Joseph S. Lucas and Donald A. Yerxa, Editors
Vinen, "Servant Problems"
by Donald A. Yerxa, "Einstein's Clocks, Poincare's Maps: An Interview with
Peter Galison, Part I"
Burger, "History and the Other Disciplines"
Fulbrook, "Why All Historical Accounts Are Inevitably Theoretical, but
Some Are Preferable to Others"
by Donald A. Yerxa, "Cultures of Defeats: An Interview with Wolfgang Schivelbusch"
Djokic, "'After One Hundred Years': The Yugoslav Idea in Historical Perspective"
Brad Faught, "The Oxford Movement: Still Interesting After All These Years"
W. Olsen, "The Middle Ages in the History of Toleration"
V. Murphy, "Donald Davison and Modern American Conservatism"
Curran, "Romanesque Revival Architecture in Transnational Perspective"
H. Bartsch, "The Other Pearl Harbor"
Memoriam: John Higham
Speaking: The Bulletin of the Historical Society
Volume V, Number 2
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.
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.
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
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
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?
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:
fact that so many servants (butlers, gamekeepers, chauffeurs) were male.
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.
remained with the same employers for many years.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
during the course of the war.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 
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.
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
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.
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."
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."
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.
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.
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).
John Stevenson, British Society, 1914-1945 (Penguin, 1984), 34.
Susan Pedersen, Family, Dependence, and the Origins of the Welfare State:
Britain and France, 1914-1945 (Cambridge University Press, 1993), 91.
Harold Nicolson, Diaries and Letters, 1930-1939, ed. Nigel Nicolson (Collins,
Robert Skidelsky, John Maynard Keynes. The Economist as Saviour, 1920-1937
(Penguin, 1994), 11.
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."
Quentin Bell, Virginia Woolf, 2 vols. (Hogarth, 1972), 2: 56.
Skidelsky, John Maynard Keynes, 8.
John Maynard Keynes, The Economic Consequences of the Peace (Harcourt,
Brace, and Howe, 1920), 9.
CLOCKS, POINCARÉ'S MAPS: AN INTERVIEW WITH PETER GALISON, PART I
by Donald A. Yerxa
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.
Yerxa: What prompted you to write Einstein’s Clocks, Poincaré’s
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
Can you speak to the book’s subtitle, Empires of Time?
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.
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.
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.
What would you like the reader to take away from this book?
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.
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
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.
To what extent is Einstein’s Clocks, Poincaré’s Maps biographical?
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.
And you studied at Polytechnique as well?
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
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.
Would you place time—the concept of time—in some historical and historiographical
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.
And in what ways was the notion of time itself altered by the work of Poincaré
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.
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.
What is the connection between Einstein’s Clocks and your previous
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.
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.
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.
What are you doing next?
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).
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
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
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AND THE OTHER DISCIPINES
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.
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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ALL HISTORICAL ACCOUNTS ARE INEVITABLY THEORETICAL, BUT SOME ARE PREFERABLE
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
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.
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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OF DEFEAT: AN INTERVIEW WITH WOLFGANG SCHIVELBUSCH
by Donald A. Yerxa
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
A. Yerxa: What prompted you to write The Culture of Defeat?
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
Did you wake up one day after 1989 and decide that your next book would
be a comparative study of defeated societies?
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
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
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.
You also discuss a fascinating series of patterns of regeneration and recovery.
Could you speak to those a bit?
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.
This sounds like the redemption of military defeat into cultural victory.
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.
What is the role of myth in the cultures of defeat?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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
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ONE HUNDRED YEARS": THE YUGOSLAV IDEA IN HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
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.
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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OXFORD MOVEMENT: STILL INTERESTING AFTER ALL THESE YEARS
C. Brad Faught
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.
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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MIDDLE AGES IN THE HISTORY OR TOLERATION
Glenn W. Olsen
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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DAVIDSON AND MODERN AMERICAN CONSERVATISM
Paul V. Murphy
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
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.
yet, given the current ascendancy of conservatism, Davidson’s career is
due for reevaluation. . . .
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REVIVAL ARCHITECTURE IN TRANSNATIONAL PERSPECTIVE
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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OTHER PEARL HARBOR
William H. Bartsch
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.
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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MEMORIAM: JOHN HIGHAM
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
the Historical Society and subscribe to Historically Speaking
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
for American Studies