunch, think again. Meet Peter Dreier, Donald Cohen, Nelson Lichtenstein, and their syndicate of progressive university professors – the “intellectual infrastructure” of the progressive labor movement… – Andrew Breitbart Presents Big Hollywood, 6-9-10
  • Controversy continues to dog Lincoln scholar Frank J. WilliamsHNN Staff (6-7-10)
  • Flotilla raid could be fatal blow to Turkey-Israel friendship, says Israeli historian: “At the moment, the street and the government seem to be united in their antipathy for Israel,” said Ofra Bengio, a professor of history at Tel Aviv University and author of The Turkish-Israeli Relationship: Changing Ties of Middle Eastern Outsiders…. “It was our misfortune to play into the hands of militants,” Prof. Bengio said. “There’s no doubt that Erdogan is riding high in the eyes of the public,” Prof. Bengio said. “If there’s going to be reconciliation between our countries, it will have to take place behind the scenes. The street is just too volatile.”… Globe and Mail (6-3-10)

THIS WEEK IN HISTORY:

HISTORY NEWS:

  • Scholar asks if the Crusaders had a Muslim ally in the First Crusade: A new article is examining the relationship between Islamic states and the Crusader army during the First Crusade (1096-99) and suggests that the Fatimid kingdom of Egypt did attempt to ally with the Crusaders. The article, “Fatimids, Crusaders and the Fall of Islamic Jerusalem: Foes or Allies?” was written by Maher Y. Abu-Munshar in the latest issue of Al-Masaq: Islam and the Medieval Mediterranean…. – Medieval News (6-3-10)
  • Leading Polish historian, killed in Katyn crash, now the victim of credit card theft: The Russian Federal Investigation Committee of the prosecutor’s office said four conscripts had been detained for allegedly using the credit card of Andrzej Przewoznik, a leading historian who was killed in the accident…. – Telegraph (UK) (6-8-10)
  • Raza studies author says “occupied” does not mean “to take over” in Arizona embroglio: “Occupied America.” It’s the title of a textbook at the center of a new Arizona law that targets ethnic studies programs in public schools. That textbook is used by TUSD in an ethic studies class. So, what exactly does “occupied” mean? Rudy Acuòa, Ph.D., is the book’s author. He says the word “occupied” means “to have a history” which he says his book teaches. Acuna says “occupied” does not mean “to take over.” Hence, the reason he says he titled his book “Occupied America” and not “Occupied Mexico.”… – KGUN 9 (AZ) (6-5-10)
  • Arizona Immigration Law No Different from the Past, Says Texas Tech Historian: Miguel Levario, an assistant professor of history, says that even since the days of the Gold Rush when Mexican- American residents of California were required to carry ID cards, the Arizona law is just the latest in a series of laws and events targeted specifically at Mexican-Americans…. – Texas Tech Today (6-4-10)
  • Historian tapped as running mate for GOP governor candidate in South Dakota: South Dakota gubernatorial candidate Gordon Howie announced today that he has asked former Sioux Falls mayoral candidate and alderman Kermit Staggers to be his running mate in his bid for governor of South Dakota on the Republican ticket. Staggers has served in the South Dakota legislature as well as the Sioux Falls city council. He has a PhD in American History and is a professor of History and Political Science at the University of Sioux Falls…. – Dakota Voice (6-2-10)
  • Rightwing historian Niall Ferguson given school curriculum role: Niall Ferguson, the British historian most closely associated with a rightwing, Eurocentric vision of western ascendancy, is to work with the Conservatives to overhaul history in schools…. – Guardian (UK) (5-30-10)

OP-EDs:

  • Thomas J. Sugrue: The myth of post-racial America: Was the election of Barack Obama the turning point in America’s racial development? Is the United States now set on a path to realize all its hopes and dreams of the civil rights era and narrow the divisions between the races? Thomas J. Sugrue, a professor of history and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, isn’t so sure. In “Not Even Past: Barack Obama and the Burden of Race,” Sugrue explores the question of race in Obama’s America and finds that much progress is still needed before the nation can truly call itself post-racial…. – WaPo, 6-10-10
  • Laurie Penny: Niall Ferguson and Michael Gove: The Tories want our children to be proud of Britain’s imperial past. When right-wing colonial historian Niall Ferguson told the Hay Festival last weekend that he would like to revise the school history curriculum to include “the rise of western domination of the world” as the “big story” of the last 500 years, Education Secretary Michael Gove leapt to his feet to praise Ferguson’s “exciting” ideas – and offer him the job. Ferguson is a poster-boy for big stories about big empire, his books and broadcasting weaving Boys’ Own-style tales about the British charging into the jungle and jolly well sorting out the natives…. – Laurie Penny at The New Statesman (6-1-10)
  • Jay Driskell: Petitioning the AHA to Use INMEX to Avoid Labor DisputesJay Driskell in an Open Letter (5-31-10)

REVIEWS & FIRST CHAPTERS:

  • Nathaniel Philbrick, S. C. Gwynne: Men on Horseback Nathaniel Philbrick: THE LAST STAND Custer, Sitting Bull and the Battle of the Little Bighorn Excerpt S. C. Gwynne: EMPIRE OF THE SUMMER MOON Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History Exerpt In “The Last Stand,” Nathaniel Philbrick, the author of the popular histories “Mayflower” and “In the Heart of the Sea,” offers an account of the Battle of the Little Bighorn that gives appropriate space to Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Maj. Marcus Reno and others who fought that day. But really, Custer steals the show.
    If Custer illustrates how the spotlight of history sometimes shines on the wrong actor, Quanah Parker exemplifies the more deserving who get left in the shadows. One hopes a better fate awaits “Empire of the Summer Moon,” S. C. Gwynne’s transcendent history of Parker and the Comanche nation he led in the mid- to late 1800s… The deeper, richer story that unfolds in “Empire of the Summer Moon” is nothing short of a revelation. Gwynne, a former editor at Time and Texas Monthly, doesn’t merely retell the story of Parker’s life. He pulls his readers through an American frontier roiling with extreme violence, political intrigue, bravery, anguish, corruption, love, knives, rifles and arrows. Lots and lots of arrows. This book will leave dust and blood on your jeans…. – NYT, 6-13-10
  • DAVID OSHINSKY: The View From Inside Review of Wilbert Rideau IN THE PLACE OF JUSTICE A Story of Punishment and Deliverance Few people know this better than Wilbert Rideau. Convicted of the murder of a white bank teller in 1961, Rideau, who is black, spent 44 years in prison, most of them at Angola, before being released. His painfully candid memoir, “In the Place of Justice,” is indeed, as its subtitle promises, “a story of punishment and deliverance,” told by a high school dropout who escaped Angola’s electric chair to become an award-winning prison journalist. As such, Rideau is the rarest of American commodities — a man who exited a penitentiary in better shape than when he arrived…. – 6-13-10 Excerpt
  • Justin Vaïsse: Leave No War Behind NEOCONSERVATISM The Biography of a Movement This definitional question, and in particular neoconservatism’s extraordinary transformation, is the principal subject of “Neoconservatism: The Biography of a Movement,” by Justin Vaïsse, a French expert on American foreign policy who is currently a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. It is essential reading for anyone wishing to understand the contours of our recent political past. Vaïsse is a historian of ideas. “Neoconservatism” demonstrates, among other things, that ideas really do make a difference in our lives…. – NYT, 6-13-10
  • HISTORY: ‘Last Call,’ a history of Prohibition, by Daniel Okrent: LAST CALL The Rise and Fall of Prohibition As Daniel Okrent demonstrates in “Last Call,” his witty and exhaustive new history of Prohibition, the so-called Noble Experiment created nothing like a virtuous teetotaler’s paradise. The 18th Amendment, in fact, didn’t so much end the country’s drinking culture as merely change its ethos, replacing the male-dominated saloon with the sexually integrated speakeasy and turning a public pastime into a surreptitious exercise in cynicism and hypocrisy. “The drys had their law,” as Okrent observes, “and the wets would have their liquor.” And the bootleggers would have their obscene and blood-soaked profits, blissfully free of state and federal taxes…. – WaPo, 6-11-10
  • POLITICS Book review: ‘The Upper House’ by Terence Samuel: THE UPPER HOUSE A Journey Behind the Closed Doors of the U.S. Senate Terence Samuel’s “The Upper House” explores the inner workings of the U.S. Senate through the lives of several current senators, including Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, Tennessee Republican Bob Corker and Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar. He describes the near impossibility senators face in fulfilling all the promises made during a campaign and explains why voters get frustrated when an election does not produce the immediate change for which they worked, voted and hoped. WaPo, 6-11-10
  • BIOGRAPHY Book review: Ronald M. Peters, Jr., and Cindy Simon Rosenthal: ‘Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the New American Politics,’ reviewed by Norm Ornstein: …We can expect a wave of books about Pelosi; the first to emerge since her health reform triumph is not by journalists, either of the tell-all or political-beat variety, but by two political scientists from the University of Oklahoma. Both Ronald Peters and Cindy Rosenthal are experts on congressional leadership and history; their book is thus more than a biography of Pelosi, and more than an account of her tenure so far as speaker. Peters and Rosenthal try also to put Pelosi into the broader context of contemporary American politics and Congress…. – WaPo, 6-11-10
  • The 1970s get a second look by historians: The Shock of the Global: The 1970s in Perspective Above all else, the 1970s marked the moment when world leaders and ordinary citizens alike woke up with a jolt to their common status as inhabitants of an interconnected world — and understood, in the process, that this didn’t necessarily make the planet a more predictable place. “This is the decade when things start to unravel,” says Harvard historian Charles Maier, one of the editors of the new book The Shock of the Global: The 1970s in Perspective. In his essay in the book, historian Daniel Sargent offers a citation from 1975: “Old international patterns are crumbling … The world has become interdependent in economics, in communications, and in human aspirations.” The writer was Henry Kissinger… – Foreign Policy (6-1-10)
  • Dan Epstein: How Green Was Their AstroTurf: BIG HAIR AND PLASTIC GRASS A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging ’70s Incomprehensibly, if you read Dan Epstein’s “Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging ’70s,” that singular event took place almost three years later, at the 1971 All-Star Game. He gets Tiger Stadium right, but nothing else….
    Baseball fans come factory-equipped with high expectations. We set ourselves up to be disappointed. But usually that disappointment is delivered by $200 million cleanup hitters, overweight starters or Billy Beane. Not writers entrusted to feed our baseball-history tapeworm. In a book that could and should have been a valuable compendium of an under­documented decade, the Feliciano gaffe appears on Page 38. When an author pulls that big a rock that early, you start reading differently. We don’t want to be copy editors. We’d rather not keep score…. – NYT, 6-6-10
  • Nathaniel Philbrick breathes new life into the hoary tale of Custer’s Last Stand: THE LAST STAND Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn Nathaniel Philbrick’s new book, “The Last Stand,” is popular history, and it’s not fair to expect him to bring new evidence to light. To be sure, there’s the more or less obligatory reference to a new source — an unpublished account by the daughter of one of Custer’s soldiers, quoting from her father’s private papers — but Philbrick wisely doesn’t try to convince the reader that this is important material; it’s a touch here and there of marginalia. The only fair questions are whether his account is well researched, his judgments reasonable and his writing engaging. The answers are yes, yes and yes. Moreover, the book is a model of organization, with lots of maps and photographs and extensive endnotes properly delineating Philbrick’s sources much more clearly than is usual in this kind of work…. – WaPo, 6-4-10
  • Gary B. Nash’s history of “The Liberty Bell”: It is an unlikely central character for a book: A silent, 250-year-old bell. Yet in “The Liberty Bell,” a biography of our nation’s “nearly sacred totem,” Gary B. Nash provides a stirring historical account of the icon that is America’s “Rosetta Stone or . . . Holy Grail.”…. – WaPo, 6-6-10
  • Jack Rakove: Looking for a ‘New’ Narrative of Founding Fathers: Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America Into this hot fug comes Jack Rakove’s new book, “Revolutionaries,” which bears the subtitle “A New History of the Invention of America.” Mr. Rakove is a professor of history, American studies and political science at Stanford University. He was also the winner, in 1997, of a Pulitzer Prize for his book “Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution.” He sounds like an interesting man, the kind who sometimes gets his boots muddy. He has been an expert witness in Indian land claims litigation…. – NYT, 5-30-10

FEATURES:

  • Ruth Harris: Letters reveal key role played by ‘passionate’ wife in securing justice for Alfred Dreyfus: Fresh light has been thrown on the Dreyfus Affair, the cause célèbre that divided France and shook the world in the late 19th century, by the discovery of thousands of unpublished letters. Following the exile of Captain Alfred Dreyfus after his wrongful conviction for spying for Germany against France, his wife, Lucie, was portrayed as a bourgeois heroine, the epitome of the dutiful Victorian spouse. But, according to her letters, she was a passionate woman whose undying love for her husband rescued him from the brink of suicide… – Guardian (UK) (6-6-10)
  • Conservative class on Founding Fathers’ answers to current woes gains popularity: Earl Taylor has spent 31 years teaching that “the Founding Fathers have answers to nearly every problem we have in America today.” Only in recent months has he found so many eager students. Two years ago, Taylor, who is president of the National Center for Constitutional Studies, made about 35 trips to speak to small church groups and political gatherings. This year, he has received so many requests that he enlisted 15 volunteer instructors, who are on pace to hold more than 180 sessions reaching thousands of people. “We’re trying to flood the nation . . . and it’s happening,” said Taylor, 63, a charter school principal…. – WaPo (6-7-10)
  • Shaping Gotham’s Past with Richard Rabinowitz: Elegantly dressed in a three-piece suit, gray hair framing his square-rimmed glasses, Richard Rabinowitz once met me on a blustery spring afternoon outside the New-York Historical Society, the 206-year-old institution where he has helped shape the way that hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers see their city’s past. Best known as curator of Slavery in New York, an acclaimed NYHS exhibit that exposed the ties between enslaved African labor and New York City’s wealth, the 65-year-old has spent more than four decades creating history exhibits for general audiences in the United States and abroad…. – The Atlantic (6-1-10)

QUOTES:

  • American people cynical and uninvolved, says historian: “This spill, it’s another blow to the body politic,” says John Baick, professor of history at Western New England College in Springfield, Mass. It is, he says, another excuse to be cynical and uninvolved — “exactly the opposite of what has always been the American zeitgeist, a sense that we, collectively and through our institutions, can be something greater than ourselves.”… “If people don’t believe, if people don’t give, if people don’t trust, they will pick the politicians who are the loudest rather than the most sincere,” said Baick, the history professor. “They will pick the rabble rouser rather than the technocrat who gets things done.”… – AP (6-7-10)
  • Randolph Roth says that Juárez murder rate like that of civil war: “Whenever you have a real struggle for power — civil wars, revolutions — organized gangs can get very, very bad like you have in Juárez today,” Roth said. “It’s very rare to see the rates like this in a developed country. It’s very sad.” Roth is a professor of history and sociology at Ohio State University who created a historical database examining U.S. homicide rates from different time periods and places. He is author of the book “American Homicide.”… – El Paso Times (6-7-10)
  • Tom Asbridge: Christians and Muslims are distorting crusades, says historian: “This is a manipulation of history, not a reality. I believe there is no division linking the medieval past and the conflict of the crusades with the modern world,” he said. “[It’s a] misunderstanding which goes back to the 19th century and western triumphalism in emerging colonialism, and the tendency of western historians to start to glorify the crusades as a proto-colonial enterprise, an [obsession] with Richard the Lionheart and a burgeoning interest in [Muslim leader] Saladin as almost the noble savage.”… – Guardian (UK) (6-2-10)

INTERVIEWS:

  • 5 Questions for Patrick J. Charles on Gun Control and the Second Amendment: Gun control and the Second Amendment are highly emotional and controversial issues in the United States. As a potentially landmark ruling in McDonald v. City of Chicago is shortly to be announced by the Supreme Court before its current term ends in June, Patrick J. Charles, author of The Second Amendment: The Intent and Its Interpretation by the States and the Supreme Court (McFarland, 2009) and Britannica’s new entries on both subjects, has kindly agreed to answer the following questions posed by Britannica executive editor Michael Levy…. – Britannica Blog (6-1-10)

AWARDS &APPOINTMENTS:

  • American Historian Wins Norway’s Holberg Prize: The historian Natalie Zemon Davis, probably best known for her work “The Return of Martin Guerre,” which was made into a 1982 film with Gérard Depardieu, won Norway’s 4.5 million kroner ($680,000) Holberg Prize on Wednesday for her narrative approach to history, The Associated Press reported…. – NYT, 6-10-10
  • John van Engen wins Grundler Prize: Western Michigan University has awarded the prestigious Grundler Prize to a University of Notre Dame scholar for his book, Sisters and Brothers of the Common Life: The Devotio Moderna and the World of the Later Middle Ages…. – Medieval News (6-8-10)
  • Historians among 2010 ACLS Fellows: The American Council of Learned Societies recently announced the winners of its 2010 fellowship competition. Over $15 million was awarded to more than 380 scholars, including many historians. ACLS fellowships and grants are awarded to individual scholars for excellence in research in the humanities and related social sciences. The complete list of winners is available on the ACLS web site. Among the winners are the following historians…. – David Darlington at AHA Blog (6-8-10)
  • Kiron K. Skinner International-Relations Professor to Advise on Bush Oral-History Project: Skinner has been chosen to serve on the advisory board for the George W. Bush Oral History Project, to be conducted by the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia. The center has done similar projects on each president since Jimmy Carter…. – CHE (5-30-10)

SPOTTED:

  • Historian Spence Delivers 2010 NEH Jefferson Lecture: On May 20, Jonathan Spence, one of the world’s leading experts on Chinese history and culture, delivered the 2010 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities. The annual lecture, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), is the most prestigious honor the federal government bestows for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities. To read the lecture, click here. In the lecture, “When Minds Met: China and the West in the Seventeenth Century,” Spence explored the many ways that one of the first Chinese travelers to reach Europe shared his ideas with the Westerners he met…. – Lee White at the National Coalition for History (6-4-10)

ANNOUNCEMENTS & EVENTS CALENDAR:

  • September 17-18, 2010 at Notre Dame University: Conference aims to bring medieval, early modern and Latin American historians together: An interdisciplinary conference to be held at the University of Notre Dame this fall is making a final call for papers to explore the issue surrounding similarities between late-medieval Iberia and its colonies in the New World. “From Iberian Kingdoms to Atlantic Empires: Spain, Portugal, and the New World, 1250-1700” is being hosted by the university’s Nanovic Institute for European Studies and will take place on September 17-18, 2010. Medieval News, 4-29-10
  • Thousands of Studs Terkel interviews going online: The Library of Congress will digitize the Studs Terkel Oral History Archive, according to the agreement, while the museum will retain ownership of the roughly 5,500 interviews in the archive and the copyrights to the content. Project officials expect digitizing the collection to take more than two years…. – NYT, 5-13-10
  • Digital Southern Historical Collection: The 41,626 scans reproduce diaries, letters, business records, and photographs that provide a window into the lives of Americans in the South from the 18th through mid-20th centuries.

ON TV:

BEST SELLERS (NYT):

BOOKS COMING SOON:

  • John Mosier: Deathride: Hitler vs. Stalin – The Eastern Front, 1941-1945, (Hardcover), June 15, 2010
  • Evan D. G. Fraser: Empires of Food: Feast, Famine, and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations, (Hardcover), June 15, 2010
  • Ruth Harris: Dreyfus: Politics, Emotion, and the Scandal of the Century (REV), (Hardcover), June 22, 2010
  • James Mauro: Twilight at the World of Tomorrow: Genius, Madness, Murder, and the 1939 World’s Fair on the Brink of War, (Hardcover), June 22, 2010.
  • William Marvel: The Great Task Remaining: The Third Year of Lincoln’s War, (Hardcover), June 22, 2010
  • Suzann Ledbetter: Shady Ladies: Nineteen Surprising and Rebellious American Women, (Hardcover), June 28, 2010.
  • Julie Flavell: When London Was Capital of America, (Hardcover), June 29, 2010
  • Donald P. Ryan: Beneath the Sands of Egypt: Adventures of an Unconventional Archaeologist, (Hardcover), June 29, 2010
  • Jane Brox: Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light, (Hardcover), July 8, 2010.
  • Rudy Tomedi: General Matthew Ridgway, (Hardcover), July 30, 2010.
  • Richard Toye: Churchill’s Empire: The World That Made Him and the World He Made, (Hardcover), August 3, 2010.
  • Alexander Hamilton: The Federalist Papers, (Hardcover), August 16, 2010
  • Holger Hoock: Empires of the Imagination: Politics, War, and the Arts in the British World, 1750-1850, (Hardcover), September 1, 2010
  • Anna Whitelock: Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen, (Hardcover), September 7, 2010
  • James L. Swanson: Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln’s Corpse, (Hardcover), September 28, 2010
  • Timothy Snyder: The Red Prince: The Secret Lives of a Habsburg Archduke (First Trade Paper Edition), (Paperback), September 28, 2010
  • Ron Chernow: Washington: A Life, (Hardcover), October 5, 2010
  • George William Van Cleve: A Slaveholders’ Union: Slavery, Politics, and the Constitution in the Early American Republic, (Hardcover), October 1, 2010.
  • John Keegan: The American Civil War: A Military History, (Paperback), October 5, 2010
  • Bill Bryson: At Home: A Short History of Private Life, (Hardcover), October 5, 2010
  • Robert M. Poole: On Hallowed Ground: The Story of Arlington National Cemetery, (Paperback), October 26, 2010
  • Robert Leckie: Challenge for the Pacific: Guadalcanal: The Turning Point of the War, (Paperback), October 26, 2010
  • Manning Marable: Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, (Hardcover), November 9, 2010
  • Elizabeth White: The Socialist Alternative to Bolshevik Russia: The Socialist Revolutionary Party, 1917-39, (Hardcover), November 10, 2010
  • Elizabeth White: The Socialist Alternative to Bolshevik Russia: The Socialist Revolutionary Party, 1917-39, (Hardcover), November 10, 2010
  • G. J. Barker-Benfield: Abigail and John Adams: The Americanization of Sensibility, (Hardcover), November 15, 2010
  • Edmund Morris: Colonel Roosevelt, (Hardcover), November 23, 2010
  • Michael Goldfarb: Emancipation: How Liberating Europe’s Jews from the Ghetto Led to Revolution and Renaissance, (Paperback), November 23, 2010

DEPARTED:

  • David Valaik, emeritus professor at Canisius College, dies at 74: David Valaik, PhD, an emeritus professor of history at Canisius College, died on Friday, June 4. He was 74…. – Canisius College (6-8-10)
  • Honored scholar Norman A. Graebner dies at 94: Norman A. Graebner, a former University of Virginia professor who was known for his love of teaching and esteemed for his knowledge on American diplomatic history, died on May 10 at the Colonnades in Charlottesville. He was 94… – Charlottesville Daily Progress (6-7-10)
  • Lila Weinberg, Chicago historian and author, dies: Lila Weinberg, a Chicago historian, author, teacher and editor, has died. Weinberg, who died May 29 at the age of 91 from complications of cancer, collaborated with her late husband, Arthur, on six books on social history, including two on attorney Clarence Darrow. One of the books, “Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned,” spent 19 weeks on The New York Times best-seller list in 1957. Arthur Weinberg died in 1989…. – Jewish Telegraphic Agency (6-1-10)
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