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Given that I haven’t had a chance to read the book in question, I don’t know what to make of the ongoing, and increasingly nasty, fight over John Stauffer’s and Sally Jenkins’s new history of the Free State of Jones. But it seems like the struggle over the book is pretty interesting, as it raises all kinds of questions about the intersection of historical narratives and big-time entertainment. I also think there’s probably something to be said here about the nature of scholarship. But again, without having read the book, I’m not the one to say it. At least not yet.

Anyway, the fight started here and here and here, I guess, when Victoria Bynum, who’s written her own history of Jones County during the Civil War, posted a scathing review of The State of Jones. Take a look. See what you think.

Update: Stepping back a bit, it seems to me that there are other interesting questions raised by this case. For instance, as Kevin points out in his post (linked above), how does the advent of blogging change the way that “scholarly”* books are reviewed? How do “historians”** change their writing, particularly what*** they choose to write, given the audience they want for their books? And is it okay to find motivation for scholarship in the pursuit of a big payday?

* Yep, those are scare quotes. Deal with it.

** And again. Feel free to fill out a comment card, if you’d like.

*** As opposed to how they write. Content rather than style, in other words.


Of course that’s just what some MSM type like Matt Dallek would say about the birthers, isn’t it? He has help from Kathy in explaining why Americans believe conspiracy theories about government. And also in my hometown paper.

Maira Kalman tackles Benjamin Franklin this time. And although the piece isn’t my favorite of hers, it’s still quite a bit better than the Times‘s endless coverage of which beer President Obama decided to drink yesterday afternoon.

A number of people asked in comments to “Schooling” if the pattern shown for migrants out of the South wouldn’t be about the same for the rest of the country. I said “no”, but I couldn’t leave it alone. And since AWC didn’t take the bait when I offered to send him data, I did some figuring myself.

Does the pattern of education for all migrants look like the pattern for migrants out of the South? For this we use the same definition of migrants—recent (within the last five years) migrants across state lines, age 26 or older; nonmigrants defined as people over the age of 26 who live in the same house as they did five years ago.

So the pattern is different. Completion of 8th grade is more common among nonmigrants than among migrants.

What about migrants to the South? Here we look at people born in the non-South, resident in the South, over the age of 26, who moved across state lines within the last five years versus people born in the non-South, resident in the same house as five years ago, over the age of 26.

Here again, the pattern is different from migration out of the South and more like the overall pattern of interstate migration.

I guess I’d go so far as to say, for black people leaving the South, any further level of education completed was a spur to leave the South, the reasons for which are probably too obvious to state. Whereas for other interstate migrants, you’re looking at a premium on higher levels of education completed.

Oh, one more point: racial composition. Southern-born persons 26 or older resident in the non-South who moved across state lines within the previous five years are around 76 percent white, 24 percent black. Persons 26 or older who moved across state lines within the previous five years are around 94 percent white, 6 percent black. Persons 26 or older who moved across state lines within the previous five years, born in the non-South, resident in the South, are around 98 percent white and 2 percent black. And in the 1940 Census there were about 394,000 southern-born recent migrants 26 or older recorded as living in the non-South and about 314,000 non-southern-born recent migrants 26 or older recorded as living in the South.

Dwight Garner reviews Christopher Caldwell’s Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West. (The Times seems to go in for this sort of alarmism lately.) Garner concludes:

It is hard to argue with his ultimate observation about Europe today: “When an insecure, malleable, relativistic culture” (Europe’s) “meets a culture that is anchored, confident, and strengthened by common doctrines” (Islam’s), “it is generally the former that changes to suit the latter.”

Hard to argue with, because no specific examples are provided. But is there any “culture” more “insecure, malleable, relativistic” than that of the United States? Surely our success in reducing any immigrant strain to three-day weekends and Taco Bell should be grounds for optimism in this regard.

An open letter, this time, to the UC Davis faculty, from our friends Gary Rhoades and Cary Nelson at the AAUP regarding the “shut up if you know what’s good for you” interpretation of faculty speech as regulated by Hong v. Grant and Ceballos. It’s not online, so I’ve asked for the text to reproduce below.

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There is no possible way, Silas thought to himself, that this could get more ridiculous.   Which admittedly took his mind off his terror. Not only was he being robbed at gunpoint outside of the laundromat, he was being robbed of $13 in quarters, as he had left his wallet in the apartment.   (“What the hell?” the mugger had said, encountering his prey’s jingling sweatpants.)

Silas was left unharmed, and as he was near the university, a police car was parked on a nearby corner.  He ran to the police and gave a description of the mugger.  Since the theft of the change had just occurred, he was asked to accompany the police as they cruised the neighborhood, where they accosted every single young man whose appearance remotely approached the description (taller, shorter, younger, older.)

They didn’t find the mugger.  And Silas felt, upon reflection, that the great injustice of the evening had been done not to him, but to all of the innocent young men who had been roughed up by the police that night.

Read the rest of this entry »

Did education lead to a brain drain in the Jim Crow South? There’s considerable anecdotal evidence that it did, often focusing on college education.1 Can’t keep ’em down on the farm once they’ve been to an ag. school.

I wondered if it would be possible to have a slightly more systematic go at this question, looking at all levels of education, using IPUMS.

The 1940 census asked people if they’d moved across state lines within the last five years. Suppose you look at people born in the South, resident outside the South, who’d moved across state lines in the past five years, over the age of 26—you’d mainly be looking at people who had moved out of the South after completing their education, wouldn’t you? I think so. Anyway, that’s what the graphs show, with migrants defined as “moved across state lines to a state in the non-South within the last five years”, divided into white and black.

And, what you see is consistent with the idea that education provided a greater impetus to move than to stay put, particularly completion of 8th grade or 12th grade. What you see is also consistent with education providing a much greater impetus for black people to move than for white people.

Which is perhaps not surprising, but nice to see it laid out.

1See e.g. James N. Gregory, The Southern Diaspora: How the Great Migrations of Black and White Southerners Transformed America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005), 36-37.

Thanks to Kieran for helping me make the graphs non-ugly.

Matt Yglesias notes a Ross Douthat column that invokes one of William McKinley’s splendid little wars, this one in the Philippines. He points out that the military and naval counterinsurgency effort in the Philippines worked, but then wonders if anything beneficial actually came out of it:

It seems to me that unless you look at victory and conquest as being their own reward, it’s hard to see any. Anti-American rebels lost, but we didn’t really win anything of note. We spent a lot of money, suffered some casualties, killed a lot of people and in exchange got some military bases that were overrun by the Japanese as soon as it looked like they might be strategically useful.

Knowing something of the conflict, I would go further than Yglesias: taking the Philippines was possibly the worst single foreign policy decision in American history, rivaling the one which took us to war with Britain in 1812.

First, some background. The Philippines in 1898 was one of the last major possessions of the long-failing Spanish empire. As part of its war with them, the United States destroyed Spanish authority in the islands and then purchased the archipelago in the peace settlement for $20 million. Filipino insurgents, led by their leader Emilio Aguinaldo, resented this and fought back, first conventionally and then using the tactics of insurgency. What resulted was a three-year conflict, bloody and ugly on all sides, that resulted in an American victory (the Moro Insurgency, which broke out shortly thereafter, was a distinct conflict, though putting the two together is not terminally objectionable).

The U.S. saw the Philippines largely as a stepping-stone to China. This was the era of John Hay’s “Open Door” policy, when all the imperial powers were struggling to broaden their influence in China, at the expense of each other and the Chinese. The Philippines, in addition to being seen as a new frontier for Americans, was also to be the first great acquisition for an American Empire.


The problem was that the Philippines was simply not really usable militarily. It was way out at the end of an extended supply line from the United States, 5300 miles to Hawaii and 7300 miles to San Diego. It consisted of 7107 islands, large and small, which made it essentially impossible to defend. Most critically, it sat directly on the supply route between Japan, a newly powerful military nation, and its sources of raw materials in southeast Asia. As long as the United States held the Philippines and the deep water port of Manila, where a fleet could be stationed, the Japanese felt insecure. By 1915, American strategists were already writing that:

The taking of the Philippines may be ranked among the worst military blunders committed by any American government–it is difficult to put the matter more strongly. It is a weak, ex-centric military position, fundamentally indefensible against any strong transpacific power, but inevitably a magnet to draw troops and ships away from our shores. [1]

Taking the Philippines essentially put the United States and Japan on a collision course out of which it was hard to steer. This was not inevitable. At the turn of the century, Japan’s attention was towards the mainland of Asia and southeast Asia, and away from the broad Pacific that separated it from the United States. It was worried about Russia, China, and the European powers that held so much of mainland Asia. The Americans and Japanese got along rather well. During the Boxer Rebellion, when American and Japanese units served together, there was quite a friendly relationship between the two. American ships coaled at Nagasaki, where they played baseball games for Japanese crowds. There was an American naval hospital there for several decades. The relationship that was building was one similar to the United States and Great Britain, two growing naval powers separated by a large ocean that nonetheless had essentially decided NOT to be rivals.

nagasaki_bomb.jpgThe Philippines changed that. It made America an Asian power and an Asian power that presented a direct threat to the Japanese. Coupled with the radical militarization of Japan that occurred in the 1920s and 30s, it led directly to the outbreak of the war in the Pacific, a war in which the Philippines fell almost immediately to a Japanese invasion and a war in which 354,000 American casualties (106,000 dead, 248,000 wounded; figures approximate). By itself, the Pacific War was America’s third worst in terms of casualties; by itself, about 15% of all American combat deaths in our history happened in the Pacific from 1941-1945. The Americans came again to Nagasaki, but this time with fire and sword.

Taking the Philippines put us on the line for that train-wreck. It did not particularly help us gain entry to China, despite our ongoing fascination with that nation through the early 20th century. Other than that, the conquest brought little in the way of benefits. “I shall return,” was MacArthur’s famous declaration upon leaving the islands in 1942, to which an ironic response might well have been, “Why did we come in the first place?”

Update: I highly esteem Spencer Ackerman, but he’s just wrong here:

But the hinge point in U.S.-Philippine history — what yielded the friendship and closeness that the two nations presently enjoy — was the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. What the Japanese inflicted upon the Philippines and its people was by orders of magnitude far worse than anything the U.S. ever dared. You probably know the rest: MacArthur declares he Shall Return; he does; the battle of Leyte Gulf is one of the largest in the history of naval warfare; we drive the Japanese from the Philippines; the amount of gratitude is overwhelming; a partnership has been our inheritance ever since.

American-Filipino relationships were friendly well before the start of World War II. The Japanese occupation certainly cemented them, but the reconciliation had started much earlier.

[1] Silbey, War of Frontier and Empire, 213.

A great illustration of an urban legend I’ve heard in various forms since, oh, sometime in high school.   This is one of those things meant to show the power of the noble Christian David over the godless academy Goliath.  I’ve heard it set in a philosophy classroom, in an evolutionist’s class room, in a  chemistry classroom, at Harvard, Yale, Berkeley.   I had it told to me in church youth group.  I had it told to me by friends, and by professors who had heard the story set at their PhD granting institution.

(Sobering thought:  perhaps this Wandering Atheist Professor is an adjunct…)

I think the course is clear.

Next semester, I’m getting some chalk….

Commenter Charlieford wants to put this to the EotAW community.

Last week I read a blog entry by a friend slamming Obama for, among other things, being our TOTUS, “Teleprompter of the United States.” He was offended by Obama’s use of a script (apparently) during his televised tribute to Walter Cronkite. Like a lot of conservatives, he was quick to pile on the criticisms—the delivery was cold and emotionless, not “from the heart,” the speech may not even have been written by Obama, and it included “large words embedded into the speech to ensure that only half of the Americans who heard the speech would understand it.”

That last one didn’t sound at all right and I went back and re-listened to the speech. I didn’t notice anything egregiously arcane or overly sophisticated in his vocabulary. I asked the author what had offended him in that regard, and he didn’t have a convincing response. Initially I concluded that he had simply over-reached, but now I think he was really imputing, without realizing it, his general reaction to Obama’s presidential discourse to this particular speech.

What makes me think so is watching Obama’s impromptu address on Gates-gate, or, more specifically, his comments on his earlier intervention (“stupidly”) in the affair. It also gave me a theory on Obama’s tendency to rely on a teleprompter.

The Cronkite speech, which he does seem to be reading, is a humble piece of oratory. A middle-of-the-road, ultimately forgettable, presidential testimonial on an occasion of national grief. It’s forgettability is entirely appropriate, I think (I tend to cringe when the rhetoric gets too poetic, as with Reagan’s Challenger address, or anytime anyone speaks about ceremonies of innocence being drowned).

But look at his impromptu, unscripted, comments on Gates-gate, this past Friday, keeping in mind the above-mentioned blogger’s sensitivity to “large words.” In comments that took a little more than five minutes to deliver, Obama uses the following terms: ratcheting, calibrated, maligning, resolve, garnered, extrapolate, fraught, teachable-moment, portfolio.

I submit to you that some or all of these terms are on the periphery of, perhaps even entirely outside, the familiar universe of discourse of most self-proclaimed “ordinary” Americans. You know, the kind that live in West Virginia and environs. The kind that voted for Hillary Clinton in the primaries.

(I would also argue that the general tone of the comments—with its nuanced approach to the whole matter, self-aware and self-critical, calling on everyone involved, including himself, to step back, reflect, think deeper about it all—didn’t exactly embody the typical attitudes that class of Americans are attracted to, but that’s another discussion.)

What I’d like to hypothesize now is this: that Obama, alumnus of Columbia and Harvard, Obama the former professor of Constitutional law at the University of Chicago, above all, Obama the reader, lapses into a style of speaking that is susceptible to the criticism of being overly-sophisticated, even borderline incomprehensible, to ordinary Americans. And that he uses the teleprompter, not so he can deliver high-flying rhetoric, but so he can ratchet it down.1

We all have various ways of navigating these difficulties. Some of us simply give up reaching the ordinary folk. We find ourselves, deliberately or by accident, moving almost entirely in circles made up of educated people. Our exchanges with the ordinary folk occur primarily in the vicinity of a cash-register. Politicians don’t have that luxury. Some, particularly those from the South, have an almost preternatural ability to slip back and forth between discourses, from the vulgate to educated-ese with barely a hiccup, depending on the audience. Obama’s strategy, I’m guessing, is to write out what he wants to say, which allows him to calibrate his language, uh, more felicitously.

1Nice, Charlie—ed.

U.S. Troops being used on American soil? The former Vice President has you covered, never mind the Posse Comitatus act and all that messy precedent and stuff:

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration in 2002 considered sending U.S. troops into a Buffalo, N.Y., suburb to arrest a group of terror suspects in what would have been a nearly unprecedented use of military power within the United States, The New York Times reported.

Vice President Dick Cheney and several other Bush advisers at the time strongly urged that the military be used to apprehend men who were suspected of plotting with al-Qaida, who later became known as the Lackawanna Six, The Times reported on its Web site Friday night. It cited former administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Literally: he may well have you covered, right at the moment.

The effects of the crisis in China in 1900 were not confined to China, obviously. They could reach as far down as the streets of New York, and as deep as the children of that city:

Nicholas Ageno, an Italian boy of twelve years, living with his parents at 77 Oliver Street, and who the police say is leader of a band of boys, last night summoned his followers and set out to look for Boxers. As darkness fell over the city they reached Chatham Square. On Sunday evening Chinamen from all parts of the city and round about congregate at Chinatown. Young Gee, an inoffensive Chinaman who conducts a laundry at 221 East Broadway, came walking across the square toward Pell Street. The boys espied him and advanced to the attack with a well-directed volley of stones, dirt, and other missiles. Gee started for Chinatown on a run, but the boys cut off his retreat, crowded about him, tore his blouse, and otherwise ill-treated him. Patrolman Rafsky of the Oak Street Station went to the Chinaman’s rescue on a double quick. The boys fled, and the policeman when he arrived on the scene, found only a very dilapidated and thoroughly scared Chinaman with his blouse torn and mud stained, and part of his queue missing. He was not badly hurt, but he declared that the policeman probably had saved his life. The patrolman next directed his attention to the assailants, and after an exciting chase captured Nicholas Ageno, who was placed under arrest and locked up in the Oak Street Station on the complaint of Young Gee.

Let’s see how far we can track that, using Google Street View… Read the rest of this entry »

Holy Smokes Update (aka, still astonishing but now for different reasons)

Harvard Scholar Disorderly

If you just watched the Cambridge police union* press conference, I’m pretty sure you heard the spokesman claim there was no influence of the bad history between cops and black people in Cambridge. At least, that’s what I think I heard; we’ll have to wait for a transcript. Stand by.

… So far, very little, but already sounds pretty bad. I stick by my original prediction.

Police unions call for apology from Obama, Patrick

By Andrew Ryan, Globe Staff

Cambridge police unions today called on President Obama and Governor Deval Patrick to apologize to “all law enforcement personnel” for their comments about the arrest of an African-American scholar last week at his home near Harvard Square.

Speaking in at a press conference packed with local and national media, the union officials also said that the disorderly conduct charge should not have been dropped against professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. The move earlier this week to drop the charges “was a decision made without our input.”

… already clear that a lot of people need to watch Jay Smooth again.

Cambridge police are not stupid

As Jay Smooth says, “I don’t care what you are, I care about what you did.” The President did not say “Cambridge police are stupid”, nor did he say “Officer Crowley is stupid”. He said, “Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof he was in own home.” (As my colleague Professor Kelman points out, quite possibly, as a constitutional law professor he has an informed opinion on what police behavior is stupid and what isn’t.) But it’s clear that the discourse is already spinning out of control.

HOLY SMOKES update: The President of the United States is pretty smooth.

So at the end of the conversation there was a discussion about — my conversation with Sergeant Crowley, there was discussion about he and I and Professor Gates having a beer here in the White House. We don’t know if that’s scheduled yet — (laughter) — but we may put that together.

He also did say he wanted to find out if there was a way of getting the press off his lawn. (Laughter.) I informed him that I can’t get the press off my lawn. (Laughter.) He pointed out that my lawn is bigger than his lawn. (Laughter.) But if anybody has any connections to the Boston press, as well as national press, Sergeant Crowley would be happy for you to stop trampling his grass.

… and a pony

… which, it appears, means the President has proven my original prediction incorrect. But if you’re gonna be wrong, you might as well be wrong in the most wonderful, rainbow-colored ponylicious way. It’s not as big a pony as passing healthcare, ending the war ‘n’ stuff, closing Gitmo and Bagram, and returning to the rule of law, but you gotta start somewhere. Even small ponies have been scarce as of even date.

*See Ralph’s request for clarification below.

Matthew Yglesias has been working the counterfactual beat lately (as he points out, counterfactuals are essential to a sound theory of causation). (Previously on this blog.)

Which inspired me to htmlize and post one of my favorite counterfactual tables, table 9 from Stewart and Weingast’s article on “Stacking the Senate”.1 What if, Stewart and Weingast ask, instead of making state admissions the subject of party politics, the western states had been admitted by some politically neutral rule—say, when they exceeded the population of the average congressional district? They make assumptions about partisan tilt based on real-life territorial politics, and get the below table.
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I’m a sucker for the funny-subtitle-Hitler-in-the-bunker genre.

(So, originally, this post was supposed to follow the other post by one week.  Life got in the way.  Spring turned into summer, gave autumn a miss, &c.  This post contains no camera angles or rightwing lunacy.  Part 2 of 2.)

Let me jog your memory.   A month and a half ago, I described the challenges facing the professor who wants to avoid giving the impression that Spinoza’s Ethics is really just metaphysics. I promised a solution, or at least a suggestion.  I believe this can be done in the couple of weeks normally spent on Spinoza in a history of early modern survey course.

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times20July.jpgFurther information on the (mythical) slaughter of the westerners in Beijing appeared in the New York Times of July 20th. The news was carried, according to the Times by a Chinese merchant lately arrived in Shanghai, who was interviewed by a reporter from the London Daily Express. The details were gruesome:

A Chinese merchant who has just arrived from Peking gives horrible details of the massacre. He says he saw European women hauled into the street by shrieking Boxers, who stripped them and hacked them to pieces. Their dissevered limbs were tossed to the crowd and carried off with howls of triumph. Some were already dead when the massacre began, having been shot by foreign civilians. The merchant says he saw Chinese soldiers carrying the bodies of white children aloft on their spears, while their companions shot at the bodies. He gives other details too horrible to be particularized here. It seems that the Boxer leaders had organized a plan, including the offering of rewards and rich loot, for the annihilation of Europeans throughout China, and that Prince Tuan’s Generals have been emphasizing the opportunity the soldiers have of seizing the bodies of white women. According to The Daily Telegraph’s St. Petersburg correspondent, the Russian Government is in possession of definite news that all the foreigners in Peking were massacred on July 15. [1]

There are a number of fascinating elements to all this. First, a similar article published the next day on a massacre of missionaries and Chinese Christians and also reported through Shanghai was notable for being much less detailed than any of the stories on the purported slaughter at Beijing It was notable as well, however, for actually having been true.[2] The oddity of the event with more detail being the fake one is striking. Second, the Times was again putting in sentences of confirmation, as it had in its previous reports. This time it was the St. Petersburg correspondent of the Daily Express who confirmed that the Russian government had “definite news” about the massacre.

Read the rest of this entry »

Following up to yesterday’s rather idle post, I want systematically to take up questions raised in comments as to whether computer presentation software1 is evil and whether there are distinctive features of computer presentation software that make it useful in the classroom. As the title indicates, I will try to make a case that there’s nothing inherently wrong with the software and indeed it can do quite good things for a classroom instructor, particularly in this case a history instructor.
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Huh, there’s a decidedly intelligent and knowledgeable op-ed on HNN about government secrecy and conspiracy theories: “when presidents try to keep the public in the dark, they stimulate the imaginations of anti-government conspiracy theorists.” I wonder who could have written that?

This is officially an award-winning blog

HNN, Best group blog: "Witty and insightful, the Edge of the American West puts the group in group blog, with frequent contributions from an irreverent band.... Always entertaining, often enlightening, the blog features snazzy visuals—graphs, photos, videos—and zippy writing...."