What I've been doing at Europe Endless #2Nigh is the time to switch your bookmarks.
MA is the New BA
I think I’ve complained about this trend before. MA programs are used to cull prospective students, without giving them resources to do serious research–without giving them a taste of what a real doctoral program is like–just rushing them out and collecting their cash. Students who take that additional one year to add an MA to cap their undergraduate career are being short-changed, especially since they’ll have to do it all over when they start a PhD program.
Where are the Historians of Popular Political Discourse?
Ben Johnson sent this down the pipe at H-Borderlands:
The Mexico-US border has been all over the news recently, what with the proposed border fence and US congressional debate over immigration. Yet H-Borderlands remains muy, muy tranquilo.
I’m wondering if we can jump-start a discussion so that those of us subscribed can take advantage of our collective wisdom. And contemporary debates actually prompt my question: what role could the “new” borderlands history play in informing contemporary debates in North America about borders and border enforcement? I see economists, political scientists, scholars of immigration, and sometimes legal experts interviewed extensively in recent news coverage, but can’t think of a single borderlands historian who’s been a talking head in major news coverage. What does that say about our field?
Good question, but it could also be generalized. Why have historians, as a group, remained silent? Why have generic arguments been made about the immigrant experience rather than zeroing in on the place of Latinos/Latinas (especially Cubans, Mexicans, and Puerto Ricans) *** in American history? Why are those specific groups boxed into the immigrant experience? And why has so little effort to put current immigration to the US, legal and illegal, in global context?
*** If Scots suddenly clamored to come to America, we’d hear some arguments about cultural compatibility or pre-adaptation. Yet these three communities, by their historical presence, offer a portal to the assimilation of groups coming from Latin America.
A Democratic Style, A German Style
Why did Germany rebuild its cities as it did, with such unrelenting modernism? This question keeps resurfacing as cities decide to replace buildings from the postwar era with those that reflect earlier historical eras. I’ve found this but of nostalgia problematic, failing to appreciate the lacuna caused by the Second World War. Hermann Glaser’s The Rubble Years: The Cultural Roots of Postwar Germany, 1945-1948 puts some of these issues into perspective, mining the brief moment immediately following the war.
In light of the devastation of the war, it was estimated that 6.5 million apartments were needed. “Rebuilding? Technologically, financially impossible, I tell you. What do I say? Psychologically impossible! However, it is possible to build simple rooms on the present foundations and out of salvageable debris . . . bright rooms in which a simple law, equal and understandable for all, is discussed and decided upon . . . no small print . . . no embellishment. Rise, up, lawyers and architects! Plan and design models, rooms of pure, simple clarity and power . . . rooms in which our children and grand- children can follow honorably and freely the universally accepted law!” This Passage Comes from Otto Bartning’s Ketzerische Gedanken am Rande der Trümmerhaufen (Heretical Thoughts at the Edge of the Rubble Heaps), which characterizes the mood of the survivors who experienced, after a total war, total defeat. The dominant mood was one of despair, pessimism, and resignation. In almost every city, however, people began to work on restoration plans based on more optimistic premisesThe mood in postwar Germany was understandably dismal. People returned home to find literally nothing. The question of how to continue to live was inextricable linked to the question of where to live. Moreover, Germans were uncertain of their national future, having values shattered in a few years. Perhaps it is obvious that the new architectural style would reflect necessity and humility. Modernism seemed to answer the spiritual need to create distance with the past and repent for it.
In [Walter Gropius’s] lectures, he re-installed the idea of the ‘Bauhaus’ … .The socially conscious architecture, once expelled from Germany, was brought back to a bewildered Germany as a symbol of freedom and individuality by one its most prominent representatives. The modern architecture was supposed to represent and mirror the honesty, transparency, and openness of the young country. Its light, eager, liberal, and international style was completely focused on the Progress of technology and civilization, and expressed the social and utopian ideal of equal housing. It was opposed to provincialism, folkishness, monumentalism, and historism, especially since National Socialism favored these forms of architecture.
All cities took the opportunity to reform their urban plans, simplify streets and utilities, etc. The question to rebuild what had been destroyed or build anew was up in the air. Different cities took different tacts. But references to eras past would not necessarily succeed in expressing a new democratic age in Germany. On the one hand, democracy was not triumphant: it was prescriptive. On the other, the styles that normally represented democratic institutions–Hellenic and Roman–had already been exhausted by German historicism. Rather than democracy, the represented beauty and spirit, ideas that had lost credibility to a public that had mentally checked out. Gothic, which might have connected Germany to the past of urban republics, had been swept up by Romanticism. If remembering was painful, history provided no solace. If the past were a source of symbols, the war made them unavailable. Modern architecture was far from being insensitive to the needs of the people. It addressed those needs directly.
Would contemporary Germans recognize this wisdom in their postwar ancestors? The pursuit of unity seems to extend to history as well as geography and demography, seeking out a continuous history of the German people, if not nation. But as I have said before, modernism treats space as disposable, thus modernism is itself disposable.
What's Spanish for Chutzpah?
I tend to lose track of time. It’s a bad quality for an historian, but confronting the same boring file for hours speeds the passage of time even though one perceives it grinding to a halt. I had been picking away at the same document today (in between bouts of looking after my son) before I gave up, turned on the TV, and surrendered to the pablum of cable news.
Only I didn’t realize what time it was. Suddenly, the dreaded words, “Lou Dobbs Tonight,” appeared in the bottom corner of the screen. Yes, it was that hour when CNN imitates Radio Rwanda, only tonight the Grand Wizard surrendered his stool for his underling (according to the rumor mill, Dobbs wants to import remnants of the Berlin Wall to southern Texas).
As with any other night, another story about Mexico or Mexican immigrants was being broadcasted. This one carried the title, “Mexico’s Chutzpah.” Unfortunately, it carried the subtitle, “What’s Spanish for Chutzpah?” Some clever tech or intern must have thought that one up on the fly. Did they really mean to destroy the credibility of the news shows raison d’être? Did they know it is a loan word from Yiddish, assimilated by English?
Indeed, what is Spanish for chutzpah? Is Yiddish spoken on the streets of Mexico City or Monterrey? Surely a Spanish equivalent can be found ( atrevimiento?), but chutzpah carries with it an ethnic flavor and a certain demonstrative quality that Spanish words might not have. But perhaps there is some word, based on Hebrew’s contact with Spanish, some bit of Ladino slang that affected Spanish, surviving the expulsion.
Of course, asking the question reflects a certain insolence. Is not Chutzpah evidence how language survives and grows when in contact with immigrants and their culture? Does it not show reveal the success of Jewry in acculturating to American life over generations?
So, if we assume that chutzpah is Spanish for chutzpah, we would reference a successfully assimilated minority. If there is a Ladino-Spanish equivalent, we would reference a successfully assimilated minority that was converted by force, dispossessed of property, and expelled.
Perhaps we could say huevos. It’s already part of American slang.