By James Grossman and Allen Mikaelian
Is it appropriate to reference “Jim Crow” when discussing the rash of new laws and measures further regulating who can vote and under what conditions? Do the rhetorical analogies fit the historical facts? Politifact, the Pulitzer Prize-winning watchdog best known for mercilessly wielding its trademarked Truth-o-Meter™, is somewhere between skeptical and incredulous. Last year, the editors of Politifact counted one Democrat’s statement evoking Jim Crow as a finalist for “lie of the year.” Politifact Georgia took to task a mayoral candidate for making an analogous comparison between a crackdown on undocumented workers and the infamous “black codes” (enacted a generation earlier than the Jim Crow era and quickly erased by Reconstruction).
Jonathan Gottschall’s new headline-grabbing book, The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, didn’t set out to comment on contemporary historical practice. Gottschall barely mentions history in his short, cogently argued volume. But, if he is right about the reasons for the centrality of story in human life, and the type of stories preferred, he has added another pillar to Sam Wineburg’s argument that historical thinking is an “unnatural act.”
Gottschall, while admitting that science isn’t 100 percent certain on the point, clearly believes that we became a storytelling species because of its evolutionary advantage.
|A codex-style Mayan jar from the Mirador Basin in southern Campeche, Mexico, now in the Kislak Collection of the Library of Congress. Photo by Jennifer Loughmiller-Newman.
Whatever might be the truth about the apocalyptic eschatology of the Mayan calendar and its endtimes forecast for the Gregorian 2012, one thing is clear, it seems: The Mayan people knew about extracting pleasures from their existential present, as they appear to have used tobacco. That the peoples of Mesoamerica used nicotine could be surmised from other evidence, but a study published on January 12, 2012, in Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry, a journal published by Wiley-Blackwell, provided material evidence of tobacco use by the ancient Maya.
George Washington chopped down a cherry tree. Christopher Columbus discovered North America. Abraham Lincoln owned slaves. While these three statements are false, false, and false, they’re myths still perpetuated, often since childhood, through rumor and misunderstanding. Discover more U.S. history myths, and explanations of their origins, in the following posts we’ve rounded up. You may just learn something.
In last week’s What We’re Reading we featured an article from the Boston Globe that considered the possibilities of preserving smells and saving them as historical artifacts. Jumping off from that fascinating idea, we bring you a few more articles on smell and history.
Our timely links this week include an obituary for broadcaster Daniel Schorr, the first declassification report from the National Declassification Center, news on the 20th anniversary of the ADA, the re-release of Senator Byrd’s musical album, a brief history of data visualization, and a new site for creating courses. If you’re looking for a good read this summer check out NPR’s list of historical fiction. Finally, check out our collection of image-related links, including the Library of Congress’ Great Depression color photographs, Harvard Law School Library’s legal portraits, food posters from World Wars I and II, and some historic D.C.
Is it time for a change? Tom Scheinfeldt thinks so, when it comes to c.v.’s and digital achievements, while Dan Cohen sees room for change in publishing and scholarly values. Read also about digital analysis of text by computers, the effects of photography on culture, and history as theater in Washington, D.C. Then, learn of a new publication from Temple University Press. Finally, for fun, take a look back at an article from the 1982 issue of The Atlantic, and remember computers of yesteryear.
Though the 124th Annual Meeting concluded over a month ago, C-SPAN has only just aired footage of the “Reflections on Proposition 8” session, now available for viewing online. In other news, the LA Times has released the names of finalists for their book prize. This list includes three AHA members. Also check out links to a new task force report on graduate and professional education, the obituary of Jack Pole, the ICA statement on Haiti, and controversy around a new JFK series from the History Channel.