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Archive for the 'History' Category

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

The Middle East in the Eye of the Global Storm, by Joel Migdal

Shifting Sands

This week our featured book is Shifting Sands: The United States in the Middle East by Joel S. Migdal. 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. Today, we have an excerpt from Migdal’s first chapter, “The Middle East in the Eye of the Global Storm.”

Enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Shifting Sands!

Monday, February 17th, 2014

Book Giveaway! Shifting Sands: The United States in the Middle East, by Joel S. Migdal

Shifting Sands

This week our featured book is Shifting Sands: The United States in the Middle East by Joel S. Migdal. 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 Shifting Sands. To enter our Book Giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select one winner on Friday, February 21st at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

Hans van de Ven on the Chinese Maritime Customs Service

The following post is by Hans van de Ven, author of Breaking with the Past: The Maritime Customs Service and the Global Origins of Modernity in China:

“The Chinese Maritime Customs Service helped keep China together at key critical moments … and provided one of the pathways out of which the modern Chinese nation-state would emerge.”—Hans de Ven

Breaking with the Past, Hans van de VenNo China historian can afford to say no to a request for help by a Chinese archivist. We need their good will. So, when the Vice-Director of the Second Historical Archives in Nanjing asked for my assistance in organizing the archives of the Chinese Maritime Customs Service, I agreed. Although the archival mountain I had to climb proved higher and steeper than I thought, to be given access to an untouched archive is also any historian’s dream.

Looking back now over the more than ten years that it has taken to bring my history of the Service to publication, it is clear to me that this one chance encounter has changed my view of China in profound ways, and, more generally, that of the past. In an age in which our governing institutions are increasingly found wanting and in which a new parochialism threatens to take hold, it has given me a new respect for cosmopolitan civil service bureaucracies which emerged in the nineteenth century.

The Chinese Maritime Customs Service was an odd sort of bureaucracy, subordinate to the Chinese state but with a senior staff drawn from across the world. In between the Taiping Rebellion of the 1850s and the Communist victory in 1949, it functioned in between weak Chinese governments and overstretched empires. It gained its strength not only by accounting and delivering thirty to fifty percent of central revenue, but also by injecting itself into niches wherever they opened up, including in the building and management of China’s harbors, erecting lighthouses along the whole China coast, providing quarantine services, overseeing China’s bond issues, and purchasing a navy for China.

The men involved in these projects had flaws, they could be blinkered, they could act with unfounded arrogance toward China and the Chinese, and they could be blinded by ambition. But, they also were inspired by a nineteenth century “do-gooding” tradition, shaped as they were by the great liberal thinkers of the age, by Christian values (about which they kept publicly quiet), and the civil service reforms that began in nineteenth century Britain and then spread more widely. The result was the gestation of a Customs Service ethos aimed at keeping borders open, maintaining China’s territorial and national integrity, securing access to China’s foreign trade on the basis of equality, and delivering an efficient and effective bureaucracy.

(more…)

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

Mike Chasar on Remembrance Day and the Case of the $400,000,000 Poem

Mike Chasar, Everyday ReadingThe following post written for Veteran’s Day or Remembrance Day is by Mike Chasar, author of Everyday Reading: Poetry and Popular Culture in Modern America. The post was originally published on Arcade.

I like to think of John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields” as the $400,000,000 poem, and not just because its first stanza has appeared on the back of the Canadian $10 bank note—a fact that, all by itself, makes McCrae’s World War I-era verse one of the most widely circulated poems in history. I also think of it as the $400,000,000 poem because, shortly after it appeared in the December 8, 1915, issue of Punch magazine, the Canadian government made “In Flanders Fields” a central piece of its public relations campaign advertising the sale of the first Victory Loan Bonds, printing it, or excerpts from it, on billboards and posters like the one pictured here. According to Canadian Veterans Affairs and other sources, the campaign was designed to raise $150,000,000 but ended up netting—wait for it—more than $400,000,000.

Whoever said that “poetry makes nothing happen: it survives / In the valley of its making where executives / Would never want to tamper” clearly wasn’t thinking of McCrae’s rondeau, which is the centerpiece of Remembrance or Veterans Day (November 11) activities worldwide and turned the red or “Buddy” poppy into the day’s icon, manufacture and sale of which has been a regular source of funding for disabled and needy VFW veterans as well as for war orphans and surviving spouses of veterans in the U.S. since 1923. It is memorized by school kids, recited at Remembrance Day events, has elicited all sorts of reply poems and been put to music, and resulted in the restoration of McCrae’s birthplace in Guelph, Ontario, as a museum. In Ypres, Belgium, there’s even a World War I museum that takes its name from the poem.

By most accounts, McCrae composed “In Flanders Fields” in 1915, the day after witnessing the death of his 22 year-old friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, and legend has it that McCrae ripped the poem out of his notebook and cast it aside amongst the blood-red poppies on the battlefield where it was rescued by an onlooker and sent to Punch, which printed it anonymously:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly.
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

(more…)

Monday, November 4th, 2013

Book Giveaway: Wang Renmei: The Wildcat of Shanghai (With DVD of Wild Rose)

Wang Renmei: The Wildcat of Shanghai

Wang Renmei: The Wildcat of Shanghai, by Richard J. Meyer tells the extraordinary story of one of China most famous film stars, whose dramatic life mirrored the tumultuous history of modern China.

Throughout the week we will be featuring Wang Renmei: The Wildcat of Shanghai as well as a DVD of Wild Rose, one of Wang Renmei’s most famous films, on our blog, twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Wang Renmei: The Wildcat of Shanghai to a lucky winner.

To enter our Book Giveaway, simply e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select one winner on Friday, November 8 at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

Excerpt: Matt J. Rossano’s Preface and Introduction to Mortal Rituals

Mortal Rituals

This week our featured book is Mortal Rituals: What the Story of the Andes Survivors Tells Us About Human Evolution, by Matt J. Rossano. In the Preface to Mortal Rituals, Rossano explains the general premise of his work on the Andes Survivors, and in the Introduction, he begins by telling the story of the plane crash that marooned the passengers of Flight UAF 571 high in the Andes Mountains. Read both the Preface and Introduction below!

And don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a FREE copy of the book!

Monday, September 16th, 2013

Book Giveaway! Mortal Rituals: What the Story of the Andes Survivors Tells Us About Human Evolution, by Matt J. Rossano

Mortal Rituals

This week our featured book is Mortal Rituals: What the Story of the Andes Survivors Tells Us About Human Evolution, by Matt J. Rossano. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author here on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Mortal Rituals. To enter our Book Giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select one winner on September 20th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Friday, August 16th, 2013

A Little Gay History — Protest and Rights

R. B. Parkinson, A Little Gay History

We conclude our week-long feature on A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity Across the World, by R. B. Parkinson, with a focus not on art and culture but politics. The images above and below are pins from the past forty reflecting the efforts of the gay and lesbian community to win, protect, and assert their rights as well as to protest the indifference toward AIDS. Below is an excerpt from the book:

These badges from protest rallies were worn both by protesters and also by others as signs of their support for lesbian and gay rights. They represent four decades and a wide range of issues: some are specific, such as the threatened closure of a gay bookshop, while some are general. Some are serious, and some wittily caricature stereotypes about gay identity, such as the assumption that if you are a lesbian, you must own a cat, as in the badge by the cartoonist Kate Charlesworth.

Several of these designs include the pink triangle, a symbol with a dark history. The Nazi regime in Germany persecuted and killed millions of citizens whom they considered undesirable. These were predominantly Jews but also included trade unionists, communists, gypsies, physically disabled people and “homosexuals”. An estimated hundred thousand “homosexual” men were arrested, and those who were sent to concentration camps were made to wear the pink triangle. After the camps were liberated, some were re-imprisoned because ‘homosexuality’ remained illegal in Germany, and it was only in the 1980s that these forgotten victims began to be acknowledged officially. Campaigning organizations reclaimed the triangle as a badge of gay pride, inverting it, and it was widely used by the 1970s.

Such badges are still being produced, and people continue to fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights to be fully recognized. As the campaigner Peter Tatchell comments:

the only liberation struggle worth fighting is a struggle inspired by love. Love is the beginning, middle and end of liberation. Without love, there can be no liberation worthy of the name.


A Little Gay History, R. B. Parkinson

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

Images from A Little Gay History

We continue our week-long feature on A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity Across the World, by R. B. Parkinson with some images from the book, which come from the collection at the British Museum. Working backwards in time, we move from David Hockney to Egyptian Papyrus from 950 BCE.

David Hockney, In the Dull Village, 1966-7
David Hockney, In the Dull Village

Kitagawa Utamaro, Mashiba Hisayhoshi, 1804
Kitagawa Utamoro, Mashiba Hisayhoshi

(more…)

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

Interview with R. B. Parkinson, author of A Little Gay History

A Little Gay HistoryThe following is an interview with R. B. Parkinson, author of A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity Across the World. For more on the book, you can also read Parkinson’s blog post, Same-Sex Desire in the British Museum or read the introduction:

Question: Being at the British Museum you have access to a wide range of objects, works of art, etc. What are we able to understand about Gay history through objects and art works that might not come through via a more traditional history? How does this perspective change or build upon other histories of gay and lesbian life and culture?

R. B. Parkinson: The British Museum is very much a museum of the whole world for the whole world, and most monographs on gay history concentrate on specific periods and cultures, but we wanted to show that LGBT history is a world history (and we wanted to make it accessible to the widest possible range of readers, just as the Museum is free to all visitors). I enjoy working with objects because they encourage you to be practical and think in material terms. All too often history is about grand abstract narratives which I find rather dehumanising, so I prefer to think in specific terms, about a particular object, a particular person feeling this or that in a particular time and place—such as Michelangelo drawing his sketch in Rome in 1533, concerned about what the handsome young Tommaso dei Cavalieri would think of it, that sort of thing. That wonderful drawing—as an object gives you a “touch of the real”.

Michelangelo

Q: What do these works and objects reveal about changing ideas about concepts or categories such as gay as well as shifting attitudes toward homosexuality

RBP: I think I was surprised at how varied the different views of desire were in different cultures across history. So for me, one basic message is that everything is culturally constructed. Even an erection is a cultural construct: who would imagine that a drawing of oral masturbation could be a religious icon in another culture? These sorts of differences warn us against assuming that any single culture has a uniquely privileged interpretation of reality, which is always a useful lesson.

Q: What was the selection process for the objects or works you decided to focus on? Were there particular characteristics, either aesthetic or historical, that you were looking for? Did you try to find a balance between more explicit vs. more coded representations?

RBP: I wanted to find objects that were interesting in themselves but also represented an aspect of their culture, that could provide a glimpse of a specific history and also form part of a general history of LGBT desire. Inevitably some cultures, such as Edo-period Japan, provided more evidence than others, partly due to the values of that culture, partly due to the chances of preservation, and partly due to the history of collecting. In the end, we settled on around 40 objects from a range of continents, chosen with the guidance of specialist colleagues. And since the book was conceived as a visual survey, the objects had to work visually as well, although sometimes I admit we added a second image to liven up an interesting but rather unappealing looking main object. The book had to be written in 6 months, without any dedicated research time for the project, so the selection process had to be quite quick. I felt we had to choose objects that were indisputably relevant to LGBT history: I think any controversies about our interpretation of an object might have distracted from the overall aims of the project, so we were quite cautious. We present a range of the different sorts of data that we have for such a history: so some are very explicit sexual scenes and some are instead purely about romance; some are very direct sources and others, like the Pakistani quilt, are rather indirect. In short, I wanted to present a representative picture (to use a phrase from Marguerite Yourcenar) of the variety of the world.

pakistani textile

(more…)

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

R. B. Parkinson on Same-Sex Desire in the British Museum

A Little Gay History, R. B. ParkinsonThe following post is by R. B. Parkinson, author of A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity Across the World:

My own academic research concerns Ancient Egyptian poetry from around 1800 BCE and because some of these works deal with same-sex desire, and because I am gay, I had worked a little on how to identify such desire in ancient poems. And so, when the British Museum was approached to help with a LGBT history trail several years ago, I volunteered for this, and this project led to me writing A Little Gay History.

The book is arranged chronologically and covers some 11,000 years. Exploring the British Museum’s wide ranging collection was an exciting challenge for me and the contributing authors Kate Smith and Max Carocci, and it would have been utterly impossible without the support of so many helpful specialist colleagues across the whole museum. It is a small book for a vast subject, but we wanted to provide an authoritative and accessible introduction to an often overlooked (and often contested) aspect of world history. The book is of course not a political tract, although the subject is very much in the news at the moment. It simply states some historical facts as we see them, and we hope it will remind all readers of how varied human desire has been across world cultures.

Some of the museum objects chose themselves, such the stunning Warren cup, showing two pairs of Roman men making energetic love. I also wanted to include a full range of different types of art, including literature and film. For me, a particularly influential author was E. M. Forster—an important figure in my own coming out. His quietly subversive and ironic style offers a way of challenging assumptions about sexuality that I find very appealing (and very “queer”). And of course, a climactic scene of his explicitly gay novel, Maurice (1914), takes place in the British Museum. The novel has a happy ending, and for me this was extremely important, since all too often in modern works of art, same sex desire has ended unhappily. In the book, Maurice and the game keeper Alec finally realize they are in love as they wander through the galleries: one location in this scene, between two huge Assyrian Bulls from Khorsabad, has always seemed to me the most romantic spot in the entire museum. The setting in the British Museum underlines Maurice’s realization that “there always have been people like me and there always will be” and this goes to the heart of any LGBT history project.

(more…)

Monday, August 12th, 2013

Book Giveaway!: A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity Across the World

A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity Across the World, R. B. Parkinson

Taken from a landmark exhibit at the British Museum, A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity Across the World, by R. B. Parkinson, tells the history gay and lesbians through objects from Ancient Egypt to the present. Parkinson draws attention to a diverse range of same-sex experiences and situates them within specific historical and cultural contexts. The first of its kind, A Little Gay History builds a complex and creative portrait of love’s many guises.

Throughout the week, we will be featuring A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity Across the World. For more on the book, you can also read the introduction to A Little Gay History.

We are also offering a FREE copy of the book to a lucky winner.

To enter our Book Giveaway, simply e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select one winner on August 16 at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Friday, July 26th, 2013

Frederick Cooper: How Global Do We Want Our Intellectual History to Be?

Global Intellectual History

This week our featured book is Global Intellectual History, edited by Samuel Moyn and Andrew Sartori. Today, the final day of this week’s feature, we have an excerpt from Frederick Cooper’s chapter in Global Intellectual History: “How Global Do We Want Our Intellectual History to Be?” Cooper argues that “the concepts of ‘global’ and ‘modern’ are two-edged swords when it comes to understanding the world.”

Be sure to enter our book giveaway for Global Intellectual History!

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

Cemil Aydin: Globalizing the Intellectual History of the Idea of the “Muslim World”

Global Intellectual History

This week our featured book is Global Intellectual History, edited by Samuel Moyn and Andrew Sartori. Today, we have an excerpt from Cemil Aydin’s chapter in Global Intellectual History: “Globalizing the Intellectual History of the Idea of the ‘Muslim World.’” In his essay, Aydin “revisit[s] the period from the 1880s to the 1920s that was retrospectively characterized as the high age of both global Westernization and Muslim intellectual modernism and Pan-Islamic nationalism, to discuss global ideas and values, such as the caliphate, that did not originate in Europe.”

Be sure to enter our book giveaway for Global Intellectual History!

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

Samuel Moyn: Global Intellectual Life Past and Present

Global Intellectual History

This week our featured book is Global Intellectual History, edited by Samuel Moyn and Andrew Sartori. Today, we are cross-posting a short article by Samuel Moyn, originally published on Interdisciplines, which uses David Mitchell’s novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet as an interesting portrayal of global intellectual relationships.

Be sure to enter our book giveaway for Global Intellectual History!

Global Intellectual Life Past and Present
Samuel Moyn

Adam Smith in Nagasaki

In his bestselling recent novel, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, David Mitchell provides a vignette of global intellectual history, as he imagines it took place in the last years of the eighteenth century at Dejima, the manmade island in Nagasaki’s harbor, which was the sole contact point between Japan and “the West” for more than two hundred years.

In Mitchell’s portrait, however, the intended isolation of the country that Dejima is supposed to secure is not working perfectly. The novel begins with the title character’s success in smuggling in his Bible – which in spite of a wave of Japanese conversion long before is now banned. He has help in doing so, thanks to the connivance of a young Japanese translator, Ogawa, with whom he strikes up a nervous friendship.

When the two first meet, instead of calling de Zoet on his illegal smuggling, the Japanese translator asks him about another book in his chest, “book of Mr. … Adamu Sumissu.” Jacob de Zoet replies: “Adam Smith?” It turns out that he is carrying a Dutch translation of Smith’s 1776 Wealth of Nations, a copy of which Ogawa had borrowed from someone else four years ago. But he had had to return it to its owner in the midst of translating it. Now he has a new copy at hand, and can finish the job.

The presence of Smith at the outset of the novel seems right, for it reminds the reader of the history of capitalism that Smith portrayed, one of whose effects was the creation of new global relationships, such as those Mitchell imagines in his depiction of Dutch commerce.
(more…)

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

Samuel Moyn and Andrew Sartori: Approaches to Global Intellectual History

Global Intellectual History

This week our featured book is Global Intellectual History, edited by Samuel Moyn and Andrew Sartori. Today, we have an excerpt from Samuel Moyn and Andrew Sartori’s first chapter of Global Intellectual History: “Approaches to Global Intellectual History.” In their essay, Moyn and Sartori discuss the turn toward “global history” among historians generally, and among intellectual historians in particular, as well as discussing the things a global intellectual history might be concerned with.

Be sure to enter our book giveaway for Global Intellectual History!

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

Book Giveaway: Global Intellectual History, edited by Samuel Moyn and Andrew Sartori

Global Intellectual History

This week our featured book is Global Intellectual History, edited by Samuel Moyn and Andrew Sartori. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content from and about the book and its editors here on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Global Intellectual History. To enter our Book Giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select one winner on July 26th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

Part 2 of a Q&A with Michael Shenefelt and Heidi White, authors of If A, then B

If A, Then BIn If A, Then B: How the World Discovered Logic, Michael Shenefelt and Heidi White track the emergence and expansion of logic as a field of study. Today we have the second half of a Q&A with Shenefelt and White, who both teach Great Books at NYU’s Liberal Studies Program (read the first half here). In today’s half, Shenefelt and White explain their claim that, throughout history, the development of logic has reflected larger social changes happening in the world. And be sure to check out the book’s website!

Q: All your discussion of the historical roots of logic makes it sound like logic is all a consequence of the ancient world’s history.

Michael Shenefelt: It’s also a consequence of the modern world’s history. Consider the Industrial Revolution of the 19th and 20th centuries. That’s what finally generated the logic that runs your computer—symbolic logic. The first fully symbolic systems came from George Boole and Augustus De Morgan in England in 1847, just as the Industrial Revolution was in full swing. Both thinkers said explicitly that they were seeking a way to make reasoning “mechanical.” Industrialization showed a whole generation of thinkers the immense power of mechanical operations, especially in the manufacture of cloth, and some wanted to achieve a similar effect in reasoning. A similar impulse also led to the development of abstract algebra, and this so-called mechanical effect in algebra was much stressed by John Stuart Mill. Later in the century, when Germany industrialized, you see the eminent figures of Gottlob Frege, George Cantor, and Richard Dedekind—great names in logic and mathematics. And when the Fiat automobile company was manufacturing cars in Turin, Italy, Giuseppe Peano started working at the University of Turin; Peano’s notation still underlies a lot of symbolic logic. Industrialization and symbolic logic were intimately connected. And then there’s the case of the United States. When the United States industrialized in the wake of the Civil War, Charles Sanders Peirce worked out a symbolic logic of his own and pointed out that logic problems might be solved using electrical switches.
(more…)

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

Part 1 of a Q&A with Michael Shenefelt and Heidi White, authors of If A, Then B

If A, Then BIn If A, Then B: How the World Discovered Logic, Michael Shenefelt and Heidi White track the emergence and expansion of logic as a field of study. Today we have the first half of a Q&A with Shenefelt and White, who both teach Great Books at NYU’s Liberal Studies Program, in which the two authors discuss the origins of logic, look at some of logic’s many uses, and give a convincing case for why studying logic is a valuable thing to do. And be sure to check out the book’s website!

Question: Why do you say logic comes out of politics?

Heidi White: Formal logic began as a reaction to political failure in ancient Athens in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. Many Athenians blamed the city’s defeat in the long war with Sparta on tricky and deceptive reasoning in the Athenian Assembly; they believed demagogues had misled the voters into endorsing a disastrous military campaign. Sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it? The philosopher Plato complained about this tricky and deceptive reasoning all the time. He was relentless in insisting on the difference between persuasion that relied on dubious reasons or a lack of evidence and persuasion that was well reasoned and well supported. And in the end, he came to the view that good government had to rely on genuine knowledge, and knowledge had to be based on sound argument. His student Aristotle then zeroed in on formal deductive logic as a crucial part of sound reasoning.
(more…)

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

Lawrence Friedman discusses The Lives of Erich Fromm on The Leonard Lopate Show

Lawrence Friedman on Erich Fromm

Earlier this week, Lawrence Friedman, author of The Lives of Erich Fromm: Love’s Prophet, appeared on The Leonard Lopate Show, to discuss the book and the life and legacy of Erich Fromm: