National History Center

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.

Teaching the End of Empire: Multidisciplinary Approaches to Decolonization

By Jessica Pearson-Patel

In the summer of 2013, I had the incredible fortune to participate in the National History Center’s 8th International Seminar on Decolonization in Washington, DC. I had just received my PhD in history and French studies at New York University and was about to start a postdoc at Tulane University. Although much of the seminar focused on helping participants advance their own research projects on the history of decolonization, I found that some of the most engaging conversations I had with both the seminar faculty and with my fellow participants centered on teaching.

The Aftertaste of Empire: Food and Decolonization

By Amanda Banacki Perry

“I’m not getting curry powder at all. Being a Brit, we eat a lot of curry, and I don’t taste it in this.” As I was watching Food Network’s Spring Baking Championship, this comment by Lorraine Pascale, one of the judges on the show, jumped out at me. Her comment, which drew on a legacy of presumed British culinary expertise concerning curry, carried a clear message: Brits know their curry.[1] And yet, the process by which curry became one of the most popular dishes in modern Britain is a complicated one of imperial appropriation, invention, and transformation.

The Opioid Crisis in Historical Perspective

Prince is just the latest high-profile victim of an opioid addiction crisis that has devastated families and communities across the country in recent years. The problem has drawn widespread media coverage and spurred Congress into action, a rarity in the current political climate. Both the Senate and the House have recently passed legislation to address the crisis. Yet this is hardly the first time the United States has grappled with drug epidemics. What can we learn from past problems and the policies instituted to combat them?

A portrait of Mary Church Terrell by Betsy Graves Reyneau. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Mary Church Terrell: The Great-Great Grandmother of Black Lives Matter

By Joan Quigley

Black Lives Matter, the protest movement launched by three African American women, has ignited a search for new role models. One Black Lives Matter co-founder, Patrisse Cullors, has cited the influence of Harriet Tubman; another co-founder, Alicia Garza, has invoked Sojourner Truth. And, as Jelani Cobb wrote recently in the New Yorker, Black Lives Matter has reclaimed a grassroots activist, Ella Baker, whose career included stints with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Is Today’s Russia a Relic of the Past? A New Look at Contemporary Theories of Soviet History

By Michael David-Fox

To what extent are Vladimir Putin and today’s Russia recapitulating the tsarist and Soviet past? As Russia roared back into the headlines with the war in east Ukraine, the 2014 annexation of Crimea, and an authoritarian crackdown that has trumpeted antagonism toward the West, popular discussions in this country have frequently portrayed contemporary Russia as a relic of earlier times and Putin as a new tsar or a budding Stalin.