History Buzz: January 16, 2011: AHA Recap — Virginia Textbook Controversy — Civil War at 150 — Historians Reflect on Arizona Shootings

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

History Buzz

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor of History Musings. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

IN FOCUS:

  • American Historical Association’s (AHA) 125th Annual Meeting / Conference: Daily RecapsHistory Musings
  • Producers already pitch Kennedy project elsewhere: After the History channel said it would not air a controversial miniseries on the Kennedy family, producers were already seeking another television home.
    The Showtime pay cable network has been approached to air the eight-part series, a spokesman said on Saturday. Eight years ago, Showtime aired a movie about President Reagan that CBS had made but decided not to broadcast when it faced pressure from some of that former president’s family. Showtime won’t make a decision about the Kennedy miniseries until its executives have a chance to see it, spokesman Richard Licata said….
    A concerted effort was made to quash the series. Liberal filmmaker Robert Greenwald collected 50,000 petitions urging History not to air it, and he produced a short film condemning the project on a website, stopkennedysmears.com. He had been given an early script, which included one scene where President Kennedy tells his brother Robert about his need to have sex with other women. Former Kennedy aide Theodore Sorensen also harshly condemned the film, saying scenes in the script where he was depicted didn’t actually occur. History also likely felt corporate pressure. The network is owned by the A&E Television Networks, which itself is owned jointly by NBC Universal, the Walt Disney Co. and the Hearst Corp…. – AP, 1-8-11
  • History network pulls plug on Kennedy project: The History Channel will not air a controversial miniseries it produced about the Kennedy family, saying the multimillion project that had become the network’s most expensive on record did not fit the “History brand.”
    The eight-part series had already been completed, and starred Greg Kinnear and Katie Holmes as President John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jackie. But during its production, critics like former Kennedy administration aide Theodore Sorenson attacked the scripts as inaccurate. The role of producer Joel Surnow, a political conservative, also drew suspicion from fans of the Kennedy family.
    “We have concluded this dramatic interpretation is not a fit for the History brand,” the network said in a statement late Friday. History, in its statement, said the decision was made after viewing the series in its totality. “We recognize historical fiction is an important medium for storytelling and commend all the hard work and passion that has gone into the making of the series, but ultimately deem this as the right programming decision for our network,” History said in a statement…. – AP, 1-8-11
  • ‘Kennedys’ gets pulled: A&E Television Networks will not broadcast the miniseries “The Kennedys’’ on the History Channel this spring. The network has canceled the series starring Greg Kinnear as John F. Kennedy and Katie Holmes as Jackie Kennedy, concluding it was “not a fit’’ for the History Channel, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “Upon completion of the production of ‘The Kennedys,’ History has decided not to air the eight-part miniseries,’’ a rep for A&E told the trade publication. The multimillion dollar project has been the subject of controversy since it was announced in December 2009. Developed by Joel Surnow, the conservative co-creator of “24,’’ the project was criticized by some Democrats and Kennedy historians. The miniseries is still set to air in Canada on March 6, and will still be broadcast internationally. – Boston Globe, 1-8-11
  • History Channel Pulls ‘The Kennedys’; Says Controversial Miniseries ‘Not a Fit’: Ambitious miniseries was set to air this spring; stars Greg Kinnear and Katie Holmes, and producer Joel Surnow were told today of cancellation.
    In a surprise move, A&E Television Networks has canceled plans to broadcast The Kennedys, the ambitious and much- anticipated miniseries about the American political family that was set to air this spring on the History channel.
    “Upon completion of the production of The Kennedys, History has decided not to air the 8-part miniseries on the network,” a rep for the network tells The Hollywood Reporter in a statement. “While the film is produced and acted with the highest quality, after viewing the final product in its totality, we have concluded this dramatic interpretation is not a fit for the History brand.”
    The multi-million dollar project—History and Lifetime president and general manager Nancy Dubuc’s first scripted miniseries at the network and its most expensive program ever—has been embroiled in controversy since it was announced in December 2009.
    Developed by Joel Surnow, the conservative co-creator of 24, along with production companies Asylum Entertainment and Muse Entertainment and writer Stephen Kronish, the project drew fire from the political left and some Kennedy historians. Even before cameras rolled, a front-page New York Times story last February included a sharp attack from former John F. Kennedy adviser Theodore Sorenson, who called an early version of the script “vindictive” and “malicious.”
    History and parent A&E said at the time that the script had been revised and that the final version had been vetted by experts. Indeed, the script used in production had passed muster with History historians for accuracy.
    Despite the controversy, History was able to recruit a big-ticket cast to the project, announcing in April that Greg Kinnear (John F. Kennedy), Katie Holmes (Jackie Kennedy), Barry Pepper (Robert F. Kennedy) and Tom Wilkinson (Joe Kennedy) would co-star. The actors and CAA, which reps both Kinnear and Holmes, were told this afternoon of the cancellation. Surnow also was told today.
    No advertisers had registered complaints or concerns with the miniseries, confirms an A&E spokesperson, but the content was not considered historically accurate enough for the network’s rigorous standards. So an air date, which had not been announced but was planned for spring, was scrapped.
    “We recognize historical fiction is an important medium for storytelling and commend all the hard work and passion that has gone into the making of the series, but ultimately deem this as the right programming decision for our network,” a rep tells THR in the statement.
    The miniseries is still scheduled to air in Canada on March 6, and will still be broadcast internationally…. – The Hollywood Reporter, 1-8-11

HISTORY NEWS:

  • Va. Board Of Ed Wants To Improve Book Review Process: The Virginia Board of Education will review two error-filled textbooks to determine whether they’re fit to be used in the state’s schools.
    At its Thursday meeting, the board directed Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia Wright to come up with a process to help the board decide whether the two books, both published by Connecticut-based Five Ponds Press, should be included on a list of approved books. The board adopted the directives as a motion made by board member David Foster of Arlington.
    The board also asked Wright to ask experts to review all Five Ponds textbooks included on the approved books list and seek potential remedies from the publisher for school divisions that purchased the books. The books are the fourth-grade textbook, “Our Virginia: Past and Present” and the fifth-grade book, “Our America: To 1865.” – WY Daily, 1-15-11
  • Va. withdraws approval of textbooks: The Virginia Board of Education on Thursday withdrew its approval of two elementary school history textbooks, which a panel of historians found to have dozens of errors. On Thursday, the Board of Education also ordered a review by experts of any other approved textbooks published by Five Ponds Press. The company currently has four world history books which are approved for use in the state’s classrooms. Those books passed the state’s textbook review process, in which panels of reviewers, often elementary school teachers, verified that the books cover each of the Standards of Learning themes. Experts in particular subject matters also sometimes review books…. – WaPo, 1-13-11
  • Virginia Textbook Controversy: Publisher Will Replace VA Textbooks For Free — Board of Education Withdraws Approval: The publisher of this textbook will replace it at no cost to school divisions, due to errors found in two books. In response to criticism of errors found in its textbooks, Five Ponds Press announced Tuesday it intends to replace all copies of “Our Virginia” and “Our America: To 1865” for free…. – Williamsburg Yorktown Daily, 1-13-11
  • Business Metaphor Still Ascendant at AHA: it was difficult to escape the conclusion, during the American Historical Association’s annual meeting here over the weekend, that higher education is in the throes of a crisis. Panels used the word “crisis” to describe the state of the job market for historians, the state of public universities, and the state of higher education in general. And the enemy was consistently identified as the ideology and analytical tools of business.
    For example, the scarcity of faculty jobs in history — 569 this year, which marked the smallest number in two decades — was driven by more than simple laws of supply and demand, argued Martin Mulford, a self-described “rogue scholar” and former businessman, during a Saturday session, “The Academic Job Market: Finding Solutions in a Time of Crisis.” The lack of history jobs has been hastened and worsened by a larger trend of hiring adjuncts and contingent faculty instead of full-time faculty in the interest of cost-cutting, he said. This reflects a larger transformation of the role of business in higher education, which he likened to the shift from being a stepchild to the head of a household. “This is a problem of the colonization of the academy by business,” said Mulford…. – Inside Higher Ed (1-11-11)
  • Turns Out, Jobs for Historians Are…History: While Wednesday’s ADP number for December was surprisingly strong, skeptical strategists emphasize that this US labor market remains in a state of disarray.
    How about the well educated among us? How are our PhD-carrying comrades navigating this lousy labor market? Interestingly, it depends on the area in which they specialize. According to a new report by Inside Higher Ed, historians have it rough: During the 2009-10 academic year, the number of positions listed with the American Historical Association dropped by 29.4%. That follows a 23.8% drop the year before. Last year, the association announced that the number of listings it received — 806 — was the smallest in a decade; this year’s total of 569 marks the smallest number in 25 years…. – Minyanville, 1-6-11
  • Historians Continue to Face Tough Job Market: The job market for historians continued to deteriorate last year, although there is reason to hope it may be poised to rebound somewhat, according to a report released on Monday by the American Historical Association. The report, published in the group’s Perspectives on History, a newsletter, in advance of its annual conference this week, said the number of jobs posted with the association fell by more than 29 percent—from 806 to 569—during the 2009-10 academic year. Since two years ago, when the association posted an all-time high of 1,059 job openings, the number of jobs advertised with it has dropped by more than 46 percent, to the lowest level in 25 years.
    The report does contain a glimmer of hope: Looking at the current academic year, it found that the number of job advertisements posted as of December 1 was up by more than 21 percent from the same period a year earlier. The report also offers an important caveat to its findings: Not all of the jobs available in the discipline are listed with the association, and some “are advertised only in The Chronicle of Higher Education or H-Net, for instance.”… – Chronicle of Higher Education, 1-3-11
  • Historians Expose Error-Filled Virginia Textbooks: In the version of history being taught in some Virginia classrooms, New Orleans began the 1800s as a bustling U.S. harbor (instead of as a Spanish colonial one). The Confederacy included 12 states (instead of 11). And the United States entered World War I in 1916 (instead of 1917). These are among the dozens of errors historians have found since Virginia officials ordered a review of textbooks by Five Ponds Press, the publisher responsible for a controversial claim that African-American soldiers fought for the Confederacy in large numbers during the Civil War.
    Our Virginia: Past and Present, the textbook including that claim, has many other inaccuracies, according to historians who reviewed it. Similar problems, historians say, were found in another book by Five Ponds Press, Our America: To 1865. A reviewer has found errors in social studies textbooks by other publishers as well, underscoring the limits of a textbook-approval process once regarded as among the nation’s most stringent…. – AP, 1-3-11
  • Carol Sheriff: Virgina History Textbook Inaccuracies Controversy: It’s a textbook case of getting it wrong. A Virginia elementary school textbook will soon be history after a college professor and parent, caught more than one mistake in it. Turns out the errors she spotted were not the only ones. Some of the glaring errors had to do with African-Americans and the Civil War. These and dozens of other errors can be found in the textbook handed out to thousands of Virginia fourth graders. Problems with the book ‘Our Virginia: Past and Present’, published by Five Ponds Press, first surfaced last October, as reported by the Washington Post, when the mother of one student, a college history professor, spotted several lines on page 122.
    “It was particularly jarring when I got to this one passage that was so at odds with what historians have been saying about who participated in the Civil War,” said William & Mary Professor Carol Sheriff, a parent of one student.
    The book says thousands of southern blacks fought in the confederate ranks, something not supported by mainstream Civil War scholarship. But it’s the next line that’s just plain wrong: “including two black battalions under the command of Stonewall Jackson.” The textbook actually, does note that it wasn’t ’til 1865 that African-Americans could legally serve in the confederate army. It also tells children that Stonewall Jackson died in 1863. The error about blacks serving in the confederate army was outrageous to many in academia… – CNN, 12-30-10

HISTORIANS NEWS:

  • James McPherson: Battle Over the Battlefields: One hundred and fifty years after the start of the Civil War, we’re still fighting. This time it’s development vs. preservation—and development’s winning. The Battle to Preserve History “There has to be a reasonable balance,” says James McPherson, the foremost living Civil War historian and professor emeritus of history at Princeton. “If you preserved every square foot of battlefield in Virginia, there wouldn’t be much land left. There’s a tendency among preservationists to want to save everything, but realistically there have to be compromises.”
    One place McPherson isn’t willing to compromise, however, is the Virginia Walmart, a 140,000-square-foot supercenter the company wants to build in Orange County on a parcel that’s been zoned for commercial use for 37 years. The bloody May 1864 encounter fought there was the beginning of the end for the Confederacy. In Grant’s first battle since becoming chief of the U.S. Army, he pounded Lee and began driving him south toward Richmond. Historians say his army’s “nerve center,” including his own headquarters, was located on and near the Walmart site, which is also across the street from the entrance to the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park…. – Newsweek, 1-13-11
  • AnneMarie Luijendijk: A flax merchant from Egypt! Owner of 4th century New Testament papyrus identified: A Princeton University researcher has identified the owner of a New Testament papyrus that dates to the time of Constantine the Great…. “It is the first and only ancient instance where we know the owner of a Greek New Testament papyrus,” writes Professor AnneMarie Luijendijk in an article recently published in the Journal of Biblical Literature. “For most early New Testament manuscripts, we do not know where they were found, let alone who had owned them.”… – Unreported Heritage News, 1-2-11
  • After 130 years, will Billy the Kid finally get a governor’s pardon?: Outgoing New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is considering a pardon for celebrated outlaw Billy the Kid. An informal e-mail poll shows support. But time is running out.
    Public perception regarding the Kid is split into two camps, says Paul Hutton, a history professor and Old West expert at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque: “people who see him as this homicidal maniac and [others] who see him as a romantic character fighting for justice against a corrupt New Mexico system.”
    Hutton says most historians agree that Billy the Kid’s life was not as violent as the legend suggests and that he was a product of his unwieldy times of government corruption and vigilante justice. “He certainly felt solving problems with a gun was the way to go, but that was the world in which he lived in,” he says. “The forces of authority in 1877 New Mexico were nothing to brag about.”… – CS Monitor, 12-29-10

HISTORY OP-EDs:

  • DISUNION: One-hundred-and-fifty years ago, Americans went to war with themselves. Disunion revisits and reconsiders America’s most perilous period — using contemporary accounts, diaries, images and historical assessments to follow the Civil War as it unfolded…. – NYT, Disunion
  • James Loewen’s “5 Myths about why the South seceded” Washington Post’s Most Viewed: James Loewens’ op-ed in the Washington Post “5 Myths about Why the South Seceded,” published last Sunday, has become the most viewed article at their website, garnering more than a half a million views as of Monday, and combined with print views, now more than a million views:
    One hundred fifty years after the Civil War began, we’re still fighting it – or at least fighting over its history. I’ve polled thousands of high school history teachers and spoken about the war to audiences across the country, and there is little agreement even about why the South seceded. Was it over slavery? States’ rights? Tariffs and taxes? As the nation begins to commemorate the anniversaries of the war’s various battles – from Fort Sumter to Appomattox – let’s first dispense with some of the more prevalent myths about why it all began…. – WaPo, 1-9-11
  • Gil Troy: America’s search for civility It’s time to return to the notion of ‘malice toward none’ and ‘charity for all’: The tragic Arizona rampage that critically injured Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and killed six citizens, including 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, who wanted to see “how our government works,” has triggered the predictable recitations about America’s long history of political violence -without any evidence that this was a political crime.
    That vast numbers of shocked observers immediately concluded that the gunman’s lunatic actions were in some way linked to the present fervid red-blue debate in the United States speaks volumes about the overheated rhetoric that has come to characterize much of America’s political discourse in recent years.
    But political civility has an equally long and robust U.S. pedigree. We should appreciate the coalition-builders, not the partisans; the statesmen, not the demagogues; the magnanimous uniters, not the cranky dividers. In matters political, the big broad tent with stakes driven deep into America’s rich soil is more constructive and more lasting than partisan lean-tos tilting left or right…. – Montreal Gazette, 1-13-11
  • Gil Troy: It Was Good to See the Last of 2010: Good riddance to 2010 – not only because the calendar gods decree it, but because so many of us were so fed up with it.
    Fortunately no historic cataclysm occurred that will jump off the page of future textbooks. Instead, it was a year of slogging through, of feeling drained. It featured major leaks, notably the British Petroleum oil leak and the diplomatic tsunami of WikiLeaks. During 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama’s support and standing continued to seep away. And 2010 witnessed trouble brewing in the United States and Europe, as the prolonged recession drained individuals’ morale, family finances, and communal energies…. – Montreal Gazette, 1-4-11
  • Simon Schama: An America Lost in Fantasy Must Recover Its Dream: As it says goodbye and good riddance to 2010, is America also saying so long to depression, both the economic and the psychic varieties? Is double-dip now just another way to get your hot fudge sundae? Riding the Metro North commuter train from Pleasantville to Grand Central Station on the last weekend before Christmas, you’d certainly suppose so. The consumer confidence index had been rising for two straight months now and most of it seemed to be on board, wallets bursting to get in on the action. Heavy-set thirtysomethings on parole from suburbia, fists popping cans of Bud Lite, boomed to all who wanted to hear (Ben Bernanke maybe?) that they were “gonna do some serious shopping DAMAGE dude!” In the month before Christmas Grand Central turns into a retail bazaar, and to the strains of jingle tills vendors selling silk scarves, Thai and Polish jewellery, hammered leather goods and fancy stationery were all doing brisk trade to elbow-working crowds…. – Financial Times (UK), 12-23-10
  • Paul Kengor: Stalin’s dupes, past and present: It’s customary at year’s end to share our favorite news items from the year past – from happy moments to outrages. As a professor and historian, I tend to highlight things I fear are lost to American education. To that end, I’ve become somewhat of a pessimist, especially as I observe what the next generation is not being taught. So, my enduring “news item” of 2010 falls under the category of historical outrage, though it is redeemed somewhat by another item considerably more positive. I’d like to link them here as a teachable moment.
    My outrage of 2010: the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va., erected a statue of Josef Stalin, architect of the Great Purge, Ukrainian famine, gulag, war on religion and upwards of 60 million deaths. We learned about this travesty, thanks to the vigilant work of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, which has the heroic goal of trying to educate Americans about the forgotten holocaust committed by communists. The group created a website (Stalinstatue.com) to call attention to this moral-historical slander. The site featured a petition to remove the statue, with thousands of signatures from all over the world. Addressed to the National D-Day Memorial Foundation and to President Obama‘s secretary of the interior, it demanded that the “true history of World War II must be protected from distortion and misinformation.”… – The Washington Times, 12-28-10

HISTORY REVIEWS:

  • Peter L. Bergen: Determined to Strike: THE LONGEST WAR The Enduring Conflict Between America and Al-Qaeda For years, I tried to read every new novel about how 9/11 affected our lives. Some were very thoughtful, but I always came away unsatisfied, feeling that the authors had worked hard but had somehow fallen short. As I read the stunning first section of Peter L. Bergen’s new book on the war between the United States and Al Qaeda, I realized I had been looking in the wrong genre. None of the novels were as effective or moving as “The Longest War,” which is a history of our time.
    Bergen, a national security analyst for CNN, impressively covers it all: Al ­Qaeda’s aspirations and its 9/11 attack, the Bush administration’s panicky response, the subsequent invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the crucial and continuing unhelpful role of Pakistan, and the terrorist episodes in London and Madrid. Other books, most notably Bob Woodward’s series on the wars as viewed from Washington, have bitten off big chunks of this story, but Bergen’s, to my knowledge, is the first to credibly cover the global sweep of events over the last 10 years, exploring not just American views but also Al Qaeda’s…. – NYT, 1-16-11
  • PSYCHOLOGY REVIEW BY STEVEN F. HAYWARD: Putting George W. Bush on the psychologist’s couch: Dan P. McAdams, a professor of psychology at Northwestern University, offers one of the first comprehensive psychological profiles of Bush in “George W. Bush and the Redemptive Dream.” To his credit, McAdams tries not to pre-judge Bush, and he avoids making moral or political judgments about the president’s major decisions. McAdams will further disappoint Bush-haters in his measured rejection of several pop-psych themes, such as that Bush was in thrall to an Oedipal rivalry (though he does think a desire to avenge his father in Iraq was a factor). But in the end, McAdams’s framework sinks into a mire of professional jargon that tells us more about contemporary theory than about the former president…. – WaPo, 1-14-11
  • Chappaqua’s Kenneth Jackson is the executive editor of the second edition of “The Encyclopedia of New York City,” which boasts some 5,000 entries spanning 1,561 pages: Chappaqua’s Kenneth Jackson was first approached about assembling a New York City encyclopedia in 1982. The late Edward Tripp, a former editor-in-chief for Yale University Press, pitched the idea. “I thought it would be fun, and I was teaching New York City history,” says Jackson, a historian at Columbia University and the book’s executive editor. “It took a little while to get it going.” Officially, it took about 13 years, as the first edition of “The Encyclopedia of New York City” hit bookshelves in 1995. Heaped with critical acclaim, it sold out its first printing before it was published, and seven more printings followed. Some 75,000 copies have been sold to date. But a lot’s happened since then. New stadiums have been built for the Yankees and Mets. AirTrain and E-ZPass have become transportation norms. And the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, changed everything…. – LoHud, 1-16-11
  • Dark Tales Illuminate Haiti, Before and After Quake: “Haiti Noir,” released last week, has taken on new resonance amid the first anniversary of the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake that killed 300,000 people and left over one million homeless. While only 3 of the 18 stories deal with the earthquake directly, Edwidge Danticat, the volume’s editor, said many were filled with reminders of what was lost.
    “I had this fear that the stories would lose their relevance,” said Ms. Danticat, the most widely known contemporary writer to come from Haiti. “But the post-earthquake neighborhoods have a new intrigue. Some of these stories are elegies to lost, broken and destroyed neighborhoods.”… – NYT, 1-10-11
  • NYT 100 Notable Books of 2010NYT, 12-5-10
  • NYT: The 10 Best Books of 2010: Stacy Schiff: CLEOPATRA: A Life: With her signature blend of wit, intelligence and superb prose, Schiff strips away 2,000 years of prejudices and propaganda in her elegant reimagining of the Egyptian queen who, even in her own day, was mythologized and misrepresented.
    Isabel Wilkerson: THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration: Wilkerson, a former national correspondent for The Times, has written a masterly and engrossing account of the Great Migration, in which six million African-Americans abandoned the South between 1915 and 1970. The book centers on the journeys of three black migrants, each representing a different decade and a different destination. – NYT, 12-12-10
  • Glenn W. LaFantasie: The top 12 Civil War books ever written: One great book for each month of 2011, the sesquicentennial of the War Between the States. In any event, here are a dozen books that, for me, tell the story of the Civil War with literary elegance, intellectual gusto and enormous flair….
    12. “The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War” by Bruce Catton
    11. “Abraham Lincoln and Civil War America”: by William E. Gienapp
    10. “Lincoln’s Men: How President Lincoln Became Father to an Army and a Nation”: By William C. Davis
    9. “Grant and Sherman: The Friendship That Won the Civil War”: By Charles Bracelen Flood
    8. “Chancellorsville 1863: The Souls of the Brave”: By Ernest B. (“Pat”) Furgurson
    7. “Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam”: By Stephen W. Sears
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