Imagine, if you will, this scene. The university’s annual symposium has begun, an event that promises to advance the mission of the institution by tackling subjects of depth and complexity in the human condition. This year’s theme is “Remembering the Shoah: Saying ‘Never Again’ to Genocide,” challenging students and the university community to confront some of the darkest chapters of modern human history. And now, striding to the podium to deliver the keynote address, comes…David Irving. Irving’s presence was vehemently protested by numerous campus and community organizations, including Hillel and the Anti-Defamation League, but college’s president firmly believes that students should be challenged by opinions “outside their comfort zone.” To those students who protested the fact that a conference on the Holocaust was being keynoted by the most notorious holocaust-denier in the Western world, the local newspaper’s editorial board scoffed at their need for a so-called “safe space.” “The real world doesn’t always conform to your precious beliefs,” the newspaper editorialized; “you’d best learn that now.” One of the university’s professors defended the choice of Irving as a keynote speaker, declaring “nothing is more sacred than the right of free and unfettered academic discourse in the university. In this marketplace of ideas, bad ideas will naturally by subsumed by good ones-that’s how it always works.”
As the proverbial blessing and/or curse foretold, we are living in interesting times. The Left finds itself rooting for executive-branch departmental bureaucrats and the Right launched a boycott of Budweiser. I don’t care how politically prescient you are–NO ONE saw this turn of events coming. Continue reading “When States’ Rights were Progressive”
1. In 1621, Thomas Prence arrived in Plymouth Colony and claimed “one akre” of land in the new settlement. Thirteen years later, a combination of ambition and a reputation for being one of the most ardent Separatist Puritans in a colony full of Separatist Puritans led to his election as governor, and he would remain a member of Plymouth’s political elite from that point forward. After the 1657 death of William Bradford-Plymouth’s original governor and more than any other man the motor that drove the colony-Prence once again became governor. Continue reading “An American Family Story in Ten Parts”
A couple of weeks before the holiday, a robust debate emerged on the AAIHS blog about the Thirteenth Amendment, in particular the effects of its notorious “loophole” as described in the recent documentary 13th. Patrick Rael’s “Demystifying the Thirteenth Amendment and its Impact on Mass Incarceration” got the conversation started, and Dennis Childs’s “Slavery, the Thirteenth Amendment, and Mass Incarceration” was a scathing rejoinder to Rael’s post. For those who haven’t seen 13th, or are unfamiliar with the loophole, the Thirteenth Amendment, which “ended” slavery, reads as follows:
SECTION 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. SECTION 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
The American Revolution embodied, despite the misgivings of many of its leaders, some profoundly radical ideas. Rebelling against the world’s most powerful monarchy and replacing its authority with a clutch of homegrown republican governments (of varying effectiveness) was as fundamental a political change as one could imagine in the 1770s and early 1780s. It’s hard to see that from our contemporary vantage point, however; looking backwards through the French and–especially–the Haitian Revolutions, the revolution that created the United States looks tentative, even skittish, by comparison. Yet it’s also evident that the American Revolution and its early republican aftermath fell far short of fulfilling the truly radical potential inherent within the process of declaring independence from Britain and establishing a republic in place of an imperial sovereignty. Most glaringly, the revolutionary rhetoric of liberty and equality was notable more for who it excluded in practice–women, indigenous Americans, people of color both enslaved and free–than anything else.
A little over a week ago, I had the honor of attending the New York Film Festival premiere of 13th, a documentary directed by Ava DuVernay that confronts the issues of race, incarceration, and justice in the United States. As one of the talking heads (a historian’s life goal, to be honest) in the film, I was intellectually aware of the phenomena, statistics, mindsets, and events the film addresses. But it wasn’t until I viewed the film–a relentless, unflinching, prophetic indictment of the structures of racism and inequality upon which our entire society rests–that I truly felt what I had before only known. In the activities that accompanied the premiere–including this historian setting a new standard for awkward walks on the red carpet–a sense of urgency seemed to pervade the proceedings. Yes, there was celebration; 13th is the first documentary to open the NYFF, Ava DuVernay is also the first woman filmmaker of color to earn that distinction, and the film is a Netflix production and will thus have a huge platform for its vitally important story. So celebration was certainly in order. I was proud to participate in those celebrations, and deeply humbled to have been asked to participate in such an urgently powerful work of art. But there was urgency, too. Now that this story is out there, in all of its raw, agonizing, poignant glory, what next? Continue reading “What Is To Be Done”