Monday, May 23, 2005

Random Notes

The last few days have been quite busy. I am working at Panera in Hadley right now, catologing notes that I took on my previous research trips to Strasbourg (over two years, and I still haven't digitized my notes -- for shame!).

Berlin Centrum Judaicum
will open an exhibit of artwork from prisoners of Auschwitz (no English text yet, but lots of pics). If you aren't yet fed up reading about memory, check out this essay up at Miscellanea: Narrative Memory, Episodic Memory and G.W. Sebald's idea of Memory.

Taking the Balkans out of Balkanization

Fed up with the situation in the Balkans, some Bosnians have decided that Tito got it right. They have proposes a new imagined community, a state without territorial, ethnic, and religious divisions. the Republic of Titoslavia.
The symbolic republic will be founded on Tito's birthday May 25 by a group of Tito's supporters in Saraybosna (Sarajevo). It will have a constitution, national anthem, passport, and an emblem but no land. Yezdimir Milosevic, the leader of the group, told Agency France Press (AFP): "This republic has no borders and land. The capital city of Titoslavia is the hearts of its citizens and Titoslavia lives where its citizens exist." A photo of Tito, taken during the WW II, will be at the center of the new flag of Titoslavia. The national anthem pledges: "Comrade Tito. We all promise to follow your way."

Sunday, May 22, 2005

A Ricoeurian License Plate

When I first saw a Quebecois license plate, I was bothered by its slogan. Je me souviens (I remember) seemed out of balance. French syntax and grammar allow for the possibility of remembering without a direct object; the act or remembering is reflexive, bringing the person into closer association with the thing that s/he remembers.

In the Quebecois slogan, there is no object that is named, only an actor who is acting on nothing. The reflexive pronoun sits out there, without reference to a specific event or object being remembered, suggesting something personal about the act of remembering. Perhaps it is a political statement: the memory of Nouvelle France can be implied, but need not be made explicit, against the wishes of Canada.

As a historian, I would call Quebecois nostalgia of pre-1754 era as more myth than history. They are separated from the Catholic monarchy for which they long not just by incorporation into the British domain, but also several French revolutions and upheavals. (Watch Widow of Saint-Pierre to see the course of French history in Canada).

Perhaps Je me souviens does not imply something that is being remembered. It defines the Quebecoises and Quebecoisese as people who remember, who long, who feel nostalgic for the past. Memory is itself resistance, and in the process of remembering they project themselves into the past.

The late Ricoeur made this point numerous times. In the beginning of Memory, History, Forgetting, he says that memory is not just about the object of the past, but the relationship between the subject and the object of memory. Moreover, the definition of the subject of memory — I, the person who remembers — becomes clear through the process of remembering. In a recent interview, Ricoeur said that we must differentiate between the memory and rememberance:
Il faut commencer par le mot «souvenir», parce qu'il se trouve qu'en français on distingue le souvenir et la mémoire. En commençant par le souvenir, je suis donc en face de la difficulté majeure, à savoir qu'est présente à l'esprit une image de ce qui n'existe plus - le passé: c'est le rapport entre présence à l'esprit et absence dans la réalité, c'est-à-dire le révolu.
Memory does more than attempt to recover the past — its reality, its historicity — it puts the individual into the past.

Reflecting on this, I cannot help but feel a malaise over the culture of rememberance. Each monument put up in a capital city, be it Washington or Berlin, represents people rather than events. Abstraction cannot hold the people who want to find themselves in the past, even in its vastness. They must be marked by name.


Saturday, May 21, 2005

Death of Ricoeur

I am putting up links over at Cliopatria as I find them.

Random Notes

I am slowly preparing for my trip: asking for letters of introduction, buying a few articles of clothing and some new shoes (first time I've bought Timberland), some computer equipment, etc.

I did a quick reading of Böll's And Where Were You, Adam, which takes place on the eastern front during the waning days of WWII. I've opened Aunt Safiyya and the Monastery by Egyptian author Bahaa' Taher, a surprisingly insightful novel about revenge in Upper Egypt. I also bought a copy of Tristan by Gottfried von Strassburg, which I will bring along with a worn out copy of Balzac's Lost Illusion.

Some weekend reading: Nuno point to an exceptional entry about the prophetic literature of the Spanish moriscoes as it memorializes the loss of tradition -- must read! Nuno himself looks at photographer Joshua Banoliol (read the Googl-English).

Brandon links to a number of Star Wars and Sci-Fi related articles. After that, read Kevin Drum's assessment and the NY Post's analysis of Lucas' puritanical nightmare.

Useful: Miriam Burstein assembles links on literature and writers.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Walk in Silence

Both music maven Johno and I fell asleep at the wheel. We forgot to write anything up about the twenty-fifth anniversary of the suicide of Ian Curtis, the epileptic lead singer of Joy Division, the first great post-punk band.

When I started listening to Joy Division, they were a mysterious band. I was big into New Order, just starting to play the guitar and bass, just a teenager in the middle of Los Angeles. One day I drove over to Melrose Avenue. I didn't have my driver's license yet, just a learners permit. A friend had just introduced me to Cocteau Twins, and I was hungry for more.

At the record store, Bleaker Bob's, I found that another record was filed away under New Order. The cover was mysterious: an ethereal black and white print of a mourning scene. In my idiocy, I thought the name of the band was Closer. I bought it for the import record for the insane price of $12.

When I got home, I played the record on the only turntable in the house. The music was dark, fragmented, depressing. I stood close to the stereo so that I could turn it off as quickly as possible.

Closer was one of a few albums that influenced my early guitar playing (along with Cocteau Twins' Treasure, Roxy Music's Country Life, King Crimson's Starless and Bible Black, X's More Fun in the New World). These albums (with the exception of the last) were all obscure: information about the bands was difficult to come by in the US in the mid-1980s. They were, however, my entry into the world of Goth: dark clothes, dark makeup, even a long skirt or two. Now info is easy to find, and I care less about by Goth credibility.

I sang Digital at a gig on the tenth anniversary, May 18, 1990. I was the guitar player for a band called The Four Humours (the other members were all English lit people, hence the reference). Our singer passed on the vocal, and it fell to me (actually, she passed on Atmosphere, so I picked a song that was easier to sing). I didn't do too badly with the vocal chore: it was before I smoked. And I think I was dressed just like Mr. Curtis in the photo above. A year later I sat in on a local band's recording of Disorder. And there were numerous times when I was accused of using too much reverb on my flatly distorted Strat.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Inventing a Tradition and its Discontents (Part I)

For some time I have been meaning to post about the Rhenish Museum and the debate in German cultural politics that it stirred. In 1926 Konrad Adenauer proposed the creation of a museum in Cologne after the success of the millennium exhibition of 1925.

The proposal looked like a matter of course. The original exhibition was the central attraction of the Jahrtausendfeier — the millennium of the attachment of Lothringen (hence the Rhineland) to Germany. The event that was remembered — an obscure treaty that had almost no political relevance, even in the Middle Ages — had been latched onto by nationalists and regionalists alike to express the dedication of Rhinelanders to the Reich. The museum intended to turn the millennium into a permanent institution.

What seemed like a sure thing was instead contentious. First, the mayors of various cities contested the details of the plan: Dusseldorf, Koblenz, and Trier argued that they had better claims to a museum that would encompass Rhenish history, economy, and culture.

Second, the idea at the center of the proposal — the meaning of something called "Rhenish history" — was called into question. The millennium exhibition was carried forward by the emotions of the participants: their desire to show that the Rhine region was not just German, but a leading contributor of German culture overpowered critical judgement and historiography. Plus, the French occupation gave Rhinelanders something to thumb their noses at.

When Adenauer proposed making the exhibition permanent, scholars from various fields chimed in. Critic asserted that the Rhineland was not unified, had never been unified, and could not be presented by a singular institution. Proponents asserted that the decentered nature of the Rhineland does no deny it a history.

The Rhenish Museum is an example of the difficulties of inventing traditions. Eric Hobsbawm describes invented traditions as rituals that give the impression of continuity with the past. In modern times, invented traditions are abstract and ambiguous, integrating individuals into the community (especially the nation).

The Jahrtausendfeier could be described as such a practice. However, it failed when politicians and scholars attempted to turn it into an institution. The continuity of the German Rhineland was in doubt.

I will continue with this in two more parts. In the second part I will look at the Jahrtausendfeier itself. In the third part I will look at the debate in historiography.


Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Those Rakish Scholastics

(Hopefully Brandon will appreciate this:) Jame Overfield mentions a humorous episode from the Wegestreit.

The Wegestreit was a debate between two groups of intellectuals in the late fifteenth, early sixteenth century. Two groups of scholastics differed of the realilty of universals:
Nominalists followed William of Occam in rejecting the position of Aquinas and other thirteenth-century realists that univerals had any existence outside of the mind; universals, they argued, were mere names, and reality was to be found in particulars or individual entities rather than in common nature.
Overfield explains that contemporary scholars differ on the exact field in which the debate played out. Some historians have suggested that it was a controversy over teaching methods: realists read and commented on the text, nominalists questioned it during the course of lectures.

The Wegestreit heated up enough to become violent.
In 1497 realists complained to the university senate at Heidelberg that nominalist students had stormed through their bursa shouting: "We thirst realist blood! Our swords must devour at least three realists! I'll not leave this place until I have chopped off the limb of a realist."
If my undergraduate days were only so adventurous!

Bad week to be a wreckless historian

Michelle Malkin has been forced to eat her own words. (Hat-tip Attaturk)

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Please, don't let me be this type of scholar!

Some scholars go beyond arrogance and pomposity to defend themselves. See Peter Haidu's defense of his book The Subject Medieval/Modern. At H-France, Carol Symes gave a harsh, but not unfair, review. Among the numerous problems, she notes that Haidu has a rigid understanding of estate:
And what makes Haidu think--here, as elsewhere--that the clergy was a species of political animal readily distinguishable from knights? In the eleventh century, they were not members of different castes but the younger and elder sons of the same caste, separated not at birth but as a result of the changes that went hand-in-hand with the ideology deemed revolutionary, specifically the practice of primogeniture. Nor was the clergy closed to men of humble status, particularly in the increasingly urbanized twelfth and thirteenth centuries.
Haidu's response is bizarre and flippant, resembling Brit Hume in its evasiveness and lack of depth:
In addition to outright mendacity and gross deformations, Symes’s use of language, though vigorous, is ambiguous because imprecise. What is meant is sometimes difficult to ascertain. The absurdity of Symes’s rhetorical question, “what makes Haidu think…that the clergy was a species of political animal readily distinguishable from knights?” is breath-taking. Given Symes’s ignorance of modern theory, I take that “political animal” does not intend to suggest a comparison of human society in the European Middle Ages with that of ants, gorillas, or wolves, in the wake of reflections by Jacques Derrida and Giorgio Agamben.[3] The trope is merely another vigorously meaningless gesture whose function is to distract the reader from the absurdity of the discourse in which it is embedded.

It is a historiographical cliché that medieval clerics, especially those who reach positions of high power like abbots and bishops, were often the younger sons of noble families, destined to a clerical career by the rule of primogeniture, who retained aristocratic prejudices throughout their clerical careers. But primogeniture made a difference, and the rest of life was profoundly changed!
The last, italicized phrase in complete bull crap!

If you have a beer in hand, read Haihu's entire response. It is fruitless, but its contortion asre completely entertaining.

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Monday, May 16, 2005

Game on!

After my little scare, I found another place to stay in Strasbourg. A little more expensive, and it is in the government area (near the old Parliament and Imperial Palace, which is still nice, just heavy on German historicism, as you can see from these photos), but no deposit!

Sunday, May 15, 2005

The De-Localization of Patriotism

Although bases in Massachusetts will gain from the proposed realignment of military bases, New England is clearly losing out in favor of southern states. More than half of service positions in New England may be cut.

First, I think that the Pentagon is making a huge mistake closing the submarine base at Groton, CT, which will drive Electric Boat out of business.

Second, it will affect patriotism and the mentality of the military. Fewer New Englanders will experience a base in their neighborhoods, and thus will have a lower regard for military service. A less geographically diverse group of men and women will join, meaning that the leadership of the mililtary will be less representative of the nation as a whole.

It won't be enough to have recruiting offices in strip malls. The realignment will denigrate the landscape of American patriotism.

Silence is my national anthem

A number of works in the 1920s explored the possibilities of Franco-German rapprochement. The conflict between the two nations was considered the central problem of European peace. Many of the works I have analyzed in my dissertation have argued that the Rhine could serve as a foundation for cooperation between the nations. But there were other works that explored the issue in other ways. They criticized the innateness, and permanence, of mentality.

Jean Giraudoux’s first play, Siegfried, was a popular work in the 1920s for exploring Franco-German antagonism and the possibility of rapprochement. The central character is an amnesiac, who is given the name Siegfried by his nurse and becomes chancellor of Germany. He introduces reforms that would put the Weimar Republic on firm ground (that is to say, make it look more like France’s republic).

However, he longs to know his true family, an ongoing search that leads him to the truth: that he is a Frenchman named Jacques: an artist with a penchant for Nietzsche and Geist who was believed killed on the field of battle. Two women, advocating for both countries, fight over him. The choice he makes is to return to France, not because he is a Frenchman but because of his need to know his past; and he does not return as Jacques, but as a hybrid of Siegfried and Jacques. Giraudoux offers no finality: Jacques/Siegfried is a synthetic being who belongs to neither nation.

Other authors during the 1920s and 30s looked at transnational cooperation. Pabst’s Kammeradschaft describes the daring rescue of trapped miners by miners from the other side of the border. Jean Renoir’s Grand Illusion makes social divisions more meaningful than nation in an officers prison camp during the First World War. Both films used proximity as a means of defeating, or re-situating, international antagonism. The bonds of humanity proved stronger than patriotism.

Giraudoux attempts to produce something in common, imagining what a Frenchman who did not despise Germany would be like. Memory – or lack thereof – is critical. Siegfried has no specific prejudices. Consequently, he can save the republic from conservatives who associate it with Frenchness. Indeed, the loss of identity allows him to overcome strife in German society.

Throughout the play Giraudoux returns to one question: does language structure thought. The question recurs as the particulars debate whether or not Siegfried/Jacques would naturally express himself in French or German. His identity was initially based on the thinnest evidence: that he was able to ask for Wasser when he was revived. The physicians and nurses ascertained from this request that he was German, even though they taught him the rest of the language. They also give him a heroic name and the nation’s history as his memory.

But he also lacked adeptness in French. He speaks imperfectly, apologizing for his accent, but he clearly had no appreciation for the language as spoken in Paris.

Giraudoux seems to assert that language is abstraction until it is informed by experience. Bringing levity to the play, Jacques’ ex-fiancee Genevieve is introduced to Siegfried as a teacher of French from Quebec who will be his tutor.

As they discuss the differences between languages and dialects, Genevieve attempts to act like a Quebecoise. Truthfully, she performs a French stereotype of a Québécoise: the words that they say differently, the economic and cultural poverty, the routine of daily life and lack of achievement or individuality. When asked where she came from, her answer exudes arrogance:

What town? You know people don’t pay much attention to names in Canada. It’s a large country, but everybody feels near to everyone else. We used to call our lake “The Lake”, and our town “The Town.” No one remembers the name of the river – I’m sure you’re going to ask me about the immense river which crosses Canada – it’s just the river.

People don’t write much. When they do, they deliver their own letters by sleigh [instead of by post].

[We did] what everyone does in Canada: look after the snow.

Siegfried dismisses these assertions. He insists that Québécois French should have its own charm. It is informed by the simplicity, the vastness and the naturalness of the landscape and its people. Words that lack reality in the daily life of France take on new meaning in Canada:

I know [these words] are French, but in your mouth they take on something of the unknown. In France the word snow has never touched as much snow as it has in Canada. You took from France a word which she used for only a few days out of the year and with it lined your entire language.
Siegfried’s perspective contains German notions of culture’s relationship with nature. His analysis of the dialect of Quebec assumes that French need not be abstract: it is capable of taking on rich meaning and being personalized. The abstractness of civilisation must be a deliberate project rather than an innate characteristic of the French people and their language.

Can Franco-German conflict be reduced to warring mentalities? No. Only history and politics, as they are taught, can produce the “hereditary” animosity between the two nations. They come after language, after experience. Giraudoux suggests that it is possible to come to a synthesis of the French and the German without disturbing civilisation and Kultur, repealing the layers of historical propaganda.

Nationality is another choice, something that can be learned or relearned. For Siegfried, “silence is my national anthem.” With a little forgetting, it can be overcome.

Theatrical Arts of Jean Giraudoux

Plaisir à Giraudoux

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"A slavery no less worthy"

France's Ministry of Justice has put up the website When divorce was prohibited for its collection of petitions to reinstate divorce in the nineteenth century. The outline of the petitions links to 11 petitions (in facsimile and transcription). One interesting petition, written to the Provisional Government of the Second Republic in 1848 for Marie Thérèse Rosalie Lorrillière by her father, compares her continuing marriage with slavery:
You have just abolished slavery among the Negroes, but there is also a slavery no less worthy of your attention, because it weighs on civilized creatures who, despite their just and proven complaints to break their chains, and despite [enormous failures of their obstinate tyrants to prove otherwise], [remain enslaved] because on the one hand [their tyrants] deny their wrongdoings shamelessly, and pretending to be good apostles, they dare to state that they do not want to separate from their wives. (Googl-English with some editing)


Disaster Strikes

Well, my accommodations in Strasbourg fell through. I am scrambling to see if I can find somewhere to stay in June. This blows.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

If they were me, and I was you ...

Ok, my birthday is tomorrow. Considering how far apart the prime-numbered years are getting I am glad that my age will be divisible by five and seven.

Last week my wife gave me an early present: she took me out to see Dave Alvin (formerly of the Blasters) at the Iron Horse. Very cool show. He played an awesome version of Fourth of July. I suspect that she will also get a copy of Siddhartha Deb's new book (can't wait -- here and article he wrote about opposition to the sati in India).

I also buy a book for myself, but I am having a hard time deciding. My choices are: James Tate's new collection of poetry, Schocken Book of Modern Sephardic Literature, Earl Shorris' Latinos: A Biography of a People, the autobiography of Jazz pianist Hampton Hawes, or Lautréamont's Maldoror. Any suggestions (or additions)?

This blog has also been up for a year. I think I have had three moderately good posts:
  1. Imperfection as Great as G-d
  2. Political Journey
  3. Vinland without its Map
By this weekend I will put up a post about an "invented" anniversary, the millennium of the German Rhine in 1925, and the historiographical aftermath.

Random Notes

Amazing Race: Last nights Amazing Race rocked! Well, the last hour did. I can't believe that Uchenna and Joyce made up the time deficit. I liked them from the start, but I didn't think they had the drive to win. And they showed class by waiting to pay the cabbie before running to the finish line.

Different Modern Eras: City Comforts has been at the center of a discussion about the usefulness of the "codeword" modernism in architecture and urban planning (here, here, here, and probably a few other places). (In my opinion, it is difficult to define architectural modernism in terms of its attitude towards the city. Was Hausmannization modern? Yes, to the extent that it attempted to engineer the urban milieu in order to improve social conditions. Certainly the nineteenth century was the era in which urban planning matured, reforming the city to improve its citizens. But this is different from architectural modernism's fuck the street attitude (of course, I am just an historian).)

Search for Epilepsy: Sharon wants physicians researching the diseases of historical figures to pay attention to historical methods.

Aftermath of the Big War: Historian Ian Kershaw talks about the meaning of the Zero Hour in Germany. Le Monde has an article about the failed negotiations for the common European army in 1954.

All Good Frenchmen speak German

H-France recently had a discussion about Fustel del Coulanges' "five languages of France" (here and here (seven messages in total)). At the time he wrote, German was written in Alsace, but dialect was spoken. Furthermore, it is not clear that he wanted to include German/Germanic language as a national language.

I have commented in the past that literature written in German by Alsatian writers ought to be considered French literature. The issue should not be limited to questions about language and national identity. As Lucien Febvre noted, Allemagne did not necessarily connote Germany (as it does in contemporary French), but eastern France: some part of the Holy Roman Empire, east of the Soane and west of the Rhine, that belonged to the kingdom of France and that spoke German. The argument was used for centuries to expand eastward and to allow the monarchy to stick its nose into imperial affairs.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005


The other major exhibit at Mass MOCA was a collection of works by the New Leipzig School. The painters used a restrained, minimal objectivity that had only traces of social commentary. Thematically and stylistically they cross Neue Sachlichkeit with Richard Pettibone.

(I would try to pen some word with the neo- prefix, but I have done that too much recently. )

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Monday, May 09, 2005

Hitler in Chains: 60th Anniversary

[This is an exercise in counterfactual history. What might have happened if Hitler had been captured? I combined issues that occurred after WWI with those after WWII, added in some fantastic elements. Enjoy, ponder, criticize – but remember, it’s just a big “what-if”.]

The Allies did not expect to capture Adolf Hitler, and had no plans for him had he been captured. Late on May 9, 1945 soldiers found him in his bunker, sitting quietly. The film footage of the handcuffed dictator being led away was flown across the Atlantic and shown in theaters almost immediately. At the time it was the ultimate symbol of German defeat, but no one knew the chaos it would cause.

At his trial, Hitler held nothing back. He spoke openly about his intentions: the invasion of Poland, the displacement of Slavs, the killing of Jews, etc. He gesticulated effusively as he spoke for hours without break. The military tribunal failed to restrain his oratories and keep him on subject.

The testimony that came out of the trial, which was broadcasted over the radio by the military, sparked civil unrest. Germans had long ago abandoned the Fuehrer, fighting the war for their own reasons rather than his. When news spread that he had been arrested and would be put on trial, no Germans dared, or tried, to protest. Sentiment had shifted against him: he was a failure.

As the trial approached, apprehension mounted over what Hitler might say. Germans feared that because of Hitler’s words, the public in the Allied nations would demand heavy indemnities. A few politicians – mostly Socialist who had returned from exile – suggested that Hitler should be punished by the German legislature (yet to be formed) rather than by a military tribunal (which operated on new legal ground).

On the stand, however, Hitler implicated everyone. With verve and force he argued that he waged a war that the Germans wanted. The persuasive words he used to rise to power provided fodder for the American newspapers, which quote Hitler at length. Theodore Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) drew an editorial cartoon, in which German mothers look on at Hitler with big grins, saying, “That’s my boy!”

The German public was furious. Not knowing how the judges weighed his testimony, they thought the worst of the tribunal and the Allies in general. In early 1947 shopkeepers, bureaucrats and demobilized soldiers protested against the “show trials”. In Berlin the Red Army fired on a crowd of unemployed factory workers who demanded Hitler’s speedy execution. Movement in and out of the area around Nurnberg was prohibited.

However, the protesters turned against each other by March. Several politicians latched onto the trial as a political issue, casting suspicion on opponents. The blame game spread until different social groups and different territories were in conflict with one another. Hate crimes against Catholics increased. The assassination of a Bavarian priest caused a major uproar.

Eventually Germans were forced to confront their involvement in the war and the genocide. Hitler’s execution by hanging was not a lightning rod for controversy like his trial. Germans, individually and in groups, admitted their complacency and complicity, especially how they profited from the deportation of the Jews. Churches in Thuringia created special funds to pay for long term reparations to Nazi victims. In Mainz, Trier and Frankfurt the municipal governments set up special taxes on non-perishables.

Given the state of the German economy during these lean years, little money was actually collected. Jews, who chose to return, might receive large donations of goods that had been confiscated or bought at low cost, but for the most part reparations remained small and local. The need to make amends was heart-felt, but it increased general charity rather than benefitted victims.

The capture, trial and execution of Hitler turned into a new phase of German peculiarity. Germany broke apart, returning to the patchwork quilt of the eighteenth century. Today there are twenty-nine German states, confederated in the loosest sense. South Germany became the major power after Bavaria and parts of Wurttemberg joined Austria at the Munich Conference. Some border communities in the west seceded, casting their lot with Luxembourg.

The welfare state remained limited to those states where the SPD won clear majorities. In Catholic areas outside South Germany the Catholic Church took on a quasi-administrative role as the state’s social welfare apparatus. In Soviet areas the KPD enjoyed the support of a few large magnates in the chemical industries, nationalizing small to mid-size industries to support government programs (they could not afford the migration of large industry). Instead, the social capabilities of cities and towns became more important.

The major exception was in Greater Westphalia, which became a protectorate of the United Nations. The Allies wanted to profit from the coal and steel industries in the Ruhr Valley but feared that they would encourage and finance German militarism. Westphalian politicians, who could be described as Catholic liberals, and UN administrators (mostly from Netherlands and Belgium) proposed the welfare state as a means of gaining the support of the working class for the protectorate. The evolution of social programs has closely paralleled those in the Low Countries.

Because of the ongoing political instability the Allies put most of their resources into controlling territories and less into making economic improvements. America, Britain, and the Soviet Union feared that they might lose control of heavy weaponry by putting it in Central Europe. Perhaps for this reason the Cold War played out in the Third World.

Economic support was meager. Although financial support was promised, little was offered. Germany was a risky investment. Consequently, German states shifted to economies based on agriculture and small industries. Agrarian parties became politically prominent.

Their greatest achievement was the European Agricultural Community, a strong federation of agrarian states in central and southern Europe. South German Catholics reached out to counterparts in Italy and southern France, emphasizing rural values against cosmopolitanism; its leadership in the EAC has allowed South Germany to influence the affairs of the other German states.

If Germans abandoned economic modernity, they embraced cultural modernity, reversing the trend of the nineteenth century. Few of the buildings destroyed in allied bombings were rebuilt. Saying “leave the rubble to the archeologists”, architects projected a bold image of a global avant garde led by Germans. (They have been accused of overcompensation, which if you look at their buildings, is true.)

Get your Mitts off my State!

Good news for Massachusetts!

Update: False Alarm!

Final Exam

Just a few minutes before I torture the kiddies with an exam. What's on it? The early Ionic philosophers, First Punic War, Han Dynasty, the Principate, Origen's Trinity, Apostolic Council, Epicurus, Peter, and Boethius (lots of Boethius).

And a little extra credit: address a leter to any ancient author we read during the semester. Tell them what you think they got right, and what they got wrong.

Coalition of the Defeated

In The Kaiser's Voters, Jonathan Sperber describes the opposition parties of the Bismarckian Reich -- the Catholics, the national minorities, those loyal to the deposed monarchs ... -- as a coalition of the defeated.

These groups either preferred Grossdeutschland over Prussia or did not see themselves as German nationals. Together they were a voting bloc, spread out over numerous parties. And their existence concerned nationalists who feared that the "defeated" enemies of the empire (Reichsfiend) would use the political process to gain what they lost in war.

[Center founder Ludwig Windthorst]

The Kaiser's Voters is a thorough consideration of the dynamics of German politics and the meaning of the democratic process. Under Bismarck, parties organize into two broad camps: the Kartell (who supported Bismarck), the minority (the coalition, wherein the Center Party acted as a protector), and the National Liberals leaning towards the conservatives.

The legalization of the SPD dramatically changed the dynamics of politics: a German party was able to take root among national minorities; the Center fought to keep its lower class; Protestant workers found an alternative to the nationalist parties.

I could not help but feel that the phrase "coalition of the defeated" could not be read without reference to contemporary politics. "Coalitions" now suggest a discourse about the effectiveness of voluntary and international organizations; good coalitions act with moral purpose, bad coalitions out of resentment. It does not help that the parties that belonged to Sperber's coalition were those left behind by Bismarck's victories.


Saturday, May 07, 2005


Thursday we drove out to Mass MOCA. The museum is in the process of changing its exhibits, but it did have this: Inopportune by Cai Guo-Qiang.

Nine cars arc through MASS MoCA’s 300’ long gallery, tumbling and suspended in mid-air as if by stop-action. Long transparent rods radiate from the car, pulsing with dazzling multicolored light. An explosive moment – expanded in time and space as if in a dream – the cars form the centerpiece of Inopportune, Cai Guo-Qiang’s new commission for MASS MoCA.

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Tomorrow I'll post pictures of the New Leipzig School.

"The Archbishop chairs the first session"

This poem by Ingrid de Kok is part of a cycle of poems dealing with South Africa's Truth and Reconcilliation Commission. I found it to be powerful, as have people to whom I have shown it.
On the first day
after a few hours of testimony
the Archbishop wept.
He put his grey head
on the long table
of papers and protocols
and he wept.

The national
and international cameramen
filmed his weeping,
his misted glasses,
his sobbing shoulders,
the call for a recess.

It doesn't matter what you thought
of the Archbishop before or after,
of the settlement, the commission,
or what the anthropologists flying in
from less studied crimes and sorrows
said about the discourse,
or how many doctorates,
books and installations followed,
or even if you think this poem
simplifies, lionizes
romanticizes, mystifies.

There was a long table, starched purple vestment
and after a few hours of testimony,
the Archbishop, chair of the commission,
laid down his head, and wept.
That's how it began.
From Terrestrial Things.

A Fun Assignment Turns Disaster

I am grading the last assignment of the semester: a review in which the student evaluate the historical worth of a movie. They critique the movie, showing where Hollywood screwed up its history, and tell me that it's still a good teaching tool.

How could it go so terribly wrong. Easy: half the class does the same film, Troy, and ignores my warning that your cannot judge its historical accuracy on the basis of its divergence from The Iliad. Luckily there are some good reviews in the batch.

Friday, May 06, 2005

American Technical Modernity

This statement from Paul Rabinow's French Modern struck me:
There is a consensus among historians that the period of 1940-1945 constitutes a chrysalis of the present French state ... The contrast between Vichy's ruralist, traditionalist propaganda and its introduction of a technical vision and institutions to implement that vision should no longer seem paradoxical.
Rabinow does not suggest that contemporary French government is a rebranding of Vichy. Instead, every political party, every regime expanded on the ability of the state to engineer social conditions. The technical state developed on its own, in spite of political ideology, since the mid-nineteenth century.

France was not alone when it chose professionalism over democracy. Geoff Ely and David Blackbourn argued that German anti-democracy was peculiar only in its success, and that Britain pursued similar goals.

Could the same statement apply to contemporary America? The F-word (fascism) has been used casually to describe the Bush administration. The administration has expanded on its ability to collected information about citizens and residents. The Patriot Act's provisions to check into library and bookstore records is only one example of how the state can intrude on personal privacy.

So far, attention has been paid only to how this information will be used. Those on the left suspect that the information will be used to monitor patriotism and opposition. Recently I was asked about the collection of information on students and universities. I replied that I had no problem with the government taking information on me so long as my name was dissociated therefrom. Later I realized that it was a meaningless caveat.

What will happen when the administration changes parties: will democrats really dismantle the American technical state? Rabinow's statements may apply to America. The informational capacities of the state will grow, regardless of whether information will be used to shape social policy or security strategies.

Carnivalesque #7

Welcome to Carnivalesque, the Carnival of all things Early Modern. I have tried to pull together diverse sources, even from people who are not normally associated with history blogging. (BTW, this is actually the fifth Carnivalesque -- my error, but I don't want to cause a tremor in the Bloggosphere by changing the link.)

Let me thank Sharon for letting me host and for helping me find posts. Your reading should start with her post on Welsh identity and ritual defense of the trees.

Do Scientists have Souls?

Philosophical Fortnights, reviewing a book by John J Emerson, discusses the merits of Descartes’ mythology. He probably wanted to placate his theologically minded critics, but his work does not reject Christianity. Marc at Cliopolitical draws our attention to an article that says Newton, despite his description of a clockwork universe, rejected Deism. Hugo had a number of in depth posts about Galileo (I invite all to explore). Here he looks at the enduring legacy of the Galileo Affair in the theology of Benedict XVI. The artist formerly known as Cardinal Ratzinger claims that the Church dealt with Galileo “rationally”, looking at the social as well as the intellectual consequences of his teachings. Finally, Brandon at Siris considers how David Hume approached the history of religion: how could the evolution of something built on passion be understood by reason?

Historians are People Too

Eb at Delayed Reaction considers Simon Schama's comments on returning to the traditions of narrative history (and those who respond to Schama). Zid at Blitztoire notes Arlette Farge's comments on the vulgarisation (speaking to the non-specialists) of history. The Cranky Professor allies with Natalie Zemon Davis in the battle to interpret Carnival: they are complex and cannot be reduced to resistance or restoration. And Dr. History tells us where the jobs are.

Women and Men

Alterior at Fascinating History describes how English men found extra-marital sex. Chris at The Means synthesizes several sources (including James Collins' work) in order to describe the role that women played in the French economy. Sharon considers the Women's Petition of 1649 as part of her broader look at the historiography of women and gender. (Note for Sharon: a friend of mine, Barbara Stephenson, has an interesting reconsideration of the importance of ranks over gender: The Power and Patronage of Marguerite de Navarre.)

(Ig)noble Lives

Dave at Barista describes how forensic research into the Medicis is going terrible wrong. And Ancarett's Abode is not impressed with the scandals surrounding the British royal family: their predecessors were far worse.

Words and Pictures

Misteraitch tells us about Strasbourgeois Sebastian Brant's Das Narrenschiff (Ship of Fools). Matthew Cheney at Mumpsimus looks at Georg Büchner's portrayal of Sturm und Dränger JMR Lenz based on the diaries of Oberlin (all three were in Strasbourg). At Thanks for not Being a Zombie, Isabella Whitney's authorship is put into the context of changing economy and print media.

For the Little Professor Anne Boleyn is poorly treated in historical fiction, revealing the problems of representing historical figures in literature. Tom at Stomata Blog reviews literature on Edward de Vere, the sogenannt "real" Shakespeare. Laura at Sorrow at Sills Bend hunts down an unnoticed reference in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park. At the 24-hour Cervantes blog 400 Windmills, Anne recounts comments made by Edith Grossman on translating Don Quixote.

The Old Church

Prattie Place has this wonderful portrait of Sor Juana, the Mexican writer and nun who enjoyed unprecedented intellectual freedom. Natalie at Philobiblion responds. And Positive Liberty compares the Pope Benedicts.

Protesters and Reformers

In part IV of his series Hermeneutics, Ecclesiology, and the Perspicuity of the Scriptures, Rev. Pahls at Bishop's Blog questions whether Luther's stand at the Diet of Worms was necessary. From Homer Kizer, the Swiss Radical Reformers struggle to use the Bible as a template for faith and the meaning of adult baptism. Deo Gratias takes an extended look at Melanchthon (just found the post myself).

I didn't want to be Chosen

Jonathan at Head Heeb finds an interesting moment in the records of the Old Bailey: on which scripture, Torah or New Testament, should an assimilated Jew swear? Nuno at Rua da Judiaria looks at the life of a Mishna commentator Yosef Caro. And I (right here at The Rhine River) look at attitudes in the Holy Roman Empire for religious minorities in the debate over Jewish books between Johann Reuchlin and the Cologne Dominicans.

Other Sides of the World

KM Lawson tells us that Japanese judges could not have applied light sentences without the tacit consent of the bureaucracy (call it judicial activism). At Far Outliers, Joel looks at the suspicions that the Japanese had of Europeans as they played out in the interrogations of Dutch sailors And Natalie at Philobiblion looks at the pioneering work of women in Australia.

America's Early Republic

Geitner at Regions of Mind looks back at tensions between the states and the uncertainty of the union after the Constitution (regular readers probably know that we blog back and forth about these issues). And Red Ted looks at a petition concerning funding religious education in Virginia.

Towards a Theory of Early Modernization

Herr Dresner at Frog in a Well elaborates the problems applying modernization theory to the history of Japan. Similarly, Historiological Notes asks whether it is possible to use standard periodization to the History of Ideas.

The Future of Carnivalesque

We need someone to host Carnivalesque #8 in July. The work is easy, the pay is good, and the respect is priceless. Anyone who is interested should contact Sharon: sharon ***at*** earlmodernweb ***dot*** org ***dot*** uk.

Sharon also asked me to raise the issue of whether or not it is worthwhile to continue Carnivalesque. History Carnival is very successful, appearing every second week. It covers ground normally taken by Carnivalesque.

I think it has a future. I tried to show here that History Carnival cannot cover everything. It is only as good, and as diverse, as the person compiling it. And great posts will be passed over.

Carnivalesque, however, must change. It should cover a broader period of time, perhaps 1000-1750 AD. And it should be interdisciplinary: there are many great posts from theologians, philosophers and lit scholars that don't get enough attention.

If you have any thoughts, post them below or send them to Sharon: sharon ***at*** earlmodernweb ***dot*** org ***dot*** uk.

Thanks to Sharon, Jonathan, Hugo, Natalie.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005


The air is so full of bunny testosterone, my wife says that she will start growing facial fur.
Posted by Hello

Monday, May 02, 2005


I translated this poem by Ernst Stadler, an Alsatian expressionist, late last night. I have been thinking about translating his poetry (even though I have no poetic sense and my German sucks). This is not his best poem, but it is typical of how German poets wrote about the discovery of language.

They demonstrated words to us
that overflowed with naked beauty
and foreboding and trembling desire.
We took them, wary like uprooted flowers
that we suspended in our boyhood hideaways.
They promised storm and adventure,
ebullience and danger and fated oathes --
Day after day we stood and waited
for their adventure to carry us away.
But weeks turned barren and aimless,
and nothing came to take away our emptiness.
And slowly the bright words lost their color.
We learned to say them without our hearts beating.
And they were still colorful, tailoring themselves
from everyday life and all ways of living:
They lived somewhere, bewitched, on a tropical island
in a fairy-tale blue peace.
We knew:
they were unreachable, like the white clouds
that gathered above our boyhood sky,
But sometimes it happened
that we secretly and wistfully lamented
their music as it faded away.

Nothing to see ... just a genocide

One issue that is dragging down Turkey's application to the EU is is relationship with neighbors (notably Armenia and Greece). And its relationship with Armenia is non-existent because it will not recognize the genocide of Armenians during WWI under the Ottoman Empire. Recently Ankara hoped to improve relations by offering a joint historical inquiry into the events of 1915. The offer has fallen on deaf ears (free subscription).

Beneath the hypocrisy is not a debate about whether Armenians were killed, or how many were killed, but whether or not the government had a hand in it. Turkey refuses to admit that the genocide was policy towards minorities.

Journalist Etyen Mahçupyan admits that Ankara is stalling on recognition, but he also argues that the genocide should not take precedent in establishing relations with Armenia. A debate would inflame the passions of nationalists, not bring resolution. Ankara should separate the "legal" debate from the diplomatic talks rather than spin out historical fictions.
The genocide question has become a foreign policy issue and has entered into common parlance in both the nationalistic movements in both Turkey and Armenia, indeed, such a situation shifts the emphasis of the whole issue. However, what Turkey has been doing is neither a proper study of history nor is it a real political initiative,

Turkey, as a nation state, has the right to deny or accept genocide allegations. But Turkey doesn't have the right to conduct flawed policies that may lead itself into a quagmire.

Turkey [is] trying to create an alternative history, instead of focusing on the essential aspect of the issue of which Turkey has power, namely, its political aspect.

No party would accept joining a debate where defeat is certain beforehand. Both parties should appropriate a partial defeat as well as a partial predominance for itself.

Mahçupyan might be right that it is better to separate the issues. However, it is the major, perhaps only, stumbling block. Furthermore, Ankara could start the process of recovering the memory of the genocide for the Turkish public -- a sign of good faith to Yevaran. (However, I must admit that German-Israeli relations were quite good in the 1950s and 1960s even though it was not government, not the people, who took the blame -- it would take longer for Germans to understand the meaning of their culpability. )

At least some exiled Turks have embraced history. Writer Dogan Aquanla blames Turkey's academics for not forcing the country to confront the past:
Turkey’s whole intelligentsia is now in shame for distorting the historical reality and not recognizing the Armenian Genocide. There is only one mention about the genocide in modern Turkish literature and the author is Nazim Hikmet. I should say that recently an opera piece was produced on the basis of that work, but the part (about genocide) was withdrawn.

I am here today to declare that I assume historical responsibility. Recognition for me is not only a moral but also political and public matter, because as German Bernhard Schlink says: “The one who lives in peace with the criminal also becomes responsible."

: : :

Sunday, May 01, 2005


History Carnival #7 is up at Studi Galileiani. Hugo brought together some great sources under difficult circumstances (the languidness of the history bloggers -- see the bottom of the page). I expected to be passed over (haven't blogged much recently), but Hugo found that I wrote something interesting enought to include -- thank you!

My favorite entry so far is this post on how seriously we should consider Descartes' metaphysics from Philosophical Fortnights.
His theology, on the other hand, is not “contentless”, if by that is meant a pure form of words, a mere gesture. There is indeed almost nothing in it concerning Christ, or salvation, or sin—for Descartes these were matters known by faith through revelation. But the idea of God as the perfect being is, for Descartes as for most theists of the period, rich in consequences. Not the least of those is our dependence on the goodness of God for our knowledge of the “simplest things”—the truths of arithmetic, the existence of bodies. To which may be added God’s other perfections, each of which has a counterpart in us, on the basis of which (by way of générosité) we may rightly attach worth to the self and its powers. God the perfect being is an object of contemplation rather than of worship, of imitation rather than prayer.
Of course, the same problem is encountered in the theology of those inspired by Neo-Platonism: how does one jump from a philosophical G-d to a Christian G-d?

[Let me use this opportunity to ask for submissions to Carnivalesque, the Early Modern Carnival, coming up on Friday. Send them to rhineriver *** at *** earthlink *** dot *** net.]