History (Not) in Comics

Welcome to the new semester! Here’s a post from the blog io9 to ease you into history the gentle way: “Ten Insane Fact Comics Taught Us.” Nota Bene: Since these “facts” include “Batgirl and Robin battled Benedict Arnold and Satan” and “Dr. Doom thwarted the Fantastic Four…with the power of Henry Kissinger”, you’d be well-advised not to cite this post as a legitimate source. Off to the races with you!

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.



The password to this site will be given to you in class.  You’ll need it to access the readings, guides, etc. under the drop downs.  The syllabus is on Canvas.  Please let us know if you need any help.

Young Teddy in the Wilds

teddy-roosevelt2Those looking for a preview of some of the themes we’ll talk about in Unit 2 might be interested in reading this excerpt of Douglas Brinkley’s recent book on Teddy Roosevelt, The Wilderness Warrior. (Here is a link to the NY Times excerpt.) Roosevelt’s administration (1901-1909) took dramatic action to preserve national parks, setting a precedent for the twentieth-century efforts to set aside public lands. But this chapter is about Teddy’s early years, in which he loved nature so much that, Brinkley reports, he once saw a picture of a fox in a book and called it “the face of God.” That’s way before he saved that Teddy bear. This excerpt shows how Teddy, born the year before Darwin published On the Origin of Species, grew up along with acceptance of the theory of evolution, developing the appreciation for nature that he carried into the Oval Office. As TR himself would have said, Bully!

A Pox on the Past

How would you feel if government employees burst into your room while you were sleeping, forced injections on you, and took your sick babies away to a hospital against your will? On the other hand, how would you feel if you lived in a city filled with fellow citizens who refused to get vaccinated against smallpox, thereby putting you at risk? Historian Michael Willrich talks about his new book, Pox: An American History, in this episode of NPR’s talk show “Fresh Air,” and tells some startling stories about the early enforcement of vaccination laws during the smallpox epidemics of 1898-1904. In New York and Boston, immigrants who often associated state interference in their lives with the regimes they’d come to America to escape were forced to submit to vaccinations. In the South, black people were scapegoated for the spread of the pox:

“There was one episode in Middlesboro, Ky., where the police and a group of vaccinators went into this African-American section of town, rounded up people outside this home, handcuffed the men and women and vaccinated them at gunpoint,” says Willrich. “It’s a shocking scene and very much at odds with our daily-held notions of American liberty.”

Given the recent uptick in parents who refuse to have their children vaccinated for fear of autism (see journalist Seth Mnookin’s The Panic Virus for that story), Willrich’s book has a great deal of contemporary relevance; I’ll be picking it up at the earliest opportunity.

But is it history?

The Red Scare–the first one that is–in 1919 gave J.Edgar Hoover a chance to track “alien subversives” for his boss, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer (Harding’s AG).

Hoover went on to create the F.B.I., where he kept close watch over organized crime and communist threats  for nearly 50 years. He also kept files on MLK’s sex life, secret meetings between RFK and Marilyn Monroe, and John Lennon (“a former member of the Beatles singing group”).  Clint Eastwood decided the story would make a good movie.  He cast Leonardo DiCaprio as “J.Edgar,” and Judi Dench as his mother (how perfect is that?)  The Daily Beast   has a good review.

Ronald Kessler’s Secrets of the F.B.I.  (here’s an excerpt excerpt ) tells it all, but maybe the movie is more entertaining.

Generation Why?

talkinboutmygenerationEvery year, Beloit College, in Wisconsin, puts out something they call the “Mindset List,” which is intended to help us poor elder professors understand their incoming freshmen. As students learning how to “think historically,” you might be interested in some of the list’s basic assumptions about the way that historical events shape generational experiences.  For example, Beloit’s list includes the facts that, for students entering college this fall, “Ruth Bader Ginsburg has always sat on the Supreme Court,” “Walmart has never sold handguns over the counter in the lower 48,” and “the artist formerly known as Snoop Doggy Dogg has always been rapping.” These indicators are supposed to provoke a basic response from the older readers: “Oh man! I am so old/they are so painfully young!” But I wonder whether the “mindset list” captures generational differences, or creates them. Does the fact that your generation has never lived in a world in which Czechoslovakia was a country mean that you will approach major life issues in a different way–or that you should be educated accordingly? Do people who “have never worried about a Russian missile strike on the US” experience life in a fundamentally different way from their parents and grandparents? Or could you argue that although today’s students have never seriously worried about a Communist takeover, this generation was about nine or ten years old on 9/11/01, and the anxiety people felt during the decade after that attack is the rough equivalent to the experience boomers underwent during the Cold War?