In Astoria, Oregon.
Is insidious destruction of our democracy by a bureaucratic samurai with the soothing voice of a boys’ school headmaster even more dangerous than a self-destructive buffoon ripping up our values in plain sight?
As a historian who sometimes teaches about Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, I have to give Trump credit for one thing: His constant upending of the broad political consensus that emerged after World War II and the Cold War means that basic historical terms are constantly making it into the news and national discourse as quasi new problems, new questions. As upsetting as these times are, as abhorrent as Trump is, it is hard to deny the value of Ron Elving’s reaction to the president’s recent statement about being a nationalist:
We are about to have a national conversation about the word nationalist.
And Elving wants to offer nuance to the term’s meanings in past and present—well, as much as anyone can in some 1,100 words. See the whole article at NPR.
In light of the recent Learning by the Book conference, it makes sense to reblog this piece, which I first posted on History of Knowledge on February 3, 2017, when we were just getting started and were working out what we thought the thing was. The question was not as self-evident as regular bloggers might think, certainly not at a research institution rooted in Germany’s powerful academic traditions.
In my initial academic encounters with Germany in the late 1980s and early 1990s, one of the things that impressed me was the availability of handbooks as well as specialized encyclopedias such as Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe. The textbook series Oldenbourg Grundriss der Geschichte was a new experience for me.1 Each volume offered a concise, chronologically organized survey (with key terms in the margins for rapid orientation), followed by a substantial historiographical discussion and bibliography. At the time, I did not appreciate the massive effort behind such compilation and systematization efforts. I just found these tools were quite practical for orienting myself in a given historical subject. Why didn’t we have such useful tools in the United States?
Sometimes disseminating the results of experiments, demonstrations, or other research can yield widely accepted knowledge built on questionable foundations through a kind of distorted translation. This seems to have happened with the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment. Two people who heard a recent talk by Alexander Haslam tweeted about Haslam’s key findings. Read the thread by Jay Van Bavel and then the one he links to by David Amodio. They talk through the lens of their field, and they help break old stereotypes about human nature. I can’t help but think, however, that there is a broader story about knowledge production and circulation here.
We tried something new in connection with a conference called Learning by the Book. The conveners asked participants to submit a blog post to History of Knowledge in lieu of precirculated papers. One of the conveners, my colleague Kerstin von der Krone, did most of the coordinating work, prescreening posts for length, permissions issues, and content. Then I edited them, trying to ensure they spoke to a multidisciplinary audience, not just specialists in their authors’ respective fields.
If you have the stomach for more on relating to a filmmaker’s work who you now know (but perhaps tried to forget) is a child molester, this piece from May 2016 by Matt Zoller Seitz is worth considering: “I Believe Dylan Farrow.”
Such is the kind of reading I sometimes find myself doing these days when I least expect it. I’ll try to escape the everyday with a comedy, but then I’ll dig around the web to learn more about its makers or players. If this effort lands me back in the ugly everyday, pieces like this one help me see how other people deal with such contradictions, which are about much more than art.
The caption reads, “I’ve decided to accept God, but he has to become Italian.” The German here for “accept,” “gelten lassen,” could also be translated as “allow.” Source: Simpicissimus, May 3, 1926, http://www.simplicissimus.info.