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Joseph S. Lucas and Donald A. Yerxa, Editors

Richard Vinen, "Servant Problems"

Conducted by Donald A. Yerxa, "Einstein's Clocks, Poincare's Maps: An Interview with Peter Galison, Part I"

Michael Burger, "History and the Other Disciplines"

Mary Fulbrook, "Why All Historical Accounts Are Inevitably Theoretical, but Some Are Preferable to Others"

Conducted by Donald A. Yerxa, "Cultures of Defeats: An Interview with Wolfgang Schivelbusch" 

Dejan Djokic, "'After One Hundred Years': The Yugoslav Idea in Historical Perspective" 

C. Brad Faught, "The Oxford Movement: Still Interesting After All These Years" 

Glenn W. Olsen, "The Middle Ages in the History of Toleration"

Paul V. Murphy, "Donald Davison and Modern American Conservatism"

Kathleen Curran, "Romanesque Revival Architecture in Transnational Perspective"

William H. Bartsch, "The Other Pearl Harbor"

In Memoriam: John Higham


Historically Speaking: The Bulletin of the Historical Society

November 2003

Volume V, Number 2


by Richard Vinen

"Is this a book that you would want you wife or even your servants to read?" With these words Mervyn Griffith-Jones earned his place in British legal history. The book to which he referred was D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover. He was the prosecuting counsel in 1961 when Penguin Books was sued for publishing an "obscene" book. It was widely believed that Griffith-Jones's patronizing references to servants alienated the jury and thus ensured that he lost the case. 

Griffith-Jones's remark was not, however, entirely stupid. Lady Chatterley's Lover, first published in 1928, is indeed a novel about servants. It concerns a wealthy aristocrat's wife who is seduced by her husband's gamekeeper. This novel fits into a wider pattern. Other interwar English writers, who did not share Lawrence's particular social and sexual agenda, were also fascinated by the notion that upper class women might sleep with their social inferiors, especially their servants. In Somerset Maugham's "The Human Element" a wealthy writer discovers that his former fiancée is living with her chauffeur. Indeed, concern about the sexuality of servants was not confined to the pages of novels in interwar England. Robert Graves recalls that clients of the "better class of nudist colony" often brought their butlers and maids with them-these retainers, however, were expected to wear aprons and loin cloths. The sense that relations between masters and servants were in crisis could be found throughout Europe, but it was particularly intense in Britain. After all, the most famous portrayal of sexual relations between masters and servants in interwar France- Renoir's 1939 film La Règle du Jeu-describes a gamekeeper who is cuckolded by his social betters rather than seduced by them. 

The crisis of master/servant relations was also reflected in some more lighthearted works of British fiction. Mary Poppins (published in 1932) describes the new strength that servants had in their negotiations with employers: "'The best people ma'am,' she said, 'give every second Thursday, and one till six. And those I shall take or'-Mary Poppins paused, and Mrs. Banks knew what the pause meant. It meant that if she didn't get what she wanted Mary Poppins would not stay." P.G Woodhouse made a fortune from a series of books describing the relationship between Bertie Wooster, a half-witted upper class young man, and Jeeves, his brilliant and omnipotent "gentleman's gentleman." 

Most of all, servants were a brooding presence in the detective stories that became so popular in interwar England. Consider Dorothy L. Sayers's Unnatural Death: The Dawson Pedigree, published in 1927. The hero, Lord Peter Wimsey, identifies the murderer because he realizes that only someone with something to hide would have dismissed two maids merely for breaking a teapot: "nowadays it's not so easy to get good servants. Mistresses put up with a good deal more carelessness than they did in the dear dead days beyond recall." 

Hostility between the classes was not obvious or explicit in interwar England. There was no significant Communist Party and little political violence. Why then did tension between the classes so often show itself inside the home in conflict between master and servant? 

To answer this question it is necessary to go back before 1914. A large number of servants were employed in Victorian Britain. These were not, however, a homogeneous group. The rich had large groups of servants -the whole of aristocratic life, indeed in some ways the whole social order, hinged on these servants. In 1911 there were more gamekeepers in England than policemen. Relations of the very rich with their servants were marked by several things: 

o The fact that so many servants (butlers, gamekeepers, chauffeurs) were male. 

o The existence of hierarchies among those servants-so that orders were conveyed down to footmen and scullery maids via butlers and cooks. An employer did not have to exercise discipline directly over most of his servants. 

o Servants remained with the same employers for many years. 

o Employers knew their servants, or some of them, very well. The children of the rich were often brought up by the servants more than by their own parents. The rich felt comfortable with their servants-it is less clear whether servants always felt comfortable with the rich. 

Further down the scale things were different. Servants were important at the lower end of the middle class-indeed, they were important precisely because English social commentators drew the line between the middle and working class according to whether or not servants were employed.[1] However, the servants of the middle classes were not like those of the aristocracy. They were almost invariably female, and they rarely stayed with a single employer for a whole lifetime. The middle classes were haunted by the prospect that servants might leave-"she was a good cook as cooks go and as cooks go she went," wrote Saki. The novelist Mary Wesley claimed that her family ran through sixteen different nannies during her childhood. 

England's very prosperity provoked a "servant problem." On the one hand, the middle classes (especially the lower middle classes) expanded in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This meant that an ever-larger group of people thought of themselves as belonging to the "servant employing classes." On the other hand, potential servants found it increasingly easy to find employment in less arduous or more lucrative occupations. 

Changes that were probably already underway were greatly accelerated by the First World War. Servants were drafted into the army or drawn, especially in the case of female servants, into munitions factories. The latter were particularly important. After 1918 the taboo that had stopped a certain kind of "respectable" girl from working in factories was gone. Many young women would never return to the long hours and humiliations of life in service. In Britain the number of domestic servants dropped from 1,658,000 to 1,258,000[2] during the course of the war. 

At the lower end of the servant employing scale the impact of all this was simple. A whole section of British society stopped employing servants-or at least, they stopped employing full-time, live-in servants. This went with other changes. The middle class house became an increasingly private place, typically inhabited only by a nuclear family. Servants were sometimes replaced by labor saving devices-more efficient kitchens, vacuum cleaners. Sometimes the new technologies of domestic efficiency were made in factories that employed large numbers of young women (the people who would previously have entered domestic service). The very notion of the housewife who could master all domestic chores was partly an invention of the interwar years-it was an invention that was discussed in the newly created women's magazines. 

The effects of the First World War were not, however, just economic. The war also had a psychological effect on relations between servants and their employers. The upper classes often took their servants to war with them, and many officers in the British army had military servants, or "batmen," who were employed to make tea and polish boots. The authority of the upper and middle classes had been shaken by their obvious incompetence in war. Middle and upper class masculinity seemed less secure after elite men had spent four years crawling and stooping in the mud filled trenches of the Western Front. Shell shock, which seems to have been especially prevalent among the higher social classes, undermined notions of authority as grown men were reduced to neurotic wrecks. This had an impact on master/servant relations. Lord Peter Wimsey sobs in the arms of his manservant (and former sergeant) when he is afflicted by shell shock. A certain number of men from humble backgrounds were given officers' ranks in order to replace officers who had been killed. Lady Chatterley's Lover is partly about the impact of the war. Chatterley, the aristocratic cuckold, has been rendered impotent by a war wound. Mellors, the plebeian seducer, had been promoted to officer rank during the war. 

Distinctions of background no longer seemed natural, and employers were forced to recognize that their servants might have the same hopes, fears, and resentments as themselves. The impact of all this was particularly acute among that group that Orwell, with characteristically sharp eyes for social distinction, labeled the "lower upper middle class." That is to say the group of people who still expected to employ substantial groups of servants, but who did not have the resources to do so without strain. The diplomat turned journalist Harold Nicolson illustrates the new unease over the servant problem. In spite of its precarious financial circumstances, Nicolson's family employed two secretaries, a cook, a lady's maid, a chauffeur, a valet, and three gardeners in 1932.[3] But Nicolson's autobio- graphical writings reveal an uncomfortable attitude toward servants. In one essay described the embarrassment of dealing the drunken valet who accompanied Curzon to the Locarno conference. Interestingly, Curzon, a generation older than Nicolson and a good deal higher up the social seems to have regarded the incident amusement rather than embarrassment. 

Servant problems seem to have been particularly acute in one small but influential section of British society: the Bloomsbury of writers and artists who lived around Gordon Square in London. The Bloomsbury group was composed of men and women had grown up in the Victorian upper middle class. They all took servants for granted, the irregularity of their personal lives and precariousness of their financial circumstances impinged sharply on their relations with these servants. The painter Duncan Grant recorded a "riot" in Gordon Square when Alix Sargant-Florence went away for a month leaving no money: "the servants thought they had been marooned." Vanessa Bell's housemaid Mary was driven mad by her circumstances. [4]

Two particularly influential thinkers emerged from Bloomsbury, and in both cases their thought was informed by their relations with servants. The novelist Virginia Woolf had grown up rich in Kensington before marrying Leonard, a man from humbler circumstances. Leonard himself recognized the change that had come about in his wife's position and particularly her relations with servants. He recalled that a letter written to Virginia in 1936 by Sophie, an old family servant, already seemed like a relic from a previous age.[5]

Quentin Bell, Virginia Woolf's nephew who was born in 1910, devoted several pages in his biography of his aunt to the impact of the servant crisis on the family. Virginia and her sister Vanessa had grown up in a house with seven servants. Upon leaving home in the early 20th century Virginia kept two servants while Vanessa kept four ("the minimum for a family in which the wife had a full-time occupation and . . . two children"). However, relations between the sisters and their servants were thrown into further confusion partly by the First World War and partly by a subtler cultural shift: "the Stephen sisters lacked the social assurance of their parents; they disliked the servant/mistress relationship, but they did not know how to avoid it. Paternalism only works when both sides accept it as proper and natural. When it breaks down, injustices may be removed, but the moral situation becomes uncomfortable."[6]

Virginia Woolf was a feminist who wrote two eloquent books (Three Guineas and A Room of One's Own) about the ways in which women's opportunities were restricted. Ostensibly, both books are attacks on male power-on, for example, the diversion of resources into the education of boys. Strikingly, however, they are both books that take the upper middle class identity of the reader for granted. These are books about how resources within a relatively wealthy family should be distributed. Woolf never once pauses to ask about the women whose work as domestic servants had smoothed the path for both herself and her brother. Quite the contrary, she takes the existence of servants for granted as a means by which the leisure of middle class young women was obtained. 

The other great thinker of Bloomsbury was the economist John Maynard Keynes. Keynes's family was less rich than Virginia Woolf's, but it was secure enough to take servants for granted. A visitor to the Keynes family home recalled that "food would rumble up from the kitchen below in a hoist which would then disappear in the floor."[7] Keynes is often seen as a political radical whose economics were designed to emancipate the working classes. Nothing could be further from the truth. Keynes's economics were designed to protect capitalism not to damage it. Keynes believed strongly in inequality and privilege. His Economic Consequences of the Peace is an elegy for the privileges of the pre- 1914 world, and a crucial part of that world was servants. Consider one of the most famous passages in this work: "The inhabitant of London could order by telephone while sipping his morning tea in bed, the various products of the whole earth." Who, we might ask ourselves, made the tea that "the inhabitant of London" is sipping in bed? A few lines down on the same page, Keynes spells out his assumptions about the servants who performed menial tasks for the people he describes: "He could despatch his servant to the neighbouring office of a bank for such supply of precious metals as might seem appropriate."[8]

The ultimate purpose of economics in Keynes's view was to create a world in which the privileged and gifted would have the leisure to paint, write, and think beautiful thoughts. Servants were essential if the rich were to enjoy their leisure, and this is why Keynes himself experienced the interwar servant crisis with such a shock. When his own servant-Mr. Bam-began to ape his social betters and paint pictures, Keynes promptly sacked him. 

The servant crisis of the English middle classes had both a beginning and an end. Just as it began when the First World War made servants more scarce and less deferential, it ended when the Second World War made them almost extinct. A few very wealthy people still employed servants-when the British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan received the Freedom of the City of London in 1961 he took twelve servants, including his head gardener and head forester, as his guests. However, industrial employment increased again during and immediately after the Second World War, while upper and middle class incomes were sharply reduced by the taxation of the first Atlee government. The huge success of cookery books written by Elizabeth David (the impoverished and bohemian daughter of a conservative baronet) during the 1950s signaled the fact that well-bred ladies had finally accepted that they would have to cook their husbands' dinners. 

Richard Vinen teaches history at King's College London. His most recent book is A History in Fragments: Europe in the Twentieth Century (Da Capo, 2001). 

[1] John Stevenson, British Society, 1914-1945 (Penguin, 1984), 34. 

[2] Susan Pedersen, Family, Dependence, and the Origins of the Welfare State: Britain and France, 1914-1945 (Cambridge University Press, 1993), 91. 

[2] Harold Nicolson, Diaries and Letters, 1930-1939, ed. Nigel Nicolson (Collins, 1967), 109. 

[4] Robert Skidelsky, John Maynard Keynes. The Economist as Saviour, 1920-1937 (Penguin, 1994), 11. 

[5] Leonard Woolf, Beginning Again: An Autobiography of the Years 1911 to 1918 (Peter Smith, 1964), 51: "the following letter from Sophie to Virgina . . . shows in an interesting way the curious psychology of these devoted servants to the families for whom they worked-sometimes without exorbitant recognition-in the 19th century." 

[6] Quentin Bell, Virginia Woolf, 2 vols. (Hogarth, 1972), 2: 56. 

[7] Skidelsky, John Maynard Keynes, 8. 

[8] John Maynard Keynes, The Economic Consequences of the Peace (Harcourt, Brace, and Howe, 1920), 9. 


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Historically Speaking: The Bulletin of the Historical Society

November 2003

Volume V, Number 2


Conducted by Donald A. Yerxa

Albert Einstein has become an icon of 20th-century science; indeed, he may well stand as the symbol for the entire century. How do historians explain the importance of pivotal breakthroughs of a theoretical nature—like Einstein’s work on relativity— that seemingly change how we view the world? Are these theoretical advances essentially the product of the genius and creativity of heroic individuals? Certainly it is an article of historical faith that context matters. But how much? In the case of Einstein, for instance, does his work in the Bern patent office have anything more than coincidental bearing on his thinking about time and space? Peter Galison’s latest book, Einstein’s Clocks, Poincaré’s Maps (Norton, 2003), explores these themes insightfully and in illuminating detail. Galison, the Mallinckrodt Professor for the History of Science and of Physics at Harvard University, argues that paying attention to the material context of the worlds that Einstein and Poincaré inhabited deepens our appreciation for their significant theoretical work. Donald Yerxa interviewed Galison in his Harvard office on September 29, 2003. We provide the interview in two installments, the first focusing on the particulars of Einstein’s Clocks, Poincaré’s Maps; the second on how historians of science account for how science has worked in the past.

Donald Yerxa: What prompted you to write Einstein’s Clocks, Poincaré’s Maps

Peter Galison: For many years I have been captivated by the question of how abstract issues in theoretical science connect to concrete circumstances—machines, laboratories, instruments. I am fascinated by the way people bring ideas into contact with the physical and completely material world. Einstein, for instance, spent some of his formative scientific years working in the patent office—six days a week, ten to twelve hours a day. And yet during this period he wrote some of the most important scientific papers of his day in quantum mechanics, relativity, and atomic theory. Were these connected? Was it just a day job that Einstein had? In a broader sense, beyond the purely biographical, what connection does the development of relativity theory have to the world out of which it came? This mirrors the historian’s eternal question: why did this happen then and there? What I am trying to do in the book is to address that question. Why does relativity happen in different forms, in different ways in Paris and Bern at the turn of the century? 

Yerxa: Can you speak to the book’s subtitle, Empires of Time

Galison: In many ways Poincaré and Einstein are after something very similar. Both come to that class of ideas we call the Theory of Relativity, but they reason in very different ways. And part of what I want to do is to explain how differently they approach this problem. That requires setting them in different contexts. Part of that difference in context is pedagogical; part of it is a different relationship to physical theories, a different attitude toward the status of physical theories; part of it has to do with differences in their attitudes toward mathematics. They are of different generations. There are many contrasts that one can draw between them, and I am interested in those. But in the subtitle I wanted to point out that in the last third of the 19th century the extension of technical networks was extremely important in the definition of nationhood and empire— the railroad networks, telegraph lines, undersea cables that extended coordinated time across the interior of nations, across national boundaries, and eventually into the colonies. This skein of wires became both a practical and symbolic way of inscribing empire on the world. When a place was mapped— whether in Brazil, Vietnam, Senegal, or the western parts of North America—it was on one level a practical problem of how you laid the grid for railroad lines, mineral extraction, military planning. But it was also a symbolic conquest in which the country that did the mapping imposed its grid of the world, its zero of longitude, and its clockregulated simultaneity onto the regions that were in contest. 

Poincaré was involved with these issues at the height of the great imperial struggle. The French, and Poincaré in particular, were involved in the extension of telegraphic lines and missions of establishing simultaneity (and therefore mapping) into Southeast Asia and South America as well as into Africa. So these were issues that were very central. It’s not an accident that the last time that Count Helmuth von Moltke, whose fame by the end of his life really was unexcelled by anybody in Germany, chose to speak in parliament on the military benefits unified time would have in the mustering of troops. Moltke, who was credited with having beaten the French because he was able to muster hundreds of thousands and eventually millions of troops by railroad and bring them to the front through highly choreographed scheduling, argued that military mobilization was very difficult in the absence of a unified time. But it wasn’t just a practical question. On this von Moltke was clear. When he spoke to the politicians in the period just after German unification, he urged them to unify the new nation’s time, maintaining that the disunified condition of time in Germany was a legacy of the earlier fragmented state of the German nation. His view was that it was necessary, symbolically, for the new nation of Germany to have a unified time, and not to rewrite in clocks the splintered condition that had been its past. 

So coordinating time was always a practical issue, but also more than practical. It was material, but it was also symbolic. And that is something that we see throughout the story that I am interested in telling. Synchronized clocks functioned on a purely practical level: they were crucial for markets, train schedules, mapping, and much else besides; but it is also evident in the world of physics, and at the same time a vital piece of metaphysics. The issue of what time is and how to define simultaneity is always a practical matter, and it is always more than practical. 

Yerxa: What would you like the reader to take away from this book? 

Galison: I’d like the reader to come away with the sense that Einstein and Poincaré didn’t live in isolated bubbles outside of the world. Each of them stood at a kind of triple intersection of technological concerns about the world, theoretical questions about how the world worked, and philosophical issues that troubled both of them all throughout their lives. I’m interested in conveying a sense that there isn’t one foundational layer on which everything else is built. It is not that relativity is really about philosophy and secondarily about physics and technology. It is not at root about technology and only epiphenomenally about theory or philosophy. And it is not just about physics and only accidentally connected to the technology. What I’d like to convey is perhaps captured in the metaphor that I used often in the book of the intersection of a set of roads. The Place de l’Etoile in Paris, for instance, is not really in one of the roads that crosses there. An intersection is defined precisely as the meeting point of these roads. So, if you ask if you are traveling down the road of physics, do you come to this idea of the coordination of clocks, which is my central theme, the answer is yes. If you ask whether people involved in the technology of making maps are producing patents for devices to coordinate clocks along train lines, the answer is again yes. And if you query if the conventional coordination of clocks is an issue for philosophers who are trying to understand the nature of time, the answer, once again is absolutely yes. What is fascinating to me, and what I hope will interest the reader as well, is that a very simple procedure for coordinating clocks—take one clock and synchronize the second by sending an electrical signal between them taking into account the time the signal takes to get from one clock to the other—is an idea that is all at once located dead center within technology, physics, and philosophy. 

Yerxa: Your reconstruction of the worlds that Poincaré and Einstein inhabited in the late 19th century reveals the interconnectedness of theory and practical matters: issues of no small concern to railroad engineers and map makers overlapped with the efforts of physicists and philosophers to grapple with the meaning of time. To what extent have historians tended to view science as the unfolding of theories and ideas and in so doing have failed to pay adequate attention to historical context and what you term “the materiality of science”? 

Galison: Propelled in part by the anti-positivist philosophers, the history of science, especially in the 1960s and 1970s, became a history of ideas, focusing on themes that were outside of the world of experiment. But over the last two decades there has been a reawakening of interest in the local circumstances in which scientific work has been accomplished, with a special attention to experimentation. That turn towards the material world was certainly true for me in How Experiments End but also for much of my generation’s scholarship: Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer’s important book, Leviathan and the Air-Pump, addressed the history of the air pump and located that history within the broader question of dispute resolution in 17th-century Britain. Another key piece of work was Crosbie Smith and Norton Wise’s Energy and Empire which placed Lord Kelvin in the matrix of industrial, theological, and laboratory work that set the tone for much Victorian scientific culture—here the steam engine and telegraphy mediated between industry and high physics. We’ve begun, in short, to look at science as embedded in the world, through devices as well as experiments. So while my interest began in questions that were broadly epistemological (how experiments and indeed certain instruments shape what counts as a scientific argument, for example), I’m now after something else. I am fascinated by the powerful and often very direct confrontation between very material objects (like clocks that were actually wired along railroad lines) and the abstract reasoning that goes into completion of the Theory of Relativity. I am not interested in displacing the history of ideas or the cognitive content of science in favor of a “foundational” stratum of the material in which science is “nothing other than” the residue of industrial concerns. Instead, what I find most exciting is how the abstract and concrete inform one another. Grasping how the development of very important changes in our theoretical understanding of the world has interwoven with practical material aspects deepens, rather than reduces, our appreciation for the nature and import of those theoretical alterations. 

Yerxa: To what extent is Einstein’s Clocks, Poincaré’s Maps biographical? 

Galison: I’m interested in the figures of Einstein and Poincaré, but this is not a biography of either figure. Einstein’s Clocks, Poincaré’s Maps is not a biography in the sense that it delineates the arena of attention around the proximate bubble of its protagonists —I have no particular interest in the childhood adventures or distant forebears of Einstein and Poincaré, in Einstein’s romantic entanglements, or in his postwar engagement with various causes. Instead, I use these two figures to get at something important about the intersection of technological, philosophical, and physical concerns and practices at the end of the 19th century. In a sense I use (certain) biographical elements to an end that is not in the main biographical. So it does matter to me that Poincaré was simultaneously the most famous mathematician in France, one of the leading physicists, president of the Bureau des Longitudes, and an absolutely central figure in the philosophical community both in France and internationally. So where Poincaré stands is key to me. But his location is important in this book because it picks out this critical intersection of the technological, the physical, and the philosophical. Understanding the conditions under which that intersection could arise and prosper means analyzing, for example, the specific scientific culture of Ecole Polytechnique, where Poincaré was trained and eventually taught. It means understanding the daily practices of work at the Bureau des Longitudes, and it means grasping what an informal grouping of scientifically inclined philosophers were after during these last decades of the 19th century. 

Yerxa: And you studied at Polytechnique as well? 

Galison: Yes, oddly enough I spent a year at Ecole Polytechnique (1972–73) exactly one hundred years after Poincaré. Ecole Polytechnique is an interesting place; it has no analogue in the United States—a kind of cross, if you can imagine such a thing, between West Point and MIT. It is a highly technical school, founded in the time of Napoleon for training leading French civil servants, mathematicians, politicians, generals, and engineers. For several hundred years its great ambition has been to combine a very high level of scientific training in pure mathematics with a superb engineering training. These characteristics of the institution are very important for the story I tell here because it meant that Poincaré emerged from this training prepared to become a mining inspector; he was quite expert in matters associated with mine safety and mining engineering. He remained interested in mining throughout his life. But it was not only mining that held his attention: he immersed himself in a kind of rational engineering across many fields. For instance—and this is relevant to Einstein’s Clocks, Poincaré’s Maps— it was Poincaré who took on the task of evaluating whether it was worthwhile to pursue the old revolutionary ideal of decimalizing time. It was Poincaré who authored some of the early French papers and books on radio technology; and it was Poincaré who helped get the Eiffel Tower wired to be an enormous antenna that could broadcast time signals to navigators and explorers serving the French Empire. So this is someone who is trained in engineering, but a kind of engineering that is far from the tinkerer, home-grown inventor, or purely pragmatic designer. Poincaré was early on immersed in a rational engineering, if you will; an engineering informed by very strong mathematical and scientific training. 

I was seventeen when I came to Ecole Polytechnique—I worked as a research student at a plasma physics laboratory and studied with one of the great mathematicians of our era, Laurent Schwartz. Witnessing firsthand this combination of an extremely high level of mathematics with very practical concerns made an impression on me and perhaps gave me some empathy for what this institution had been up to in its very central role in the reconstruction after the Franco- Prussian War of 1870–71. No doubt, having spent a year with the students and scientists of Ecole Polytechnique contributed to my fascination with the ambitions of the institution in the time of Poincaré. 

Yerxa: Would you place time—the concept of time—in some historical and historiographical context? 

Galison: There is, of course, some wonderful work on the history of time. Jacques Le Goff’s Time, Work, and Culture in the Middle Ages comes to mind; Dohrn-Van Rossum’s terrific book, History of the Hour, and of course my colleague here at Harvard, David Landes’s Revolution in Time. More recently, some younger scholars have begun to take up questions surrounding coordinated time in its cultural setting—Jakob Messerli, for instance. One of the things that we learn from the scholars studying the late medieval period is that around the 14th century, as clocks begin to be installed in public places, the symbolic and the practical are quite con-nected. I find that tremendously interesting. The dominion of the feudal lord would be established over the range in which it was possible to hear the bells of a clock. Clocks were seen to be a representation of a natural, God-given order, as well as regulators of behavior and signs of secular power. People recognized different kinds of time, as Dohrn- Van Rossum has documented. We learn through some of this scholarship, for instance, that there was a time of punishment: clocks or hourglasses were used to determine how long someone could be subject to certain tortures. There was a time for how long one had to present a case in front of a judge. In addition to many different kinds of time, there were also many different symbolic registers of time: time as being the memory of our finite existence, the role of clocks and hourglasses in paintings as symbols of mortality. There was a movement back and forth between different practical uses of time, but always with a symbolic overlay. In that sense what I am doing resonates very strongly with this riveting and fairly recent way of looking at the history of time, especially from the late Middle Ages onward. 

Yerxa: And in what ways was the notion of time itself altered by the work of Poincaré and Einstein? 

Galison: Time changes when you get to the last third or so of the 19th century. Suddenly —and this is immensely striking to many contemporaries of Poincaré and Einstein —time is brought down from a domain beyond ours. When Poincaré or his contemporaries say that time is a convention, there is a realization that we have a choice about time, and that in our ability to fix the basis of duration and simultaneity we find that our time, as we have access to it, is all there is to time. For Newton, and indeed for anyone in the 17th century or before, the measure we make of time is but a poor approximation of something purer and higher than that to which we have access. Newton points insistently to the difference between mathematical and absolute time, on the one side, and the relative practical time that clocks actually measure, on the other. The idea of making time and time synchronization conventional is that there isn’t a time behind the times that are measured. There isn’t a hidden absolute world in back of the screen of “mere” appearances. This comes up as a practical matter, for instance, in astronomy even before relativity. Astronomers knew that if they defined the basic unit of time to be the rotation of the Earth on its axis, then they found that pendula (and every other physical process) were speeding up. By contrast, if they decided that a pendulum was a constant basis of time measurement and therefore defined the basic unit of time, then they would discover that the Earth was slowing down on its axis. For Poincaré and his philosophically- minded scientist colleagues, God did not come down and tell us that one of those choices (pendulum swing or Earth rotation) must be the right basic unit of time. We must make a choice. And as Poincaré and his contemporaries recognized, we’re better off taking the pendulum as our basic unit because that is the simpler choice. We can then try to account physically for why the Earth is slowing down—because tidal forces dissipate the Earth’s rotational energy. The alternative presented a hopeless scientific problem: taking the Earth to be rotating constantly on its axis and (somehow) explaining why every other natural phenomenon of nature was speeding up. In such choices came the realization that there was no Archimedean point outside of the world from which an absolute time-fixing motion of the universe could be chosen. 

Both Poincaré and Einstein pushed hard for understanding time in this conventional way. Both understood that simultaneity is something that is established procedurally and by agreement. So the short answer to your question would be that in mixing symbolic and concrete issues, the history of time that I am giving here—this period of synchronization in philosophy, physics, and technology—brings a dramatic new understanding of time. But in a sense, the constant back and forth between practical and symbolic registers of timekeeping is indeed consonant with a history of time stretching back into the late Middle Ages. 

Yerxa: What is the connection between Einstein’s Clocks and your previous work? 

Galison: My work in its broadest sense is about looking at physics not as a simple entity, but as an entity composed of different subcultures, subcultures that are differently attached to the wider world around us. For instance, instrument makers working at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) on the French-Swiss border seem to be immersed in the world of particle physics. And in a way they are part of the world of particle physics, but they share a material culture—a set of instruments, a set of concerns—with people doing things that have nothing to do with particle physics (e.g., people designing hardened electronics for use on the nuclear battlefield because that is the only other place aside from particle physics where people have to worry about massive irradiation of extremely sensitive electronic devices). So the people making those machines live in part in a world that they share with theorists and in part in a world they share with machine and electronic engineers who have nothing to do with physics. I have also been interested in the way theorists are attached differently to the world than experimentalists, how experimentalists find certain kinds of devices and arguments persuasive and others not. Theorists may share concerns and techniques with mathematicians, for instance, or with philosophers worried about the nature of conventional knowledge, causality, or space and time. So I am interested in the specific ways in which the parts of physics are connected to one another, and in the connection of physics to the wider world beyond physics. 

The first book that I wrote, How Experiments End, was about how experimental physicists decide they are looking at a real effect and not an artifact of the machine or apparatus. It showed that what persuaded an experimenter was not necessarily that which persuaded a theorist—the two worlds moved with their own rhythms and with their own breaks and continuities. My next book, Image and Logic, was about two vast traditions of instrument making in physics. One tradition made machines that produced pictures (for instance, the cloud chamber, the nuclear emulsion, or the bubble chamber). And another competing tradition wasn’t looking so much for that detailed picture of things as it was for statistical counts, for logical connections between events that would be persuasive for them. These two traditions rivaled one another, each suspicious of the other over many decades. Eventually, in the 1970s and 1980s, the logical tradition and the visual tradition came together in devices that could combine the pictorial and the ability to manipulate objects at the same time. That was Image and Logic: A Material Culture of Microphysics. 

And Einstein’s Clocks, Poincaré’s Maps is the first part of an effort to try to extend this kind of argument to the third major subculture of modern physics, theory: that most abstract of our knowledge of the outside world. My hope was to bring theory into the picture in a way that would underline its abstraction and yet set it in relation to very concrete circumstances. But perhaps that is a continuing theme through all my work: I am fascinated by what we can learn as we move back and forth between machines and theories. Or alternatively, perhaps, we need to learn to look at the great movements in theory and understand them as machine-like, while we grasp material culture as a form of theory. 

Yerxa: What are you doing next? 

Galison: Well, I have a couple of things I am working on. A colleague, Lorraine Daston, and I are finishing a history of scientific objectivity that we’ve worked on for many years: Images of Objectivity. We’re tracking the idea of objectivity through the history of those compendia of images that define the working objects of science: scientific atlases. And then I am trying to finish a book about “theory machines,” looking at what has happened in physical and theoretical science over the last several years. On one side, I am interested in how theoretical physics has moved toward the more abstract (joining string theory and mathematics) and, on the other side, toward engineering with the development of nanoscience (joining physics, biology, chemistry, and engineering). 

Yerxa: Einstein’s Clocks has received a lot of attention. In particular, I note that a British reviewer has called it “perhaps the most sophisticated history of science ever attempted in a popular science book.” Who was your intended audience? 

Galison: I originally had thought I was writing the first part of the third volume of the trilogy that began with How Experiments End and continued in Image and Logic. Einstein’s Clocks, Poincaré’s Maps emerged from what was going to be the first chapter of this Theory Machines. But at a certain point I realized that this story made a self-contained whole. I started out with Einstein and then began to wonder whether there was anyone else at this three-fold crossing of technology, physics, and philosophy. Rather dimly, I remembered a line in one of Poincaré’s essays where he alluded to telegraphy as he explained how simultaneity ought to be defined. But the book really took form when I found (in the Parisian archives) that Poincaré had played a significant role in the Bureau des Longitudes —then I could see that the parallels (and anti-parallels) between Einstein and Poincaré could be used to frame a story that was both a broader history and a very different kind of history of relativistic time. By structuring the text around the confluence of these various time coordination efforts (rather than an encyclopedic history of the special theory of relativity) I also realized that I could tell this story exactly the way I wanted to—with the methodological sophistication I was after but without the equations that a history of electrodynamics would require. So I took it as my goal—whether it succeeded or not others will have to judge— to write a book that was not a popularization in the sense of being a vulgarization of something that I had done in a more sophisticated way elsewhere. That is, the book is not a popularization if one means by popularization the translation of scholarly results into simplified terms. To be honest, I don’t have two or three years to spend on that kind of project. This had to be—for me—something that represented what I had done in the best way I was capable. And in any case, I was convinced that at least some readers would like a book about physics that assumes a sophisticated audience interested in ideas— just not an audience at ease with differential equations. But I did spend a tremendous amount of time just working on the writing. In fact, the last year of work on the project was devoted almost entirely to writing and rewriting the text in order to evoke a time and place where linked clocks mattered. My aim was to do it in a way that captured the relevant pieces of physics and philosophy, brought them forward with my historiographical and theoretical ambitions intact, and yet skipped the turgid prose of pedantic exposition. I wanted very much for the book to be self-contained. So it is a piece of popular science writing, if you will, in the sense that I did not want to cut off part of the audience that would be interested in it just so I could have the satisfaction of writing down equations. For this book I didn’t think that was necessary. I held tenaciously to the idea that if I wrote it well enough, carefully enough, I could capture the ideas in a way that physicists would recognize as well as historians or philosophers—for that matter, people from any background who want to understand more about time and space at just that turning point where these concepts came down from Newton’s absolutes to the very earthbound conventions of technology, relativity, and scientific philosophy. 

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by Michael Burger

I’ve noticed an odd thing in the search for new history faculty at my school in the past eight years or so. When asked what they wanted students to get out of their classes, candidates we interviewed often had little to say about what might make historical study different from the other humanities or social sciences. This became evident when candidates were asked: “You are on a committee to revise the core curriculum, that set of courses which all undergraduates at the university must take. In the face of competing demands from the many other disciplines that claim they should be part of the core, would you take the position that history should be included and, if so, why?” The aim of this query was not to ask, “How would you defend our turf if need be?” The idea, rather, was to get candidates to define in a concrete way what they thought history had to offer students and how that related to other disciplines. 

As expected, the candidates thought all students should take at least one course in history. As to why that should be so, most candidates gave two reasons. The first concerned skills: a history class cultivates the capacity to use evidence to make arguments that hold water, to read with care, and to write clearly, not to mention correctly. The second concerned subject matter: the past is a foreign country, and so to study the past means learning to understand “the other.” Thus through historical study students develop a sensitivity which will help them understand other cultures in the modern world as well. Neither of these rationales is objectionable. I, for one, agree with both of them. But neither really addresses the question about the core curriculum. . . .

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by Mary Fulbrook 

Woody Allen once famously presented a trailer for a course in epistemology as follows: “Is knowledge knowable? If not, how do we know?” One sometimes gets a similar feeling of frustration with arguments about the nature of history. 

On the one hand, historians—and people generally—present accounts of the past “as it really was” all the time. We recount our own lives and tell each other stories of what happened during the day as though these were in some very simple sense true (and if in doubt, we readily seek other accounts, other sources of information); we argue about historical causation, make historical comparisons, and situate current events in a wider context all the time. (Was 9/11 another Pearl Harbor? How valid was the supposed evidence for the existence weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?) Professional historians in a more disciplined fashion seek to provide an evidence-based account of selected facets of the past. Historical museums and reconstructions on historical sites, popular history books, and historical themes in television and film have been enjoying a boom with the general public. And historians frequently provide critical responses to the popularization of history as though there were some unproblematic way of comparing the popularized representations with “the way it really was,” as responses to the recent BBC Hitler biography readily demonstrate. 

On the other hand, there are a variety of challenges to the notion that we can know the past as it really was. There is a strong theoretical challenge from postmodernists, who have argued that the historical enterprise is fundamentally flawed. Some (such as Keith Jenkins or Frank Ankersmit) argue that since the past has gone forever, it is no longer available as a reality against which we can measure our accounts; there are only interpretations of interpretations, and there can never be any unmediated knowledge of the past as it really was. Others (such as Hans Kellner), following the early writings of Hayden White, argue that “stories as a whole” are not “given” in the past; we impose an order on historical material that was not there as it happened. While on this view individual statements about the past may be true, the stories told by historians are essentially “emplotments” of selected tidbits scavenged from the surviving debris of the past, and hence imaginative constructions of the present rather than genuine representations of the past. Postmodernists thus argue that there is an essentially unbridgeable gap between the constructions of the present and the intrinsically unknowable past. And if an infinite number of stories can be told about the past, and all are equally not open to disconfirmation, how is it possible to choose between them on anything other than aesthetic grounds?. . . .

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Conducted by Donald A. Yerxa

Wolfgang Schivelbusch is an award-winning freelance cultural historian known in the United States primarily for his trilogy: The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space in the 19th Century (University of California Press, 1986); Tastes of Paradise: A Social History of Spices, Stimulants, and Intoxicants (Vintage, 1993); and Disenchanted Night: The Industrialization of Light in the 19th Century (University of California Press, 1995). His latest book, The Culture of Defeat: On Nationalism, Trauma, Mourning, and Recovery (Metropolitan Books, 2003), demonstrates that the interplay between military defeat and culture is a rich field for comparative historical inquiry. The parallels between Schivelbusch’s project and the Historical Society’s recent efforts to examine historical reconstructions in comparative fashion at the 2002 Atlanta conference (to access the conference program, please visit www.bu.edu/historic/ conference.html) prompted Donald Yerxa to interview Schivelbusch on July 1, 2003.

Donald A. Yerxa: What prompted you to write The Culture of Defeat

Walter Schivelbusch: The project began as the result of a conversation I had with an elderly German man about the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. He mentioned to me that this was the third defeat that he had experienced in the 20th century. And I woke up to something. I had thought of the upheaval of 1989 and the collapse of the East German regime as a sort of peace revolution, and it had never occurred to me that it was a defeat of sorts. This man’s observation prompted me to think that I was indeed witnessing a defeat in 1989, which in turn led me to look at how defeat was experienced in other times. To what extent, for instance, was West Germany like the North and East Germany like the South after the American Civil War?

Yerxa: Did you wake up one day after 1989 and decide that your next book would be a comparative study of defeated societies? 

Schivelbusch: No, but I have an existential predisposition to this sort of topic. Unalloyed optimism makes me feel uncomfortable, and the underdog usually has my sympathy. But definitely the project was precipitated by witnessing a political unit going down. 

Yerxa: You state that “[e]very society experiences defeat in its own way. But the varieties of response within vanquished nations—whether psychological, cultural, or political—conform to a recognizable set of patterns or archetypes that recurs across time and national boundaries.” In broad brush strokes, could you discuss some of the most telling and recognizable patterns of defeated cultures? 

Schivelbusch: The first and most obvious response to the shock of defeat is denial. That can last days or weeks, but then comes the realization that the defeat at the hands of an exterior enemy is an opportunity to overthrow the old interior regime, which becomes the scapegoat for the military defeat. 

Yerxa: You also discuss a fascinating series of patterns of regeneration and recovery. Could you speak to those a bit? 

Schivelbusch: There are a number of related coping patterns whereby the vanquished view military defeat as a purifying and revitalizing force. Furthermore, the losers have a tendency to equate military defeat with cultural superiority. The suffering of defeat is deemed to confer an aura of spiritual superiority on the vanquished, who in turn view the victors as only mechanical technocrats. The victors’ technological and organizational skills should be borrowed (as was the case when Germans embraced Taylorism after World War I) but only to enhance the vanquished’s superior cultural identity. In this way the victor functions almost like a warehouse or arsenal of technological expertise at the disposal of the spiritually superior vanquished. It strikes me as I talk to you that this constitutes a remarkable inversion of the standard view of victors and vanquished. The vanquished see themselves as spiritually superior as a result of having suffered. And by selectively appropriating from the victor, the vanquished become stronger. 

Yerxa: This sounds like the redemption of military defeat into cultural victory. 

Schivelbusch: Yes, and you can observe these sentiments of spiritual superiority today in the former East Germany and Soviet Union, where the notion that the victors of the Cold War are shallowly materialistic thrives. 

Yerxa: What is the role of myth in the cultures of defeat? 

Schivelbusch: At the risk of exposing myself to the criticism of conflating Freudian analysis with political collective consciousness, I think it is understandable that in the shock of defeat, people retire to citadelles sentimentales, emotional fortresses, places of safety often rediscovered after having been temporarily lost. In the American South the novels of Walter Scott, in France the myths of the martyr-hero Roland and of Joan of Arc, and in Germany the Nibelungenlied and Wagner’s Ring all served as important psychological territory where the defeated derived political meaning and developed regenerative energy. 

Yerxa: How universal are the patterns you detected? The three case studies you supply (the American South after the Civil War, France following the Franco-Prussian War, and Germany after World War I) are all taken from a relatively compact, sixty-year period of fairly recent Western history. 

Schivelbusch: It is true that my book deals with defeat in the age of mass democracy and nationalism. My hunch would be that in an absolutistic, aristocratic regime the patterns I discuss would not likely hold true. Such regimes would lack the modern techniques of propaganda that go hand in hand with modern mass psychology. Having said that, one can detect elements of the “culture of defeat” in France following the Seven Years’ War. There was some evidence of sentimental middle class denial as well as heroizing the defeated power and demeaning the victor —things that we see in the later episodes I discuss in the book. 

Yerxa: In 2002 the Historical Society sponsored a conference in Atlanta on historical reconstructions. It was an attempt to look comparatively at the rebuilding of defeated societies throughout history. Do you believe that such broad comparative approaches hold promise? 

Schivelbusch: Reconstruction does seem to have an extreme, rationalistic Enlightenment ring to it. I’m not sure how well it would apply to a society defeated, say, by the Roman Empire. The term seems most appropriate when applied to the period following the late 18th century. It assumes that you can repair things intentionally following a plan, doing it better than before. But like most aspects of Enlightenment thought, reconstructions don’t work out the way people thought they would. Reconstruction also goes hand in hand with the modern concept of war as mission, the use of coercive force to impose betterment on those who are deemed ignorant or evil. 

Yerxa: In the light of some of the themes of your Culture of Defeat, how do you understand the military defeat of Iraq—both from the standpoint of the victors and the vanquished? 

Schivelbusch: In my conversations with Americans and in the early reviews of my book, I have been surprised by the amount of pondering over both the triumphalism present in American culture as well the experience of the defeated in the Middle East. My impression is that there has been a major shift in the American cultural landscape. A “Europeanizing” minority has emerged that I would not have expected. I have a hunch that this shift may be a delayed reaction to the American experience in Vietnam. Let me add that we should not overstate the importance of the American military victory in Iraq. Much like the Roman Empire, the United States is engaged in a series of imperial wars, and Iraq is just one of many such conflicts. Some critics talk about American hubris. I prefer to think that the United States has been exhibiting an “innocent ignorance” as it wields its military might after the Cold War—much like Wilhelmine Germany in the years prior to World War I.

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by Dejan Djokic 

In 1911 the Serbian historian and politician Stojan Novakovic gave a lecture entitled “After One Hundred Years: Belgrade, May 15, 2011.” A year later the “Six Year War” started in the Balkans, as a result of which Serbia would first double its territory and then eventually emerge as the core of the united Serb-Croat-Slovene Kingdom. In his lecture, which was published in the Croatian-Serbian Almanac (1911), Novakovic imagined Belgrade as the capital of a future Yugoslavia, a land of united South Slav provinces, most of which were still under Habsburg or Ottoman rule. The significance of Novakovic’s lecture was that it clearly illustrated the expectations of even the most prominent advocates of Yugoslav unity—its supporters regarded a united Yugoslav state as a distant ideal that would be eventually achieved, perhaps in a hundred years. 

Novakovic was not alone in believing that the Yugoslavs would unite one day; nor did only Yugoslavs believe in the inevitability, if still a distant one, of their unity. The same year Novakovic published his lecture, the foremost British expert on South Slav history and politics, R. W. Seton-Watson, wrote that Serbs and Croats belonged to a Yugoslav “race” which would eventually unite, just like the Italian and German “races” had done in the 19th century. In the 1910 census carried out in Austria-Hungary, Serbs and Croats were often listed as a single group: the “Serbo-Croats.”. . . 

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by C. Brad Faught 

The Oxford or Tractarian Movement remains enduring in its fascination for historians largely because of the appeal of its central characters and the importance of its defining issues. The movement’s formal inception may have come back in 1833, but its various themes—religion, politics, friendship, to name a few—are timeless. The movement’s main leaders—especially John Henry Newman, whose later life as a Roman Catholic would consolidate his position as perhaps the greatest Christian apologist of the 19th century—are major figures in the history of modern Christianity, while its heirs continue to shape Anglican modes of faith and worship today. 

The Oxford Movement has generated a long and distinguished historiographical pedigree. From R.W. Church’s classic account published in 1891, The Oxford Movement: Twelve Years, 1833–1845, to Owen Chadwick’s collection of essays published in 1990, The Spirit of the Oxford Movement, the story of the men of Oxford’s stand against the “spirit of the age” has been told often, and told well. According to the bibliographer Lawrence Crumb, there are some 7,500 essays, reviews, and books on the subject.1 Therefore, the challenge for the historian whose interests lie in early Victorian British political and religious history—and who wishes to make a significant contribution to what is an enormous body of work—is to look for untried points of entry. One of these, it seemed to me when I first began contemplating writing a book on the Oxford Movement, was to examine it thematically and synthetically. In taking this approach I was indebted to Linda Colley’s superb thematic study of the development of “Britishness” in the 18th and 19th centuries, Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707–1837 (1992). As I continued to probe the movement’s history —and its historiography—my growing idea that a broad based and thematic study was both necessary and sustainable was borne out by what I found. Nowhere in the corpus of work on the Oxford Movement was there a prolonged attempt to place it squarely within the context of late Regency and early Victorian society. Having examined the wider impact of the Oxford Movement in five different but interrelated ways—politics, religion and theology, friendship, society, and missions—I contend that it had an identifiable, important, and varied influence on Victorian society. Restricting the movement to its overtly religious features—as most past studies of it had done in one form or another—limits a full understanding of its place in 19th-century British history and in that of the wider English-speaking world. . . .

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by Glenn W. Olsen

Toleratio is an ancient word which has undergone many permutations. Its Latin meaning as found in Cicero centered on the idea of endurance in the sense of bearing or tolerating something. This primary association of toleration with long-suffering continued through the Middle Ages. But when modern historians have taken up the Middle Ages in writing the history of toleration they commonly have begun with a different understanding. In Anglo-American thought the term has been shaped by a series of thinkers from Locke through Rawls who have abandoned the definition of toleration as a grim but necessary virtue in favor of one that encourages and celebrates difference and diversity. Just as the history of science has often been the history of science has often been written as a struggle of reason against the authority of benighted tradition, the history of toleration has been written as a battle between Dark Age oppression and Enlightenment freedom. . . .

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by Paul V. Murphy

The presidency of George W. Bush has, among other things, laid bare the current dominance of conservatism in the United States. Despite running for the presidency as a moderate (tirelessly campaigning as a “compassionate conservative”), Bush’s administration has successfully pursued an aggressively conservative agenda both in domestic and international affairs. Historians are increasingly analyzing the roots of this current conservative era, charting the initial rise of potent and mainstream conservative politicians. In order to explain why conservatism triumphed, however, one must look beyond the particular causes of conservative political success in the 1960s and 1970s and study the roots of American conservatism and the lives and ideas of older conservatives. One figure worthy of renewed attention is the southern poet and essayist Donald Davidson. 

Remembered, if at all, as a minor poet given to loving and elegiac celebrations of southern culture and the Confederate past, Donald Davidson pursued a long, frustrating career on the margins of the national literary culture. His obscurity rests, in part, on his stubbornly anti-modern aesthetic; he simply did not accommodate the dominant literary modes of his time. Neither, however, did he accommodate its dominant social and cultural trends. He was a key leader of the Southern Agrarians, the group of poets and professors associated with Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. In 1930 they co-authored a much-noted attack on industrial capitalism and modern culture entitled I’ll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition. Unlike his peers, Davidson did not gracefully navigate the transition from cranky southern publicist to respected man of letters. While most of his more famous confreres —including John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, and Robert Penn Warren—publicly repudiated segregation and embraced integration, Davidson remained an intransigent defender of segregation, identifying it with his core project of defending southern culture and traditions. This undoubtedly contributed much to his present obscurity. 

And yet, given the current ascendancy of conservatism, Davidson’s career is due for reevaluation. . . .

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by Kathleen Curran 

Beginning in the early 1820s, largely under the influence of German Romanticism, a new appreciation for medieval Romanesque architecture occurred in Germany. Opposed to the popular fad for Greek architecture that was sweeping cities like Munich and Berlin, some architects argued that Germany’s climate, available building materials, and medieval cultural roots demanded a native architectural style. The clearest statement of this point of view came from the Karlsruhe architect Heinrich Hübsch, whose 1828 book In welchem Style sollen wir bauen? (In What Style Should We Build?) answered his own question. Hübsch believed that the Rundbogenstil (round arch style) was the appropriate style for modern Germany. The word Rundbogenstil was an early term to describe round-arched architecture spanning the fall of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Gothic age. In modern architectural parlance that would include early Christian, Carolingian, Ottonian, and Romanesque architecture, but the Rundbogenstil really centered on the Romanesque or 11th- and 12th-century building. (By the 1840s, as medieval scholarship became more precise, the word Romanesque replaced Rundbogenstil.) German architects in favor of the Rundbogenstil argued that it offered more flexibility than either the Greek or Gothic. Its materials were local, and its large expanses of wall allowed for interior mural painting, the revival of which went hand in hand with the Romanesque. Within a few short years enthusiasm for the Rundbogenstil spread throughout Germany and, by the 1840s, as far away as the United States. . . .

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by William H. Bartsch

Each year on December 7 we are reminded of “the day that will live in infamy,” as President Franklin Roosevelt termed it following the Japanese sneak attack on our Pacific Fleet naval base at Pearl Harbor on that day in 1941. Since then we have been deluged with books—and even two movies (including the recent Pearl Harbor)— about the traumatic event that plunged the United States into World War II. 

But how many of us know that just ten hours after that disastrous air raid another Japanese aerial attack occurred 5,500 miles west of Pearl Harbor which was even more devastating to American arms? On the northern Philippines island of Luzon—at Clark and Iba air fields—it was 12:35 p.m. on December 8 (December 7 in the U.S. on the other side of the international date line) when 191 Japanese Navy bombers and Zero fighters, on a round-trip mission from Formosa 500 miles to the north, began systematically destroying the largest force of four-engine B-17 “Flying Fortress” bombers outside the United States and their protective P-40 pursuit planes, the only effective air power that stood between the Japanese and their conquest of southern Asia initiated on that day. . . .

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J ohn Higham, one of the most influential and honored American historians of the last half of the 20th century, died on July 26 in his Baltimore apartment. He was eighty-two years old and active as a scholar up to the evening before his death, fourteen years after his retirement from the Johns Hopkins University, where he was the John Martin Vincent Professor of History. 

Born in Jamaica, New York, in 1920, John was part of a generation of scholars whose view of America was complex, occasionally conflicted, and very much shaped by the extraordinary times in which they came of age and began their careers—the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War. John graduated from Johns Hopkins University, where he was something of a student activist, in 1941. After receiving his degree he served in World War II in the Historical Division of the 12th Army Air Force in Italy. Upon his discharge he spent a year as an assistant editor of H.L. Mencken’s iconoclastic journal, American Mercury, founded twenty years earlier. From there he moved to the University of Wisconsin, where he studied under Merle Curti and received his Ph.D. in 1949. Before his return to Hopkins in 1971 he held faculty positions at UCLA, Rutgers, Columbia, and the University of Michigan, where he was Moses Coit Tyler University Professor of History and served as chair of the Program in American Culture. During those years, in his time at Hopkins, and even after his retirement, John traveled widely. Long before recent talk about the “internationalization” of U.S. history he was a powerful advocate for critical intellectual engagement across national borders. 

Having come to maturity during the Depression and World War II, John began his career in the heyday of the Cold War and McCarthyism. It is thus perhaps appropriate that this deeply moral man would take one of the ugliest strands in American culture, nativism, as the subject of his first book, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860–1925 (1955). Yet while the post–World War II era may help explain some things about Strangers, it cannot explain the work’s extraordinary influence and durability. Nearly a half century after it first appeared in print, it is still the commanding book in the field. It was characteristic of John’s commitment to intellectual debate that he eventually became a bit irritated with the reverential treatment of Strangers and wrote his own critiques of it and its reception. 

John followed Strangers by looking at more positive and cosmopolitan versions of American nationalism and the values and experiences of immigrants themselves. For this enterprise—and indeed for most of the rest of his career—John’s preferred publication was the essay, a form at which he was a master. Few historians have written so many thoughtful, influential articles on so many different subjects. Even fewer have fared as well when those essays were gathered in collections such as John’s Send These to Me: Jews and Other Immigrants in Urban America (1975). 

The line of research pursued by John from Strangers through his writings on ethnicity and nationalism marked an intervention in recent debates over “pluralism” before such debates existed. It also put John in the position of being a major figure in the study of immigration and ethnicity, a role acknowledged by his election to the presidency of the Immigration History Society in 1979 and by his receipt of a Lifetime Achievement Award from that organization in 2002. In the same year he also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Historical Association. 

John’s influence extended to at least two other fields. The first is intellectual history, where he led in part by example, as in his early and prescient fusion of the analysis of high and popular culture. He, along with Paul Conkin, also organized the famous Wingspread Conference on the subject, out of which came a remarkable collection of essays, New Directions in American Intellectual History (1979), a work that helped shape and anticipate the course of the field over the next two decades. 

In yet a third area John likewise made a major mark: understanding the history, practice, and craft of American historical writing. One of his classic essays, “Beyond Consensus: The Historian as Moral Critic” (1962), labeled and defined the then current “Consensus School” of historiography, analyzed its shortcomings, and exhorted historians to examine the moral implications of their work. For many of us in graduate school during the 1960s, it was a bolt of lightning, illuminating our discontents while helping us to see what we found inspiring about our discipline. (It also took some of us in directions John did not find especially congenial, but ones that, in true Higham fashion, he always found worthy of serious discussion.) His contribution to the collaborative work with Leonard Krieger and Felix Gilbert, History: Humanistic Scholarship in America (1965), and its various revised and separate versions, marked him as one of our most astute observers of the history of American historical scholarship over the course of the 20th century. 

It is an unusual scholar who can make such a deep contribution to one field, and to do so in such graceful prose, let alone three fields. John’s intellectual range, commanding presence, and measured, concise manner of speaking made him a formidable presence in seminar, at conferences, or in hallway conversations. But he was also a marvelously constructive critic, and one who—true to his commitment to openness—did not demand obedience to his position. Among the many things I learned from him was how to disagree, a skill that did not come naturally to many of us in the generation of scholars that followed his. 

If there is an irony to John’s career, it is that his best-known work, Strangers in the Land, explores a dark side of American culture: xenophobic, selfish, uncritically nationalist, racist, and mean-spirited. John’s own view of America—or at least of what it could be in its best moments, living up to its best values— was quite different; it was of an America open to diversity but searching for the common core, courageous, generous, and a good citizen within the world of nations. It was an America for which he sometimes despaired, but in whose promise he never lost faith. 

John is survived by his wife of fifty-five years, Dr. Eileen Moss Higham, two daughters, two sons, and seven grandchildren. He will also be very much missed by his numerous students, colleagues, and friends, whom he challenged with the same intellectual rigor and moral passion that he brought to his own scholarship.

Ronald G. Walters
Johns Hopkins University

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To the Editors: 

As one who believes that foreign language competence and accurate rendition of foreign words and concepts into English are important, I must confess to considerable disappointment in the article by Messrs. George Nafziger and Mark Walton, “The Military Roots of Islam,” which appeared in the June 2003 Historically Speaking.

Most egregiously, the authors refer more than once to the Muslim direction of prayer as the qilbah. This is incorrect: Nafziger and Walton have reversed the second and third consonants of the Arabic word (root: qaaf-baa-laam). The correct word is qibla (accent on the first syllable), and in English that word is most commonly written with the spelling indicated. 

The system of transliteration recommended by the International Journal of Middle East Studies, the leading American scholarly journal in the field, holds that there is no reason to add an “h” to the final letter (taa marbuuta) of such words as qibla

It is unfortunate that those who do not have a firm command of Arabic opt to write on topics that demand linguistic competence. But this is unfortunately all too common in the times in which we live. 

Nafziger and Walton’s article is also replete with dubious substantive assertions (such as that the Muslim notion of “peace”—incarnated in the word Islam—does not apply outside the Daar al- Islaam (the abode of Islam). But limitations of space preclude commentary here on such assertions. 

Antony T. Sullivan
Fund for American Studies 
Washington, D.C.

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