Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Today in History: Civil War

Union forces entered Atlanta, Georgia, on this date in 1864.  Atlanta's status as a railroad link made this Union victory especially significant; General William Sherman embarked upon from Atlanta upon his famous March to the Sea.

In lieu of the historical photo posting I missed yesterday (ah, Labor Day, in my life you are a day filled with labor), here's a great 1950s-era soap commercial I found while looking up newsreel footage for class.  Useful preparation for the next time you find yourself "showing off your trousseau":

Friday, August 29, 2014

World War I in Britain, Then and Now

Take a look at this interactive Web site contrasting historical photos taken in Britain during World War I with contemporary street views.  Fascinating!  The site was created by a British real estate company, of all things.  I was struck by the continuity in many of these photos, even where structures suffered significant bomb damage.  I would love to see a comparable time-lapse comparison of, say, streets in Los Angeles.  If you've come across something similar in your travels through the ether, let me know; if I come across anything like that I will post it here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Today in History: Lutherans!

The first Lutheran church body in America, the Pennsylvania Ministerium, was founded on this date in 1748.  There were Lutherans in North America before this date.  Click here for the Web site of the Lutheran Church of the Ascension, a Savannah, Georgia congregation dating from 1741 and housed in a beautiful building in the city's historical district.  The Pennsylvania Ministerium was important, though, because it marked a first effort at wide-scale organization and a common liturgy.  German immigrant pastor Henry Muhlenberg was central in this effort.  A historical feature I've written including a profile of Muhlenberg will be published in the November 2014 issue of The Lutheran magazine.  Will link when that appears.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Images from the Past: Althea Gibson

You might have noticed that today's "Google doodle" honors Althea Gibson, the women's tennis great, who was born on this date in 1927.  Here's an interesting profile of her life and career.  I was intrigued to note that prior to her first major tournament win at the French Open in 1956, she was sent by her sponsor, the United States Lawn Tennis Association, on a U.S. State Department-sponsored world tour.  Gibson competed in places such as India, Pakistan, and Burma.  Not coincidentally, nations like these were among the "non-aligned" states that the U.S. and the Soviet Union so assiduously courted during the Cold War years.  American racism impacted Gibson significantly -- and it also impacted U.S. foreign policy.  State Department tours like this one in 1955 aimed to counteract the justifiably poor reputation the United States suffered for its backward race relations.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Reflection on the Week: Aspiration

As you may have heard, artist Mary Engelbreit has become the center of a firestorm of controversy this week for a piece of art she created to benefit the Michael Brown, Jr. Memorial Fund.  The art, visible at this link to an "artnet news" story on the controversy, depicts a child in his mother's lap; a single tear courses down the mother's face as they gaze at a newspaper headline from "Everywhere, U.S.A." reading "Hands up!  Don't Shoot!"  The little boy's hands are raised.  Engelbreit's caption reads "No one should have to teach their children this in the U.S.A."

I believe in aspiration.  I routinely encounter history students who are comprehensively distressed by the many misdeeds of the American past.  I tell them this: American history is littered, from its origins to the present, with racism and injustice.  We've done terrible things, and we need to understand what we've done as a foundation for living better into the future.  What we do have, though, is a set of founding documents that have been expanded over time to mean way, WAY more than our Founding Fathers could ever have dreamed.  Their expansive language of liberty and justice has been successfully employed to fight for the rights of those they enslaved, and those they refused to let vote or hold property.  It continues to animate our better angels to advocate for continued progress toward a path to justice and equality that Does. Not. Yet. Exist.  And guess what?  They're Americans, gifted with this legacy.  It's their -- our -- job to continue the quest.

They look a little shell shocked sometimes, but I think it's good for them.

We can do better.  We should do better.  We have been granted an incredible legacy that should empower us to do better.  Engelbreit's right.  No child should ever have to learn this lesson, and no mother should face the pain of teaching it.

Patriotism should always come with a to-do list.  In that spirit:

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Article Link: Roméo Dallaire

General Roméo Dallaire was the Force Commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR) in 1994.  In January 1994, the Canadian general's mission received information from a Hutu informant about Hutu extremists stockpiling arms in preparation for mass killings.  Gen. Dallaire informed UN headquarters that he planned to raid the arms caches and break up the genocide planning.  UN headquarters overturned his plans.  He repeated his request the next month.  Again, he was turned down.  By April, Rwanda was in crisis.  Eventually 850,000 would die, with millions of people displaced and thousands raped and subjected to other atrocities.*

Gen. Dallaire has published a piece in the Washington Post arguing that the international community is making the same mistake in Iraq.  In particular, he is deeply concerned about the role played by children in this crisis.  The record demonstrates that we should have listened to Gen. Dallaire in 1994.  I'd argue it's well worth listening to him now.

* Information taken from Bruce W. Jentleson, American Foreign Policy, 5th ed. (New York: W. W. Norton, 2014), 574-575.