You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2011.

The New York Public Library has a historic menu collection online.

One day last December she was at work when she failed to recognize someone she should have. “My eyesight isn’t very good and I’m not very good at facial recognition,” she explains. “She had a proper go at me in the lift.”

So Emily decided to kill herself.

“Because someone shouted at you in the lift?” I ask.

Jon Ronson on the impact of one, small public-sector cut.


Some excellent advice.

  • It is best to go on the job market your last ABD year, so that you’ll appear fresh AND it’s preferable to have your degree in hand and a few years of teaching experience.
  • One should publish aggressively in field-leading journals and seek to publish one’s dissertation as soon as practicable in order to stand out AND it’s best to go the more traditional route and hold back on publishing one’s research so as to save it for the tenure probationary period.
  • One should cultivate as wide a teaching competence as possible so as to serve a variety of departmental needs AND one needs to have a clear, narrow specialization.
  • One should jump at the opportunity to do adjunct work in order to stay in the field and develop one’s teaching portfolio AND one should be cautious about doing adjunct work lest it leave you with the taint of being a second-rater.

Excellence in truth, not in usefulness.

Who knew he was still available for comment?

Breaking a 211-year media silence, retired Army Gen. George Washington appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday to speak out against many aspects of the way the Iraq war has been waged.

The first picture is worth the whole article.

Partly for fun, partly to make a point, I’m writing this post without referring to any texts, either online or on paper. Which should explain, if not excuse, any paraphrases or errors. The point may or may not become clear by the end of the post. This is not going to be an “FDR is better than Lincoln” post; you have been warned.
Read the rest of this entry »

Not the right silhouette for me, but the only one I could find.

There’s far too brief a review of Bodnar and Dower’s new(ish) books in the TLS.

Part I here.

Now, onto more specific evaluations. (Deep breath) I’m going to eliminate Washington. He is the greatest American statesman, for what he did as a general and leader in the Revolution and what he did as a Founding Father and first President.* As to being the greatest general, he made a number of spectacularly correct decisions during the Revolution, but he was nearly zero for his career in terms of battlefield victories. That’s just too much to overcome.

800px Winfield Scott in National Portrait Gallery IMG 4528

Next, Winfield Scott. Scott has a remarkably strong case for being the greatest American general. In fact, I’m not sure he wasn’t. In double fact, I think I would say he was the greatest American general in career terms. He started spectacularly well in the War of 1812 (“Those are regulars, by God!“), continued impressively in the Mexican-American War (his capture of Mexico City made both the Mexicans and Zachary Taylor look like blithering amateurs) and finished strong in the early stages of the Civil when, obese and suffering from gout, “Old Fuss and Feathers” nonetheless proposed the strategic plan that, with some modifications, strangled the Confederacy. That’s three wars (in three different eras) in which Scott faced an enemy comparable to the United States, was the most important general in two out of three, and critically important in the third. That’s a career.

And yet. Read the rest of this entry »

The latest round of Ron Paul excitement reminds me of this blog’s long and rich relationship with the mad doctor. Herewith a holiday selection of oldies.


General Gates   General Horatio Gates   Revolutionary War   Rare  4x4    150

So the comments on this post got me thinking. Who was the best general in American History? It’s been several centuries, the US has fought lots of wars, and we have lots of famous generals.

So, who is it? Well, first, a disclaimer. As a historian I hate “who is the best…” or ranking lists of all kinds. History isn’t a sport, and it’s not organized like one. Generals don’t often get to fight against one another and certainly generals from the same countries rarely do. They fight in different eras with different resources and different enemies. Generals fight the wars in front of them, not the wars they want and certainly not a standardized war that would allow us to dial out personal differences. That makes rankings unfair, no matter how they are organized.

Nonetheless, it’s the end of the year when rankings flourish like kudzu, and I’m going to do it. Or, at least, I’m going to lay out a case and make a choice based on that case. It won’t be the only possible case. It might not even be the best case. It’ll be my case, though.

So, onward.

My first requirement is that the general had to be fighting for the United States. Uncontroversial, seemingly, but there go Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.

My second requirement is that the general had to be fighting an enemy that was equal or superior to the United States in military and economic power and the general had to be fighting the main body of the enemy in that war. Everyone looks great beating up the Cleveland Cavaliers (sorry, sports metaphor). They’re out.

That takes out the Indian Wars of the 19th century, the Spanish-American War, the Philippine-American War (ahh, booo!), the Boxer Rebellion (double boo!), the Moro War, the interventions in Latin America, World War II (Japan was nowhere near equal to the US in economic size and the larger part of their army was in Manchuria during the war; Germany always had the bulk of its army in the East) and everything post-1945.


Eliminated are such contenders as Arthur MacArthur, Teddy Roosevelt (okay, he was never a general, but still…), Adna Chaffee, George Patton, Omar Bradley, Dwight Eisenhower, Douglas MacArthur, Matthew Ridgway, Creighton Abrams, Norman Schwarzkopf, Colin Powell, and David Petraeus.* If I’m leaving anyone out, remind me in the comments.

The wars left are the Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, and World War I. Read the rest of this entry »

Representative Phil Gingrey (R-GA), quoted in Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire:

“This is a Braveheart moment. You, Mr. Speaker, are our William Wallace.”

He’s aware of what happened to William Wallace, right?

I’ve taught the introductory historiography and methods seminar to incoming graduate students three times, and each time I’ve assigned Richard Evans’s Telling Lies About Hitler. Originally, the point in assigning it was to draw a line beyond which respectable historians must not go; together with Ari I had picked a number of other books that showed acceptable, even laudable, creativity in interpreting and extrapolating from sources – Return of Martin Guerre, Unredeemed Captive, others – and I wanted one that showed an unarguably inexcusable abuse of sources, so that we might know the difference. And what better choice than a tale about Holocaust denial?

Read the rest of this entry »

Is there some name for the intellectual maneuver of waiting till an opponent is dead, then insisting he must really have agreed with you all along? “Respect,” I’m sure, is not it.

Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers majored in history (with, apparently, a 3.60 GPA) and thus was able to answer a Civil War question effectively (starting at 54 seconds in):

We like Aaron Rodgers.

(h/t to Of Battlefields and Bibliophiles)

One of the most fascinating parts of researching the Boxer Rebellion was the discovery of just how obstreperous ordinary Chinese can be. “Bandit season” (the bandit groups usually included lots of ordinary folks) was well known, so much that in 1932 an English minister prayed “for our preservation during the approaching bandit season, which opens like grouse-shooting about the middle of August, when the millet (perfect cover for bandits) is full grown.”

The pugnacity continues:

Reached by phone on Wednesday, residents said throngs of people were staging noisy rallies by day outside Wukan’s village hall, while young men with walkie-talkies employed tree limbs to obstruct roads leading to the town. Not far away, heavily armed riot police were maintaining their own roadblocks. The siege has prevented deliveries from reaching the town of 20,000, but residents said they had no problem receiving food from adjoining villages.

Occupy Wukan?

Helen Vendler’s review of the Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry, edited by Rita Dove, is quite a piece of work. (It’s been widely noted in the blogosphere, e.g. here, by I think the same Anderson seen commenting on likeminded blogs.)

Dove’s response is well worth reading. But not having been gored directly, the rest of us may wonder if Vendler hasn’t just missed the point. Do we expect of an anthology that it will supply a complete and final list of the “poems to remember?” That’s from the headline, but it does reflect Vendler’s thinking —

No century in the evolution of poetry in English ever had 175 poets worth reading, so why are we being asked to sample so many poets of little or no lasting value?

How flatly she equates “lasting value” with being “worth reading”! For me, these are pretty different categories —  especially for recent work, part of whose interest is precisely that its value is still to be settled. And the expectation that an anthology should be a Golden Treasury seems particularly inapt for American culture, which despite its manifold fallings-short is organized still around a recurrent dream of mobility and self-invention.

(PS. If there were any doubt of Vendler’s specific animus in this piece, consider that the sentence I’ve quoted is offered to support the proposition that “Multicultural inclusiveness prevails.”)

Me: Hey, want to watch this DVD about World War II?

11 y.o. son: Maybe.

Me: What do you mean, “maybe”? It’s World War II!

11 y.o. son: Is it the shooting part? Or the talking-and-making-peace part?

Shorter Obama administration: yes, we will preserve acknowledged social ills against which we’ve inveighed when prevailed upon by massive expenditures of money and influence. No, I guess this is not so much reason for hope or evidence of change.

Last year, the Obama administration vowed to stop for-profit colleges from luring students with false promises. In an opening volley that shook the $30 billion industry, officials proposed new restrictions to cut off the huge flow of federal aid to unfit programs.

But after a ferocious response that administration officials called one of the most intense they had seen, the Education Department produced a much-weakened final plan that almost certainly will have far less impact as it goes into effect next year.

The story of how the for-profit colleges survived the threat of a major federal crackdown offers a case study in Washington power brokering. Rattled by the administration’s tough talk, the colleges spent more than $16 million on an all-star list of prominent figures, particularly Democrats with close ties to the White House, to plot strategy, mend their battered image and plead their case.

No reason for disappointment here.

From Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire:


I’m pretty sure they didn’t mean Mount McKinley.

[Update: They’ve silently corrected it , even to the point of deleting a comment I put up, which means the link no longer works. New link. I’m glad I grabbed a screen shot.]

So after today’s Plan B announcement, do I get extra credit for saying yesterday that “The president went to Kansas to do his version of the ‘New Nationalism.’ But his New Nationalism is the old Obamaism — elevating bipartisanship above all else”?

This is officially an award-winning blog

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