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Category: History and Historians

Historians and the Problem of Evil

Historians and the Problem of Evil

Elzbieta Plackowska, forty-five years old, was convicted late in September for murdering her seven-year old son Justin and a five-year old girl, Olivia Dworakowski, who she was babysitting.  The crime occurred more than five years ago, on 30 October 2012. After telling the children to get down on their knees to pray, she started after them with a pair of kitchen knives. She stabbed Justin more than one hundred times, then slashed his throat. Olivia she stabbed more than fifty…

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My Imposter Story: Some Thoughts on Ralph Ketcham

My Imposter Story: Some Thoughts on Ralph Ketcham

A couple of weeks ago I attended a memorial service for one of my graduate school professors, Ralph Ketcham, who had died last spring.  A great and productive scholar and teacher, active up until the end.  A lot to admire. I wanted to finish Ralph’s final book, Public Spirited Citizenship: Leadership and Good Government in the United States, before I wrote more about my experience with him.  As in so much of Ralph’s scholarship, James Madison’s political writings, and Madison’s…

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Some More Thoughts on Why We Need Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Some More Thoughts on Why We Need Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to apologize for the damage done by residential schools for First Nations children in Newfoundland and Labrador.  He will do so on November 24.  Like many apologies, I suppose, it is not enough to erase the trauma suffered by so many First Nations families. In the end, however, there are limits as to what can be done to address the crimes and the mistakes of the past. Acknowledging, apologizing, and a pledge to…

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A Plea for Justice on Indigenous Peoples’ Day

A Plea for Justice on Indigenous Peoples’ Day

In Native American history, there are lots of guilty parties, but Christopher Columbus is guiltier than most. There is absolutely nothing edifying in this story of avarice, violence, and religious bigotry, save for the native peoples who at times and places survived the carnage. The continued celebration of Columbus Day does a historical injustice to the native peoples of two continents and the Caribbean. The Columbus Day holiday found its origins in the Italian-American community. Columbus, quite likely from Genoa,…

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One Ring to Rule Them All: Roanoke and that Signet Ring

One Ring to Rule Them All: Roanoke and that Signet Ring

Recently Smithsonian Magazine published a piece by Andrew Lawler on the signet ring found on Hatteras Island by archaeologist David Sutton Phelps. Phelps, who taught at East Carolina University, died in 2009. As Lawler correctly points out, The 1998 discovery electrified archaeologists and historians. The artifact seemed a rare remnant of the first English attempt to settle the New World that might also shed light on what happened to 115 men, women, and children who settled the coast, only to…

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We Are Teachers

We Are Teachers

Many years ago I served on a search committee for a position in the history of American Foreign Policy. For many reasons it was an odd search, and we ultimately did not succeed in hiring anyone for the opening.  We interviewed one candidate over the phone, with an exceptional record of publication, and a strong, Ivy League academic pedigree. He was doing a post-doc at some thinktank somewhere and, when asked about teaching said that, yes, he did enjoy it,…

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Creative Destruction: Or, Let’s Bash Some Monuments

Creative Destruction: Or, Let’s Bash Some Monuments

It’s what we do, at least metaphorically. For historians, the destruction of monuments can be a good thing, a visceral and often-times important act of revision. It is an opportunity to replace dated and damaging interpretations of the past with more complicated, nuanced, and correct stories. We do not necessarily need to destroy Confederate statues to do this, but certainly we can reinterpret them, knock them down a few pegs, and re-write the stories that these racist monuments to white supremacy…

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On Charlottesville, and Our National Character

On Charlottesville, and Our National Character

In what ways does the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville matter? In the past two weeks I have listened to the Attorney General of the United States announce his determination to investigate discrimination on college campuses against…..wait for it….white people.  This move was endorsed by a President who has called Mexicans “rapists” and “animals,” and who has in as many words endorsed police brutality against African Americans and other people of color.  A sheriff’s deputy in Oklahoma, meanwhile, who gunned…

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Some Thoughts on the Declaration, and Why I Don’t Celebrate Much on Independence Day

Some Thoughts on the Declaration, and Why I Don’t Celebrate Much on Independence Day

The other day I appeared on “Connections,” a news radio show which airs on WXXI in Rochester, New York, an NPR-affiliate.  I participated in a panel discussion about how the Declaration of Independence is taught in classrooms and how much Americans know about this important document. The precipitating event that spurred this discussion was the decision by NPR to tweet out on Independence Day the entire Declaration, 140 characters at a time.  Some of NPR’s Twitter followers applauded this decision,…

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What You Need To Read

What You Need To Read

I will post each quarter a list of items I have placed on my “To Get To” list, scholarship I will consider as I work to keep current in this vast field and begin to contemplate a third edition of Native America.   If there is something I have missed, or a work you would like me to add to the list, please feel free to drop me a line. For the March bibliography, click here. Abram Kercsmar, Joshua. “Wolves at…

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