Current Events in Historical Context

Past Tense: History and Its Abuses in Washington

As I walk to work in the morning, the first thing I see as I head toward the AHA office is the US Capitol, which not only symbolizes a public sector gone awry but also shares the honor of host for the current orgy of disregard for the common good. This observation isn’t partisan, at least not in the current moment: both Republican and Democratic policy makers from previous administrations have noted that “Washington” is not operating as it should. Nor, even, as it usually has. 

Historians and Government Shutdowns

By Donald A. Ritchie

Federal government shutdowns are never in the best interest of historians. The unpredictable events are detrimental to research, closing down the Library of Congress, National Archives, presidential libraries, and myriad specialized resources within different agencies. Historians working for the government find shutdowns not only lock them out of their offices and disrupt their work, but add the stigma of being labeled “nonessential.” 

Will Robots Rule the World?

On a recent cover of the New Yorker (October 23, 2017), robots purposefully stride to their jobs; the only human in sight is unemployed and begging for change. We are warned: this could be our future. The illustration perfectly captures the current anxiety about automation’s impact on the workplace. 

December 11, 2017

Medievalism, White Supremacy, and the Historian’s Craft

By Carol Symes

With every passing day, the AHA’s upcoming annual meeting on the theme of Race, Ethnicity, and Nationalism in Global Perspective is becoming more and more urgent. In particular, a group of sessions on The Modern Legacy of Premodern Racial and Ethnic Concepts anticipates a number of recent events and controversies that have drawn attention to the close links between white supremacism and medievalism: that is, the projection of modern agendas onto the medieval past, or the selective use of that past to further such agendas.

November 2, 2017
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Is Civilian Control of the Military Eroding?

Three of the leading figures in the Trump administration are military men. When President Trump refers to “my generals,” he has Secretary of Defense James Mattis, National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster, and White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly foremost in mind. By holding powerful positions almost always staffed by civilians, they have provoked widespread concern that civilian control of the military is eroding. As part of its ongoing Congressional Briefing series, the National History Center brought several prominent historians to Capitol Hill to provide perspectives on this subject. 

September 28, 2017

Memory and Medicine: A Historian’s Perspective on Commemorating J. Marion Sims

By Susan M. Reverby

Contentious debates over the removal of Confederate general statues that dot our landscape have led the AHA to make an eloquent statement about the meaning of memorialization and history in context. Statues of what in the end are vanquished leaders of a traitorous army, put up during the height of American racism, are a concern, but what about the so-called “Father of American Gynecology” who perfected his techniques on the bodies of enslaved women? The prestigious science magazine Nature waded into this question recently and all hell broke loose. 

September 18, 2017

“Fire and Fury”: Military Economies and the Battle of Rhetoric between United States and North Korea

By C. Harrison Kim

The United States and North Korea recently exchanged several hostile and absurd words—“enveloping fire” (North Korea), “we are now a hyper power” (US), and, of course, “fire and fury” (POTUS). This is not the first time that the two countries have engaged in incendiary rhetoric since the Korean War ended in 1953. While another war has not happened—and a war today is very unlikely—the ongoing “war of words” has helped build the military cultures and economies of the two countries.

The Cold War Never Ended: Historical Roots of the Current North Korea Crisis

By Suzy Kim

With tensions at an all-time high between the United States and North Korea, the New York Times headlined its recent digital newsletter with Lies Your High School History Teacher Told You About Nukes. The basic point was to debunk the theory of “mutually assured destruction” that is often used to explain why the Cold War remained cold and did not result in a nuclear holocaust. The article argues that despite possessing a nuclear arsenal that guaranteed “mutually assured destruction,” both the United States and the Soviet Union engaged in a costly arms race that attempted to outmaneuver the other with more numerous and powerful warheads, delivered with more precise and faster missiles.