Iranian Hostages, Then and Now

The New York Times recently had this short video about the Iranian hostages, who were taken during Carter’s administration, and the Iranian situation as it now stands.  Think you might find it interesting.

Iranian Hostages

Who Loves The Seventies? Historians

For a while now, historians seem to have been stuck on the sixties as The Most Interesting Decade in American History. But a new wave of historical work is coming out that focuses instead on the decade that brought you Earth Day, Nixon, the oil crisis, tax revolts, the end of the Vietnam War, and the Sunbelt: the lovely Seventies. I hypothesize that this shift is happening because people like studying the decade in which they came of age–thus, baby boomer historians love thinking about the sixties, and the rising generation is just moving forward accordingly. But that’s just a theory.

A couple of handy historiographies (a “historiography” is a review of the work of other historians) have recently been published that can give a sense of the scope of new seventies work that’s coming out. Recently, in the Nation, journalist and historian Rick Perlstein talked about his experience writing a book about the seventies, and surveyed other recent books about the decade—books whose approaches range from cultural analysis (why disco?), to industrial history (the roots of offshoring), to political theory (the beginnings of 80s conservatism). In the Chronicle of Higher Ed, Dalton Conley, a sociologist, looked at recent work on the changes in the American family structure and race relations during that pivotal decade. Conley also argues that many of the defining features of today’s popular culture can be traced back to seventies innovations: “From hacker culture to hip-hop, from conceptual art to cyborgs, the 1970s was a time of experimentation whose fruits we can see all around us today (the Internet is and the trackball mouse are just two of those fruits).”

Remembering Katrina

Image from the Katrina's Kids Project; drawn by a young evacuee living in Houston in the aftermath of the storm.

Image from the Katrina's Kids Project; drawn by a young evacuee living in Houston in the aftermath of the storm.

Although it seems like just yesterday that we were hearing first-hand reports about the storm that provoked the devastating levee breaks in New Orleans and destruction across the Gulf, it’s actually been five years as of last week. Amid all of the anniversary coverage in the media, which can seem overwhelming, I’ve found it refreshing to return to this site, the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank. This archive, maintained by the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, collects memories from survivors, as well as photos and musings from other Gulf residents who want their memories of the area’s pre-Katrina history to reside in some official place. The “Collections” tab on the homepage is a list of links to Katrina-related collections on the Web, including a page hosting short documentaries by New Orleans filmmakers; another page of oral histories and photographs produced by the 102nd Military History Detachment from the Kansas Army National Guard; and a page full of drawings done by children who lived through the storm and the evacuation. If you have your own story to share, or an image you’d like to upload, the site features a prominent “Add to the Memory Bank” button.

“Mad Men”: History on the Small Screen

The AMC show “Mad Men,” which is now in its fifth season, is set in a fictional Madison Avenue ad agency just as the ’60s begin. You can watch the show on a couple of different levels: keep one eye on the soap opera-y character interactions (that cad Don Draper and his affairs!–and that new wife! ); keep another eye on the fantastic costume design (sure, girdles were uncomfortable, but those fabrics are to die for); and keep your history eye open to the show’s constant references to the larger political happenings and social change of the early 60s. Characters on this show go down to Mississippi to register voters, mourn the death of Marilyn Monroe, or wonder whether to start taking the Pill (a relatively new option at this time), visit a few psychiatrists (only women, though.  I think Betty Draper/ Francis is suffering from the feminine mystique).

Here’s a timeline published by the New York Times that can help you follow along with the historical events embedded in the show. Here’s a piece about the show’s efforts to maintain linguistic accuracy (would a character actually have said “the medium is the message” in 1960, despite the fact that Marshall McLuhan didn’t coin this famous slogan until four years later?) Here’s a link to one of the many blog posts that have debated whether MM’s portrayal of the racism and sexism of the era is accurate, and whether this depiction works to glamorize the very problems being shown. And finally, just to prove how much mileage the average arts reporter has gotten out of writing about MM, here’s a piece about the historical accuracy of the cocktails that the members of the MM crew sip at every possible moment of the workday.

The Gini Index = .475

Robert Putnam focusses on the widening gap between rich kids and poor kids.The U.S. has used the Gini index,   named after an Italian statistician, Corrado Gini, has been used to calculate income inequality since 1947. Here’s how it works: “If all the income in the world were earned by one person and everyone else earned nothing, the world would have a Gini index of one. If everyone in the world earned exactly the same income, the world would have a Gini index of zero…. Between 1947 and 1968, the U.S. Gini index dropped to .386, the lowest ever recorded. Then it began to climb.” In 2013, the U.S. Gini, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, was .476. However, as Jill Lepore explained in a piece she wrote for the New Yorker (March 16, 2015) , “The causes of income inequality are much disputed; so are its costs. And knowing the numbers doesn’t appear to be changing anyone’s mind about what, if anything, should be done about it. Read the entire article here.


What Will The Future Say About Us?

Marion Post Wolcott, "Negro going in colored entrance of movie house on Saturday afternoon, Belzoni, Mississippi Delta, Mississippi," 1939. Library of Congress' American Memory Flickr photostream.

Marion Post Wolcott, "Negro going in colored entrance of movie house on Saturday afternoon, Belzoni, Mississippi Delta, Mississippi," 1939. Library of Congress' American Memory Flickr photostream.

Here’s a fun historical game to play: if people in the past managed to convince themselves that slavery, segregation, and coverture were somehow okay, what are we convincing ourselves about right now? Thinking about this is a good exercise, if only because it reminds us that although we make it our business as historians to point out by-goners’ blind spots, we are not immune to shortsightedness of our own. Kwame Anthony Appiah, professor of philosophy at Princeton, published an interesting op-ed in the Washington Post about this very subject. Appiah proposes a test to which we can put our own social customs to see if they’ll be scorned in the future: when a custom will eventually be seen as abhorrent, arguments against these customs are often commonly advanced; people can’t make moral counterarguments defending the custom, and instead resort to citing human nature or expediency as defenses; and finally, people practice strategic ignorance to avoid thinking about the true nature of the custom. Appiah argues that future generations will condemn us for our prison system, the factory farming of animals, the isolation of the elderly, and the destruction of the environment. What do you think?

Creation of the Negro National League puts race relations on the mend

ConineOn May 29, 1920, The Kansas City Sun ran an article about a baseball game in which the Kansas City Monarchs would face the Indianapolis A.B.C.’s. This game was the grand opening of the Negro National League in Kansas. Most remarkably, the city and fans gave “the team a rousing reception upon its first appearance on the home grounds. A big parade [took] place at 1:00 o’clock over the principal streets in which all the fans [were] invited to decorate their cars and take part.”

The league had 24 teams and was the first black baseball league to last more than one season. In fact, the league ran for eleven years before it disbanded due to disagreements between the founders and then reorganized with the same name. At a time when racial tensions were still high and the civil rights movement was still beyond the horizon, Kansas’ celebration of the league seems almost out of place, particularly for a traditionally southern state. However, the Twenties were a time of progressive thought and forward action. The celebration suggest that, though the racial divide was deep, there was a willingness to accept the “separate but equal” ideal presented in Plessey v. Ferguson in 1896. The Kansas City Monarchs would later offer Jackie Robinson, famous for breaking baseball’s color barrier, his first professional baseball job playing for the all-black team in 1945 that led to his breakthrough with the Dodgers in 1947. posted by Shelby Conine