S. Lucas and Donald A. Yerxa, Editors
Speaking: The Bulletin of the Historical Society
V, Number 5
Restall, "The Spanish Conquest Revisited"
C.C, Adams, "The Necessary Historian, or Why Academics Should Engage with
Kammen, "The Seasoning of American Culture"
Lukacs, "Unveiling Tocqueville the Historian"
D. Sarna, "American Judaism in Historical Perspective"
Edward Skeen, "1816: A Year of Transition"
Ellis, "Get a Life! Reflections on Biography and History"
E. Crowley, "The Visual Globalization of the British Empire"
Black, "Writing Recent National History"
Munz, "Past and Present Cross-Fertilized"
Bryce, "Rediscovering the Ancient Hittites"
J. Sturdy, "17th-Century Europe, Past and Present"
Speaking: The Bulletin of the Historical Society
Volume V, Number 5
Spanish Conquest Revisited
his invasion of highland Guatemala in 1524 the Spanish conquistador Pedro
de Alvarado wrote two letters to Hernando Cortés. In the first letter
Alvarado described the triumphs and tribulations of the 250 Spanish invaders,
as well as the reactions of the Mayas defending their homelands. He did
not refer to any other non-Spaniards. In the second letter there was likewise
no mention at all of African slaves and servants fighting alongside Spanish
masters, or of native warriors allied with the invaders beyond a single
parenthetical reference to “about five or six thousand friendly Indians.”
the time, Cortés was presiding over the rising of Mexico City from
the ruins of the Mexica (Aztec) capital of Tenochtitlán. He would
have been well aware that native warriors from various regions of Mesoamerica,
outnumbering Spaniards by at least fifty to one, would have formed an essential
part of the first expedition into Maya country. But Cortés was not
the only reader of such narratives. Alvarado’s letters were published in
Madrid in 1525, for example, and in New York in English in 1924. Later
readers, who did not witness firsthand how the Spanish conquests in the
Americas really unfolded, would have been impressed by the ability of small
numbers of Spanish conquistadors to defeat vast native armies and seize
great kingdoms—in Guatemala as, more famously, in Mexico and Peru. Expressions
of awe at the achievements of the conquistadors can be as readily found
in modern textbooks as they can in the chronicles and commentaries of 16th-century
Europeans. Yet such awe is based on historical fiction—on a mythologized
view of the Conquest rooted partly in the war correspondence of the conquerors
themselves . . . .
Restall is associate professor of history at the Pennsylvania State University.
His books include Maya Conquistador (Beacon, 1998) and Seven
Myths of the Spanish Conquest (Oxford, 2003).
Pedro de Alvarado, An Account of the Conquest of Guatemala in 1524
 (The Cortés Society, 1924), 80.
Necessary Historian, or Why Academics Should Engage with Popular Culture
Michael C. C. Adams
wisdom holds that a majority of Americans have little interest in the past.
The United States appears to be the land of the present, straining into
the future. Old buildings decay and are bulldozed away; the elderly remain
figures of fun, especially on television; and young people see all that
happened in recorded time before their births as irrelevant to their identities.
Many Americans have only the haziest sense of history, including their
if we turn the prism a little, a different picture emerges, suggesting
a large popular interest in the past. Museum attendance is healthy; historical
reenactments draw thousands of spectators; works of popular history often
sell well; the History Channel, PBS, and A & E find good audiences
for a variety of documentaries and costume dramas; Hollywood still finds
that colorful tales based on historical events can be box office successes.
all academic historians are cheered, however, by these symptoms of popular
engagement with the past. They feel that much in the common milieu is distorted,
inadequate, misleading, or ideologically driven, detracting from the serious
appreciation of history as a balanced study of pivotal events and important
themes in human development. They have a point. Reenactors, for example,
can reproduce the look and surface structure of the past, but a restaging
of, say, the bloodiest day in American history—Antietam: September 17,
1862—without its real terror, death, mutilations, dysentery, stench, screaming,
and weeping, inevitably romanticizes. Some museums have the feel of play
parks rather than centers of learning and, particularly if run by state
or local authorities, can offer inaccurate descriptions of the sites. The
quality of historical programming on television varies widely and commercial
film sacrifices historical authenticity for broad audience appeal, simplifying
the complex patterns of the past.
I believe that the factors encouraging optimism outweigh the reasons for
gloom. To begin with, even though the popular coverage of history often
seems to be a chaotic jumble of unrelated episodes, a tidal flow of “stuff,”
much of what is in the public arena actually deserves to be there. Take
my field of military history. There are thousands of books, movies, and
computer games that deal with knights and their ladies, bowmen and pikemen
from the Middle Ages. It is proper that we should still be interested in
the chivalric c ulture, for knighthood dominated the politics and society
of Europe for close to a thousand years. And while some Robin Hood films
may be silly, they draw our attention to a warrior who helped, along with
the pikeman, to unseat the knight. No wonder this subversive continues
to caper in our fantasies. A much later figure who continues to garner
popular attention is George Armstrong Custer. Although his celebrity status
may have been due to self-advertisement as well as military ability, he
has become a useful cultural weathervane to help us determine where we
stand at any particular time on issues such as expansionism, treatment
of the enviro nment, and indigenous peoples. A hero of the 19th century,
Custer became a villain to many in the late 20th century.
us take finally a more complex example. Thoughtful commentators have often
been disturbed by the inflamed rhetoric of private militias and groups
dedicated to keeping guns in private hands who depict the central government
as a tyranny bent on destroying liberty (often in the name of an alien
world order, and with the aid of foreign mercenary troops). Such talk seems
paranoid, but bodies such as the Michigan Militia do have some real socio-economic
grievances, and the way they express them echoes themes in Anglo-American
history going back to Bacon’s Rebellion and beyond.
American colonies were founded and came to maturity as a battle raged in
the English- speaking world between parliamentary bodies and the central
or royal government over the rights and responsibilities of the citizen.
At times, regular troops, including mercenaries, tried to overawe the govern
m e n t ’s opponents, the most famous examples being the English Civil
War and the American Revolution. We should remember that when Major John
Pitcairn told the rebels on Lexington Green to disperse, he also told them
to lay down their weapons. They didn’t and some, who trace their politics
back to that day, have a firm grip on their gun barrels still. Whatever
our stance on gun control, the fact is that groups sometimes written off
as fringe or lunatic can have a strong if not disinterested sense of history.
short, there is a lot of popular delving into the past and many historical
themes that engage general public attention are valid areas of interest.
The problem is that most people —the buffs who pick up a history book or
watch the History Channel after a long day at the office—are not trained
in historical method and do not have the time or skills to expertly evaluate
what they read. How does anyone wandering around in someone else’s field
sort the wheat from the chaff? Professional historians need to be much
more conspicuous at every level of public dialogue about the past. We need
to take every opportunity to help the general public sift through and evaluate
the plethora of historical pro ducts that is thrown at them. For example,
it is very difficult for many people to see that the historical films they
watch are not simply entertainment but purvey a thesis about the past.
Laurence Olivier’s version of Shakespeare ’s Henry V, released in
1946 in the wake of Allied victory in World War II, is inevitably more
celebratory in tone and content than Kenneth Branagh’s grim 1989 production,
made in the aftermath of Vietnam. Alfred Lord Tennyson’s lauding of bottom-up
heroism in his 1854 poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade, is reprised
in the 1936 Wa rner Brothers movie of the same name. But the theme is flipped
completely in the 1968 remake to show a top-down, callous establishment
just a minority of faculty in many history departments does serious community
education, there is a growing number of avenues for public engagement and
more and more universities and colleges re q u i re outreach activities.
Buffs can be engaged through historical Web sites, guest introductions
to programs on television and radio, humanities council speaker programs,
elder hostels, and continuing education courses. Several leading historical
journals now offer film as well as book reviews on their Web sites. Historians
cooperate in the making of documentaries for television. And of course
there a re books aimed at a broad audience. An exemplary model of what
I’m talking about is Marc C. Carnes, ed., Past Imperfect: History According
to the Movies (1995), a splendid introduction to historical criticism
of film. Or there is the cooperative work by historians and community groups
to save the Revolutionary War battlefield of Paoli, Pennsylvania, which
also produced an excellent book, Thomas J. McGuire’s Battle of Paoli
(2000). Gettysburg College’s annual Civil War Institute, crafted by Gabor
S. Boritt to bring together annually hundreds of professional and lay students
of history, is another example of excellent town and gown interaction.
would say that the late Stephen A. Ambrose is the finest model of a historian
writing for the public at large. Ambrose did fine work but, toward the
end, his books had difficulties (beyond plagiarism). First, he came gravely
close to ancestor worship, a pro b l e m also coloring the work of some
baby boomers who, embarrassed by their earlier opposition to the Vietnam
War and to their fathers, now write excessively laudatory biographies of
the “ greatest generation.” But Ambrose was perhaps guilty also of what
we might call pandering, that is, telling the public only what it wants
to hear: a lucrative but intellectually destructive “dumbing down” of scholarship.
This has also affected the quality of some university presses whose first
criterion for publication of a manuscript is no longer quality of content
War writing provides an example. Although thousands of volumes continue
to be produced on that conflict, relatively few chart new paths or examine
the less glamorous aspects of the struggle, such as widespread economic
and social distress among the dependents of soldiers, or the role of disease
in affecting the course of the war, a subject still relegated to “medical
histories.” To humor the book buyers who see the war as a diverting board
game, we have accounts that chart the actions of Company A of Regiment
B during the third hour of the first day at Gettysburg .
pandering, although perhaps the easiest route to influence with the public
at large, is in some danger of making historians, along with theater and
literature faculties, into the c o u rt jesters of academe, seen only as
good for entertainment value and not vital to the healthy development of
our society in the sense that science and business colleges are seen as
pivotal to our cultural strength and well-being. This definition of humanists
as e n t e rtainers comes at a time when our real participation in serious
public dialogue about today’s issues has never been more vital. Take again
my field of military history. The military actions of the U.S. impact every
nation on the planet and drastically alter how Americans themselves think,
live, and die. Yet the closer we come to the present on the timeline of
history, the more “innocent” Americans are of the actual nature of warf
a re. By innocence I mean a deliberate, cultivated refusal to look at the
reality of conflict: many people are better informed about the Alamo than
they are about the war in Iraq.
posture of innocence about the current nature of war predates the sanitizing
of the Vietnam War, which wrote out the startling truth about the mutual
savage destru ctiveness of that encounter between alien cult u res. In
World War II, for example, civilians objected to the publishing of pictures
of America’s dead and mutilated soldiers; they did not wish to read or
hear about the detailed nature of combat. One result of this closemindedness
is that combat veterans often feel they cannot talk honestly about their
experiences, what they have seen and what they have done, with a resultant
cost to them in physical and mental health. This innocence also means that
we can accept oxymorons like “humane bombing in Kosovo”—inexplicable when
applied to a B-52 carpet bombing run—and a whole vocabulary of complacent
euphemisms such as “collateral damage.” Body bags are brought home in the
night and cameras are not allowed; the president carefully avoids the funerals.
is a truism that Americans have diff iculty in envisaging the effects of
modern war p a rtly because the U.S. has barely been a battlefield since
the Civil War: we fight our battles on other people’s soil. Supposedly,
Hollywood’ s ability to re p roduce combat with special effects largely
makes up for this lack of firsthand experience. Stephen Spielberg’s 1998
p roduction, Saving Private Ryan, was touted as reaching a new level
of realism. But after we leave the first scenes on Omaha Beach, it is a
classic adventure movie, no more credible than Indiana Jones. You will
get more insight into the real nature of America’s modern war machine from
Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse- Five, an eyewitness account of the
effects of aerial warf are, but it will take a humanist in a library discussion
group to explain that point in detail for a public audience.
experts on military affairs whose views we hear on television and read
in the newspapers are generally re t i red military officers, largely conditioned
by professional training not to go beyond technical attention to tactical
detail. They cannot give the public an a p p ropriately broad diplomatic/military
context and the historical background necessary to assess current happenings.
Historians, along with other academics, are needed to help the public acquire
the information to frame intelligent opinions on policy.
example, we are presently involved in a lengthy and costly endeavor described
as a war against terro r. Yet what is this terro rism and how do we fight
it? The best answers to those questions were given by Michael H o w a rd,
perhaps the foremost living Anglo- American military historian, in a speech
to the Royal United Services Institute in London shortly after 9/11, in
which he noted that you cannot resist terrorism with bombs and missiles;
fighting terrorism is more like a police action than a full-blown war.
And you need to determine carefully which opponents you are fighting and
why, not merely lump all unconventional fighters together as evil persons
who naturally hate good persons.
historians can educate the public as to the history of terrorism. Many
Americans would be surprised to know that their compatriots, even their
government, have in the past underwritten such terrorists as the Irish
Republican Army Provisionals, the Nicaraguan Contras, and, yes, the Sons
of Libert y. If the public knew that in 1776 General George Washington
tacitly sanctioned the burning of New York to roust out the Royal forces,
would that put in a larger context Jim Lehrer’s comment on PBS that 9/11
is the worst atrocity against civilians in human history?
questions that historians engaged in the public arena might illuminate
include the short and long term histories of the Middle East. Shouldn’t
we be better informed about the relevance of the medieval Crusades? We
know that Arab Muslims haven’t forgotten them. What about the modern relations
between West and East? We hear so little, for example, about the UK’s 20th-cent
u ry role in the Middle East and in Iraq in particular. Shouldn’t we instigate
a public debate about the broad history of imperialism? I wait in vain
to hear any whisper on the public airwaves of the fact that democratic
nation building in Iraq has an eerie echo of the white man’s burden to
civilize our little brown brothers through splendid little wars. And who
but historians will put in a broad context Saddam Hussein’s undoubted brutality
to his people, citing all those other tyrannical world leaders past and
present, including those who have been or are our allies?
a word about weapons of mass destruction. Again, because historians are
not conspicuous in the public debate, politicians define what we mean by
this term and who is culpable of use and possession. Yet any mili t a ry
historian knows that weapons of mass destruction are as old as war itself
and every tribe or nation has used them, right down from the warriors who
catapulted rotting flesh into walled cities before raping and butchering
the inhabitants. Poison gas was first deployed by the Western nations in
the War to End All Wars. We have used chemical weapons such as napalm and
Agent Orange as recently as Vietnam. Our weapons of mass destruction include
“bombies,” vicious little anti-personnel devices, spre a d across every
recent battlefield we have fought above, from Cambodia to Yugoslavia, and
which continue to cause the deaths of innocents years after hostilities
have ceased. Indeed, we own every WMD we denounce in our potential opponents,
and Secre t a ry of Defense Donald Rumsfeld freely warns that we are developing
and will operationally deploy tactical nuclear weapons against those we
deem a potential threat to our national interests. The failure to recognize
these facts publicly doesn’t make our foreign policy necessarily or automatically
wrong, but it does make our public discussion of it, in a democracy, woefully
incomplete and, to foreign critics, profoundly hypocritical.
participation by historians in public debate will not come easily; we must
fight our way out either of the Ivory Tower or the role of court jester
in which we have been trapped. There is no panacea in what I suggest; historians
don’t have all the answers, as attendance at an average department meeting
will attest. But if there is unease about the future direction of our society
in the hearts of many Americans, as I think there is, historians have a
necessary role to play in addre s sing the crisis by presenting intelligent
views of the past that help illuminate the present and shed a little light
onto the road ahead.
his retirement in June 2003 to pursue creative writing, Michael C. C. Adams
was Regents Professor of History and director of the military history program
at Northern Kentucky University. He is the author of Our Masters the
Rebels: A Speculation on Union Military Failure in the East 1861–1865 (Harvard
University Press, 1978), winner of the Jefferson Davis Prize and republished
by Nebraska University Press in 1992 as Fighting for Defeat; The Great
Adventure: Male Desire and the Coming of World War One (Indiana University
Press, 1990); The Best War Ever: America and World War II (Johns
Hopkins University Press, 1994); and most recently, Echoes of War: A
Thousand Years of Military History in Popular Cult u re (University
Press of Kentucky, 2002). Adams is a U.S. and UK citizen.
Seasoning of American Culture
than twenty years ago I began noticing that virtually every art museum
I wandered through had on display at least one suite of four seasons
paintings, sculptures, or serigraphs in some form or other, traditional
or modern. After a while I began poking around in the writings of naturalists,
poets, essayists, and others, ranging from Henry David Thoreau to Hal Borland,
and found the motif pervasive there as well. So I began to wonder whether
anything had ever been written about the motif (or genre, if it turned
out to be one) from the perspective of cultural history, and with particular
attention to what happened when this intriguing topic got transmitted from
the Old World to the New, where seasonal changes are somewhat different
and also vary greatly from one region to another. Inevitably so: the land
almost nothing in modern scholarship, despite the full flowering of enviro
nmental history in recent years, though while my own project was recently
in production Adam Sweeting, who teaches American Studies at Boston University,
published a very fine first book, Beneath the Second Sun: A Cultural
History of Indian Summer (University Press of New England, 2003). It
provides rich material on seasonality in New England. The subject lends
itself wonderfully, of course, to a strong scenic emphasis, which made
it particularly appealing because the visual aspect of the “new cultural
history” has seemed especially attractive to me for at least a decade now.
This inquiry also turned out to be fun because of a putative friendship
but feisty rivalry between the two preeminent American naturalists at the
turn of the century: John Burroughs of upstate New York and John Muir of
northern California, sometimes known as John O’Birds and John O’Mountains
. . . .
Kammen, the Newton C. Farr Professor of American History and Culture at
Cornell, is the author of A Time to Every Purpose: The Four Seasons
in American Culture (University of North Carolina Press, 2004).
Tocqueville the Historian
history of history is part of history. So is the history of reputations.
For almost a century after Alexis de Tocqueville’ s death (1859) his reputation
was quite limited, oddly even within his own country, except for a scatteration
of thoughtful and independent thinkers. Sometime after 1945, however, interest
in Tocqueville commenced to spread, even in France. Publication of the
enormous mass of his completed works (Oeuvres Com - plètes: OC
hereafter) began in 1951 (they amount to about two dozen large volumes,
and more than fifty–two years later the end is not yet). Meanwhile presidents
cited at least one of Tocqueville’s prophetic paragraphs (from the end
of volume I of Democracy in America); several new (and at least
one unnecessary) translations of that famous work have appeared; there
are now Tocqueville societies, Tocqueville clubs, restaurants (one in New
York) called Tocqueville, and a reputable stock-and-bond-and-gold fund
bearing his name. By the early 1960s we may detect the existence of a Tocqueville
cottage industry. The first comprehensive and authentic biography of Tocqueville,
by André Jardin, was published in 1984 (its translation in 1988
in the United States). Jardin’s successor, Françoise Mélonio,
is the prime Tocqueville scholar in our time. Without the (dubious) benefits
of the Internet and its bibliographical “ information” but maintaining
an enduring interest in Tocqueville, I venture to estimate that during
the last twenty-five years more books and articles dealing with Tocqueville
may have appeared than in any comparable period since the first volume
of Democracy in Americawas published in 1835. They differ, and for different
reasons. One of these is political and ideological: for Tocqueville was,
and remains, uncategorizable. There are, in my opinion, three important
questions about Tocqueville that deserve consideration. Was he a conservative
or a liberal? Was he a social thinker or a historian? Was he a Catholic?
Of these the first question has been discussed most frequently, and the
third the least.
this review article I must eschew them and concentrate on the second one—because
we are now in the presence of a triumph of scholarship, of research and
reading and judgment. In his newly published Tocqueville Unveiled,
Robert T. Gannett, Jr. deals with Tocqueville the historian. His summary
is there in his conclusion: “Tocqueville’s design and execution of The
Old Regime constitute an extraordinary success story, testifying to
the artful achievement by a great historian”(161) . . . .
Lukacs is the author of over twenty-five books, the most recent of which
is Churchill: Visionary, Statesman, Historian (Yale University Press,
Cf. my article, “The Last Days of Alexis de Tocqueville” in the October
1964 issue of The Catholic Historical Review ( ignored by almost
all American Tocqueville scholars, though not by French ones).
Robert T. Gannett, Jr., Tocqueville Unveiled: The Historian and His
Sources for The Old Regime and the Revolution (University of Chicago
Judaism in Historical Perspective
Jonathan D. Sarna
years ago, when I mentioned my i interest in American Jewish history to
a scholar at a distinguished rabbinical seminary, he was absolutely appalled.
“American Jewish history,” he growled, “I’ll tell you all that you need
to know about American Jewish history: The Jews came to America, they abandoned
their faith, they began to live like goyim, and after a generation or two
they intermarried and disappeared. That is American Jewish history; all
the rest is commentary. Don’t waste your time. Go and study Talmud.”
readers surely recognize this assimilationist paradigm. It is a close cousin
to the secularization thesis that once held sway in the study of religion.
In American Judaism, it might be called “the myth of linear descent,” the
belief that American Jews start off Orthodox, back in the immigrant generation,
and each subsequent generation is a little less Jewish in its observance
until that inevitable day when a descendant interm a rries and ends up
marching down the aisle of a church. Actively by choice, or passively through
inaction, assimilation has been widely assumed to be unavoidable. My field
of American Jewish history, if not a complete waste of time, is viewed
as a foredoomed enterprise.
the history of American Judaism, at least as I have come to understand
it in writing my American Judaism: A History (Yale University Press,
2004), is in many ways a response to this ongoing fear that Judaism in
the New World will wither away. Over and over again I found Jews rising
to meet the challenges both internal and external that threatened Jewish
continuity, sometimes, paradoxically, by promoting radical discontinuities.
Casting aside old paradigms, Jews transformed their faith, reinventing
American Judaism in an attempt to make it more appealing, more meaningful,
and more sensitive to the conc e rns of the day. They did not always succeed,
as the many well-publicized accounts of eminent Christians whose parents,
grandparents, or great-grandparents turn out to have been Jews amply attest.
But the story of American Judaism, at least as I recount it, is still far
from the stereotypical story of “linear descent.” It is, instead, a much
more dynamic story of people struggling to be Americans and Jews, a story
of people who lose their faith and a story of people who regain their faith,
a story of assimilation, to be sure, but also a story of revitalization
. . . .
D. Sarna is the Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish
Hist o ry at Brandeis University. He is the author of American Judaism:
A History (Yale University Press, 2004).
A Year of Transition
C. Edward Skeen
at the close of every year the media reviews the events of the past year
and notes their significance —a form of “instant history.” Contemporaries,
however, are not necessarily good judges of the lasting consequences of
developments so close to their experience. Often the importance of connections
between little noticed occurrences becomes evident only when seen from
a distant period. Similarly, historians trained to see sweeping developments
from the myriad details that cover a decade or a century may just as easily
miss the historical relevance of a small occurrence. Obviously, a great
deal of “event” history has been written encompassing a brief period, e.g.,
an election, a war, or even a battle, but events treated in thematic isolation
tend to miss important clues that may derive a new collective meaning by
focusing on a single year. A close study of that year (and not the event
itself) may reveal valuable information about the context in which an event
occurred. Oneyear histories offer yet another perspective and a different
way to examine closely the synerg y of events that make a period of history
about a single year are nothing new; Bernard De Voto’s work on 1846 comes
to mind. Recently, many historians have begun to focus a microscope on
a single year. Books by Andrew Burstein (1826) and Louis Masur (1831) are
My study of the year 1816 adds to that list of works.
Admittedly, a case could be made that every year is unique and that the
events of one year intertwine with strands from the past to weave the fabric
of the future. It is obvious that some years are more unique than others,
such as 1776 (Revolution), 1787 (Constitution), 1861 (Civil War), and so
forth, that stand out in American memory because they mark developments
that clearly have had a p rofound influence on the future course of American
history. On the other hand, there are years that at first glance may not
seem significant, but may have witnessed events that in retrospect emerge
as a significant turning point or a transition between two eras of American
history . . . .
Edward Skeen is professor of history at the University of Memphis. He is
author of Citizen Soldiers in the War of 1812 (The University Press
of Kentucky, 1999) and 1816: America Rising (The University Press
of Kentucky, 2003).
Bernard DeVoto, The Year of Decision, 1846 (Little, Brown and Company,
1943); Andrew Burstein, America’s Jubilee: How in 1826 a Generation
Remem - bered 50 Years of Independence (Knopf, 2001); Louis P. Masur,
1831: Year of Eclipse (Hill and Wang, 2001). See also, for example,
Stephen Saunders Webb, 1676: The End of American Independence (Harvard
University Press, 1985); Kenneth Stampp, America in 1857: A Nation on
the Brink (Oxford University Press, 1990).
C. Edward Skeen, 1816: America Rising (The University of Kentucky
A Life! Reflections On Biography and History[†]
is the current status of biography within the historical profession? I
would say it is a bastard, or perhaps an orphan periodically adopted as
a welfare case by history or English departments. The hegemonic power within
the historical profession for the last thirty to forty years has been social
history, which cuts against the biographical grain in multiple ways. It
makes the collective rather than the individual life the primal unit of
study. It privileges the periphery over the prominent figures at the political
center, who become “dead white males” and their respective stories elitist
narratives casually dismissed as “great man history,” even when the subject
is a woman, or even when the story told undermines the entire notion that
men make history. Any aspiring graduate student in history who expresses
an interest in, say, Thomas Jefferson and his first term as president,
rather than the Creole population that Jefferson appropriated for the United
States in the Louisiana Purchase, has inadvertently committed professional
the dominance of social history a bad thing? I think it is bad for
the profession of history because it stigmatizes the venerable tradition
of life-writing, which in fact has a pedigree as long as or longer than
history, dating back to the chronicles chiseled on the stone slabs of Egyptian
pharaohs in 1400 B.C. It also sustains the myth that biography invariably
imposes a simplistic set of assumptions about human agency, namely that
men make history rather than the other way around, which is a patent falsehood.
Its focus on the inarticulate and the ordinary is also rooted in the preposterous
presumption that most students and readers already know the mainstream
story of American history—an illusion that would not survive scrutiny for
five minutes in any undergraduate classroom in the land. And like any methodological
or ideological bias, it channels the full range of talent in the profession
into one corral, rather than letting it wander free on the open range of
its own choosing.
the other hand, I don’t think it is a bad thing for biography. The intellectual
health of biography, I would assert, is largely a function of its outlaw
status. The question is not whether biography should be welcomed into the
house of history, but whether biography should consent to the union which
exposes it to the virulent perils of professionalization. If we all went
to a Modern Language Association conference, we could see these perils
displayed conspicuously in the jargon-choked and laughablypostured pursuits
of the trivial, all packaged in literary categories specifically designed
to be unintelligible to all but the chosen few. Historians are, I fear,
blind to the same evidence when we are the chosen few. Biography, it seems
to me, is better off as a “wild thing.”
is the source of biography’s appeal to readers? We know that 40–60% of
American readers get the bulk of their knowledge of history from biography.
So the appeal is clear. To say that biography puts a human face on history
is true but facile. More panoramically, biography operates on an assumption
that has been a central premise of the humanistic tradition in the West
since the Renaissance, namely, that the individual life is worth knowing
for its own sake because the individual life is the sovereign unit of history.
The term biography actually entered the lexicon in the 16th century
alongside that seminal premise. And we continue to live in a culture here
in the United States that celebrates the individualistic idea as a core
principle of our liberal polity. Moreover, there is a secret truth that
has remained true over the ages, from Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble
Greeks and Romans to the Lives of the Christian Martyrs written
by monks and church fathers: namely, we study other lives in order to learn
how better to live our own. I realize that as card-carrying historians
we are obliged to question this human urge, rooted as it is in the ahistorical
assumption that we in the present have something in common with, say, Alcibiades,
Saint Francis of Assisi, or Florence Nightingale. But we are shouting into
the wind. Biography is irresistibly alluring to readers because it is not
just about him or her then, but about me now.
are two other reasons for biography’s appeal that I will only mention in
the briefest way. First, biography centers the historical story for both
readers and writers. David Levering Lewis’s magisterial life of W.E.B.
for example, traverses the tangled political, racial, and cultural history
of America in the first half of the 20th century—a messy, multi-layered
story that goes from the hills of the Berkshires in western Massachusetts,
to the classrooms of Fisk and Harvard, to the backrooms of the fledgling
NAACP, through the corridors of the Communist Party, and into the jungles
of postcolonial Ghana. The gravitational force that pulls all these things
together is DuBois himself. He focuses as one story (that Lewis tells so
well) what most histories would present as a series of separate stories.
He makes the cacophony a chorus.
centering phenomenon works for writers as well as for readers. At least
it works for me. My research for the last three and one-half years on George
Washington—arguably the deadest, whitest male in American history—has forced
me to sally off into the following scholarly fields: the mentality of the
planter class in pre-Revolutionary Virginia, the strategic and tactical
options facing the Continental Army during the War for Independence, the
burgeoning scholarship on slavery and Native-Americans, Shays’s Rebellion,
the factions within the Constitutional Convention, the architecture of
Mount Vernon, the emergence of political parties in the 1790s, and even
the state of medical science in 1799. I would never have dared to venture
so far afield and into so many pastures littered with the dead bodies of
my scholarly predecessors if I did not have the Washington Papers as a
safe harbor to which to return. Biography forces the writer into a narrative
format that defies conventional boundaries. It allows the historian to
do a crosscut that slices through categories of knowledge and bundles of
information otherwise packaged in insulated units usually called monographs.
biography permits us to clothe generalizations with palpable and textured
evidence that enhances the credibility and comprehension of bare abstractions.
Bernard Bailyn’s classic study, Ideological Origins of the American
Revolution, deserves its reputation, but for my money Bailyn’s best
book is The Ordeal of Thomas Hutchinson, which allows us to understand
Radical Whig ideas more emotionally as well as intellectually by watching
them destroy one tragic personality who happens to defy them. But biography’s
palpability and specificity are also important for another reason. I think
we have a pretty serious generalization problem in the profession nowadays.
Ranke-like statements about discovering the unvarnished truth have been
epistemologically naive for almost one hundred years. The emergence of
the community study, and more recently the genre of microhistory, represent
the profession’s attempt to narrow the field of inquiry in order to render
generalization more reliable, if also less general. Biography has always
been able to achieve the same focused framework. I cannot tell you what
most members of the Continental Congress or most American citizens thought
about Jefferson’s words concerning life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
But I can tell you where Jefferson got those words and what was in his
head in early June of 1776 when he wrote them.
is it true, as Jill Lepore has recently argued,
that historians who write biography tend to fall under the spell of their
subjects, that they are, if you will, looking for love in all the wrong
places? (I was flattered to be mentioned in Lepore’s essay—quite sensitively
and graciously, I might add—as a Jefferson lover.) If true, it is news
to me and to all those burning incense to Jefferson around Charlottesville,
who generally regard my book, American Sphinx, as a hostile act.
There are indeed lots of folks out there who do love Jefferson unconditionally.
As best as I can tell, my book has given them lots of trouble. One irate
elderly woman in Richmond even stood up in an audience and told me that
I was a mere “pigeon squatting on the great statue of Mr. Jefferson.” I
wrote back to her later and said, “Madame, whether or not you regard me
as a pigeon is not that important, but please do not think that Mr. Jefferson
was a statue.”
Lepore’s argument, the major trend in biography since Freud has been evisceration
rather than idolization. “Every great man has his disciples,” said Oscar
Wilde, “and it is always Judas who writes his biography.” The biggest biographical
project of our time in 20th-century American history is Robert Caro’s multivolume
life of Lyndon Johnson, which at least until the most recent volume—Master
of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson (Knopf, 2002)—fits Wilde’s
description perfectly. Janet Malcom thinks modern biography has been driven
by the Oedipal urge, and in that sense Malcolm’s whole point is exactly
the opposite of Lepore’s. Lots of people read biography for the same reason
they attend stockcar races: to see someone crash and burn. Or ask Robert
Remini about Andrew Burstein’s recent book, The Passions of Andrew Jackson
(Knopf, 2003), which is clearly more a homicidal than an amorous act. The
air of the 20th century is thick with the smoke of burning letters for
good reason since modern biography has added a new terror to death.
me conclude by observing that I don’t regard myself as a biographer so
much as a historian who tends to write about lives. In that sense I am
an inveterate violator of Kant’s categorical imperative, because I use
human lives as instruments to understand the past rather than as ends in
themselves. To those young historians who have long harbored a secret affection
for biography, an urge that they have felt for professional reasons obliged
to conceal, I can only say, “Get a life!” Come out of the closet and join
us in the life-writing business. It is, as I have indicated, a venerable
calling, a vital pathway to understanding the way we were, the great transcript
of the human story that directly links us with those who came before. It
Ellis is professor of history at Mount Holyoke College. He won the 2001
Pulitzer Prize for history for Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary
Generation (Knopf, 2000). His biographies of John Adams, Passionate
Sage: The Character and Legacy of John Adams (Norton, 1993) and Thomas
Jefferson, American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson (Knopf,
1997) were widely acclaimed best-sellers.
Adapted from a paper given on January 10, 2004 during the Presidential
Session—“Biography and History: A Dialogue”—at the American Historical
Association’s 2004 Annual Meeting in Washington, DC.
David Levering Lewis, W.E.B. DuBois: Biography of a Race, 1868–1919
(Henry Holt, 1994); W.E.B. DuBois: The Fight for Equality and the American
Century, 1919–1963 (Henry Holt, 2000).
“Historians Who Love Too Much: Reflections on Microhistory and Biography”
Journal of American History 88 (2001): 129–144.
Visual Globalization of the British Empire
John E. Crowley
like nations, are imagined communities, not natural entities. In the second
half of the 18th century British visual culture created a global landscape
which facilitated imagining the empire. Before the 1750s people in Britain
and the colonies showed little curiousity about how the colonies actually
looked. From the 1750s onward a multitude of colonial scenes crucially
reoriented British landscape art fro m the idealized to the topographic.
impulse in later 18th-century British landscape art aided the understanding
of a rapidly enlarging world of British experience—of the British Isles
themselves, of new and potential imperial domains, and of cosmopolitan
travel more broadly. J. G. A. Pocock has long pleaded for a British h istory
that not only goes beyond the British Isles—the “Atlantic archipelago”
in Pocock-speak —but also considers how Britain itself is a cultural construction
whose physical domain has varied over time depending on its inhabitants’
self-identities and political interactions. This view of British history,
which bears so aptly on political culture, also applies to visual culture
from 1750 to 1820 . . . .
expansion of this essay will appear as “A Visual Empire: Seeing the British
Atlantic World from a Global British Perspective,” in The Creation
of a British Atlantic World, edited by Elizabeth Mancke and Carole Shammas
(The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005). John E. Crowley is George Munro
Professor of History at Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia. His
most recent book is The Invention of Comfort : Sensibilities and Design
in Early Modern Britain and Early America (Johns Hopkins University
Press, 2001). He is writing a book tentatively titled The Counterfeit
of Empire: The Creation of a Global Landscape in British Visual Culture
Recent National History
recent national history, in my case Britain Since the Seventies: Politics
and Society in the Consumer Age (Reaktion, 2004), provides a welcome
opportunity to engage with readers in a different fashion. There is an
understandable distancing when offering the fruits of archival research
which, in my case, focuses on the 18th century. But when addressing the
past that is within living memory, there is no point pretending some Olympian
detachment or Delphic omniscience. Instead, the choices of what to include
and how to treat the material are more clearly personal than they are for
traditional historical works. Writing about this period proved more difficult
than addressing the long span of national history in my History of the
British Isles, 2nd edition (2003). It is always important for readers
of historical works to be aware that what they contain, how the material
is treated and organized, and what is omitted reflect a p rocess of choice.
This is most apparent and valuable when discussing the recent past, as
that necessarily throws light on both subject and process . . . .
Black has recently authored Parliament and Foreign Policy in the 18th
Century (Cambridge University Press, 2004) and War and the New Disorder
in the 21st Century (Continuum, 2004). His The English Seaborne
Empire (Yale University Press), The Hanoverians (Hambledon and
London), Rethinking Military History (Routledge), and War Since
1945 (Reaktion) will appear later this year.
V, Number 5
and Present Cross-Fertilized
up in Germany during the fragile Weimar Republic, watching it reel under
the vindictive blows inflicted by the senseless Treaty of Versailles, which
was emasculating its idealism as well as its economy. Determined not to
join the nationalists and their Nazis who were mindlessly thinking of nothing
but revenge, I embraced Marxism as the only realistic and effective alternative.
My Marxism was suffused with Platonism. For I understood that Marx’s maxim
that everybody ought to receive according to his need and contribute according
to his ability was a direct reflection of Plato’s famous ideal of justice
according to which everybody ought to do and receive what was becoming
to his nature. My interest in history derived from the Platonic and the
Marxist philosophies of history according to which there was, for Plato,
a succession of power structures or, for Marx, a succession of modes of
production each of which determined law, social order, and political constitution.
I did not question these philosophies, but began to study history in order
to confirm to myself that they were true. It was during those early studies
that I happened to be concentrating on the 18th century. I read, in quick
succession, Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France
and John Locke’s Second Treatise. When I discovered the enormous
difference between Locke and Burke, I did not give up either Marx or Plato—but
my attention began to be deflected. Locke had reasoned that men get together
to enter a social contract; and Burke had explained that men are together
because of their past and their future and that such togetherness had nothing
to do with any voluntary contractual agreement. I will never forget how
deeply shaken I was by the realization that two intelligent men could come
to such contrary conclusions about human society . . . .
Munz is emeritus professor of history at Victoria University. His most
recent book is Beyond Wittgenstein’s Poker: New Light on Popper and
Wittgenstein (Ashgate, 2004).
the Ancient Hittites
CHIEF WARRIORS and dignitaries of the land have been summoned to hear their
master’s final instructions. On the couch before them the Great King lies,
once the mightiest warrior of the age, now a feeble old man whose last
hour is at hand. He has one more important task to perform— the announcement
of a new heir to the throne. Treachery and disloyalty have ruled out all
previous candidates. His own sons, even his beloved daughter, have rebelled
against him. Now the favored nephew, recently groomed to occupy his uncle’s
throne, has proved unfit for kingship.“This youth was an abomination to
the sight(?); he was without compassion; he was cold and pitiless!” Repudiating
the young man, the king proclaims a new successor. It is for this purpose
that his chief warriors and dignitaries have been summoned. The person
so soon to wear the royal mantle is the king’s grandson. He is still a
child. But the old man is left with no other choice. He now gathers his
last reserves of strength to command those assembled around his deathbed
to nurture, guide, instruct, and protect their new lord until he has reached
an age where he can assume fully the responsibilities of kingship.
task completed, the dying king seeks final comfort in the embrace of a
woman, perhaps a daughter, perhaps a favorite concubine: “Do not forsake
me,” he whispers to her. “Hold me to your bosom. Keep me from the earth.”
scene was played out some 3,600 years ago, in a city called Kussara, ancestral
home of the dynasty that ruled the Hittite world for almost half a millennium,
in the period we call the Late Bronze Age (17th–12th centuries B.C.E).
The man on his deathbed was Hattusili I, the king who established Hattusa
in central Turkey as the capital of an empire which became for a time the
supreme power in the ancient Near East. But decline and fall were inevitable.
In the early decades of the 12th century, this mighty empire collapsed
and disappeared, the Hittites leaving no trace of their existence beyond
a handful of passing references in the Bible. Ironically, most of these
references portray them as but one of a number of small Canaanite tribes
inhabiting the hill country of Palestine during the early centuries of
the 1st millennium B.C.E. This is the image that the name “Hittite” most
commonly conjures up today. But the biblical Hittites have little if any
connection with the Bronze Age kingdom which at the height of its power
in the 14th and 13th centuries covered a vast region, from the western
coast of Turkey across northern Syria to the lands lying east of the Euphrates
. . . .
Bryce is honorary research consultant at the University of Queensland,
Australia and fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. His latest
books are Life and Society in the Hittite World (Oxford University
Press, 2002) and Letters of the Great Kings of the Ancient Near East
V, Number 5
Europe, Past and Present
David J. Sturdy
I began my career as a university teacher in the mid-1960s, the lectures
I gave on 17th-century Europe had to refer to historiographical debates
then being conducted, some of which were intensified by personality conflicts
between the leading protagonists (always a useful source of irreverent
anecdotes with which to enliven a Friday afternoon lecture to students
who had other things on their minds than such topics as the relative merits
of rival interpretations of the rise of the early modern state). The debates
included “the general crisis of the 17th century” (the imperious, although
resolutely anti-imperialist, Marxist Eric Hobsbawm versus the equally imperious
High Tory, Hugh Trevor Roper); “the nature of social structure in early
modern Europe: a society of classes or orders?” (the formidably learned
and utterly lacking in selfdoubt Roland Mousnier versus the seemingly unbending
ideologue Boris Porchnev); “the military revolution of the 17th century”
(a thesis then beginning to attract wider attention, and first advanced
by Michael Roberts, who had an impressive line in mordant sarcasm toward
his students at Queen’s University, Belfast); on a larger historiographical
scale still, the Annales school of historians (whose solemn, Olympian
pronouncements on the 17th century contained no hint of humor, sarcastic
or otherwise) and its critics. These and other debates, which exercised
some of the finest minds of the historical world and provided the subject
matter of scores of conferences, articles, and books, had to be brought
to the attention of students, in addition to narratives and analyses dealing
with the broad movement of European history in that period.
decades later many of the debates that were pursued with such intensity
and provoked such febrile exchanges in the 1960s and 1970s have either
lost their power to excite or, after a lingering diminuendo, have simply
tailed off into silence. “The general crisis of the 17th century” has long
since ceased to sustain the historical industry which it once inspired.
Now that Mousnier and Porchnev are no longer with us, few, if any, historians
agonize over the appropriateness of referring to “social classes" as against
"social orders." Even in France, the base from where the Annales
school projected its pervasive influence, leading historians are now writing
biographies of kings, queens, ministers, generals, prelates, and other
notables . . . .
J. Sturdy is professor of early modern history at the University of Ulster
in Coleraine. His most recent book is Fractured Europe, 1621–1721
V, Number 5
January 2004 issue of Historically Speaking includes a symposium
on liberalism and globalization that astonished me when confronting the
biases and omissions of the contributors. All three of them equate liberalism
with free trade, which the Germans supposedly played a key role in undermining.
Richard Cobden, who in the 1860s endorsed compulsory universal education
and universal manhood suffrage, was, with due respect to the symposiasts,
not a 19th-century liberal. He was politically well to the left of the
English Liberal Party. (Though a self-proclaimed supporter of universal
peace, Cobden inconsistently favored intervention by England in the American
Civil War against the slaveholding American South.) All the contributors
confer an irreversible grace on England and the U.S. as “liberal” societies;
Professor Greenfeld also puts the French among the blessed, while joining
another contributor, Alfred J. Mierzejewski, in going after the Teutons
for their aberrant nationalism and “shallow commitment to the free market.”
English merchants who allied with sovereigns like Henry VIII were, according
to Greenfield, “rational beings” while German industrialists who wanted
protectionism are assumed to have been nastier pieces of work.
me to point out the problems with this framework of analysis. If free trade
is the litmus test for who is or is not a liberal, how does one characterize
the “liberal” U.S., which from the time of the Great Emancipator on imposed
some of the highest tariffs among industrialized nations? Lincoln’s alliance
with industrial cartels, passionate advocacy of increased tariffs, and
invasion of secessionist states can all be cited as evidence of his “belligerent
nationalism,” a term that seems at least as applicable to Lincoln Republicans
as it does to Bismarck and the German National Liberals.
List, the German economist, who favored a Zollverein within Germany
and Schutzzölle against foreign competitors, spent much of his life
in the U.S., whose system of tariffs he hoped to see brought to his native
land. Real 19th-century liberals, about whom I have written extensively,
were bourgeois nationalists—as opposed to global democratic internationalists.
The Belgians, following their uprising against the Dutch in 1830, gave
themselves not only a liberal government but also tariffs to protect their
infant industries. Despite their belief in the need for a separation between
government and civil society, flesh-and-blood liberals, outside of England,
then the world’s industrial leader, were generally not fans of free trade.
Although Lindsey cites the German work of my friend Ralph Raico, Die
Partei der Freiheit, he misinterprets a large chunk of that book’s
argument. Raico does not maintain that the Germans labored under an unusually
weak liberal (by which is meant libertarian) tradition. To the contrary:
he says Germans had influential representatives of that tradition, including
but not limited to Eugen Richter, who landed up being politically defeated.
And this, according to Raico, was not a peculiarly German fate, since it
happened in the Anglo-American world, with the rise of the welfare state.
point I find entirely questionable is the treatment of the Anglophone world
as being immune to the evils of the illiberal German Second Empire. Contemporary
Western “democracies” exercise a degree of centralized power and intrusive
entanglement with social institutions that would have shocked even the
Kathedersozialisten, whom our symposiasts denounce as totalitarian
nationalists. I do not recall (having read their work) Gustav Schmoller
or Adolf Wagner demanding that the German state punish “crimes of opinion,”
a practice that European and Canadian democracies now perform routinely.
Following the Napoleonic Wars the states of southwestern Germany introduced
the most liberal constitutions then in Europe, which remained in force
into the 20th century. If religious tolerance is another mark of a liberal
disposition, then Prussia, which practiced such tolerance while England
was oppressing Irish Catholics, must have been a relatively liberal country.
the percentage of GNP taken by the German Empire, which was a federal state,
was puny in comparison to what is now paid to our democratic welfare states.
Detailed figures on this and other related subjects are available in Wolfgang
Reinhard’s Geschichte der Staatsgewalt. (For France, one might look
at Pierre Rosanvallon’s L’état en France de 1789 à nos
jours.) But then Prussian and French bureaucrats in the 19th century,
unlike functionaries and judges in today’s “Social State,” were not combating
spousal rape, pursuing affirmative action, or bringing the income curve
into line with the state’s arbitrary standard of “social justice.” Although
by no means an enemy of this managerial dispensation, Reinhard describes
the “social interventionist regime as merely a soft version of the total
state.” Moreover, “state control [in the 20th century] has meant the history
of state power over the economy and society: increasing bureaucratization
and the extension of [state-defined] rights.” Why Lindsey would believe
any of this would end because of an interdependent world economy is anyone’s
why is “democracy,” as the symposiasts all assume, the guarantor of liberal
constitutional traditions? Most modern democracies favor parties and candidates
who redistribute wealth in their favor and end up pushing state
power well beyond its 19th-century size, which, according to Reinhard,
was hardly anemic. Real European liberals like Francois Guizot, Vilfredo
Pareto, Wilhelm Humboldt, and Fitzjames Stephens all made this self-evident
point about democracy and illiberal government, and nothing in our recent
political experience would refute it. Liberal societies may survive the
havoc of mass democracy but are not, to my knowledge, created by democrats,
who invariably favor the Social State. Finally I am struck by the apparent
acceptance by the other symposiasts of Lindsey’s very old chestnut, inherited
from Herbert Spencer by way of Friedrich Hayek, that the current collectivism
is an “atavistic type” to which the simpleminded are returning because
they can’t stand individualism (exemplified by free trade). The collectivism
of today’s welfare states is not of the same kind as one might have encountered
in the sacralized social hierarchy of the European Middle Ages or in Africa
among the Shonas and Zulus. The current collectivism is profoundly individualistic,
to the extent that it “liberates” genders, persons, and lifestyles from
traditional family and communal structures. Such distinctions do not indicate
that we late moderns are going back to a pre-liberal society. Rather we
are marching (with or without global free trade) into a world of social
engineering (on this point Hayek was certainly right) and multicultural
indoctrination, a world that is alarmingly different from any that existed
me to say that I am set aback by most of the arguments—pro and con—about
“counterfactualism” in the March 2004 issue of Historically Speaking.
They are often wanting. But the trouble is more than that. It is inherent
in the senseless and illegitimate use of the very word counterfactual.
in plain English, means: “against the facts.” But history does not consist
of “facts.” It consists of words. The very meaning of every “fact” is inseparable
from the words with which it is stated. (Besides, no single “fact” has
any meaning apart from our association of it with other “facts.”) Moreover:
the very statement of a “fact” is inseparable from its purpose. All of
this is—or should be—obvious, as in the case of the bottle being either
half-full or half-empty. Both statements of that “fact” may be true—while
the purpose of the stating of either may be false.
the pseudohistorical arguments for or against “counterfactual” history
involve is something different. It is the necessity of our recognition
of potentiality—something that goes against the “scientific” (Descartes’s
as well as Einstein’s) view of “objective reality” (whatever that
is). The historian must recognize the existence of potentialities even
when they have not crystallized into actualities. More than once I have
cited these words from Johan Huizinga:
sociologist, etc. deals with his material as if the outcome were given
in the known facts: he simply searches for the way in which the result
was alre a d y determined in the facts. The historian, on the other hand,
must always maintain towards his subject an indeterminist point of view.
He must constantly put himself at a point in the past at which the known
factors still seem to permit different outcomes. If he speaks of Salamis,
then it must be as if the Persians might still win . . . .
motto of my book about 1940, when Hitler could have won his war.)
is not “counterfactuality.” It requires a kind of knowledge and understanding
that lead to imagination. But then human imagination may also lead to self-deception
and thereafter to the deception of others, that is, to lying. At one end
of the spectrum of imagination are many examples of eyewitness history,
as in the case of the ancient Russian peasant whom the villagers of Borodino
pushed forward to show the Tsar Nicholas II in 1912, upon the 100th anniversary
of the battle there. He was now 106 years old; it was told that he had
seen Napoleon at the river. “And how did the Emperor of the French look?”
asked the Tsar. “He was six feet tall, your Majesty, and he had a long