Current Events in Historical Context

The Liberal Dilemma: Can the New President Achieve Both Guns and Butter?

By Matthew Dallek

“Wake up every one of you to the two fronts on which our defense must be built!”

-Eleanor Roosevelt, 1940

As of this writing, according to the latest polls, Hillary Clinton is poised to become the next president of the United States. Amid the onslaught of news coverage given to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, however, too little attention has been paid to the demands sure to face “a progressive who likes to get things done” (Clinton’s words) once she steps through the doors of the Oval Office in January.

Putting Zika in Historical Context

The Zika virus has recently announced its unwelcome arrival in the continental United States. In addition to over 2,500 individuals who have contracted the disease abroad, some 50 locally generated cases have been confirmed in Florida. Many more cases are anticipated. With the public health resources needed to combat the disease running dry, the administration has requested $1.9 billion in emergency funding. As usual, however, Congress is gridlocked, and it’s anybody’s guess whether a funding bill will pass before members leave Washington to campaign for reelection.

September 20, 2016

America’s Quest to Change China: Reflections on the History of US-China Relations

By Terry Lautz

The United States has held great ambitions for China for a very long time. Prior to the 1949 Communist revolution, the American public cherished the idea of China as a Christian, capitalist, and democratic nation.

Western religion would enlighten people who were perceived as backward and heathen; American business would lift the Chinese out of poverty; and liberal education would inspire progressive government. The long-standing missionary impulse to save the Chinese was reinforced when the United States allied with Chiang Kai-shek against Japan during the Second World War.

The Surprisingly Short History of American Secrecy

 By Sam Lebovic

Amid the recent hubbub about leaks and whistleblowers and Hillary Clinton’s rogue server, it has been easy to forget what a state secret actually is. Legal commentators and political pundits tend to think about state secrecy in the abstract terms of political philosophy. Perhaps secrecy is always undemocratic, appropriate only for absolutist or totalitarian states. Perhaps it is an unavoidable necessity in a hostile world—democratic governments find themselves forced to keep secrets to protect the security of the public.

Drug Traffickers and the Freedom of Information Act

I admit it: I stalk dead drug traffickers in libraries, archives, newspapers, databases, films, photos, literature, and documents. One of my favorite tools, however, is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which is turning 50 years old on July 4, 2016. While the FOIA is useful for historians, over the years I have found that it takes substantive prior research for a request to be successful or for it to prove an asset for a historical project.

Historians in the News: Linda Colley on Brexit

By Linda Colley

“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?”

This is the question on which citizens of the United Kingdom will vote on June 23. Historians have actively participated in the debate during the lead up to the national plebiscite. A group of 42 calling themselves Historians for Britain have advocated leaving the European Union, while a much larger group of historians have signed a letter saying that leaving the EU will “condemn Britain to irrelevance.” Given the long interwoven fates of the countries that now make up the European Union, contributions by historians are vital to understanding the geopolitics of remaining or leaving.

The Privatization of Animal Life and the Future of Circus Elephants in America

By Susan Nance

Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus has just retired elephants from its traveling shows, two years ahead of a previously announced schedule. On the first of this month—May Day—six of the Ringling elephants went through the motions for one last show in Providence before being shipped back to the company’s housing facility in central Florida, the Center for Elephant Conservation (CEC). Liberated from a schedule of travel and tricks, they will live with several dozen other elephants owned by the circus’s parent company, Feld Entertainment.