History Shorts: After 130 years, will Billy the Kid finally get a governor’s pardon?

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Source: CS Monitor, 12-29-10

Outgoing New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is considering a pardon for celebrated outlaw Billy the Kid. An informal e-mail poll shows support. But time is running out.

Billy the Kid, upper right, is pictured in this tintype photo from the late 1870s. Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico has posted a poll on his website asking if he should posthumously pardon the outlaw in exchange for testimony at an 1879 murder trial. AP

Public perception regarding the Kid is split into two camps, says Paul Hutton, a history professor and Old West expert at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque: “people who see him as this homicidal maniac and [others] who see him as a romantic character fighting for justice against a corrupt New Mexico system.”
In 2000, Richardson assembled a team of scholars, including Mr. Hutton, to investigate competing claims to Billy the Kid’s identity. An effort to dig up the remains of a woman thought to be his mother for DNA sampling created a public outcry and Richardson abandoned the effort to concentrate on his presidential campaign.
He is returning to this issue just a few days from leaving office. Historians say documents show Billy the Kid was promised a pardon by Lew Wallace, then the state governor, in exchange for testimony the Kid gave against the three men who killed a one-armed lawyer during the Lincoln County wars….
Hutton says most historians agree that Billy the Kid’s life was not as violent as the legend suggests and that he was a product of his unwieldy times of government corruption and vigilante justice.
“He certainly felt solving problems with a gun was the way to go, but that was the world in which he lived in,” he says. “The forces of authority in 1877 New Mexico were nothing to brag about.”…
Hutton says the historic ramification of a pardon will simply be “a state recognition that the Kid was wronged, which he actually was.”
However, others suggest the decision will do nothing to re-frame how the Old West is perceived, truthfully or otherwise.
“History is already written,” Tim Sweet, owner of the Billy the Kid Museum in Fort Sumner, told National Public Radio. “All it is going to do is bring publicity. In three months, nobody will care.”

Theodore Sorensen, top JFK aide, dies at 82

George Tames/The New York Times

Theodore C. Sorensen with President John F. Kennedy in the Oval Office in 1961. More Photos »

  • Theodore Sorensen, top JFK aide, dies at 82 in NY: Theodore C. Sorensen, the studious, star-struck aide to President John F. Kennedy whose crisp, poetic turns of phrase helped idealize and immortalize a tragically brief administration, died Sunday. He was 82. He died at noon at Manhattan’s New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center from complications of a stroke, his widow, Gillian Sorensen, said. Sorensen had been in poor health in recent years and a stroke in 2001 left him with such poor eyesight that he was unable to write his memoir, “Counselor,” published in 2008. Instead, he had to dictate it to an assistant. President Barack Obama issued a statement saying he was saddened to learn of Sorensen’s death.
    “I know his legacy will live on in the words he wrote, the causes he advanced, and the hearts of anyone who is inspired by the promise of a new frontier,” Obama said.
    Hours after his death, Gillian Sorensen told The Associated Press that although a first stroke nine years ago robbed him of much of his sight, “he managed to get back up and going.” She said he continued to give speeches and traveled, and just two weeks ago, he collaborated on the lyrics to music to be performed in January at the Kennedy Center in Washington — a symphony commemorating a half-century since Kennedy took office. “I can really say he lived to be 82 and he lived to the fullest and to the last — with vigor and pleasure and engagement,” said Gillian Sorensen, who was at his side to the last. “His mind, his memory, his speech were unaffected.” Her husband was hospitalized Oct. 22 after a second stroke that was “devastating,” she said…. – AP, 10-31-10
  • Theodore C. Sorensen, Kennedy Counselor and Wordsmith, Dies at 82: Theodore C. Sorensen, one of the last living links to John F. Kennedy’s administration, who did much to shape the president’s narrative, image and legacy, died Sunday in Manhattan. He was 82.
    He died in NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital from complications of a stroke he suffered a week ago, his wife, Gillian Sorensen, said. A previous stroke, in 2001, had taken away much of his eyesight, but in its aftermath “he led a very full life, speaking, writing, creating new enterprises and mentoring many young people,” she added.
    Mr. Sorensen once said he suspected the headline on his obituary would read: “Theodore Sorenson, Kennedy Speechwriter,” misspelling his name and misjudging his work, but he was much more. He was a political strategist and a trusted adviser on everything from election tactics to foreign policy.
    “You need a mind like Sorensen’s around you that’s clicking and clicking all the time,” President Kennedy’s archrival, Richard M. Nixon, said in 1962. He said Mr. Sorensen had “a rare gift”: the knack of finding phrases that penetrated the American psyche.
    He was best known for working with Mr. Kennedy on passages of soaring rhetoric, including the 1961 inaugural address proclaiming that “the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans” and challenging citizens: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Mr. Sorensen drew on the Bible, the Gettysburg Address and the words of Thomas Jefferson and Winston Churchill as he helped hone and polish that speech…. – NYT, 10-31-10
  • JFK Adviser Theodore Sorensen (1928-2010): A Remembrance: When I first told my Uncle Ted that I was engaged, he asked without hesitation, “Is she a Democrat?” He was only half joking. It’s not that Theodore C. Sorensen, my father’s brother and the man known as the “intellectual blood bank” of President John F. Kennedy was an ideologue; he merely believed to his core that the vision of his party was crucial to the future of his family, his country and his world. And well he should — it was he, through his collaboration with Kennedy, that most elegantly and timelessly gave voice to the Democratic ideals that have come to shape modern American politics. The last of the Kennedy old guard, Sorensen was a tireless defender of his legacy. Never, privately or publicly in the years since, did he take credit for the words or actions that made the 35th President an icon of the office. The many accounts of his intimacy with the political, personal and policy decisions of Kennedy’s tenure are a testament both to the humility of the man, and his unwavering belief that what he accomplished was far more than professional triumph…. – Time, 10-31-10

James T. Kloppenberg: In Writings of Obama, a Philosophy Is Unearthed

Source: NYT, 10-28-10

When the Harvard historian James T. Kloppenberg decided to write about the influences that shaped President Obama’s view of the world, he interviewed the president’s former professors and classmates, combed through his books, essays, and speeches, and even read every article published during the three years Mr. Obama was involved with the Harvard Law Review (“a superb cure for insomnia,” Mr. Kloppenberg said). What he did not do was speak to President Obama.

Bryce Vickmark for The New York Times

James T. Kloppenberg

“He would have had to deny every word,” Mr. Kloppenberg said with a smile. The reason, he explained, is his conclusion that President Obama is a true intellectual — a word that is frequently considered an epithet among populists with a robust suspicion of Ivy League elites.

In New York City last week to give a standing-room-only lecture about his forthcoming intellectual biography, “Reading Obama: Dreams, Hopes, and the American Political Tradition,” Mr. Kloppenberg explained that he sees Mr. Obama as a kind of philosopher president, a rare breed that can be found only a handful of times in American history.

“There’s John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and John Quincy Adams, then Abraham Lincoln and in the 20th century just Woodrow Wilson,” he said.

To Mr. Kloppenberg the philosophy that has guided President Obama most consistently is pragmatism, a uniquely American system of thought developed at the end of the 19th century by William James, John Dewey and Charles Sanders Peirce. It is a philosophy that grew up after Darwin published his theory of evolution and the Civil War reached its bloody end. More and more people were coming to believe that chance rather than providence guided human affairs, and that dogged certainty led to violence.

Pragmatism maintains that people are constantly devising and updating ideas to navigate the world in which they live; it embraces open-minded experimentation and continuing debate. “It is a philosophy for skeptics, not true believers,” Mr. Kloppenberg said….READ MORE

History Shorts: Diane Ravitch named one of Atlantic’s 19 “Brave Thinkers”

Source: The Atlantic (11-1-10)

Antony Hare

When Diane Ravitch decided that reform ideas like robust testing, charter schools, and No Child Left Behind were imperiling rather than saving American education, she managed to break with her former Republican allies and start a fight with Obama Democrats, all at once. For Ravitch, this wasn’t merely a course correction, it was a complete turnaround: when she was an assistant secretary of education during George H. W. Bush’s administration, she was all for more standardized testing and for school choice. During the Bush II years, she cheered the passage of No Child Left Behind. But in her new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Ravitch says the evidence shows that vouchers and charters don’t actually serve kids better on average than regular public schools, and that testing has squeezed every creative drop out of the school day—who has time for art class when success depends on drilling students in math? Ravitch has also come to view the closing of “failing” schools that’s required by No Child Left Behind as an unfair attack on the teachers and principals who work with low-income students.

Teachers unions and some civil-rights groups sounded these alarms before Ravitch did. But her sharp writing and mastery of history (she’s an education professor and historian at New York University) mean that no one makes the case more forcefully. That has won her some new friends, but also cost her some old ones (she parted ways with a pair of conservative think tanks). Her latest target is Race to the Top, the Obama competition that rewards states for increasing the number of charter schools and tying teacher evaluations to test scores. Ravitch calls the program “a massive waste of money that will produce perverse consequences.” She doesn’t offer much in the way of an alternative (beyond the well-worn mantra of professional development for teachers). But sometimes it’s enough to be a critic. By facing off against most of the centers of power in her field, Ravitch has turned herself into a singular check on the ascendant education orthodoxy.

Emily Bazelon is a senior editor at Slate.

Historian Tony Judt dies aged 62

Tony Judt
Tony Judt: ‘I was raised on words.’ Photograph: Eamonn Mccabe for the Observer
  • Historian Tony Judt dies aged 62 Author of Postwar and New York University professor dies after two-year fight with motor neurone disease:
    Tony Judt, the British writer, historian and professor who was recently described as having the “liveliest mind in New York”, has died after a two-year struggle with motor neurone disease. Considered by many to be a giant in the intellectual world, Judt chronicled his illness in unsparing detail in public lectures and essays – giving an extraordinary account that won him almost as much respect as his voluminous historical and political work, for which he was feted on both sides of the Atlantic.
    Judt was born in 1948 and grew up in south London. His mother’s parents had emigrated from Russia; his father was Belgian, descended from a line of Lithuanian rabbis.
    His academic career began with a history degree and PhD at Cambridge and took him eventually to New York University, where he was the Erich Maria Remarque professor in European studies, director of the Remarque Institute and a renowned teacher.
    His finest work was widely thought to be Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945, published in 2005 and an enormous critical success. It was described by the Yale historian Timothy Snyder as “the best book on its subject that will ever be written by anyone”. – guardian.co.uk, 8-7-10
  • Tony Judt dies at 62; leading historian of postwar Europe: The New York University history professor’s career reached its zenith with the publication of ‘Postwar’ in 2005. He also wrote movingly about his struggle with Lou Gehrig’s disease…. – LAT, 8-7-10
  • Tony Judt: A Public Intellectual Remembered: Tony Judt was a historian of the very first order, a public intellectual of an old-fashioned kind and — in more ways than one — a very brave man.
    A professor at New York University and director of the Remarque Institute on European studies there, for the last two years Judt had been living with a degenerative motor neuron disease and wrote movingly and without a touch of self-pity of the impact that it had on his body. Thankfully and remarkably, he continued writing throughout his battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, with a verve and feeling that added color to what had always been an astonishing breadth of intellectual understanding. His last book, the short polemic Ill Fares the Land — adapted from articles written for the New York Review of Books, long Judt’s home outside the academy — was a cri de coeur for the virtues of social democracy, the political philosophy that had shaped the thinking of so many western Europeans, born and raised, like Judt, in the post-war period. (Read TIME’s review of Judt’s book Postwar)
    Judt was born to a Jewish family in England in 1948, and spent time on a kibbutz in Israel before going up to Cambridge, volunteering as a driver in the Six-Day War of 1967. (He later studied in France, and a fascination with modern French politics and society ran through all his work.) A secular, social-democratic European Jew, his criticisms of Israel in later life — and by extension, of what he considered to be a narrow defensiveness on the part of mainstream American Jewish institutions — made him many intellectual opponents in the US. He stuck to his guns…. – Time, 8-7-10

A charming hideaway for rare-book lovers

Those who’ve been to William Andrews Clark Memorial Library love its intimate, elegant grounds and trove of historical writings. Run by UCLA but tucked away in Jefferson Park, it gets few visitors.

Source: LAT, 7-15-10

Clark LibraryAlysn Souza is working on restoring a painting in a drawing room at the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library. The room is used for public programs. (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times / July 7, 2010)

Tom Lolis, who studies English literature, was looking through volumes of religious writings at the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library last fall when he came across something unexpected.

It was a manuscript by British theologian John Portage, written around 1660. Portage’s work has been much studied by scholars, including Lolis. But here was a document that none of them knew existed.

“I kind of lucked out,” said Lolis, who is working on a post-doctoral fellowship at the library.

Many feel the same way when they discover the rare-book library, which is run by UCLA but located in Jefferson Park. Brick walls hide it from passersby, and most UCLA undergraduates have never heard of it.

But those who know the library say it is unmatched and unforgettable. “The Clark Library is the greatest unknown literary treasure in Los Angeles,” said Kathleen Thompson, who with her husband owns Michael R. Thompson Booksellers, a rare bookshop that works closely with the institution. “The minute we saw it 40 years ago we fell in love with it, and our love has only grown.”…READ MORE

Tenure, RIP: What the Vanishing Status Means for the Future of Education

Source: Chronicle of Higher Education, 7-4-10

Some time this fall, the U.S. Education Department will publish a report that documents the death of tenure.

Innocuously titled “Employees in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2009,” the report won’t say it’s about the demise of tenure. But that’s what it will show.

Over just three decades, the proportion of college instructors who are tenured or on the tenure track plummeted: from 57 percent in 1975 to 31 percent in 2007. The new report is expected to show that that proportion fell even further in 2009, dropping below one-third. If you add graduate teaching assistants to the mix, those with some kind of tenure status represent a mere quarter of all instructors….

Professors who talked to The Chronicle say it may go as low as 15 percent or 20 percent of all instructors, and then reach a holding pattern. “I think the financial pressures are so severe that other than the selective, wealthy liberal-arts colleges and the public and private flagship research universities, tenure is just going to be a vanishing species,” says Mr. Ehrenberg.

He is among the scholars whose research shows the decline in tenure is a bad thing for students. Such studies could create public pressure to bring back tenure, says Marc Bousquet, an associate professor of English at Santa Clara University. “I think we’re at a crossroads,” says Mr. Bousquet. “Over the past 40 years, we’ve seen a growing trend to misrecognize tenure as a kind of merit badge for research-intensive faculty.” Meanwhile, he says, “the majority of teaching-intensive faculty have been shunted out of the tenure system.” In his view, all professors should be included on the tenure track, and that’s what a report on the issue by the AAUP will call for this fall.

But higher-education watchers don’t hold out much hope that the numbers on tenure will turn around. “In the end, these are financial decisions, and they are very hard to reverse,” says Frank J. Donoghue, an associate professor of English at Ohio State University who writes about the professoriate. “Once a university opens the door to staffing courses with adjuncts, they save so much money it’s almost unthinkable for them to stop.”…READ MORE

Happy 4th of July: Independence Day History & Facts

INDEPENDENCE DAY 2010

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  • 4th of July: Facts about the Declaration of Independence:
    On July 2 the Continental Congress voted to declare independence from Great Britain and on 4th of July 1776 the same Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. The Founding Fathers signed the document in August, after it was finished….
    Another fact about this important day in the United States of America’s history is that Thomas Jefferson (3rd U.S President) and John Adams (2nd U.S. President) both died on 4th of July 1826, when the country was celebrating 50th anniversary of the signing.
    Although the capital city of the United States of America is Washington named after the great president, George Washington, the first U.S President, did not sign the Declaration of Independence because he was head of the Continental Army and no longer a member in the Continental Congress.
    The first anniversary resulted in a huge party in Philadelphia in 1777. There were fireworks, cannons, barbecues and toasts. – Providing News, 7-4-10
  • Thomas Jefferson made slip in Declaration: Library of Congress officials say Thomas Jefferson made a Freudian slip while penning a rough draft of the Declaration of Independence. In an early draft of the document Jefferson referred to the American population as “subjects,” replacing that term with the word “citizens,” which he then used frequently throughout the final draft. The document is normally kept under lock and key in one of the Library’s vaults. On Friday morning, the first time officials revealed the wording glitch, it traveled under police escort for a demonstration of the high-tech imaging. It was the first time in 15 years that the document was unveiled outside of its oxygen-free safe…. – A copy of the rough draft of the Declaration can be viewed online at http://www.myLOC.gov….- AP, 7-2-10

4th of July quotes: Best Independence Day quotes and sayings:

  • The United States is the only country with a known birthday. (James G. Blaine)
  • This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave. (Elmer Davis)
  • Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves. (Abraham Lincoln)
  • We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it. (William Faulkner)
  • It is the love of country that has lighted and that keeps glowing the holy fire of patriotism. (J. Horace McFarland)
  • America is a tune. It must be sung together. (Gerald Stanley Lee)
  • The winds that blow through the wide sky in these mounts, the winds that sweep from Canada to Mexico, from the Pacific to the Atlantic – have always blown on free men. (Franklin D. Roosevelt)
  • Where liberty dwells, there is my country. (Benjamin Franklin)
  • Sometimes people call me an idealist. Well, that is the way I know I am an American. America is the only idealistic nation in the world. (Woodrow Wilson) – Providing News, 7-4-10

Donald Worster: KU History Professor Wins Scotland’s Biggest Literary Prize

Donald Worster, the Joyce and Elizabeth Hall Distinguished Professor of U.S. History at the University of Kansas, received the Scottish Book of the Year Award for his biography “A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir external link” from the Scottish Arts Council. The award is funded by the Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust.

Worster will receive 30,000 British pounds in recognition of his literary talent and the significance of his biography, which positions Muir, founder of the Sierra Club, as a national icon for Scotland and a figure of global significance for concern about the environment….READ MORE

Rick Atkinson wins prize for military writing

Source: AP, 6-21-10

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and historian Rick Atkinson has received a $100,000 award for military writing. Atkinson has been awarded the 2010 Pritzker Military Library Literature Award for Lifetime Achievement in Military Writing. Atkinson has won Pulitzers for his book “An Army at Dawn” and for his reporting for The Washington Post. He is currently working on the final volume of his acclaimed World War II “Liberation” trilogy.

Gordon S. Wood: Was Washington ‘Mad for Glory’?

wood_1-061010.jpgWashington-Custis-Lee Collection/Washington & Lee University, Lexington, VA

George Washington as Colonel of the Virginia Regiment; painting by Charles Willson Peale, 1772

No two generals in the era of the early Republic appear to differ from one another more than George Washington and James Wilkinson. Although each man possessed considerable personal, political, and military skills and each at different times became commander in chief of the United States Army, the two generals seem to have little else in common. Washington was a revered figure in his own lifetime, someone who appeared to transcend the petty interests of ordinary men—a man of character, self-controlled, incorruptible, the epitome of selfless disinterestedness, and the savior of the new and fragile Union.

By contrast, Wilkinson, who was twenty-five years younger than Washington, was always a controversial figure, vain, flamboyant, and widely criticized for his selfishness and his lack of moral character. Throughout most of his career in the US Army, even as its commander in chief, he remained a paid secret agent of the Spanish government, a devious, untrustworthy, and corrupt creature who, far from endeavoring to preserve the Union, threatened several times to break it up. While Washington is rightly celebrated as one of America’s greatest heroes, Wilkinson may be the most unscrupulous character in all of American history.

But are the two men as opposite as they seem? Juxtaposing these two books suggests that Wilkinson and Washington may not be as different from one another as we have thought, or at least one of the authors wants us to think so.

History Shorts: Flag Day’s roots date back to 1777

Source: DelmarvaNow.com, 6-14-10

Why is Flag Day held on June 14?
On June 14, 1777, the Second Continental Congress adopted the official flag of the United States as part of the Flag Resolution of 1777.

What did the Flag Resolution of 1777 say?The resolution stated that the flag would be 13 stars and 13 alternating red and white stripes, with each representing the 13 colonies.


When was Flag Day established?

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson made a presidential proclamation establishing June 14 as Flag Day.
When did Flag Day become a national observance?
On Aug. 3, 1949, President Harry Truman signed an Act of Congress designating June 14 of each year as a National Flag Day.

History Shorts: Natalie Zemon Davis Wins Norway’s Holberg Prize

American Historian Wins Norway’s Holberg Prize

Source: NYT, 6-10-10

The historian Natalie Zemon Davis, probably best known for her work “The Return of Martin Guerre,” which was made into a 1982 film with Gérard Depardieu, won Norway’s 4.5 million kroner ($680,000) Holberg Prize on Wednesday for her narrative approach to history, The Associated Press reported.

The awards committee said that Professor Davis, now 81, won for showing “how particular events can be narrated and analyzed so as to reveal deeper historical tendencies and underlying patterns of thought and action.” Professor Davis helped to create what is known  as  “microhistory,” which attempts to investigate historical themes through individual episodes.

History Shorts: Ronald Rudin Honored at Concordia’s Second Annual Provost’s Circle of Distinction

Source: Concordia Journal, 6-10-10

On May 26, Provost David Graham was pleased to honour six new inductees into the Provost’s Circle of Distinction at a ceremony and cocktail social event at the Montefiore Club on Guy St.

“You represent the most distinguished members of Concordia’s faculty,” said Graham. “Your outstanding achievements have brought and continue to bring recognition to the entire university.”…

Rudin was inducted as a Fellow in the Royal Society of Canada in fall 2009, and also received a 2010 Book Award from the National Council of Public History in the United States for his book Remembering and Forgetting in Acadie: A Historian’s Journey Through Public Memory. Rudin served as Academic Convenor for Congress 2010.

History Shorts: Historian David M. Kennedy delivers presentation at Paly

Source: The Paly Voice, 6-8-10

Stanford University history professor David Kennedy made his annual presentation to the Palo Alto High School AP United States History classes on Wednesday, May 19.

Beginning his visit with a light-hearted presentation of humorous excerpts from student essays, Kennedy, co-writer of the renowned U.S. History text book, “The American Pageant,” proceeded to lecture on the nature and origins of history.

“History is not [a] universal law,” Kennedy said. “It is distinguishable from science and it is distinguishable from literature.”….READ MORE

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