Current Events in Historical Context

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.

Made by History: A New Blog for Engaging the Public

“In order to make history, we first have to understand how history has made us,” reads the introduction to Made by History, a new history blog on WashingtonPost.com. The blog, which takes inspiration from a quote by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. for its title, offers historians a major public platform to situate current events in their historical context. As co-editors-in-chief Brian Rosenwald (Univ. of Pennsylvania) and Nicole Hemmer (Univ. of Virginia) write, “In an era seemingly defined by the word unprecedented, it’s easy to feel like political, technological and social revolutions have severed our link to history.

Writing the Cold War Back In: How History Influences Chinese Foreign Policy

By Gregg A. Brazinsky

As Sino-American relations have emerged as a critical foreign policy issue in the Trump administration, public discourse has been awash with many all too familiar and ill-informed narratives about China and its global objectives. Often, these narratives are derived from overly simplistic views of how China’s past affects the present. Policymakers and journalists have been obsessed with the idea that the People’s Republic of China is trying to reconstruct the “tributary system” or “Sinocentric order” that governed its relations with its neighbors before the 19th century.

Mexican Migration History in the Era of Border Walls

By Julia G. Young

In March 2015, I submitted the final page proofs for my book on Mexican migration to the United States. In June of that same year, Donald Trump gave his now-infamous speech in which he called Mexican immigrants drug dealers, rapists, and criminals. We all know what has happened since then: a nativist presidential campaign, a rhetorical battle with Mexico over the border wall, an upset election, and a growing number of deportations.