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Archive for the 'History' Category

Monday, February 8th, 2016

Book Giveaway! The Wheel: Inventions and Reinventions, by Richard W. Bulliet

The Wheel

“An extraordinary account, with novel interpretations that might generate debate among the experts, but also fantastic details that any reader can enjoy. Bulliet examines histories and geographies from across the world, all seen with the eye of the wheel, thereby often rendering the familiar strange.” — Saskia Sassen

This week, our featured book is The Wheel: Inventions and Reinventions, by Richard W. Bulliet. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Short Selling. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, February 12th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Friday, January 22nd, 2016

Shirley Hazzard’s Introduction to Geoffrey Scott’s THE PORTRAIT OF ZÉLIDE

We Need Silence to Find Out What We Think

“Zélide’s wit and beauty, her prodigious intelligence are not without arrogance. For most of her life, however, pride will be countered by a disarming honesty of self-appraisal. Her Gallic rationality is similarly moderated by cordiality. Among her finest attributes is simplicity of conduct: springing from people disposed to take themselves seriously, she has little taste for self-solemnity.” — Shirley Hazard

This week, our featured book is We Need Silence to Find Out What We Think: Selected Essays, by Shirley Hazzard, edited with an introduction by Brigitta Olubas. For the final post of the feature, we have excerpted Hazzard’s introduction to Geoffrey Scott’s classic biography, The Portrait of Zélide.

Friday, November 13th, 2015

A Chronology of State Making and Capitalist Development in China

The China Boom

This week, our featured book is The China Boom: Why China Will Not Rule the World, by Ho-fung Hung. Today, for the final post of the feature, we are happy to present Hung’s chronology of the development of both capitalism and the state in China from the 16th to the 21st centuries. Hung believes that a deep understanding of the historical development of these two institutions in China is crucial for making any kind of accurate prediction about China’s future.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The China Boom!

Thursday, November 12th, 2015

Political Uncertainties in Post-miracle China

The China Boom

“With the economic boom times gone, the perpetuation of such socio-political peace, as well as what the Communist Party would do to contain any imminent unrest becomes uncertain. Political and legal reforms might help institutionalize conflict resolution, smoothen power transition, and hence promote stability. But the Party leaders are more likely to worry that any opening will fuel rising expectations, ultimately threatening one-party rule.” — Ho-fung Hung

This week, our featured book is The China Boom: Why China Will Not Rule the World, by Ho-fung Hung. Today, we are happy to present a crosspost of “Political Uncertainties in Post-miracle China,” an article by Ho-fung Hung originally published on the University of Nottingham’s China Policy Institute Blog, in which he explains the political implications for China’s recent economic growth slowdown.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The China Boom!

Political Uncertainties in Post-miracle China
By Ho-fung Hung

The latest economic data from China shows that its GDP grew 7.4 percent in 2014. It was the slowest growth since 1990 (amidst global sanctions post- Tiananmen) and missed its growth target for the first time since 1998 (in the aftermath of the Asian Financial Crisis). It is another indication that the era of double-digit hyper growth has ended. To be sure, a 7.4 percent growth rate is still enviable for many developing countries. Domestic consumption now constitutes 51.2 percent of GDP, suggesting that the Chinese economy is more balanced and less dependent on fixed-asset investment and exports.

Slower, more balanced growth is good for China in the long run. But such slowdowns will also bring immediate headaches for Chinese leaders. After the outbreak of the global financial crisis in 2008, the Chinese government unleashed a huge stimulus to aggressively flood local governments and enterprises with state bank loans, trying to shield the economy from the global headwinds with a wave of debt-driven construction. China’s total debt to GDP ratio jumped from 147 percent at the end of 2008 to over 250 percent in mid-2014 according to a Standard Charter report. It has reached 282 percent by February 2015 according to a McKinsey report. This figure is dangerously high compared to other emerging economies, and it is set to keep soaring when the economy continues to slow. (more…)

Wednesday, November 11th, 2015

China Steps Back

The China Boom

“Creating the A.I.I.B. is not Beijing’s attempt at world domination; it is a self-imposed constraint, and a retreat from more than a decade of aggressive bilateral initiatives.” — Ho-fung Hung

This week, our featured book is The China Boom: Why China Will Not Rule the World, by Ho-fung Hung. Today, we are happy to present a crosspost of “China Steps Back,” an article by Ho-fung Hung published in the New York Times, in which he discusses the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and China-America relations.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The China Boom!

China Steps Back
By Ho-fung Hung

Beijing’s plans for a new multilateral Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank have put Washington on edge. More than 40 countries, including major United States allies in Europe, have signed up to join it despite the Obama administration’s objections and warnings.

In fact, the United States government has nothing to fear from the A.I.I.B.; its opposition is misguided. The bank’s creation will not enhance China’s global power at the expense of the United States. If anything, Beijing’s attempt to go multilateral is a step backward: It’s a concession that China’s established practice of promoting bilateral initiatives in the developing world has backfired.

Once more, anxiety about China supplanting the United States as the world’s leading power is undermining cool-headed analysis. When China set up its own sovereign wealth fund in 2007, many feared it would take control of strategic resources, acquire sensitive technology and disrupt global financial markets. But the China Investment Corporation, which controlled $575 billion in 2014, has been struggling with losses, partly because of mismanagement, according to China’s National Audit Office. (more…)

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015

Sinomania and Capitalism

The China Boom

“[China's] economy is also driven by three main engines: domestic consumption, fixed-asset investment, and export. The interconnections among and relative weights of these sectors are mediated by the legacies and paths of China’s long quest for modernity since the Qing dynasty was defeated by European gunboats in the mid–nineteenth century. As such, any account that lacks holistic and historical perspectives is inadequate for a full understanding of capitalist development in China.” — Ho-fung Hung

This week, our featured book is The China Boom: Why China Will Not Rule the World, by Ho-fung Hung. Today, to kick off the feature, we have an excerpt from the introduction, “Sinomania and Capitalism,” in which Hung lays out what he hopes to accomplish in his book and explains what exactly he means by “the China boom.”

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The China Boom!

After the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008, which unleashed a global financial crisis, China’s export sector crashed at the turn of 2009. In a few months, however, the Chinese economy rebounded strongly into double-digit growth, where it largely had been since the 1980s. At a time when the global economic status quo seemed to be crashing, more than three decades of vibrant economic growth experienced in China—still ruled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)—induced excitement and even fantasy about the world’s future among writers on both the left and the right.

To be sure, left-leaning intellectuals and the business elite have different reasons for their euphoria about China, which Perry Anderson calls “Sinomania” (2010). For corporate CEOs, the rise of China and its apparently strong recovery from the crisis represent a vast, new, and limitless frontier for profit, just when business profitability in the advanced capitalist countries is seeing less and less room for expansion. For example, the business-school professor and veteran hedge-fund trader Ann Lee’s best-selling book What the U.S. Can Learn from China: An Open-Minded Guide to Treating Our Greatest Competitor as Our Greatest Teacher (2012) has drawn wide applause from business presses and consultants. The billionaire Donald Trump, who accused China of “stealing” American jobs during his entertaining bid for president in 2012, is in fact an admirer of how business is conducted in China, as he noted at an international hospitability conference in New York in 2008: “In China, they fill up hundreds of acres of land, constantly dumping and dumping
dirt in the ocean. I asked the builder, did you get an environmental impact study? He goes, ‘What?’ I asked, ‘Did you need approval?’ No, the Chinese said. And yet if I am the last guy to drop one pebble in the ocean here in this city [New York], I will be given the electric chair” (qtd. in Heyer 2008).

In the meantime, for some intellectuals, the rise of China represents the emergence of an ultimate challenge to Western domination. Others assert that China’s experience points to a “Chinese model” of capitalist development that is grounded in active state intervention (e.g., Ramo 2004). They see this “model” as a progressive and superior alternative to neoliberal capitalism, which is premised on unregulated free-market forces and has prevailed ever since Ronald Reagan’s and Margaret Thatcher’s free-market reform in the 1980s. State-directed “Chinese capitalism” is hailed for its supposedly better handling of economic crises and its greater effectiveness in sustaining uninterrupted rapid growth and poverty alleviation. (more…)

Monday, November 9th, 2015

Becoming Way Too Cool: How Neoliberalism Alters How We Feel

Way Too Cool

The following is a guest post by Shannon Winnubst, author of Way Too Cool: Selling Out Race and Ethics.

Becoming Way Too Cool
(How Neoliberalism Alters How We Feel)
Shannon Winnubst

I remember when my grandmother learned to use the word “cool.” It must have been about 1982 and, at 83 years old, she spryly pronounced my new shirt was “cool.” Stopped short, I caught the twinkle in her eye and proudly agreed. Little did we both know that we were in the grips of the rapidly ascendant neoliberal marketing machine.

“Cool” has been big business for a long time now. Pilfered from black culture by the men’s clothing advertising industry in the late 1970s, “cool” has packaged just about every commodity on the market at one time or another—and still continues to do so. Youth culture, especially, seems never to lose its connection with this heartbeat of energy. “Cool” has become a kind of naturalized constant in 21st century marketing cultures: we are so drawn to it that we cannot imagine otherwise. The quest to be “so cool” seems never to die.

But “cool” didn’t always refer to the latest, hippest thing. In the U.S., “cool” was born in post-World War II aesthetics of black culture, especially jazz. It captured and galvanized the kind of ironic detachment that enabled black folks to persevere in the face of systematic, persistent racism and its everyday violence. It energized black folks not only to survive, but to create and believe in something better. When Miles Davis stood up to racist cops and bigoted television show hosts, he was enacting the essence of cool: the kind of strong, determined detachment from racist mainstream culture that enabled intense creativity and the strength to flourish. This kind of “cool” is what bell hooks identifies in black leaders such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. as the strength to “alchemically change pain into gold.” The birth of “cool” was the birth of an ethical detachment from the hostility and violence of a racist world that carved the space for a better, more just world. (more…)

Monday, November 9th, 2015

Book Giveaway! The China Boom: Why China Will Not Rule the World

The China Boom

“Timely and important, Ho-fung Hung’s accessible and clear-eyed assessment of China’s prospects, rooted in both the longer patterns of China’s own history and global economics, reaches unexpected and reassuring conclusions. A stimulating intellectual journey led by a calm and judicious guide.” — Robert A. Kapp, former president of the U.S.-China Business Council

This week, our featured book is The China Boom: Why China Will Not Rule the World, by Ho-fung Hung. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its authors on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of The China Boom. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, November 13th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Friday, October 30th, 2015

A Guru for Our Time: Eqbal Ahmad and the Life of Dissent from Empire

Eqbal Ahmad

“Eqbal was a quirky, seminal thinker and analyst of global foreign policy. He understood and described correctly the catastrophies that would follow if the US invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein. He had met Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in the early 1980s and predicted early on that the man would become a major enemy of the US once the Soviets were defeated.” — Stuart Schaar

For the second half of this week, our featured book is Eqbal Ahmad: Critical Outsider in a Turbulent Age, by Stuart Schaar. In the final post of the feature, we are happy to present an article by Schaar telling a number of poignant stories about Schaar’s relationship with Eqbal Ahmad and about Ahmad’s life as an activist and seminal political thinker, originally published at Juan Cole’s Informed Comment blog.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Eqbal Ahmad!

A Guru for Our Time: Eqbal Ahmad and the Life of Dissent from Empire
By Stuart Schaar

In the early 1960s I was living in Rabat while researching my doctoral dissertation for Princeton University. My friend, the Pakistani Eqbal Ahmad (d. 1999), who was living in Tunisia and also researching his dissertation, had just driven through Algeria as the Algerians celebrated their victory over France and gained their independence. Eqbal was euphoric after having shared celebrations with the Algerians whom he met along the way. We immediately set out for southern Morocco and the walled Saharan towns south of Marrakech.

Along the route we stopped at a town where everyone was blind. They were victims of trachoma, a fly-borne disease. I remember Eqbal biting his lower lip and bursting out in tears at the sight of people who greeted us with outstretched arms begging us to help them. We were activists and were used to organizing solutions for problems. This time, we felt absolutely helpless. Years later we learned that the World Health Organization began solving the problem of blindness in the Moroccan south, by distributing lime powder to peasants who lined the walls in the rooms under their houses, where they kept their animals, and in that way kept away infected flies.

I left this story, and several other poignant ones, out of my new book, Eqbal Ahmad: Critical Outsider in a Turbulent Age just published by Columbia University Press. Instead I concentrated on his ideas and the reasons why we should remember and read him still. Eqbal was a quirky, seminal thinker and analyst of global foreign policy. He understood and described correctly the catastrophies that would follow if the US invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein. He had met Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in the early 1980s and predicted early on that the man would become a major enemy of the US once the Soviets were defeated. (more…)

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

Eqbal Ahmad and Edward Said

Eqbal Ahmad

“Both men [Ahmad and Said] had cosmopolitan views, and by the time they met, they had seen a considerable part of the world. Their status as refugees had made them into critical outsiders. Both of them could see the societies in which they lived from without, and they had developed sufficient yardsticks with which to gauge with some detachment and discernment what they experienced and saw.” — Stuart Schaar

This week, our featured book is Eqbal Ahmad: Critical Outsider in a Turbulent Age, by Stuart Schaar. Eqbal Ahmad and Edward Said were contemporaries who shared political views, and who also grew to be very close friends. In the excerpt below, taken from the second chapter of his biography, Schaar delves into their friendship, explains where they agreed and where they disagreed in their scholarly and political works, and mentions how Ahmad’s fervent defense of Said was both a positive and a negative factor in his professional life.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Eqbal Ahmad!

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

Book Giveaway! Eqbal Ahmad: Critical Outsider in a Turbulent Age

Eqbal Ahmad

“This book is full of remarkable original primary material on the life and writings of an intellectual and activist well deserving of a biography.” — Rashid Khalidi, Columbia University

This week, our featured book is Eqbal Ahmad: Critical Outsider in a Turbulent Age, by Stuart Schaar. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its authors on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Eqbal Ahmad. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, October 30th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Thursday, October 22nd, 2015

What’s Wrong with Nostalgia — Gary Cross

Consumed Nostalgia, Gary Cross

“The problem with modern nostalgia isn’t that it longs for the past rather than the present or future; the trouble is that it fixates on stuff and thus short-circuits what memory can do for us.”—Gary Cross

Earlier this week, the History News Network published an essay by Gary Cross entitled It’s Ok to Love Your ’64 Mustang but Here’s What You’re Missing. The essay builds upon Cross’s recent book Consumed Nostalgia: Memory in the Age of Fast Capitalism, which examines the ways in which nostalgia separates and divides us across generational lines.

In the essay for the History News Network, Cross argues that people often become nostalgic as a result of anxiety about rapid change and they feel a need to reclaim a sense of of childhood wonder or teenage freedom. He argues that a kind of consumer modern nostalgia began in the United States in the 1930s and then accelerated in the 1970s with a renewed interest in the 1950s. While Cross argues that “objects of memory certainly meet a need by helping people recover the past; and collecting can bring together those who have little else in common but a shared memory.” He concludes his essay by expressing concern about what has become a commercialized nostalgia:

The problem with modern nostalgia isn’t that it longs for the past rather than the present or future; the trouble is that it fixates on stuff and thus short-circuits what memory can do for us. Some of this is probably inevitable. Few of us are mystics and, as in religion, most of us require “relics” to share and help us reach back to the past. But, in the end can commercialized nostalgia meet our needs? My obsession with the commodities of my childhood cannot be shared with my younger brother, much less with my children; they are just different. This longing separates me from communities and pasts beyond my personal experience.

But can’t the modern nostalgic impulse transcend all this? It can if we use things of memory to engage with the past, not merely regress into a romantic memory of childhood “innocence.” If we converse with that past, and bring a full and honest consciousness of our present lives into our encounter with the past, nostalgia can reveal something about ourselves as we are now and also show us how the world has actually changed. Such a conversation with the past might help us get over our obsessions with our childhoods. In fact, nostalgia need not be childish; it can bring us the pleasure of growing in our understanding of ourselves and of the larger world from the vantage point of grown-ups.

Friday, October 9th, 2015

Wall Streeters: Michael Milken, Junk Bond King, Part 2

Wall Streeters

“Giuliani readily took up Proxmire’s open-ended charge. He had made a name for himself in his first few years on the job with high-profile prosecutions of organized crime figures and hoped to enjoy even greater public recognition by going after many of the rich and powerful on Wall Street. With Milken now the most prominent name in corporate takeovers, he was Giuliani’s ultimate target. If anyone was to be identified as the central figure in the “complex network of information” that was purportedly costing American jobs and perverting high finance, it was Milken.” — Edward Morris

This week, our featured book is Wall Streeters: The Creators and Corruptors of American Finance, by Edward Morris. Today, we have a second excerpt from Morris’s look at Michael Milken, the “junk bond king,” in which Morris tells the story of Milken’s downfall.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Wall Streeters!

Thursday, October 8th, 2015

Wall Streeters: Michael Milken, Junk Bond King, Part 1

Wall Streeters

“While the investment logic for junk bonds may have been compelling, their lack of liquidity in the marketplace often remained a final stumbling block for the potential buyer. With few buyers and sellers in the high-yield bond market, investors faced an unwelcome prospect of holding a bond to its maturity date as the only sure way to be paid. Milken solved that liquidity issue by assuring those investors that Drexel would always be ready to buy or sell the bonds it was promoting.” — Edward Morris

This week, our featured book is Wall Streeters: The Creators and Corruptors of American Finance, by Edward Morris. Today, we have an excerpt from Morris’s explanation of Michael Milken’s rise to prominence on Wall Street.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Wall Streeters!

Wednesday, October 7th, 2015

Wall Streeters: J. Pierpont Morgan

Wall Streeters

“Pierpont had a quick and practiced financial mind, but he was also a large man with a commanding, sometimes terrifying presence. He spoke infrequently, but often explosively, and always with the certainty of someone whose word was challenged at peril. A persistent but unverified story circulated about Pierpont’s throwing “Jubilee Jim” Fisk (among the most notorious of the nineteenth-century robber barons) down a flight of stairs when a railroad negotiation turned into a business brawl.” — Edward Morris

This week, our featured book is Wall Streeters: The Creators and Corruptors of American Finance, by Edward Morris. Today, we have an excerpt from Morris’s section discussing J. Pierpont Morgan, a pivotal figure in the history of American finance.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Wall Streeters!

Tuesday, October 6th, 2015

Has ‘Financialization’ Been Good for Us?

Wall Streeters

‘Most perplexing of all has been the continued existence of banks that are “too big to fail.” After the hundreds of billions of dollars used to bail out the eight mega-banks following the 2008 debacle, most of the same banks have only grown larger, and the banking industry more concentrated—and more politically influential. In the banks’ defense, their continued growth has made it possible for them to repay the rescue money that was provided to forestall their financial collapse; yet the repayments are hardly sufficient recompense for the widespread and long-lasting economic hardship suffered in the aftermath of the crisis.’ — Edward Morris

This week, our featured book is Wall Streeters: The Creators and Corruptors of American Finance, by Edward Morris. Today, we have an excerpt from Morris’s conclusion, in which he explains his goal in writing his book, and asks readers to consider the finance sector’s increasingly powerful role in the economy, particularly in light of the 2008 financial crisis.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Wall Streeters!

Monday, October 5th, 2015

Book Giveaway! Wall Streeters: The Creators and Corruptors of American Finance

Wall Streeters

“Enjoyable to read, easy to understand, Wall Streeters is a compendium of the last 150 years of ups and downs in American finance. Ed Morris uses the informative lens of biography to bring this history alive, and they are all here, from the saints to the sinners. Along the way readers will learn the problems and value of finance and Wall Street to our nation.” — David Cowen, president, Museum of American Finance

This week, our featured book is Wall Streeters: The Creators and Corruptors of American Finance, by Edward Morris. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its authors on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Wall Streeters. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, October 9th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015

Jacques Le Goff’s Preface to “Must We Divide History Into Periods?”

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“I trust I have not lost sight of the broader question with which I began, namely, whether history is a unified, continuous whole or whether it is broken up instead into segments of greater or lesser length. To put the question another way: does history really need to be divided into periods?”—Jacques Le Goff

The following is the preface to Must We Divide History Into Periods? by Jacques Le Goff:

This essay is neither thesis nor synthesis. It is the culmination of many years of research and reflection about the periods of history, particularly Western history. The Middle Ages in Europe have been my companion since 1950, the year I obtained my teaching license. Fernand Braudel chaired the examination committee, alongside the medievalist Maurice Lombard.

I have carried this work inside me for a long time, then. It has been nourished and sustained by ideas that are dear to my heart and that I have tried to express in various ways in the years since.

History, like its subject, time, appears to be continuous. But it consists of changes as well. Historians have long been accustomed to identifying and defining these changes by dividing the continu­ous stream of events into segments that initially were called “ages” and then “periods.”

I wrote this book in 2013. The pace of globalization, as it is called, has now become so rapid that its effects are felt more directly with every passing day. I have looked back over more than six decades, the period of my career as a historian, but also, tak­ing a longer view, over more than six centuries, in order to recon­sider the various ways in which historians before me have thought about periodization, whether in terms of continuity or disconti­nuity, and the various ways in which they have interpreted his­torical memory.

Studying these different types of periodization makes it pos­sible, I believe, to detect the existence of what may be called a “long” Middle Ages—and this all the more if we take a fresh look at the various ways in which historians have tried since the nine­teenth century to make sense of the Renaissance and what they imagine to be its pivotal position in the history of the past thou­sand years.

In treating the general problem of how history passes from one period to another, in other words, I examine a particular case: the alleged novelty of the Renaissance in relation to the Middle Ages. The present work seeks to establish the major characteristics of a long Middle Ages in the Christian West that extends from late antiquity (between the third and the seventh century) to the mid­dle of the eighteenth century.

But I do not therefore overlook the fact that the history of the Christian West is part of a global narrative. No one writing history today, or in the future, will be able to avoid the problems that arise in trying to carve up the past, only now on a larger scale. I have written this book in the hope, too, that it may make some prelimi­nary contribution, however modest, to this necessary task.

If the “centrality” of the Renaissance is at the heart of my con­cerns, together with the obligation to reexamine a widely held conception of the Middle Ages that a lifetime devoted to scholar­ship has convinced me is too narrow to be useful, I trust I have not lost sight of the broader question with which I began, namely, whether history is a unified, continuous whole or whether it is broken up instead into segments of greater or lesser length. To put the question another way: does history really need to be divided into periods?

Monday, September 28th, 2015

Book Giveaway! “Must We Divide History Into Periods?” by Jacques Le Goff

For the first half of this week our featured book is Must We Divide History Into Periods? by Jacques Le Goff.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Must We Divide History Into Periods? to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Thursday, October 1 at 1:00 pm.

“Le Goff was one of the truly great historians of our time, and his final reflections on the nature and responsibilities of our craft are lucid, profound, and humane.” — R. I. Moore, Newcastle University

For more on the book you can read the chapter Prelude: Periodization and the Past:

Friday, September 11th, 2015

Memory in a World of Fast Capitalism — Gary Cross

Consumed Nostalgia

“We all live in and are shaped by a world of fast capitalism, and therefore of consumed nostalgia, but we need not be consumed by it.”—Gary Cross

In this excerpt from the conclusion to Consumed Nostalgia: Memory in the Age of Fast Capitalism, Gary Cross examines how our fascination with and fetishization of consumer goods from our youth both enhances and distorts our understanding of the past and the ways in which memory brings us together and divides us:

It’s clear that for practically all of us, memory requires things of mem­ory. But these things are means that become ends, that is, fetishes or projections of ourselves. They can and should, I think, instead be instruments to reach fresh insights and understandings. Ulti­mately, is this not what a collection of old toys or watching old TV should do for us?

This can happen when we use things of memory to engage with the past but not regress into the past, especially into a childhood of lost adventure and/or simplicity. If we converse with that past, bring a full and honest consciousness of our present lives into the encounter with what has gone before, nostalgia can reveal some­thing about ourselves now. And through “repetition”—going back to where we came and thus to whom we have been—we can make our understanding of ourselves clearer and more accurate. This may happen if we are willing to let that past tell us something we hadn’t expected, to allow a new standpoint to emerge.36 Such a return might even lead to an acceptance of self (finally getting over our obsessions with the pains and resentments that go along with many childhoods or longings to return to the good ol’ days), and there is no reason why it might not also lead to what the famous psychologist Erik Erikson called “ego integrity,” a self at peace with its past selves.

But again this will take place only if we allow those objects of memory to go beyond their materiality and to tell us something about our relationships. I repeatedly saw the revered old car or toy (especially in men) disguise a shared experience with a dad or brother, positive or not. But this need not be the case. Returning to a teenage memory through the teenage car can lead to a deeper self-understanding. And what we may learn about our relation­ships may take us beyond the tribalism of modern consumption.

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