History Buzz: May 31, 2010: Martin Luther King, Jr., Thomas Fleming, Michael Bellesiles, & Jonathan Alter on Obama in the News

History Buzz

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor/Features Editor at HNN. She has a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.




  • Michael A. Bellesiles Contraversial New Book “1877: America’s Year of Living Violently”HNN
  • Thomas Fleming “Channelling George Washington” Series – HNN
  • Orlando Figes Contraversay: Who gives a Figes for Orlando? – Sydney Morning Herald, 5-18-10


    On This Day in History….

    This Week in History….

  • Malcolm and Martin, closer than we ever thought: As the 85th birthday of Malcolm X is marked on Wednesday, history has freeze-framed him as the angry black separatist who saw whites as blue-eyed devils. Yet near the end of his life, Malcolm X was becoming more like King — and King was becoming more like him. “In the last years of their lives, they were starting to move toward one another,” says David Howard-Pitney, who recounted the Capitol Hill meeting in his book “Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and the Civil Rights Struggle of the 1950s and 1960s.” “While Malcolm is moderating from his earlier position, King is becoming more militant,” Pitney says…. – CNN, 5-19-10


  • Controversy over medieval conference location in Arizona: The site of next year’s annual meeting of the Medieval Academy of America is in doubt after scholars raised objections that it is being held in Arizona, the US state which recently passed controversial legislation against illegal immigration. As several scholars have made calls for the conference to be boycotted, officials with the academy have confirmed that they are examining several options, including moving the meeting out-of-state… – Medieval News, 5-24-10
  • Why Arizona targeted ethnic studies: Earlier this month Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law a bill that had been pushed by Tom Horne, Arizona’s longtime secretary of education,who took a disliking to the program several years ago. The bill prohibits any class in the state from promoting either the overthrow of the U.S. government or resentment toward a race or class of people, and that advocates ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals, and — here’s the big one — that are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group. The Tucson program offers specialized courses in African-American, Mexican-American and Native-American studies that focus on history and literature and includes information about the influence of a particular ethnic group… – WaPo, 5-25-10
  • Historian Stuart Macintyre slams Australian school course: Professor Macintyre told The Australian the consultation process set up by the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority had become derailed by “capricious” decisions made to change the course without reference to the expert advisory groups or the writers…. – The Australian (5-25-10)
  • Company, Harvard prof work on Web-linked textbook, WWII game: “Today’s students want to be engaged, and those who play strategy games know more about history than those who just read today’s textbooks,” said Ferguson. “The interactive approach to learning history is going to be a game-changer.”… – Boston Herald, 5-24-10
  • More conservative textbook curriculum OK’d: In a landmark move that will shape the future education of millions of Texas schoolchildren, the State Board of Education on Friday approved new curriculum standards for U.S. history and other social studies courses that reflect a more conservative tone than in the past. Split along party lines, the board delivered a pair of 9-5 votes to adopt the new standards, which will dictate what is taught in all Texas schools and provide the basis for future textbooks and student achievement tests over the next decade…. – The Dallas Morning News, 5-22-10
  • Texas State Board of Education Approves Controversial Social Studies Curriculum Changes: On Friday, the members of the Texas State Board of Education voted 9-5 on social studies curriculum standards for Texas Public Schools. Proposed revisions to textbooks will largely eliminate the civil rights movement from the curriculum. Former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige and NAACP President and CEO Ben Jealous were among those who spoke before the board earlier in the week. Paige, who served as Education Secretary during President George W. Bush’s first term, implored the board members to take more time to consider the new standards, saying they will diminish the importance of civil rights and slavery…. – Diverse Issues in Higher Education, 5-24-10
  • AHA Calls on the Texas State Board of Education to Reconsider TEKS Social Studies Amendments – AHA Press Release, 5-18-10
  • New Report Shows Little Growth in Salaries for History Faculty: Historians in academia saw little, if any improvement in their wages over the past academic year, as average salaries for regular full-time faculty at most ranks grew by less than 1 percent according to a new study from the College and University Personnel Association for Human Resources (CUPA–HR). This represents the smallest average increase in salaries for historians in 15 years…. – Robert Townsend in Perspectives, 4-22-10
  • Historian helps to save Lake Ontario steamship: An iconic photo taken by historian Mike Filey shows three canoeists paddling out of a partly submerged, abandoned Toronto ferry…. In this case instead of being scrapped, the century-old paddlewheeler was raised and refitted after Filey and his wife, Yarmila, launched a bid to save the vessel after seeing it “literally rotting” in a Toronto island lagoon…. – Toronto Sun, 5-17-10


  • Joe Mozingo: An old diary throws him a curve: He could grasp having a black ancestor way back in the 1600s. But in the 1800s? A slave? It had to be a mistake. What would his family think?… – LAT, 5-22-10


  • DAVID OSHINSKY on Daniel Okrent: Temperance to Excess: LAST CALL The Rise and Fall of Prohibition “Last Call,” by Daniel Okrent, provides the sobering answers. Okrent, the author of four previous books and the first public editor of The New York Times, views Prohibition as one skirmish in a larger war waged by small- town white Protestants who felt besieged by the forces of change then sweeping their nation — a theory first proposed by the historian Richard Hofstadter more than five decades ago. Though much has been written about Prohibition since then, Okrent offers a remarkably original account, showing how its proponents combined the nativist fears of many Americans with legitimate concerns about the evils of alcohol to mold a movement powerful enough to amend the United States Constitution…. – NYT, 5-23-10
  • Nick Bunker: Founding Entrepreneurs: MAKING HASTE FROM BABYLON The Mayflower Pilgrims and Their World: A New History Maybe the most important point that Bunker highlights concerns the interplay between the Pilgrims’ faith and their education, political standing and financial position…. – NYT, 5-23-10Excerpt
  • Hampton Sides: Death of a Dream: HELLHOUND ON HIS TRAIL The Stalking of Martin Luther King Jr. and the International Hunt for His Assassin There’s still a line between narrative history and entertainment, in other words, and Hampton Sides flirts with it in his new book about James Earl Ray and Martin Luther King, “Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King Jr. and the International Hunt for His ­Assassin.” If that sounds like a graphic novel, well, you’re getting the drift. Sides, whose books include “Ghost Soldiers,” a World War II drama, and “Blood and Thunder,” on the conquest of the American West, is not overly interested in new research, thorough­going analysis or traditional bio­graphy. He wants to deliver a heart-pounding nonfiction thriller. This must be the first book on King that owes less to Taylor Branch than Robert Ludlum…. – NYT, 5-16-10Excerpt
  • Jonathan Alter: Penetrating the Process of Obama’s Decisions: THE PROMISE President Obama, Year One Alter’s book “The Promise” actually does give us a new perspective on the 44th president by providing a detailed look at his decision-making process on issues like health care and the Afghanistan war, and a keen sense of what it’s like to work in his White House, day by day.
    It’s an effective and often revealing approach reminiscent of Mr. Alter’s 2006 book, “The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope” (a book that Mr. Obama reportedly read before taking office), and Richard Reeves’s 1993 book, “President Kennedy: Profile of Power,” though obviously without the kind of retrospective wisdom possible decades after the completion of those presidents’ tenures…. – NYT, 5-13-10
  • Jonathan Alter: Interim Report: THE PROMISE President Obama, Year One One of the earliest off the mark is Jonathan Alter…. “The Promise” offers an excellent opportunity to appraise Obama’s initial efforts. Drawing on interviews with over 200 people, including the president and his top aides, Alter examines everything from the economic bailouts to the military surge in Afghanistan.
    Throughout, he seeks to avoid what he refers to as the “polemics of punditry.” This endows his narrative with a lapidary tone that is mercifully free of the breathless sensationalism of recent campaign books, but it also results, at times, in a somewhat cloistered quality… – NYT, 5-30-10
  • David Farber: The Rise of Conservatism, in Historical Scholarship: Now, among the latest entrants to the growing list of books on the right comes David Farber’s The Rise and Fall of Modern American Conservatism: A Short History, new from Princeton University Press…. – CHE, 5-26-10
  • The birth control pill’s legacy at 50: Talking with Elaine Tyler May: As May writes in her new book, “America + the Pill,” that is perhaps the one expectation that the Pill has actually fulfilled 50 years later. It was not the miracle drug that solved the population explosion and world poverty; nor did it help defeat communism, as many of its advocates hoped. Its primary legacy today is that it gives the women lucky enough to get it the power to control the creation of life in their bodies — and the chance to reach for their dreams. “The Pill was hugely important in allowing women to control their fertility and their lives,” said May, a professor of history and American studies at the University of Minnesota…. – Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 5-24-10
  • David J. Garrow: Book review: ‘Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King Jr. and the International Hunt for His Assassin,’ by Hampton Sides: Sides, a Memphis native, divides his book into four strands. The first one traces Ray’s activities following his April 1967 escape from a Missouri prison through the assassination a year later and his flight first to Canada and then to Europe. A second strand follows King’s road to Memphis, and a third paints the city’s racial divisions. The final strand tracks the FBI’s intense hostility toward King and covers its dogged investigation, including forensic success in identifying Ray and the pursuit of the assassin as he makes a bumbling effort to reach white-ruled Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe)…. – WaPo, 5-14-10
  • Selina Hastings’s ‘The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham,’ reviewed by Michael Dirda: During the second half of his life, William Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) was the most famous writer in the world. Not only did readers love his sardonic tales of sexual passion and dark secrets, of desperation and sudden violence, but so did Hollywood: More of his stories, novels and plays have been filmed than those of any other author. Just one short story, “Rain” — about the prostitute Sadie Thompson and the preacher obsessed with saving her — has provided star turns for Tallulah Bankhead, Gloria Swanson, Joan Crawford and Rita Hayworth, among others. As this excellent biography by Selina Hastings makes clear, Somerset Maugham lived a life of quite astonishing richness and variety…. – WaPo, 5-19-10
  • In the beginning with Obama Jonathan Alter’s report just the first chapter of presidential work in progress: Which brings us to where we are. President Obama’s first year in office is done. We are hearing what many think about that. It is not a bad time to wonder what Alter thinks of it. And he obliges us with The Promise (Simon & Schuster, $28). Journalism has been called “literature in a hurry.” Alter’s book is history in a hurry, as he freely admits, but is a good first step for putting events in order and figuring things out…. – Chicago Sun-Times, 5-16-10


  • Oscar Martinez: University of Arizona historians asks why Mexico is poorer than the U.S.: Martinez, 67, is a regents professor of history at the University of Arizona, Tucson. He’s finishing his latest book, titled “Why Mexico is Poorer than the United States.” It makes the case that there is a logical, empirically measurable set of answers. “It is greatly exaggerated that Mexico is a rich country with regard to raw materials and resources. The reality is that Mexico is one of the poorest countries in terms of land,” he said. “The difference is the United States has the best space on the planet.”… – El Paso Inc., 5-25-10
  • Will Bagley: My brother, the historian by Pat Bagley: This week one of Utah and the West’s most eminent historians turns 60. He has won dozens of awards, been awarded prestigious fellowships and lectured as far afield as Italy. He even appeared with Russell Crowe in the remake of the Western classic, “3:10 to Yuma.” (OK, he’s in the companion DVD, elucidating on the history of Old West outlawry.) Will Bagley also happens to be my brother. For years he wrote a column in this space called “History Matters.” It was a good label. On one level it alludes to sifting evidence for the salient fact; on another it means that history is not bunk. To Will, history is not dead. I have seen him wade into a discussion and passionately defend the honor and reputation of someone he felt was being slighted. That the person in question is dead and long past caring is beside the point. His best-known work to date, Blood of the Prophets , is a gripping narrative of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, the largest white-on-white murder in north America. As it deals with Mormons, Gentiles, a U.S. Army marching on Utah and the LDS Church hierarchy, it wasn’t a task for a shrinking violet…. – The Salt Lake Tribune, 5-21-10
  • From Tory to Turkey: Maverick historian Norman Stone storms back with partisan epic of Cold War world: It isn’t every day that one interviews a figure described on an official British Council website as “notorious”. That badge, which this fearsome foe of drippy-liberal state culture will wear with pride, comes inadvertently via Robert Harris. In his novel Archangel, Harris created the “dissolute historian” (© the British Council and our taxes) Fluke Kelso: an “engaging, wilful, impassioned and irreverent” maverick on the trail of Stalin’s secret papers…. – Independent (UK), 5-14-10


  • Robert Dallek: The character issue is “always out there”: As a general matter, the character issue never seems to go away. “It’s always out there,” says historian Robert Dallek… – U.S. News & World Report, 5-27-10
  • MN Historian Calls Ft. Snelling ‘Site Of Genocide’: Waziyatawin, of Granite Falls, holds a doctorate in history from Cornell. She says Fort Snelling needs an extreme makeover. She wants it torn down. “It feels like a constant assault on our Dakota humanity,” said Waziyatawin. “I don’t want the Fort sitting on that site of genocide,” she said. “I don’t want the American flag flying high. I don’t want soldiers reenacting marching out to that site and firing cannons every day.”… – WCCO (MN), 5-27-10
  • Stalin projected Moscow University’s Museum of Earth Sciences as church, says historian: “On Stalin’s idea, this hall was built as a kind of chapel, a kind of church, where only elite is allowed,” historian Olga Zinovyeva told TV Center…. – Interfax (RU), 5-19-10
  • Nancy F. Koehn: Harvard Business School historian compares Bono to Abraham Lincoln: Nancy F. Koehn, a historian, at the Harvard Business School, and author, celebrated U2’s Bono’s 50th birthday by celebrating the Irish musician and campaigner for his great skills as a leader. She said “Bono, like Abraham Lincoln 150 years ago, has not let himself become isolated in an elite atmosphere. He has used his touring and travels as classrooms to help him understand the hopes, dreams and tribulations of his fellow citizens, whom he often calls his brothers and sisters. And he has used this knowledge to light his way, his music and his leadership.”… – Irish Central, 5-14-10
  • Mark Mancall on the idea of public space in a democracy: However the idea of public space, professor of history, emeritus, Stanford university, California, Mark Mancall said, has never been fully achieved anywhere, according to historians. “Gender, ethnic differences, class groupings, all participated in defining who could enter public space,” said the professor, who is the director of the royal education council, Thimphu, during the first of a series of discussions on media and democracy that the Bhutan centre for media and democracy organised yesterday. Kuensel Newspaper, 5-14-10
  • USSR planned nuclear attack on China in 1969 , claims Chinese historian: Liu Chenshan, the author of a series of articles that chronicle the five times China has faced a nuclear threat since 1949, wrote that the most serious threat came in 1969 at the height of a bitter border dispute between Moscow and Beijing that left more than one thousand people dead on both sides. He said Soviet diplomats warned Washington of Moscow’s plans “to wipe out the Chinese threat and get rid of this modern adventurer,” with a nuclear strike, asking the US to remain neutral…. – Telegraph (UK), 5-13-10


  • Jamie Glazov interviews Olga Velikanova: Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Olga Velikanova, an Assistant Professor of Russian History at the University of North Texas. She was among the first scholars to work with declassified Communist Party and secret police archives. Her research about everyday Stalinism, the cult of Lenin and Russian popular opinion has been broadcast by the BBC, Finnish and Russian radio and TV, as well as the History Channel in Canada. She is the author of Making of an Idol: On Uses of Lenin, The Public Perception of the Cult of Lenin Based on the Archival Materials and The Myth of the Besieged Fortress: Soviet Mass Perception in the 1920s-1930s. She is a recipient of many awards from different international research foundations…. – FrontPageMag, 5-24-10


  • The Emerson Prize 2010 Winners: The Emerson Prize is awarded annually to students published in The Concord Review during the previous year who have shown outstanding academic promise in history at the high school level. Since 1995, 74 students have won the Emerson Prize. The five laureates this year were from Ohio, New York, New York, Washington, DC, and Wisconsin. Past laureates have come from Czechoslovakia, Canada, Louisiana, Florida, California, Tennessee, Vermont, Maryland, New Zealand, Texas, Russia, Washington State, Tennessee, Connecticut, Singapore, New Hampshire, Illinois, Japan, and New York.
    2010 Jane Abbottsmith, of Summit Country Day School, in Cincinnati, Ohio (now at Princeton).
    2010 Colin Rhys Hill, of Atlanta International School in Atlanta, Georgia, (now at Christ Church College, Oxford). 2010 Amalia Skilton, of Tempe Preparatory Academy in Tempe, Arizona, (now at Yale).
    2010 Alexander Zou, of Monte Vista High School in Danville, California, (now at Pomona).
    2010 Liang En Wee, of the Hwa Chang Institution in Singapore, (now at the National University of Singapore). – The Concord Review
  • Women behind the rise of the house of Orange-Nassau: WHEN the house of Orange-Nassau finally became monarchs in The Netherlands in 1815, it was the result of hundreds of years of manoeuvring: battles physical and political and, Susan Broomhall contends, a solid effort by generations of the family’s women. “The male line was really weak, they died in battle or were minors for many years,” says Broomhall, a professor of history at the University of Western Australia. “It was the women who kept reminding people of the family through systematically promoting it, so when The Netherlands decided on a monarchy, their family was the obvious choice.” The family still rules, via Queen Beatrix. A $450,000, four-year Australian Research Council grant will help Broomhall and colleague Jacqueline Van Gent tease out the scope of the women’s influence…. – The Australian, 5-26-10
  • Thomas Fleming receives best book award from American Revolution Round Table of New York: The American Revolution Round Table of New York has announced that Thomas Fleming’s The Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers has won its 2009 award for best book on the American Revolution. A plaque will be presented to Mr. Fleming at the June 1 meeting of the Round Table at New York City’s Princeton Club. His editor, Elisabeth Kallick Dyssegaard, currently the editor-in-chief of Hyperion Books, will also be recognized at the ceremony. Previous winners include Mary Beth Norton, James Thomas Flexner, and Willard Sterne Randall…. – HNN, 5-19-10


  • History, Not Politics, at Jonathan Spence Jefferson Lecture: Jonathan Spence came here to deliver a speech, but don’t let that fool you: his address — the 39th Annual Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, which took place Thursday — in no way resembled the sort typically associated with D.C…. – Inside Higher Ed, 5-21-10
  • Historian probes native perceptions of foreign diseases: Dr. Kevin Terraciano, professor of history and chair of the Latin American Studies Program at University of California, Los Angeles, gave the 2010 Jonas A. “Steine” Jonasson Endowed Lecture to a crowd of more than 60 people on May 12. “Most studies on the spread of disease beginning in 1520 are focused on the types of disease and how they were spread,” Terraciano said. “But I want to explore what the indigenous people of the time thought the cause and spread of disease was.” Linfield News, 5-14-10


  • September 17-18, 2010 at Notre Dame University: Conference aims to bring medieval, early modern and Latin American historians together: An interdisciplinary conference to be held at the University of Notre Dame this fall is making a final call for papers to explore the issue surrounding similarities between late-medieval Iberia and its colonies in the New World. “From Iberian Kingdoms to Atlantic Empires: Spain, Portugal, and the New World, 1250-1700” is being hosted by the university’s Nanovic Institute for European Studies and will take place on September 17-18, 2010. Medieval News, 4-29-10
  • Thousands of Studs Terkel interviews going online: The Library of Congress will digitize the Studs Terkel Oral History Archive, according to the agreement, while the museum will retain ownership of the roughly 5,500 interviews in the archive and the copyrights to the content. Project officials expect digitizing the collection to take more than two years…. – NYT, 5-13-10
  • Digital Southern Historical Collection: The 41,626 scans reproduce diaries, letters, business records, and photographs that provide a window into the lives of Americans in the South from the 18th through mid-20th centuries.




  • Larry Schweikart: 7 Events that Made America America: And Proved that the Founding Fathers Were Right All Along, (Hardcover) June 1, 2010
  • Spencer Wells: Pandora’s Seed: The Unforeseen Cost of Civilization, (Hardcover), June 8, 2010
  • John Mosier: Deathride: Hitler vs. Stalin – The Eastern Front, 1941-1945, (Hardcover), June 15, 2010
  • Evan D. G. Fraser: Empires of Food: Feast, Famine, and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations, (Hardcover), June 15, 2010
  • Ruth Harris: Dreyfus: Politics, Emotion, and the Scandal of the Century (REV), (Hardcover), June 22, 2010
  • James Mauro: Twilight at the World of Tomorrow: Genius, Madness, Murder, and the 1939 World’s Fair on the Brink of War, (Hardcover), June 22, 2010.
  • William Marvel: The Great Task Remaining: The Third Year of Lincoln’s War, (Hardcover), June 22, 2010
  • Suzann Ledbetter: Shady Ladies: Nineteen Surprising and Rebellious American Women, (Hardcover), June 28, 2010.
  • Julie Flavell: When London Was Capital of America, (Hardcover), June 29, 2010
  • Donald P. Ryan: Beneath the Sands of Egypt: Adventures of an Unconventional Archaeologist, (Hardcover), June 29, 2010
  • Jane Brox: Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light, (Hardcover), July 8, 2010.
  • Rudy Tomedi: General Matthew Ridgway, (Hardcover), July 30, 2010.
  • Richard Toye: Churchill’s Empire: The World That Made Him and the World He Made, (Hardcover), August 3, 2010.
  • Alexander Hamilton: The Federalist Papers, (Hardcover), August 16, 2010
  • Holger Hoock: Empires of the Imagination: Politics, War, and the Arts in the British World, 1750-1850, (Hardcover), September 1, 2010
  • Anna Whitelock: Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen, (Hardcover), September 7, 2010
  • James L. Swanson: Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln’s Corpse, (Hardcover), September 28, 2010
  • Timothy Snyder: The Red Prince: The Secret Lives of a Habsburg Archduke (First Trade Paper Edition), (Paperback), September 28, 2010
  • Ron Chernow: Washington: A Life, (Hardcover), October 5, 2010
  • George William Van Cleve: A Slaveholders’ Union: Slavery, Politics, and the Constitution in the Early American Republic, (Hardcover), October 1, 2010.
  • John Keegan: The American Civil War: A Military History, (Paperback), October 5, 2010
  • Bill Bryson: At Home: A Short History of Private Life, (Hardcover), October 5, 2010
  • Robert M. Poole: On Hallowed Ground: The Story of Arlington National Cemetery , (Paperback), October 26, 2010
  • Robert Leckie: Challenge for the Pacific: Guadalcanal: The Turning Point of the War , (Paperback), October 26, 2010
  • Manning Marable: Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, (Hardcover), November 9, 2010
  • Elizabeth White: The Socialist Alternative to Bolshevik Russia: The Socialist Revolutionary Party, 1917-39, (Hardcover), November 10, 2010
  • Elizabeth White: The Socialist Alternative to Bolshevik Russia: The Socialist Revolutionary Party, 1917-39, (Hardcover), November 10, 2010
  • G. J. Barker-Benfield: Abigail and John Adams: The Americanization of Sensibility, (Hardcover), November 15, 2010
  • Edmund Morris: Colonel Roosevelt, (Hardcover), November 23, 2010
  • Michael Goldfarb: Emancipation: How Liberating Europe’s Jews from the Ghetto Led to Revolution and Renaissance, (Paperback), November 23, 2010


  • Norman A. Graebner, diplomatic historian, dies at 94: Norman A. Graebner, 94, who shaped the field of diplomatic history with his critiques of American foreign policy, died May 10 at the Colonnades retirement community in Charlottesville after a stroke…. – WaPo, 5-14-10
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