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Tag: history and politics

Reflections after Class

One of those questions came up in class tonight with a group of MA students discussing Peter Fritzsche’s Life and Death in the Third Reich (Cambridge, MA, 2008), a question where I grow perhaps too animated, maybe conveying impatience, even arrogance, or, if I’m lucky, simply passion. What was the difference between communism under Stalin and nazism under Hitler? The differences are stark, but there’s that pesky word “socialism” and the collectivist rhetoric that is so easily conflated or confused with “collectivization,” never mind the existence of economic plans, mass… Read more Reflections after Class

The Politics of Identity and How We Learn History

There is an interesting article in yesterday’s New York Times about how Texas is changing the content of its American high school history textbooks. Instead of taking potshots at its clear abuses of history, however, the author locates it in a broader context of history curricula and identity politics over the past few decades. See Sam Tanehaus, “In Texas Curriculum Fight, Identity Politics Leans Right.” Kevin Levin of the blog Civil War Memory thinks that the focus on textbooks in this newest episode of America’s culture wars misses the point,… Read more The Politics of Identity and How We Learn History

Contemporary Political Rhetoric and Teaching History

Earlier this month I did a post on my Hist 100 blog that might be of some interest to readers here, “Contemporary Politics and History.” My audience was primarily freshmen in their first semester at university, most of them too young to have voted in the last election: I have said this in class, but it needs repeating here: Our contemporary American political discourse about socialism and nazism has absolutely nothing to do with those terms and phenomena in actual history. While we are not in class to talk about… Read more Contemporary Political Rhetoric and Teaching History

What Having a Socialist Nazi in the White House Means for the Classroom

I am probably not alone when I say that I have a hard time taking GOP “socialism” rhetoric seriously. The same goes for right-wing attempts to equate Obama with Hitler. Apparently, however, I need to keep this rhetoric in mind when planning my classes, for it has entered my classroom in an unexpected way. In a blue book essay about totalitarianism this summer, one student explained nazism in terms of “socialism” and “big government.” There was no political intent behind these statements. The student simply drew on the language of… Read more What Having a Socialist Nazi in the White House Means for the Classroom

Ignorance or Deliberate Abuse?

I can’t decide whether the White House is deliberately insulting our intelligence with Bush’s recent appeasement accusations or if they really don’t know anything about Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement. Chamberlain isn’t criticized in history for talking to Hitler, but rather for giving away the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia and with it that country’s means to defend itself against Germany. The difference is not trivial. And what does McCain’s echoing of Bush’s remarks tell us about him? Did he also not learn this bit of history? Or is this just politics? Be that… Read more Ignorance or Deliberate Abuse?

Historians and Politics

Yesterday I wrote about the present in this blog about my work with the past. What possible justification could I have for doing that? (I mean besides the obvious point that this is my blog.) I wrote about outsourcing military functions in Iraq not because I possess special knowledge of the subject, but because my expertise in history makes me frame the issue in ways that are different from what I find in the media. I do not possess any special insight into what we should do about the Iraq… Read more Historians and Politics

Good Old Stalin

History can be used to justify all manner of circumstances in the present. Want to justify an authoritarian regime in Russia? Referring to Russia’s present conditions can help, but even more effective can be skillful tradition-building that shows Russia’s long line of great authoritarian rulers. And what better place to start than with history teachers in the schools? The New York Times published a remarkable article yesterday about a new history guide for high school teachers in Russia. After a brief introduction, it offers verbatim excerpts on Stalin, who comes… Read more Good Old Stalin