Saturday, April 29, 2006

Tejas por los Tejanos

Brandon remembers the Texas Revolution, which, as he describes it, was a revolt by Mexicans against a despotic ruler. Fair enough. But let's not forget: it was led by many people who refused to learn the language of the country, for the sake of people who illegally crossed into Mexican territory from the United States, and not all who revolted wanted to join the United States.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Are they really French?

I was in Urbana, Illinios over the weekend, presenting a paper at the annual meeting of the Society for French Historical Studies. Amidst the cornfields of the greater Champaign area, my allergies raged. I was so hopped up on antihistimines that I couldn't take much in. Nonetheless, my paper, "A Place in the Republic," was well received. I even got some major encouragement from some heavyweights.

Actually, for an all-Alsace panel in the last group of sessions at the conference, we had a very large audience. The other two papers were well argued, and I look forward to any publications that might come in the future. As I gathered from the other panelists, Alsace is in more peripheral to French Studies than it is to France. Perhaps it's considered too German. Indeed, they expressed regret that they could not build a full career in French history out of studying Alsace, and that German historians were more receptive to their ideas.

As for the paper itself, I received only positive responses. The commentator was overjoyed by my "syncretic" approach. What really surprised me was how enthusiastic people could be about the German material in the paper. A few people wanted to know more about Landeskunde (German regional studies.) Others wanted to talk more about Adenauer beyond the German national context. Regular readers to this blog know of my admiration for Adenauer. I'm now more convinced that I will make a future studying him.

I attended only a few panels because of my allergies: one on environmental history, another on occultism and political prophecy. Right now I need to get some rest: it took me two days to get home because of problems at the Chicago airport, and running from gate to gate wore me out. However, in all that time, I was able to read Manuel Azuela's The Underdogs (an interesting fiction on the Mexican Revolution, which can be read here) and half of Kevin Boyle's Arc of Justice.

Monday, April 17, 2006


Sepoy drew my attention to this NY Times article on Spanish writer Juan Goytisolo. His books can be challenging to read, but they provide interesting insights into the interaction between European and Arab/Muslim culture across the Mediterranean realm. Landscape after the Battle is particularly interesting: pasted from numerous vignettes, it describes a revolt in a Paris neighborhood driven by emigrants tired of their exclusion--more than twenty years before last year's events. The introduction is particular work of genius. The Parisian white collar workers wake up to find that all the signs--streets, stores, etc.--have been replaced with signs written in Arabic. In a short space, Goytisolo describes how this campaign swelled from disparate political graffiti. The revolt effectively shuts down daily life, paralyzing the authorities, who find the city impossible to maneuver. Actually, it reminds me of how many Americans react to Hispanicized street names in Los Angeles.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Historiens sans Frontières?

[This post was written for Cliopatria's symposium on Thomas Bender's "No Borders: Beyond the Nation-State.", which is now available for your reading.]

Few Americans are familiar with Felix Ponteil or his L’Opposition politique à Strasbourg. A student of Febvre who did much of the heavy lifting in publishing the Annales, Ponteil created a masterful work that depicted a nineteenth-century city that, on the one hand, was the headquarters of the German democratic movement, and on the other, suffered from French trade policies that cut it off from its sources of commerce. It was a cosmopolitan city that relished in an international role; it was also a provincial city submitted to French national authority. The contradictions were impossible without its position on the border.

In a recent article, Thomas Bender invites Americanists to get out of their own ivory towers, and recognize how their history is part of international and global processes: “I want to propose the end of American history as we have known it.” Yes, I am laughing in the background at the prospect that Americanists might be subjected to the same pain as Europeanists. Certainly, there are those Europeanists who will use the nation to simplify (without warrant) their studies rather than frame them (the phrase “I only do ...” should be banned from academia.) Nothing would please me more, however, than seeing historians working with broader palettes.

Beyond my enthusiasm for a change in the modus operandi, Bender leaves me perplexed by what he means by transnationalism and what it might offer to the profession beyond ending American parochialism. KC Johnson has already raised the concern that this ‘transnationalism’ excludes much of political history. Others, like Rob MacDougall, have voiced concern about the arbitrary pursuit of transnationalism: the nation-state is the appropriate context for some inquiries, and overcomplication leads to undo abstraction. Approaching Bender from the outside, as a Europeanist, and as someone who studies people who were not only aware of, but advocate for, transnationalism, I wonder if his conceptualization of transnationalism is too casual. The title of the piece, “No Borders,” leaves me pondering the differences between traditional international history (infused with diplomacy and warfare), global history, and the America-in-the-World approach that Bender recommends.

The notion of the borderless realm greatly simplifies transnationalism’s appeal and usefulness. Indeed, some form of transnationalism has always existed between princes and thinkers, predating globalization and nation-building. It was their privilege to supercede borders. It was also their privilege to make borders, using armies and fortifications to solidify the frontier, or pens to argue for the autonomy of the monarch and his authority over other princes. The cosmopolitanism of the political and intellectual elites was often made at the expense of the diversity of society, and the border was meant to mark the homogeny of the state.

To the vast majority of humanity, the border was not something to overcome, but to confront. Crossing the border was not always passing through abstractly-divided space, but a political act in which the individual negotiated complicated sets of identities. Even as space becomes easier to cross, authorities work harder to contain the flows of people and ideas. The emotions of nationalism made elucidating the border an issue for the general public, not just the elites. At this level, transnationalism was not free movement, but passage on bridges that regulated the flow of traffic.

Transnationalism reveals rich relationships and interactions below the games of diplomats and the letters of intellectuals. It is precious. It should not become a panacea for contemporary scholarship. Care should be taken to crafting a transnational history. First, it is the study that should define the relevance and nature of transnationalism. Second, transnationalism itself–its dimensions, scope, texture–should be at issue. Third, it should ideally bring together the high and the low and all the layers in between, not just the privileged aspects, of the transnational experience. Please, let’s be transnational, but let’s do it to its deepest roots.

[Editing note: somehow I forgot to put in the adverb that negated transnationalism as a panacea.]

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Closing Les Maisons Closes

Marking the sixtieth anniversary of the law that closed them, Le Monde looks at the legal history of the French brothel.
Elle met fin à un système datant de 1804 qui donnait une existence légale aux maisons de débauche, cachant les prostituées – considérées comme membres des classes dangereuses – derrière des portes closes pour préserver la morale, à l'ère de la bourgeoisie triomphante.

Les portes closes cachent une réalité de violence morale et physique avec pour toile de fond traite des femmes, passages à tabac, alcoolisme et drogue. Les prostituées, appelées"colis" par les "courtiers", sont revendues de maison en maison, soumises à une discipline et une hiérarchie militaire. Elles doivent acheter leurs tenues, leur linge, leurs produits d'hygiène à la tenancière qui les maintient dans une spirale d'endettement, leur prend le prix de chaque passe, les soumet à des amendes.

It put an end to a system dating from 1804 that gave a legal existence to houses of debauchery, hiding the prostitutes -- considered members of the 'dangerous classes' -- behind closed doors to preserve morality, in the era of the triumphant bourgeoisie.

The closed doors hid a reality of moral and physical violence ... The prostitutes ... were traded between houses, submitted to a military hierarchy and discipline ... [Crappy translation is my own.]

I find it interesting that Strasbourg was the first French city to outlaw brothels in 1926, and I wonder whether the political position of the Church (and the influence of Bishop Ruch) made it possible.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Rape in Kenya

From Keguo at Gukira (via Global Voices Online):
Faced with accusation, male privilege responds with aggression. Faced with evidence, male privilege responds with mitigating circumstances. Faced with conviction, male privilege revels in braggadocio. After all, strong men know how to control their women.

Histories of slavery, colonialism, urbanization, modernity, war, and nationalism are simultaneously histories of rape.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

French-African Women Writers Meme

A response to the Women Writers Meme.

Same directions: Instructions: Bold the ones you've read. Italicize the ones you have wanted/might like to read. ??Place question marks by any titles/authors you've never heard of?? Put an asterisk if you've read something else by the same author.

Mariama Bâ, So long a letter.
Calixthe Beyala. Loukoum: the little prince of Belleville.
Calixthe Beyala. The sun hath looked upon me. (ironically, my current reading)
Andrée Blouin, Andrée. My country, Africa : autobiography of the black pasionaria.
Andrée Clair. Bemba, an African adventure.
Nafissatou Diallo, Nafissatou. A Dakar childhood.
* Nafissatou Diallo. Princess of Tiali.
Fatou Diome. The Belly of the Atlantic. (I wrote about it here)
Marie-Félicité Ebokea. Ayolee's Song
Fatou Keïta. The smile thief
Fatou Keïta. The little blue boy
Marie NDiaye. Hilda
Marie NDiaye. Among family
Aminata Sow Fall. The beggars' strike, or the dregs of society
* Véronique Tadjo. Lord of the dance: an African retelling.
* Véronique Tadjo. As the crow flies.
Véronique Tadjo. The Shadow of Imana. (I wrote about it here)
Tsibinda, Marie-Léontine. Wet Pagnes
Marie Béatrice Umutesi. Surviving the slaughter : the ordeal of a Rwandan refugee in Zaire.
Myriam Warner-Vieyra. As the sorcerer said.
??? Werewere Liking. The power of Um.
??? Werewere Liking. It shall be of jasper and coral
??> Werewere Liking. Love-across-a-hundred-lives.

List drawn from this one at Reading Women Writers and African Literature.

Monday, April 10, 2006

How the Mexicans Became Spanish

The Spanish-American image of the Southwest was, curiously enough, largely a creation of the Anglo rather than the Mexican imagination. In California an Anglo literary movement romanticizing the state’s early past became popular in the 1880s.

Significantly, this movement, despite having its roots in pre-1848 Anglo travel narratives, gained impetus just as californios were losing their last strongholds to Anglos in southern California. Before then, except in a few works such as those of Bret Harte, Mexicans in Anglo-American literature were most often treated in a thoroughly negative way, as a racially inferior, ignorant, half-savage people blocking the advance of the U.S. frontier in the same way as the Indians.

In southern Arizona and South Texas, where Mexico and its population remained a constant threat to Anglo influence well into the twentieth century, the earlier picture of Mexicans as half- barbaric continued with little modification. But in California, where the Mexicans’ percentage of the total population and their overall influence had declined steeply by the 1880s, it was much easier for Anglos to feel sympathy for the passing of an “older, simpler way of life.” As Anglo settlement of California increased, the earlier Anglo conception of the state changed; by the 1880s California was no longer the wilderness frontier of the Gold Rush, but a booming agricultural wonderland.

This new conception colored the Anglo view of California’s past. Anglos began to think of the state before 1848 not as a wild country peopled by Indians and half-savage Mexicans, but as a bountiful land occupied by pastoral peoples living in a “half-civilized Spanish” society.

This new image of California served the Anglo psychology by “explaining” the prior settlement of Mexicans in California, indirectly justifying the Anglo conquest, and in general alleviating guilt feelings.

Click here to read more of the extract.
With regard to Mexicans themselves, the new image was merely a change in emphasis rather than substance. While Mexicans were still seen as racially inferior, ignorant, and half-savage, the positive side of these qualities was stressed because of the guilt Anglos now felt over the destruction of the old society. Indolence, one of the main “biological traits” of the Mexican, and ignorance were now seen as contributing factors to the “blissful” state of affairs existing in early California. The Mexicans’ half-savage nature, attributed to their Indian background, was now seen as modified by their Spanish blood. The Spanish side of their mixed nature provided a civilizing influence that permitted the development of a certain refinement in early California society, which nevertheless remained unspoiled by “advanced” civilization.’

Californios in the 1880s were flattered by the attention and even “respect’ their culture was getting after so many years of Anglo hostility and indifference. The myth also gained popularity among Californios because it appealed to their nostalgia, their caste consciousness, and their provincial pride.

The new interest in old California led to a movement among Anglos to preserve the missions and other early historical sites, a movement that gratified Mexicans who had feared that all signs of their past would disappear forever. The new emphasis on things Spanish, and especially on the notion that californios were predominantly if not purely Spanish, appealed to californios because in their society as in other Latin American societies, pure Spanish blood was a mark of gentility.

Even though early documents clearly reveal that California’s original settlers were not even predominantly Spanish, the belief that those settlers were European increased among californios as time passed, since both their own and Anglo culture saw such ancestry as desirable.

The notion that the first settlers were more or less pure Spanish was accompanied by another fiction. Because California was so distant from the large concentrations of Indian population in Mexico, it was believed that the descendants of the early settlers had been largely spared the evils of miscegenation, even though a few generations had been born and had lived in close contact with the California Indians.

Closely allied to this belief was the idea that California’s healthy environment had combined with the californios’ purity of stock to make them physically superior to Mexicans farther south. californios, needless to say, were also flattered by the idea, especially since regionalism had been strong in California before 1848 (a period, as we have seen, in Mexico’s history marred by the struggle between those who wanted a strong central government and those who preferred more local control). As a result, californios began to de-emphasize and even deny their ties with Mexico and with those Mexicans who were more recent arrivals.

John R. Chávez, The Lost Land: The Chicano Image of the Southwest

The revival was not limited to California. Nuevomexicanos picked up on it as well, but because they were a majority of the territories population, were able to use the myth of their pure Spanish ancestry to preserve language and culture. Something that I don't know if anyone has addressed is the parallel Spanish revival in California and New Mexico: the preservation of patrimony and vernacular building in styles reminiscent of the Spanish colonial era. It seems to me that California architecture drew more upon the mission as inspiration, while New Mexico architecture was modeled on the home/ranch.

Must have WINE!

Pregnancy is ruining my taste for wine.

Ok, that's not quite fair. My wife is obviously carrying all the burdens, literally and figuratively. She's the one who is told she can't drink. However, I feel guilty about enjoying any wine without her. Whenever we go to the store, she urges me to get something for myself. I peruse the aisles, pick out something interesting, and show it to her. Then I see those longing eyes, telling me how she wishes she could have some as well. I feel guilty. Either I put it back or I buy a cheap bottle.

Seven months of deprivation has dulled my taste buds. I've lost my ability to analyze a good Burgundy. The good news is that in two months or so, we can open the bottle of Riesling (which I have been holding onto for six years) to celebrate!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Anthony Soltero

A truly sad story from Ontario, CA:
A DeAnza Middle School student killed himself after telling his mother he could be jailed for joining a pro-immigrant student walkout, a family lawyer said Saturday.

A school administrator told the boy he would be barred from graduation, that his parents could be fined, and that he could face jail for participating in the walkout, said attorney Sonia Mercado. ...

[Anthony] Soltero told his mother that he would not join the March 28 walkout organized by his friends, but he did anyway, Mercado said.

Although he got high grades, he was disciplined last year for bringing a pocket knife to school, Mercado said. He was close to finishing his term of community service and probation, she said.

On March 30, an administrator questioned Soltero about the walkout, Mercado said.

The administrator told him he could not attend graduation, that his mother would be fined $250 for his truancy, and that he could be jailed for three years, Mercado said.

Soltero phoned his mother with the news.

"She said, 'Anthony, didn't I tell you not to go to the walkout?'

"She said, 'Stay home, I'm on my way,'" Mercado said.

When she arrived home she found apology notes from her son, and his body with a self-inflicted bullet wound to the head from a gun his stepfather had hidden in the garage, Mercado said ...

The Absence of Manhood and Justice

"Speak, Memory. Only from today's perspective do we see the chains of cause and effect ordering things, enabling us to understand them."
Uwe Timm wrote these words as he pieced together an incident from his childhood. Hamburg burned around him and his family as they searched for shelter from the falling bombs. The young Uwe did not comprehend what went on, and only fragments of the event, like the war itself, remained with him.

The German novelist reflected back on this event in his life as part of the process of recovering his brother, Karl-Heinz, in the memoire, In My Brother's Shadow: A Life and Death in the SS. Karl-Heinz was a vague figure in Timm's life, remembered only through a few brief encounters. His absence profoundly affected Timm's family life: memories of the brave son who fought and died in Russia.

Karl-Heinz is a vague, shadowy figure. Timm's knows him best from the diary and letters he left. The writing is frustratingly ordinary and terse. He seldom wrote about the war in any detail, just giving short, matter of fact entries on the tasks his unit performed. He gives no opinions about the war or its horror, or about the people whom they uprooted and displaced. There is little sense of war or atrocity in his writing. There is no mass murder, only routine.

This is in stark contrast to his reaction to the aerial bombings of German cities. Responding to a letter sent by his father, Karl-Heinz wrote,
"If only they'd stop that filthy business. It's not war, it's the murder of women and children--it's inhumane."
He could not recognize the innocence of the people whom he killed, only of German citizens. When he wrote,
"I close my diary here, because I don't see any point in recording the cruel things that sometimes happen,"
Timm is left wondering what Karl-Heinz could have seen that was so horrific, and why he had not written about it.

The best documents of his brother's absence are not his writings, but their parents. "The good son" was the model of courageous masculinity that their father admired. Timm suspects that their father used Karl-Heinz to make up for his own disappointments. He had been a member of the Freikorps that fought against Bolsheviks in Russia in the 1920s, and perhaps exaggerated the importance of masculinity. Karl-Heinz was everything the father admired: the picture of manliness. He refused to confront Karl-Heinz's guilt--his membership in the SS and its implications.

The Bonn Republic was the antithesis of that manliness. From the disorder of defeat came that seemed effeminate, given to introspection. His relationship with his daughter non-existent, their father treated Timm as the product of the feminized new world, the one who was sheltered by their mother from the falling bombs rather than confronting them.

Their mother became what the father detested. She distrusts everything that stinks of politics and militarism. She is overcome with regret and guilt, questioning herself about her silence: if she had spoken out, might Karl-Heinz have been spared? She was the epitome of the Bonn Republic, hating and suspecting that which came before it. The Nazis were criminals, but her son was their victim, not accomplice. Embracing the new Germany and condemning the past, she refused to look directly at Karl-Heinz's legacy.

"They slipped into the victim's role under false pretenses,"
Timm judges of Germans in the post- war era. Criminalizing Hitler, they dissociated themselves from the crime. Two parents--one who sees what he values shat upon, the other grieved by her loss--constructed an absence for their son, the SS officer. However, it was more than a refusal to confront the truth about Karl- Heinz. Each pulled at that negative space: the place where either manhood or justice ought to have been. Such was the state of memory in post-war Germany: the men confronted nothing, the women remembered their loss.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

No Pre-fab Americans?

Some truth about the nature of the experience of immigration from Arlen Specter:
His father fled anti-Semitism in Russia and arrived in this country when he was 18. After the war, he settled in the Midwest, where he sold cantaloupes from the back of a car and ran a scrap yard.

Mr. Specter said his parents' struggles and successes had profoundly influenced his thinking in shepherding immigration legislation through the Judiciary Committee.

"You talk about America being a nation of immigrants," he said, "well, my two best friends were immigrants, my mother and my father. I saw how they struggled. They struggled with the language. They struggled with anti-Semitism. They struggled to make a living. It was tough. You knew you were different.

"So I have a lot of simpatico for the individuals who are immigrants. I have even more of an understanding of what immigrants have done for the country."
Integration is, and always has been, a process. The immigrant will not fit in upon arrival. Indeed, the differences between the immigrant and born Americans do not disappear, but thin out -- only if both are willing to encounter the other.

[ETA] If immigrants made America, than immigrants (illegals) are remaking New Orleans again.
New Orleans was unprepared for the large numbers of Latinos moving in. Few New Orleans residents speak Spanish. Money-wiring businesses are scarce.
The Latin character of the city may be changing from French to Latin American, but New Orleans and the entire Louisiana Territory was briefly part of Spain in the late 18th century.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Eternal Diaspora

James Carroll, putting perspective on the nouveau antisemitism, recounts Christian theology's refusal to see a permanent place of Jewish settlement.
Hostility to the very presence of Jews in the region between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean goes deep into the unconscious of Western civilization, and it is only recently that pins of that antagonism are being removed. One way to understand this is to review the history of a Christian theology that required the exile of Jews from the Holy Land precisely as a proof of religious claims. In his ''City of God," completed in about the year 427, St. Augustine argued that because Jews, as custodians of what Christians designated the ''Old Testament," are living witnesses to the ancient promises that are fulfilled in Jesus, they should be ''scattered" from what he called ''their own land," to give such witness throughout the Christian world. It seems no coincidence that in 429 the Roman emperor, a Christian, abolished the patriarchate of Israel, ending Jewish sovereignty in Palestine until 1948.

The Augustinian principle of witness-scattering evolved into an understanding of Jewish exile as a proper punishment for Jewish rejection of Christian claims. It was only when a Muslim army took control of Jerusalem in 638 that Jews were permitted to return to the city of their temple. When Crusaders made war against Islam, laying siege to Jerusalem in 1099, they attacked Jews and Muslims both. Jewish presence in the holy city was an affront. Meanwhile, ''wandering" Jews throughout the Diaspora constructed an imagined homeland, always looking toward ''next year in Jerusalem" and faithfully praying for rain in the Galilee, even if they lived in the Rhineland.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Sunday Reading

Lost Manhood: Milli was finally neutered on Friday. So far, he hasn't realized that 'something' is missing. He's even still a bit randy, although the peculiar odor of rabbit potency is missing. Perhaps he'll retain his manliness by drinking bull testosterone, the earliest form of doping known in baseball.

Over at Cliopatria, Ralph Luker shares invaluable insights on MLK's predecessor, Vernon Johns.

History Carnival is up at Patahistory. I must commend David for including comprehensive descriptions of each entry, and including each of my six nominations. Among the plethora of entries: as Enlightenment has returned as a topic of interest, Virtual Stoa looks at What is Enlightenment; Marc at Cliopolitical argues that we should teach a baseline history first before introducing complexity of historical knowledge in primary and secondary schools (something that I think is worthy of debate); and The Moor Next Door gives a comprehensive account of Jews and Christians in Algeria.

Mark Lilla reviews Michael Burleigh's Earthly Powers, a book about secularization of Europe.
The French Revolution, then, raised two specters simultaneously across the whole of Europe: of a world without religion, and a world with new, improved religions. Both outcomes are consistent with the ambiguous term "secularization." Sometimes the word is used to describe a process of laicization: when a court system, for example, moves from enforcing biblical injunctions to enforcing laws passed by a parliament after public debate, we say it has been secularized. But sometimes we use the word to describe a supposed transfer of religious essence from a divine object to a human one, as when a nation's founder is worshiped as a "secular" god. (Think of Mao in the Yangtze River, or Lenin's tomb.) Burleigh never makes clear whether he thinks Europe was secularized in the first sense, the second or both — though, to be fair, neither did the authors he discusses. Instead, like trauma victims, they kept returning to the French Revolution as the source of all their hopes and fears. It became an enormous screen upon which all sorts of fantasies about religion and politics could be projected.
Joel at Far Outliers has been in Japan, and he has been posting a series of "Wordcatcher Tales" to highlight aspects of Japanese culture:

[ETA:] Geitner Simmons reproduces an editorial from his newspaper, the Omaha World-Herald, concerning the use and reception of flags in demonstrations:
The controversy also has shown how two sides in a debate can look at flag symbolism from starkly different perspectives. Participants in Latino protest marches against immigration bills before Congress have said they see nothing wrong in waving the Mexican flag to express their cause. Critics have voiced concern, saying such a display indicates a troubling dual loyalty.