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El pasado martes 16 de marzo ocho personas fueron asesinadas en Georgia. Desafortundamente, este tipo  de eventos son comunes en Estados Unidos. Lo que hizo especial estas muertes es el hecho que seis de las  víctimas eran mujeres asiáticas. Esto ha activado las alarmas de  aquellos preocupados con el aumento en la violencia contra los asiático-estadounidenses producto de los efectos de la pandemia y, en especial, por el incremento de la retórica antichina en Estados Unidos. Desde el inicio de la pandemia se han registrado  3,800 casos de discriminación contra los asiáticos. Según el Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, el número de crímenes de odio antiasiáticos estadounidenses reportados a la policía aumentaron un 149% entre 2019 y 2020.

La violencia contra los asiáticos no es un fenómeno nuevo en al historia estadoundisense. Basta recordar el trato que recibieron los miles de chinos que llegaron a Estados Unidos en el siglo XIX para construir ferrocarriles. A los chinos les toca el honor de ser el único pueblo al que se le negó al acceso a Estados Unidos a través de una ley aprobada por el Congreso en 1882.

Comparto esta breve nota publicada en la revista The Nation sobre la violencia contra los asiático y su vínculo con el desarrollo imperial de Estados Unidos.


 

Long before anxiety about Muslims, Americans feared the “yellow peril” of Chinese  immigration

Un anuncio de jabón de la década de 1880, subtitulado ‘The Chinese Must Go’. Biblioteca del Congreso

Anti-Asian Violence in America Is Rooted in US Empire

Christine AhnTerry K Park and Kathleen Richards

The Nation   March, 19, 2021

Shortly after the mass killing in Georgia—including six Asian women—earlier this week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken denounced the violence, saying it “has no place in America or anywhere.” Blinken made the comments during his first major overseas trip to Asia with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, where Blinken warned China that the United States will push back against its “coercion and aggression,” and Austin cautioned North Korea that the United States was ready to “fight tonight.”

Yet such hawkish rhetoric against China—which was initially spread by Donald Trump and other Republicans around the coronavirus—has directly contributed to rising anti-Asian violence across the country. In fact, it’s reflective of a long history of US foreign policy in Asia centered on domination and violence, fueled by racism. Belittling and dehumanizing Asians has helped justify endless wars and the expansion of US militarism. And this has deadly consequences for Asians and Asian Americans, especially women.

Anti-Asian violence through US foreign policy has manifested in the wars that have killed millionstorn families apart, and led to massive displacement; in the nuclear tests and chemical weapons storage that resulted in environmental contamination in Okinawa, Guam, and the Marshall Islands; in the widespread use of napalm and Agent Orange in VietnamLaos, and Korea; in the US military bases that have destroyed villages and entire communities; in the violence perpetrated by US soldiers on Asian women’s bodies; and in the imposition of sanctions that result in economic, social, and physical harms to everyday people.

File:Filipino casualties on the first day of war.jpg - Wikipedia

Trincheras filipinas, 1899

These things can’t happen without dehumanization, and this dynamic has had dire consequences for Asian Americans, especially women. Of the 3,800 hate incidents reported against Asian Americans last year, 70 percent were directed at women. Exoticized and fetishized Asian American women have borne a dual burden of both racism and sexism, viewed on one hand as submissive and sexually available “lotus blossoms” and on the other as manipulative and dangerous “dragon ladies.”

Asian women are particularly harmed by US militarism and foreign policy—economically, socially, and physically. In Korea, women have long been collateral damage from militarized US foreign policy. The 1950–53 Korean War, which killed 4 million people, led to social and political chaos, separated families, and orphaned and widowed millions, creating conditions where women were without homes and work. This forced women into prostitution, according to Katherine H.S. Moon, an expert on US military prostitution in South Korea and author of the book Sex Among Allies.

Exhibitions Catch Glimpse of Korea

Huérfano coreano

Over a million Korean women have worked in “camptowns” that surround US military bases in South Korea. This system of military prostitution was controlled by the South Korean government and supported by the US military in order to strengthen military alliances and prop up the South Korean economy. Yet the women were stigmatized, “destined to invisibility and silence,” according to Moon.

These camptowns not only facilitated the immigration of thousands of Korean “war brides” to the United States, but also transported the system itself. As the US military steadily reduced its troop presence in Asia, camptown establishments, facing social upheaval and economic uncertainty, began sending their madams and sex workers to US domestic military sites through brokered marriages with US servicemen. Many of these exploited Korean women arrived in the US South, a region housing many domestic military bases, which saw the proliferation of military prostitution. By the 1980s, the Korean American sex trade would spread from these Southern military towns to elsewhere in the United States—including the Atlanta metropolitan area, site of Tuesday’s horrific mass shooting.

We see this anti-Asian violence now manifesting in ramped up US aggression toward China and the ubiquitous US military presence throughout the Asia-Pacific region. According to American University professor David Vine, there are approximately 300 US bases in the Asia-Pacific region circling China, which along with “aggressive naval and air patrols and military exercises, increases threats to Chinese security and encourages the Chinese government to respond by boosting its own military spending and activity.” The military buildup is raising regional military tensions, and increasing the risk of a deadly military clash or what should be an unthinkable war between two nuclear-armed powers.

Protestors hold signs that read "hate is a virus" and "stop Asian hate" at the End The Violence Towards Asians rally in Washington Square Park on February 20, 2021 in New York City.

If we are to successfully stop anti-Asian hatred here in the United States, we must recognize how US foreign policy perpetuates it and end US militarism and wars throughout the Asia-Pacific region. The Biden administration could start by formally ending the Korean War, which cost nearly $400 billion (in 2019 dollars) to fight, and continues to be a source of justification for military-centered policies by the United States, South Korea, Japan, and others in the region.


Christine AhnChristine Ahn is the executive director of Women Cross DMZ and coordinator of Korea Peace Now!

Terry K ParkTerry K Park is a lecturer in the Asian American Studies Program at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Kathleen RichardsKathleen Richards is the communications director of Women Cross DMZ.

El Gilder Lehrman Institute invita a la entrega virtual  del Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize a los ganadores de los años 2020 y 2021: Elizabeth Varon y David S. Reynolds, respectivamente. Este prestigioso premio reconoce la calidad de las mejores publicaciones dedicadas al análisis de la guerra civil estadounidense. La ceremonia será llevada a cabo el 19 de abril a las 7PM, hora del Este de los Estados Unidos. El acceso es completamente gratuito y quienes quieran asistir deben reservar aquí.


Captura de Pantalla 2021-03-28 a la(s) 12.00.24

150720_zeitz_trump_gty

Según el diario The New York Times, un grupo de 17 historiadores han estado coordinando a través de Zoom, la publicación de lo que sería el primer balance histórico de la presidencia de Donald J. Trump. Nos guste o no, es inevitable reconocer el impacto, a corto y a largo plazo, de los cuatro años de Trump en la Casa Blanca. Siendo así, resulta imprescindible analizar y entender ese triste periodo.

Este proyecto -dirigido por el historiador Julian A. Zelizer– será publicado en el año 2022 por la Princenton University Press  con el título The Presidency of Donald J. Trump: A First Historical Assessment. Cada uno de los 17 historiadores estará a cargo de un capítulo analizando un tema específico. La temática del libro será muy amplia. Por ejemplo, Jason Scott Smith   (University of New Mexico) escribirá un capítulo sobre infraestructura que incluirá el tema del famoso muro, Merlin Chowkwanyun (Columbia University) analizará el manejo de la pandemia, Beverly Gage (Yale University) enfocará  las tumultuosas relaciones de  Trump con el FBI, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (Princeton) estudiará el tema racial a través del movimiento Black Lives Matter y Mae Ngai (Columbia Unversity) atenderá las controversiales politicas migratorias del exmandatario.

Habrá que esperar con paciencia la publicación de esta obra, que debería sentar las bases para un análisis histórico profundo de la presidencia de Donald J. Trump.

Norberto Barreto Velázquez

Lima, 24 de marzo de 2021

Henry Ford es, sin lugar a dudas, una de las figuras más importantes de la historia de Estados Unidos en la primera mitad del siglo XX. Ford hizo posible la producción en masa de automóviles a través de la creación de la línea de ensamblaje. Con ello pudo bajar considerablemente el precio de sus automóviles. Por ejemplo, el Ford Modelo T costaba $950 en 1909, $360 en 1916 y $290 en 1925. De esta forma los automóviles dejaron de ser un lujo y se convirtieron en una necesidad. Para 1923 había 23 millones de carros en los Estados Unidos. La masificación del uso del automóvil cambió de forma dramática  de vida de los estadounidenses.

Ford  fue una persona muy controversial. Además del inventor y empresario exitoso, Ford fue un feroz opositor del sindicalismo y sometió a sus trabajadores a un régimen laboral opreviso y regulador. Su antisentismo está plenamente confirmado.  Una de sus facetas menos conocidas son sus vínculos económicos con la Alemania Nazi y, en especial, la Unión Soviética.

Comparto con mis lectores una reseña del libro de Stefan J. Link titulado Forging Global Fordism: Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, and the Contest over the Industrial Order  (Princeton University Press, 2020) escrita por la historiadora Claudia Contente.  La Dra. Contente comenta el análisis de Link sobre  la cercanía entre el  modelo empresarial de Ford – el Fordismo-  y los totalitarismos de izquierda y de derecha en la década de 1930.



Henry Ford - Biography, Inventions & Assembly Line - HISTORY

El mundo que creó Henry Ford

A Henry Ford se le puede considerar en gran parte el padre del sistema industrial del siglo XX, que es lo mismo que decir que muy posiblemente sea uno de los grandes responsables de la forma de vida de los países occidentales. Sin embargo, sorprendentemente, su huella fue mucho más allá: su concepción de la producción industrial y su propuesta social fueron muy influyentes en el periodo de entreguerras tanto en la URSS como en la Alemania nazi. Con esta última, Ford compartía además el beligerante antisemistismo.

Cuando el primer Ford T salió de la línea de producción de la Ford Motor Company en 1908, Henry Ford ya llevaba años buscando cómo mejorar el sistema para producir más y más barato. Aplicaba los principios de gestión científica del trabajo de Frederick Taylor, que dividía las tareas entre los operarios y las cronometraba para racionalizar al máximo cada gesto.

No era suficiente para él. En los mataderos de Cincinnati y Chicago encontró la fórmula para perfeccionar el sistema: hizo que el coche en construcción avanzara por una cinta trasportadora mientras cada obrero intervenía sin moverse de su lugar, tal como Chaplin inmortalizó con fina ironía en Tiempos Modernos (1936). Resultó un éxito. Pero aún quedaban otras dificultades.

Una era la rotación del personal, pues había que contratar y capacitar operarios que permanecieran en la compañía. ¿La solución? Duplicó los sueldos, con lo que además de estabilizar la mano de obra, pudo atraer a los mejores y, contra todo pronóstico, pudo reducir todavía más los costes de producción.

Los accionistas eran otro inconveniente porque, cuando los beneficios empezaron a ser consistentes, exigieron que se repartieran dividendos. Ford se negó, prefería invertir ese dinero en ampliar la compañía. La solución fue radical: compró las acciones, expulsó a los demás del negocio y la empresa quedó en manos de solo tres accionistas: su mujer, su hijo y él mismo.

Y si para los empleados, el trabajo era monótono y cansado, las mejoras salariales y la caída de los precios, además de ser un alivio, hicieron que si antes de la primera guerra mundial un trabajador medio necesitaba el equivalente de dos años de salario para comprar un coche, hacia fines de la década de 1920 el sueldo de unos tres meses era suficiente. Los propios operarios de la Ford se convirtieron en clientes potenciales, algo no previsto al principio.

Forging Global Fordism: Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, and the Contest over  the Industrial Order (America in the World): Link, Stefan J.:  9780691177540: Amazon.com: BooksAsí, Ford había dado con la fórmula mágica que prometía tanto un crecimiento infinito como una alternativa al sistema económico mundial y el capitalismo salvaje. Stefan J. Link explica en Forging Global Fordism: Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, and the Contest over the Industrial Order (Forjando el fordismo global: la Alemania nazi, la Rusia soviética y la lucha por el orden industrial) que naciones como Alemania, Italia, Japón o la URSS, devastadas tras la Gran Guerra, que buscaban un modelo de transformación social e industrial, vieron en la propuesta y el éxito apabullante del fordismo, la solución a sus problemas.

Ford publicó varios libros sobre sus ideas en la década de 1920. El primero fue El judío internacional. El primer problema del mundo, un panfleto antisemita plagado de argumentos sobre el complot del poder judío en el mundo. Luego fue su libro más conocido, My life and Work (Mi vida y obra), seguido por Today and Tomorrow (Hoy y mañana) que tuvieron una enorme repercusión.

Link señala que My life and Work más que consejos para hacer buenos negocios, contiene un proyecto de reforma social y una crítica al sistema industrial y a la organización económica de la sociedad. Y eso es justo lo que seguramente impactó tanto en Hitler como en los soviéticos.

Trump Hails "Good Bloodlines" of Nazi Favorite Henry Ford

El mensaje claro era, por una parte, que solo gracias a haber logrado ser independiente del capital financiero (tras el cual veía el poder judío), la empresa pudo llegar hasta donde lo hizo. Por otra parte, que la producción a gran escala es un esfuerzo colectivo. Sostenía, además, que su compañía no pagaba buenos salarios, si no que compartía beneficios con el personal en el que descansaba el éxito de la empresa.

Pese a las diferencias abismales que separaban ideológicamente a EE.UU. de soviéticos y nazis, Ford ofrecía al mundo un modelo productivo, social y cultural seductor que encajaba con las ambiciones y necesidades de ambos regímenes. Cada uno de ellos encontró en aquel modelo elementos que, más allá de la producción en serie, influyeron en la sociedad que querían construir. Además, si querían ponerse al día y competir, necesitaban desesperadamente alcanzar las capacidades productivas de los EE.UU. en lo relacionado con la industria pesada y tecnología.

Trabajadores rusos junto a empleados estadounidenses que participaron en la construcción de la planta de Ford en la URSS

Trabajadores rusos junto a empleados estadounidenses que participaron en la construcción de la planta de Ford en la URSS. Bettmann Archive

De modo que las fábricas automotrices de Detroit, y en particular la de Ford, se convirtieron en la meca a la que peregrinaban una multitud de ingenieros y especialistas de todo el mundo para ver, copiar y si fuera necesario, robar, las técnicas de fabricación. Ford, dada la ideología populista de la compañía, a menudo dio acceso ilimitado a sus instalaciones a todo aquel que quisiera visitarlas.

Link señala que, según Stalin, la “esencia del leninismo era la combinación de la limpieza de la revolución soviética y la eficiencia estadounidense”. Así que se pusieron manos a la obra. Había que obtener su tecnología al precio que fuera, pero también pretendían mantener los extranjeros a distancia, de modo que firmaron un acuerdo por el que comprarían automóviles y repuestos a Ford que, a cambio, se comprometió a transferir tecnología y brindarles asistencia técnica para que construyeran su planta de producción de Gaz en Gorky, lo que dio lugar a un fluido intercambio de personal que pronto fue capaz de innovar y diseñar por su propia cuenta.

Screen Shot 2021-03-11 at 10.45.16 PM

Especialistas estadounidenses en la fábrica de autos diseñada por el arquitecto Albert Kahn en Cheliábinsk en 1932

Los alemanes, en cambio, encararon su transformación industrial de otra manera: invirtiendo en su propio territorio. Dado que algunas empresas como Ford o la General Motors ya tenían intereses allí, la estrategia empleada por el nacionalsocialismo consistió en combinar presión política, incentivos e intercambios económicos.

El propósito era obligar a los industriales estadounidenses a desplegar su tecnología en territorio alemán y, además, enviaron varias delegaciones a Detroit en busca de ideas, máquinas, reclutando incluso a veteranos de Ford (de preferencia de origen alemán) a los que propusieron condiciones fantásticas para que fueran a impulsar el desarrollo de Volkswagen en su tierra natal.

Henry Ford, en el momento de recibir la Gran Cruz del Águila, la mayor condecoración nazi a un extranjero

Henry Ford, en el momento de recibir la Gran Cruz del Águila, la mayor condecoración nazi a un extranjero. Bettmann Archive

Así, tanto Ford como la GM invirtieron y desarrollaron sus plantas de producción en Alemania. GM fue incluso más receptiva a las presiones del régimen y construyó en Brandeburgo en asociación con Opel y, en coordinación con las autoridades militares, una fábrica de camiones que combinaba tecnología de vanguardia e instalaciones de producción fácilmente adaptables a la producción militar.

El resultado fue que cuando estalló la guerra, entre el 50 y 70% de la flota alemana de camiones había salido de una planta de propiedad estadounidense. Está de más decir que en ese momento aquellas fábricas pasaron a producir armamento y se convirtieron en objetivo de bombardeos aliados. De hecho, fueron bombas norteamericanas las que destruyeron la planta de la GM en Brandeburgo.

Justo antes de la guerra, en 1938, cuando las relaciones entre los EEUU y Alemania estaban ya muy deterioradas, en un gesto por recomponer la situación, Henry Ford y James Mooney (director ejecutivo de la GM) fueron condecorados con la Orden del Águila alemana por el régimen nazi.

Grandes empresas y los nazis (V) | DocumaniaTV

Link piensa que la significativa colaboración norteamericana con los nazis se debió esencialmente a que, tras la crisis de 1929 y el derrumbe de la economía norteamericana, ambas compañías apostaron por las posibilidades de recuperación económica que brindaba Alemania, más allá de consideraciones ideológicas.

En todo caso, las realidades de postguerra y la llegada de Henry Ford II al frente de la empresa, haría que el centro de gravedad de la compañía pasara de los talleres y líneas de producción a la sala de juntas y acabarían con la visión populista de la producción en cadena. El tiempo de Henry Ford y su sueño de reformar la sociedad había terminado.

Claudia Contente es historiadora en la Universitat Pompeu Fabra.

Franklin D. Roosevelt llegó a la Casa Blanca en momentos en que los Estados Unidos vivían una de las peores crisis de su historia.  En el invierno de 1932, los efectos de la  crisis habían superado la capacidad de las instituciones públicas de ayuda. El hambre amenazaba no sólo a la población urbana, sino también rural. En la ciudad de Nueva York se reportaron 95 muertes por inanición. El país parecía avocado a la anarquía, la revolución, la destrucción. Ante un clima de desesperanza general Roosevelt inició su mandato buscando inyectar confianza al pueblo estadounidense. Roosevelt comenzó esta campaña en su discurso inaugural pidiéndole a sus conciudadanos que sólo le tuvieran miedo al miedo mismo. Al día siguiente de su juramentación, Roosevelt emitió una proclama cerrando todos los bancos del país por cuatro días. Durante la crisis económica iniciada en 1929, la quiebra de bancos había minado la confianza de los norteamericanos, pues sólo en 1931 cerraron 2,000 instituciones bancarias.  El Presidente también convocó al Congreso a una sesión especial para que discutiera, entre otras cosas, la aprobación de una ley bancaria de emergencia. De acuerdo con esta ley, los bancos serían intervenidos por el gobierno federal y sólo se le permitiría abrir a aquellos que demostrasen solvencia. Los que no, recibirían ayuda del gobierno federal. Presionado por las circunstancias, el Congreso aprobó la ley rápidamente. La ley ayudó a disipar el pánico, pues tres cuartas partes de los bancos volvieron abrir sus puertas en los tres días siguientes avalados por el gobierno federal. Los ciudadanos recobraron así  la confianza  y  comenzaron a depositar su dinero  nuevamente en los bancos, poniendo fin a la crisis bancaria. Prueba de ello es que en 1934 sólo cerraron 61 bancos.

El 12 de marzo de 1933, una semana después de asumir la presidencia, Roosevelt emitió por radio su primera “charla hogareña” (fireside chat). En ésta, como en los cientos que seguirían semanalmente, el Presidente se dirigió a los estadounidenses de forma directa  para darles a conocer los pasos que su gobierno estaba tomando para la enfrentar las crisis. Las charlas radiales de Roosevelt se convirtieron en un excelente instrumento para mantener una comunicación directa con el pueblo, y darles ánimo y esperanza.  Su objetivo era claro: que el pueblo estadounidense  recuperara la confianza  en el gobierno y en sí mismo.

Comparto con mis lectores esta nota escrita por William A. Harris sudirector de la Biblioteca Presidencial Franklin D. Roosevelt, conmemorando 88 años de esa histórica primera fireside chat de Roosevelt. Esta incluye un archivo de voz en donde Roosevelt aborda uno de los principales problemas que enfrentaba Estados Unidos en marzo de 1933: la crisis bancaria.

Norberto Barreto Velázquez

Lima, 11 de marzo de 2021


Celebrating the First Fireside Chat

William A. Harris, Deputy Director

FDR Library March 19, 2021

With water at the ready and microphones arrayed before him, the President prepares for a radio address, 1934. (FDR Library, 47-96 1783)

This week marks the 88th anniversary of FDR’s first “Fireside Chat.” Though not identified as such on March 12, 1933, the President’s address to the nation marked a key moment in his new Administration. He would speak directly to the American people over the airwaves about the banking crisis. And he would come to them not in the formal setting of an inauguration or a conference, but in a more personal manner. He would join them by radio in their homes, after dinner, and speak frankly, in plain terms, about the crisis and and his Administration’s efforts to stabilize the financial system and move forward.

FDR had already begun to fashion his radio style through statewide addresses to the citizens of New York during his gubernatorial years, 1932. (FDR Library, 09-1712M)

Not a distant or aloof leader speaking down to his subjects, FDR opened his remarks with “my friends,” and proceeded to engage listeners on terms that made sense to them. Those who might normally be tuning into programs such as the Manhattan Symphony Orchestra or D.W. Griffith’s Hollywood sat rapt before their sets as the President spoke with them, not at them. That these talks became known as “Fireside Chats” is easy to understand in listening to the March 12th broadcast. Here was a President in complete command of the medium–engaging, stalwart, respectful, and altogether confident that his hosts, the American people, who’d invited him into their homes, would join him in tackling the issues at hand.

FDR’s remarks to the American people on the banking crisis, his first “Fireside Chat,” March 12, 1933. (FDR Library, 65-9:2(1-2) [dig]. RLxA-4)

The President’s radio remarks had been publicized beforehand in newspapers and on radio. Carried by all major networks at the time (NBC Red, NBC Blue, and CBS), he spoke from the White House promptly at 10:00 Eastern Time. The White House had yet to organize the radio and newsreel setups with the efficiency that would come later through experience, but the broadcast proved a success, judging from coverage in the press the following day and from mail and telegrams that poured into the White House.

In this 1930s photograph, the complexities of broadcasting live from the White House are readily evident. Announcers and technicians crowd along the wall in the Diplomatic Reception Room before a “Fireside Chat.” (Photo courtesy of Library of Congress, Harris and Ewing Collection)

Don’t forget the newsreels. Usually after the live radio broadcast, the President filmed a portion of his remarks for newsreel cameras. This 1930s view of the opposite side of the room from the previous photo evidences how crowded the room would get with equipment and personnel. (Photo courtesy of Library of Congress, Harris and Ewing Collection)

The address had an immediate impact in terms of instilling confidence in the banking system and the Administration’s executive and legislative program. Over the next twelve years, FDR would continue to go directly to the American people by radio, forging a personal relationship with everyday Americans unlike any other President before. He was a trailblazer in harnessing the power of technology and media to achieve his goals, and the impacts of his visionary approach are still felt today.

FDR used this RCA model 4-A-1 carbon condenser microphone, now in the Library’s collection, to deliver some of his Fireside Chats from the White House during the 1930s. (FDR Library, 5-7-MO-1997-10)Enter a caption

Comparto con mis lectores este interesantísimo ensayo del Dr. Martin Conway, criticando la complacencia con la que algunos historiadores han interpretado la elección de Joe Biden como el fin de Trump y del Trumpismo. Para Martin,  Trump es un síntoma de una enfermadad socio-politica y económica muy peligrosa, cuyos síntomas y causas no desaparecerán con la salida del estadounidense de la Casa Blanca. El Dr. Conway es profesor de historia europea en la Universidad de Oxford.


A Starting Point | Perspectives on History | AHA

Making Trump History

Martin Conway

H-Diplo   25 February 2021 

Historians seem to have a problem with Trump.  I do not mean by this the dominance of partisan hostility to Trump in the ranks of the historical profession, or even the way in which many historians have been offended by the way in which the president has treated history as a resource to be exploited, rather than a reality to be respected or understood.  The more substantial problem posed by Trump is that for many historians he simply should not exist.  The possibility that the conclusion of the evolution of the United States across the half-century since the 1960s could be the election – albeit against the weight of individual votes – of a man who boasts of his distaste for the goals of racial equality, wider health-care provision, and a narrowing of income differentials, seems to many historians to be somewhere between an institutional outrage and an absurd accident of history.  But the political is supplemented by the personal.  Trump’s swagger, and his disregard for bureaucratic procedure and legal constraints, stands as a refutation of deeply-held assumptions among historians about how the democratic politics of the U.S. are supposed to work. The complexity of institutional procedures, the careful reconciliation of competing interests, and above all the prestige of the presidency as the symbol of democratic legitimacy, have all been bulldozed by a man whose personal qualities – or lack of them – seem like an insult to the historical narrative.

However, as the narrow scale of the victory of Biden in 2020 amply demonstrates, these responses are not adequate.  The Trump phenomenon is here to stay, if not the man, or indeed his position of power.  His attempt to manipulate a crisis sufficient to enable him to ride out his electoral defeat provoked a circumstantial mobilisation in defence of institutions, and through that a wider assertion of the established norms of political debate.  But crises recede, and (as the outcome of the impeachment process probably pre-figured) realities return.

Whether or not Trump recovers his personal momentum to become the Republican candidate in 2024, it is already clear that the successful candidate who emerges from the Republican primaries ahead of that election will be defined, in policy terms at least, by the heritage of Trump.  Consequently, the recognition that, win or lose, Trump is not a parenthesis, has become part of the new orthodoxy that has emerged since November.[1] This presents a challenge to those whose job it is to analyse where U.S. politics might go over the coming years, but also to those who would pretend to understand the past from which he emerged.

 

Trump isn't going anywhere. It's time for Europe First | US news | The  Guardianputin

Nor is this a specifically American problem.  Trump has provided the West European political class with ample opportunity to find in the corruption and charlatanism of the Trump presidency familiar demonstrations of the crudity of American politics, contrasted against the supposed sophistication of the European model.  Their grounds for doing so are, however, distinctly insecure.  The Brexit referendum result in 2016, and the electoral victory of Boris Johnson in the UK in 2019, are just two of the most visible manifestations of the much wider vulnerability of European democratic structures to challenge from below, through the emergence of movements of economic and political protest across southern and central Europe, or from above, through – as in Hungary and Poland – the dismantling of constitutional and judicial structures.  French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen may for now be the custodians of political legitimacy, but they risk becoming the ancien régime as the rumble of a new European 1848 draws closer.

How then might historians seek to understand this?  Probably they should start by throwing away the templates and narratives of the twentieth century.  Yes, of course, there was much in the actions and rhetoric that surrounded the chaotic invasion of the Capitol on 6 January 2021 that recalled the street violence of the Nazi Party; but such analogies can easily be stretched far beyond the plausible.  Occasional favourable references among right-wing politicians to the fascist past in Germany, Austria and Italy aside, there is little to suggest that the new politics has its origins in Europe’s mid-twentieth-century past.  That of course is one of the secrets of its success.  Like Trump’s approach to the U.S. Civil War, Europe’s populists wear their history lightly, seizing opportunistically on the injustices of the Treaty of Trianon in Hungary, the legacies of Communist rule in Poland, or the supposed grandeur of Benito Mussolini’s Fascist empire to invest their present-day campaigns with a little three-dimensional depth.  But this is not the main story.  Their politics is part of a new history, that of the twenty-first century.

Historians therefore need to bury their narratives of the twentieth century.  They can squabble politely over whether its endpoint lay in the demise of the socialist regimes in eastern Europe in 1989, the great implosion of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, or the new challenges so powerfully expressed by the attack on the Twin Towers on 9/11, and the subsequent surges of radicalised Islamic violence.[2] But what matters, in Europe as in America, is less the choice of dates, than the way in which these events form part of a larger process: the emergence of a new era, that we might term the History of the Present.

Understanding Economic InsecurityThere are multiple aspects to this new historical era: the financial crash of 2008-9, the emergence of an authoritarian China with massive economic power, and the sudden and disruptive transition from a print and televisual culture rooted in languages and national borders, to a global and digital world.  But, to understand the new politics of Trump and his European equivalents, three elements provide the trig points from which we can map the uncharted landscape.

The first is the demise of stable meanings of democracy, or indeed of the political.  The creation of a formal and disciplined political sphere was one of the great legacies of the modernization of Europe from the 1860s to the 1960s, giving birth to the complex organisational charts of European and American government which illustrated political-science textbooks of the later twentieth century, rather in the manner of guides to install central-heating systems.[3] But that has now gone.  The old politics continues to happen, but it does not rule.  Power has shifted from parliaments, parties, and the conventional institutions of political debate – notably the political press – to new spaces, some community-based, others digital, which lack the organisational skeleton of the old politics of the twentieth century.  They are amorphous and fast-changing currents, which can carry individuals and issues such as Black Lives Matter and QAnon to transitory prominence; but, after their demise, leave little trace behind them.  This is the new unpredictability of democratic politics, and yet it is not obviously democratic or political.  Instead, it effaces the divisions between the political and the wider worlds of communication and the entertainment media, creating a new world where footballers, tv celebrities, and rap artists communicate more directly and effectively with the public than do those who remain constrained within the label of politicians.  It is easy to bemoan these changes, and to see in them the demise of the democratic politics of old.[4] But it is also pointless to do so.  Democratic politics has burst its banks, and has become part of a much wider public sphere, in which the democratic process has been adulterated through the addition of a much wider range of emotions, grievances, but also forms of identity, and dreams of a better world, collective and individual.

Las conspiraciones de QAnon prenden en Canadá | Internacional | EL PAÍS

The second trig point is therefore the emergence of new citizens.  That term too is part of the legacies of the Age of Revolutions, redolent with the language of the American and French constitutions of the late eighteenth century.  But it has proved to have a long life.  It was challenged fundamentally by the comradeship of the Communist revolutionary project, and by the racial identities of the Nazi Volksgemeinschaft, and yet it proved sufficiently resilient to resurface in the second half of the twentieth century as the definition of the democratic citizen of modern societies.  The duties of these citizens were manifold: they were required to vote soberly and with due decorum, to pay their taxes, to obey the laws and the comprehensive regulatory structures of modern societies, and in the case of young men in many states, to serve in the conscript armies.  But that, of course, was only half of the deal.  The other half was the provision by the state of a predictable universe, through an ever wider range of social goods in the form of housing, education, and transport infrastructures, and the safety nets of welfare and health provision which mitigated the anxieties that had haunted previous generations. That model reached its high point around the 1970s, with the construction in the U.S. and Europe of larger and more complex institutions of government that anticipated the needs of citizens, and provided solutions which it would be far beyond the resources of citizens to bring about themselves.[5]

But, since the 1980s, that model has been in retreat.  Government – as we have learned painfully through the current pandemic – has lost the means to provide reliably for the health of its citizens.  Under the pressure of the newly fashionable languages of neo-liberalism and marketization, state institutions have been replaced by the new politics of the bazaar, in which rival companies and a range of semi-public and semi-private institutions compete to supplant provision by the state.  Few citizens positively willed this change, but they have adapted rapidly to its reality.  If the state provides so much less, so they are less willing to pay its taxes, obey its laws, or respect its leaders.  This is the mentality of what is often called the new populism – a term which seems inescapable in describing the politics of the present, but which simultaneously risks defining it in too narrowly political terms.[6] What is different about the politics of a Trump, Matteo Salvini, Vladimir Putin, or Viktor Orbán is not that they seek to use mendaciously the language of the common man (or woman) – the real majority – against some form of privileged elite.  Most of their supporters can see such claims as the all too transparent forms of marketing that they are.  But they make considered decisions that they would prefer to support the charlatans and adventurers against those whom they know to be more sober and qualified.

La UE se conjura para evitar el avance del populismo

Historians underestimate the seriousness of that decision-making by citizens at their peril.  Their decisions might be distracted at times by the slogans and emotions of outmoded nationalist or ethnic languages, but at heart most twenty-first-century citizens know what they want, and indeed what they do not want.  If there is one conclusion that emerges loud and clear from the great weight of studies that have been undertaken on the electorate of the Rassemblement national in France since the 1980s, and the studies of subsequent surges in populist political movements up to Trump and Brexit,[7] it is that the electors who voted for them knew what they were doing, and why they were doing it.  Three themes dominate: security, control, and the primacy of the personal.  These citizens want protection from crime, immigration, and its perceived socio-economic consequences, and from the alien threats – racial, environmental, and cultural – which stalk a much less predictable world.  They consequently also want control: control of their local neighbourhood and their national society, but also the control to decide what they want for themselves, rather than what others might deem to be good for them.  These are not proud Know Nothings, but they are deeply impatient of Know Alls.  They therefore also want the right to make their own decisions – call it freedom, if you want – be that in terms of their identity, sexuality, or values, or, more prosaically, in how they live their daily lives.  Political commentators often focus on the authoritarian and intolerant aspects of the new politics, as reflected in protest campaigns against the rights of gender or of race, but at the core of the new politics is often a surprising willingness to accept diversity, as long as it does not prejudice the wider unity of society.

Economic insecurity or immiseration? | occasional links & commentaryThis, then, is the third trig point of the new politics.  The agenda of politics has disappeared, and has done so in ways which exclude any simple return to the political frontiers of left and right of the twentieth century. Many of the old issues have not gone away: in a time of economic insecurity, present and future, the mobilising power of class will remain evident.  But its force manifests itself not through the representative institutional hierarchies of old, but through the new protest campaigns of factory gates and direct action, as well as the denunciation of the oligarchical wealthy through the tools of social media.  Class, moreover, is no longer the reliable determinant of political identity that it once was.  As the chaotic exuberance of the movement of the gilets jaunes in France in 2018-19 demonstrated, it co-exists with the other bearers of identity, be they ethnic, gendered, or community-based: the intoxicating solidarity of the imagined “we” against “them.”

The new politics therefore lacks what would have been regarded until recently as a coherent agenda.  The short attention span encouraged by a digital universe is replicated in politics through the shifting shapes of a rapidly moving succession of primarily visual images.  This, of course, is what Trump understood quicker than most.  Coherence and policy-making matter much less than the empty gesture or the transient announcement: declaring you are going to build a wall does not require you to build one.  Indeed, one suspects that very few of his supporters thought that he would build the wall, just as one might question how far those who voted leave in the Brexit referendum campaign actually intended to bring about the departure of the UK from the EU.  Political action too is more about the participants than the end result: the gilets jaunes occupying roundabouts on the edges of French provincial towns is rather different from the storming of the Bastille.  But to regard such actions as naïve or ineffectual is to misunderstand their purpose.  They are the means of expressing an identity or grievance, rather than the conventional pursuit of a goal, still less a wish to take power.  The era when political and ideological affiliations were for life has largely evaporated.  Instead, increasingly large numbers of citizens lend their votes and support to a series of diverse causes – often through a momentary liking of a tweet, or a signature on a digital petition – which respond to their emotions, group identity, or aspirations.[8]

There is much that is disconcerting in the new politics, but it would be wrong to dismiss it as the rise of a new barbarism.  The devil has not once again acquired all of the best tunes, and the new political world is one which can generate a wide range of outcomes.  Nor will it be necessarily as radical as it currently seems.  With time the disruptive impact of figures such as Trump may be channelled within new norms, enabling a continuity of institutional structures to reassert itself, within or without the Republican Party.  But, for now, it suffices to recognise that the mentality of incremental reformist change which was embedded in the machinery of West European and American politics in the later twentieth century has in large part disappeared.  The future could be many things, but it seems highly unlikely that it will be social democratic.[9] This requires historians to change their focus.  Institutional structures, ideological traditions, and indeed democratic norms, have been replaced by a less disciplined and more open politics, in which the aspiration to save the planet and end racism can co-exist alongside the wish to re-assert the nation-state and to control immigration. The multiple incoherences between and within such attitudes matter less than the pervasive sense of a daily referendum in which new practices of direct democracy co-exist with a visual theatre of rhetoric and gesture.  With greater skill than his many detractors would readily admit, Trump provided a first sketch of the character of the new politics.  But he too will quite rapidly come to seem out of date.  The unpredictable history of the present has only just begun.

Martin Conway is Professor of Contemporary European History at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford.  His books include The Sorrows of Belgium: Liberation and Political Reconstruction, 1944–1947 (Oxford University Press, 2012) and Western Europe’s Democratic Age, 1945-1968 (Princeton University Press, 2020).

Notes


[1] Samuel Moyn, ‘Biden Says “America is Back.” But Will his Team of Insiders Repeat their Old Mistakes?,” The Guardian, 1 December 2020.

[2] See, notably, Eric J. Hobsbawm, Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991 (London: Michael Joseph, 1994); Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1992).

[3] I have written about a characteristic example of these texts, Herman Finer’s The Major Governments of Modern Europe (London: Methuen, 1960), in Martin Conway, “Democracy in Western Europe after 1945,” in J. Kurunmäki, J. Nevers and H. te Velde, eds., Democracy in Modern Europe: A Conceptual History (New York: Berghahn Books, 2018), 231-256.

[4] See, for example, A.C. Grayling Democracy and its Critics (London, 2017).

[5] I have written about this in Conway, Western Europe’s Democratic Age, 1945-1968 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2020), 199-254.

[6] Jan-Werner Müller, What is Populism? (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016).

[7] Pascal Perrineau, Le symptôme Le Pen: radiographie des électeurs du Front National (Paris: Fayard, 1997); Harold D. Clarke, Matthew Goodwin, and Paul Whiteley, Brexit: Why Britain Voted to Leave the European Union (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017); Roger Eatwell and Matthew Goodwin, “The Grip of Populism,” The Sunday Times, 7 October 2018.

[8] The concept of voters lending their support to a political party was articulated explicitly by Boris Johnson on the night of the result of the 2019 election, to describe the votes gained by the Conservative Party in areas of the North of England that had formerly voted for the Labour Party: “You may only have lent us your vote, you may not think of yourself as a natural Tory and you may intend to return to Labour next time round.” The Guardian, 13 December 2019.

[9] Tony Judt, Ill fares the Land: A Treatise on our Present Discontents (London: Allen Lane, 2010).

LaFeber_hands

Ayer, 9 de marzo de 2021, murió a los 83 años el gran historiador estadounidense Walter LaFeber.  Uno de los grandes analistas de la historia de las relaciones exteriores de Estados Unidos, LaFeber hizo su doctorado en la Universidad de Wisconsin de la mano de William Appleman Williams, Fred Harvey Harrington y Philipp D. Curtain. Bajo la influencia de la escuela realista y con una temprana tendencia hacia las interpretaciones económicas, LaFeber desarrolló una impresionante carrera con obras imprescindibles como The New Empire: An Interpretation of American Expansion, 1860–1898 (1963), America, Russia and the Cold War, 1945-1966 (1967), The Panama Canal: The Crisis in Historical Perspective (1978), Inevitable Revolutions: The United States in Central America (1984), The Clash: U.S.-Japanese Relations Throughout History (1997), Michael Jordan and the New Global Capitalism (1999) y The Deadly Bet: LBJ, Vietnam, and the 1968 Election (2005). Su labor didáctica es igual de impresionante. LaFeber trabajó por más de treinta años en la Universidad de Cornell, ayudando a formar destacados historiadores de las relaciones exteriores de Estados Unidos. Entre sus estudiantes destacan Richard Immerman, Nancy F. Cott, Andrew Rotter, Frank Costigliola, entre otros.

Descanse en paz Maestro, y gracias.

Norberto Barreto Velázquez

Lima, 10 de marzo de 2021

Captura de pantalla 2021-03-10 a la(s) 13.12.02.png

 

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Con el azote global del Covid-19, el tema de las vacunas ha alcanzado aún mayor importancia de la que ya tenía. Un elemento clave de este asunto es el rechazo a la vacunación. Aún antes de la pandemia este ya era un serio problema. Por diversas razones  -ignorancia, miedo, desinformación, etc.-  millones de personas rechazaban la vacunación contra  diversas enfermedades, especialmente, en los países desarrollados. Una encuesta publicada  a principios de febrero de este año, reveló que el 51% de los estadounidenses rechazaría o retrasaría la aplicación de la vacuna contral el Covid.  Cómo convencer a estos millones de estadounidenses de aceptar la vacuna representa un serio reto para las autoridades políticas y sanitarias de los Estados Unidos. Comparto con  mis lectores este interesante artículo de Carlos Hernández-Echevarría sobre el importante papel que jugó Elvis Presley en la década de 1950 para combatir los temores que entonces provocaba la vacuna contra el polio. En este corto ensayo se entrecruzan cultura popular, ciencia y salud pública en la lucha contra lo que entonces era una seria amenaza a la salud de los estadounidenses.  Tal vez hayan algunas lecciones que aprender de cómo se manejo el tema de la vacunación en la llamada década opulenta.

Norberto Barreto Velázquez,

Lima, 7 de marzo, 2021


Cómo Elvis Presley ayudó a vencer el miedo a las vacunas

En 1952, en plena Guerra Fría, una encuesta reveló que el mayor miedo de los estadounidenses era un conflicto nuclear con la URSS. Sin embargo, inmediatamente después, lo que más los asustaba era la poliomielitis. El virus de “la polio” mataba cada verano a miles de niños y condenaba a muchos más a pasar el resto de su vida en una silla de ruedas o conectados a un respirador. La peor pesadilla de los padres de la época.

Aquel año, EE. UU. había sufrido el peor brote de polio de toda su historia, con 3.000 muertos y unas 20.000 parálisis, pero por fin había aparecido la vacuna. El doctor Jonas Salk la había elaborado a través de virus muertos y se la había inyectado a un grupo de voluntarios entre los que estaban él mismo, su esposa y sus tres hijos. El 26 de marzo de 1953, el médico anunció en un programa de radio que todos habían desarrollado anticuerpos y ninguno había enfermado.

En su portada del día siguiente, el New York Times dijo que era “la culminación de uno de los más grandes esfuerzos colectivos de la historia”, pero no todo el mundo estaba convencido. Uno de los periodistas más influyentes del país, Walter Winchell, contó a sus millones de oyentes en abril de 1954 que la vacuna “podía ser asesina”.

Ya había sido probada en 7.500 niños sin efectos adversos, y durante ese año se amplió la vacunación a un millón más con buenos resultados. Pero entonces llegó la verdadera crisis.

Jonas Salk desarrolló la vacuna contra la polio.

Jonas Salk desarrolló la vacuna contra la polio. Dominio público

En 1955, uno de los laboratorios que fabricaba la vacuna cometió un error en su elaboración. El proceso por el que tenía que “matar” al virus antes de inyectárselo a la gente no funcionó, y la propia vacuna contagió de polio a 40.000 niños, causando parálisis a 200 y matando a 10. Se corrigió el proceso, se expulsó a la empresa del grupo de fabricantes y se continuó con el plan de vacunación, pero los temores aumentaron y muchos adolescentes y jóvenes seguían sin vacunarse.

Elvis al rescate

Nueva York fue una de las grandes promotoras de la vacuna, porque la ciudad había sido una de las que más habían sufrido en las epidemias de polio. Solamente en la de 1916 murieron 2.400 neoyorquinos, de los que el 80% eran niños menores de cinco años.

Tal vez por la falsa idea de que el virus solo afectaba a los más pequeños, muchos adolescentes y jóvenes estaban “pasando” de vacunarse. En octubre de 1956, un millón de habitantes de la ciudad ya habían recibido la inyección, pero solo el 10% de los adolescentes se la había puesto. El ayuntamiento quería convencer al resto.

Elvis Presley (dcha.) con el periodista Ed Sullivan en 1956.

Elvis Presley (dcha.) con el periodista Ed Sullivan en 1956.

Entonces Elvis Presley tenía solo 21 años, pero ya era una estrella. En su última visita al programa televisivo de Ed Sullivan le habían visto 60 millones de personas, más de un tercio de toda la población de EE. UU. Por eso mismo, cuando “el rey” se trasladó de nuevo a Nueva York para participar en el mismo show el 28 de octubre de 1956, le convencieron de que aprovechara el viaje para hacerse una foto muy especial.

Aquella tarde de domingo, después de que el artista ensayara su actuación, las cámaras se arremolinaron entre bambalinas en el mítico estudio de la CBS en Broadway para ver a la estrella remangarse. Mientras la concejala de Salud de Nueva York le sostenía el brazo izquierdo, su número dos inyectaba a un sonriente Elvis la vacuna creada por Jonas Salk.

Unas horas más tarde, “el rey” estaba cantando Love Me Tender sin el menor efecto secundario y habiendo dado, en palabras de la concejala, “un buen ejemplo a la juventud del país”.

Elvis siguió colaborando en la lucha contra la polio más allá de la foto. Al año siguiente grabó un anuncio solicitando donaciones para una organización que había sido clave en el descubrimiento de la vacuna, la Fundación Nacional de la Parálisis Infantil. Su fundador había sido el presidente Franklin Delano Roosevelt, que se había contagiado y había quedado en silla de ruedas poco antes de cumplir los 40.

A través de grandes campañas anuales conocidas como “la marcha de las monedas de 10 centavos”, la fundación había sido capaz de recaudar millones para impulsar la investigación de la enfermedad y atender a sus pacientes. Multitud de estrellas de Hollywood colaboraron con la causa y, además de contar con Elvis, la organización tenía su propio grupo de activistas adolescentes para convencer a ese grupo de que se vacunara.

FILE - In this 1957 file photo, Elvis Presley performs on tour in the summer of 1957, with Scotty Moore on guitar, left, and Bill Black on the stand up bass, right. Moore, the pioneering rock guitarist who played on

Elvis Presley durante una gira en el verano de 1957. 
 AP

Los TAP, o “Adolescentes contra la Polio”, celebraban vacunaciones masivas, fiestas con música en directo a las que solo se podía acceder con un certificado de vacunación o campañas para pedir a las adolescentes que no salieran en citas con chicos sin vacunar. También organizaban charlas de concienciación en los colegios, impartidas por víctimas de parálisis por polio.

Funcionó. Si en 1952 se dieron 60.000 casos de polio en EE. UU., diez años después eran 900, y para 1979 la enfermedad estaba oficialmente erradicada en el país. La poliomielitis sigue siendo hoy incurable, pero las vacunas han hecho que solo siga activa en tres países de todo el mundo. Un rotundo éxito de la ciencia con un poquito de ayuda del Rey del Rock.

Llegamos al millón. Avance de las próximas entradas – Memorias del Viejo  PamplonaHoy es un día muy especial para este blog, pues cruzamos la barrera del millón de vistas o “hits”. Comencé este proyecto recién llegado al Perú en el año 2008. Cumplía dos objetivos, uno personal y otro académico. En el plano personal, necesitaba un espacio de expresión y de creatividad, y lo encontré. En estos casi trece años, mi blog me ha servido de refugio para salir de la rutina de las reuniones idiotas (aun por Zoom siguen siéndolo), de la modorra de la preparación de clases y de la frustración de ver cómo se reduce el tiempo para investigar. A nivel académico, creía (y sigo creyendo) en la necesidad de promover el estudio y la investigación sobre Estados Unidos -y su muchas veces tumultuosa relación con América Latina- desde una perspectiva latinoamericana. Debo reconocer que ese espacio ha mejorado mucho gracias a los trabajos de colegas como Leandro Morgenfeld, Fabio Nigra, Valeria L. Carbone, Diana M. Rojas, Fernando Purcell, Gisela Cramer, Marcial Ocasio, entre otros. Aun falta mucho por hacer, por ejemplo, crear una organización latinoamericana que agrupe a quienes nos dedicamos a estudiar a Estados Unidos.

Debo agradecer al amigo Jorge Moreno Matos, pues sin su apoyo y su promoción a través del Reportero de la Historia, este blog no habría transcendido.

Agradezco a todas y todos mis lectores.

Norberto Barreto Velázquez

Lima, 3 de marzo de 2021

 

La Dra. Karin Wulf, directora del Omohundro Institute en el William & Mary College, pidió a un grupo de especialistas de la historia temprana de Estados Unidos que comentarán cómo  estaban experimentando el periodo de crisis pandémica y política, y cuál consideraban era la relevancia de su trabajo   y publicaciones.  El resultado es un grupo de interesantes reflexiones que comparto con mis lectores. Estas vienen acompañadas con  imágenes de las publicaciones más recientes de los investigadores consultados.


History typed on an vintage typewriter, old paper. close-upHistorians in Historic Times

KARIN WULF

The Scholarly Kitchen   January 14, 2021

A historian will tell you that every era, every group of people, every subject, and every last fragment of material about the past is historical. We are always living through history. We always benefit from rigorous historical research and scholarship.  And while history has conventionally been written from a privileged position, and about politics, wars, and economies, most of us work from more complex situations and on a more complex combination of phenomena that could any moment be reflected in the present. Historians of medicine, for example, have been working overtime explaining how socio-economic inequalities mapped onto historical pandemics and parallel what we see with COVID19. Historians of authoritarianism and white supremacy have been working overtime to show us how these movements have proliferated and been sustained over decades — even centuries. Historians of race, and particularly of slavery and Jim Crow in the United States, have been pointing to the iterative quality of politics and policy that have led to dynamics we saw play out last summer in episodes of police violence and protest. Last week’s riot and insurrection at the U.S. Capitol seems a particularly stark moment that will likely be pointed to for generations to come, either as a culmination or an origin or both.

I asked historians of the early Americas and United States who have published books in this year of pandemic and political crisis how they are feeling about living through this moment of pandemic and political crisis, and how the subject of their scholarship and/or the practice of history feels relevant and resonant. It’s a remarkable set of reflections, and I’m grateful to these scholars for taking the time and energy — when there is so little of either to spare — to contribute.

VSurviving Southampton: African American Women and Resistance in Nat  Turner's Community (Women, Gender, and Sexuality in American History):  Holden, Vanessa M.: 9780252085857: Amazon.com: Booksanessa M. Holden, University of Kentucky, author of Surviving Southampton:  African American Women and Resistance in Nat Turner’s Community (2021)

Like many Americans, I woke up on the morning of Wednesday, January 6th, to the news that Georgia would have at least one (likely two) Democrats as U.S. Senators as the result of runoff elections held on Tuesday the 5th. A coalition of activists and organizers had triumphed after years of hard-fought efforts to get out the vote, register new voters, and combat voter suppression. Black women and femmes knew Georgia could be blue and, after years of hard work, had realized their vision. In a state where most Americans unfamiliar with Black women’s history saw only solid red, they’d made a way out of possibility. That same afternoon I spoke with a colleague via Zoom. She was hopeful. I was cautious. “Violence,” I said, “I’m worried about the violent backlash. It has already started. It is going to get worse.” In the few seconds of silence that passed between us across computer screens my phone buzzed. My brother was texting to tell me that Vice President Pence was being removed from the senate chamber. On Twitter, raw footage of a Black Capitol police officer swatting at a white mob with a nightstick lit up my timeline. What had happened to him after he’d exited the camera frame?

Like many Black Americans I watched the day unfold while thinking of Black residents of Washington, D.C., the people of color who work as custodians, food service workers, and staff at the Capitol building, and the sharp contrast in law enforcement’s non-response to the invasion of the Capitol by white insurrectionists in comparison to militarized violent police responses across the country to peaceful protest by BIPOC and our allies. At the end of the day, photos of security standing near custodial staff (all apparently people of color) as they swept up broken glass began to circulate. Later we learned that insurrectionists smeared human excrement throughout the building.

How much had custodial staff been exposed to the deadly virus that day?

Like many historians I thought about my work. For me, completing and publishing a book about America’s most famous rebellion against slavery and enslavers, took on additional immediacy. The women, children, and men who I write about in Surviving Southampton: African American Women and Resistance in Nat Turner’s Community, found ways to preserve their community amidst overwhelming white violence in 1831. This year the Covid-19 pandemic brought into sharp focus systemic racial inequalities that Black historians have innovated entire historical fields to explore, document, and combat. Black death, from Covid-19 and police violence, has been ever present in our kinship networks, communities, neighborhoods, and on our newsfeeds. Survival requires labor: the day-to-day work, choices, and determination to endure. But, as I write in my book, the word survivor has more than one meaning. It is our word both for those who endure and for those who are bereaved. In Georgia, Black women and femmes did exhausting survival work to flip the Senate — work that will endure. In Kentucky, where I live, Black Lives Matter activists are raising funds to stave off the eviction crisis for vulnerable Black women and femmes even as armed militias plague the state capitol in Frankfort. When the camera moves on, what work of survival will we take up? What ways will we endure bereavement? And what of our work will endure?

Unworthy Republic : The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian  Territory (Hardcover) - Walmart.com - Walmart.comClaudio Saunt, University of Georgia, author of Unworthy Republic:  The Disposssession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory(2020)

“Unworthy Republic,” the title of my recent book on the expulsion of Native Americans from the eastern half of the United States in the 1830s, comes from a letter written by James Folsom, a Choctaw student studying at Miami University of Ohio in 1831. The United States had mistreated the Cherokee Nation, he wrote, and the American Republic would “go down to future eyes with scorn and reproach on her head.” As I was writing Unworthy Republic, the politics in the United States were changing around me, and the book’s subject — white supremacy, political cowardice, and economic opportunism — became more tightly relevant. That served as a motivating force, and I think made the work more present and urgent. In the 1830s, white supremacists threatened to take up arms to defend a grotesque vision of their rights, politicians pretended to take principled stands that were transparently self-serving, and profit-seekers disregarded everything but the dollars they coveted.  Folsom asserted that the United States would feel the legacy of injustice “in her legislative halls,” a prediction that came true on January 6. That injustice, he wrote, “never will be eradicated from her history.” I would like to think that if we had faced that history more fully, we would not have seen rioters in the U.S. Capitol building proudly bearing the Confederate flag and other symbols of white supremacy.

THE BOSTON MASSACRE: A Family History - HamiltonBook.com

Serena Zabin, Carleton College, author of The Boston Massacre: A Family History (2020)

On the night of March 5, 1770, armed agents of the state – British soldiers – shot into a crowd gathered in the street before the seat of imperial power in Boston. When the smoke cleared, five men lay dead or dying in the snow. This year, I published The Boston Massacre: A Family History for the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of an event that is often characterized as the first bloodshed of the American Revolution. By March 5, 2020, the world was already swept up in the first wave of COVID-19, and the murders of George Floyd, Breanna Taylor, and others were soon to come. I had not written my book to speak to the contemporary issue of police brutality or to address what happens when the military and the police collapse their functions into each other. Nor had I intended to weigh in on violence done in the name of liberty. The heart of my book is about the personal relationships between neighbors, and even within families, that were splintered in the political and social upheavals of the American Revolution.  And yet, this family history of the eighteenth century clearly does have something to say about the events of the past nine months, something that is no less useful for being unintentional. As I began researching this event more than ten years ago, I had to trust that readers in the present would find it relevant. I just had no idea how right I would be.

City of Refuge: Slavery and Petit Marronage in the Great Dismal Swamp,  1763–1856 (Race in the Atlantic World, 1700–1900 Ser.): Nevius, Marcus P.:  9780820356426: Amazon.com: BooksMarcus Nevius, University of Rhode Island, author of City of Refuge: Slavery and Petit Marronage in the Great Dismal Swamp, 1763-1856 (2020)

On January 6, 2021, I observed the flood of white supremacist terrorists who “stormed” the U.S. Capitol building. On Twitter, I reacted in real time. About an hour before “breaching” the Capitol ground’s outer perimeter (mere yards from the west and east entrances to the building), the mob attended a rally, led by an incumbent lame duck president, near the White House. That president amplified yet again the baseless claims that the presidential election of 2020 had been “stolen” from him and his supporters. Injuring tens of U.S. Capitol police officers and other law enforcement officials, the mob feloniously broke into the Capitol building. While inside, they paraded about, carrying Confederate flags, chanting “Stop the Steal,” and targeting U.S. legislators who scurried to evacuate as the mob broke into their offices. One woman lost her life; at least one police officer paid the ultimate sacrifice in the duty to protect the Capitol; several in the mob lost their lives. The mobs’ actions took shape on national television, as awed newscasters on stations of all stripes nationally and internationally broadcast live the mob’s figurative and literal desecration of the nation as we know it.

This mob, however, did not storm the Capitol. It did not breach the building. To say either is to imbue the mob’s actions with the connotations of protest, of a war for a valiant cause. To do that is to validate the very rhetoric that animated the mob, instigated by a lame duck president, that believed it was disrupting an “illegal” (re: totally legitimate) process of confirming the votes that the independent states submitted to Congress by way of the Electoral College. The mob’s felonious entry into the Capitol was not valiant. If anything, it was, at base, a COVID-19 superspreader event.

A few days’ reflection have reminded me that my visceral reaction on January 6th, that “it should NEVER have come to this…” was wrong. As an historian of slavery, slave based economies, and black resistance in early America, I know all too well the examples that are not known widely enough — the 3/5ths Compromise; the Federal Fugitive Slave Law of 1793; the Missouri Compromise; the several bills comprising the Compromise of 1850; the Dred Scott decision of 1857 — the list goes on. Political compromises from 1787 to 1850 did not save the nation from Civil War; postbellum political compromises did even less to quell the nation’s sordid racial history. The truth, as scholars of many stripes know all too well, is that what we observed on January 6th was our nation’s deep seeded politics of hatred, borne of the nation’s original sin — slavery. The mob’s actions were a demonstration of this very truth. And a poignant warning that, as yet, we have much with which to reckon.

Past and Prologue : Politics and Memory in the American Revolution  (Hardcover) - Walmart.com - Walmart.comMichael D. Hattem, Yale University, author of Past and Prologue: Politics and Memory in the American Revolution (2020)

Part of the reason the power of history and historical narratives are so deeply embedded in our national political culture is because it was such an important part of the founding of the nation. We are the inheritors of that tradition, for better and worse. In just the last year, I have watched contemporary events and debates — such as The 1619 Project, the removal of Confederate monuments, the White House Conference on American History, and the 1776 Commission, to name just a few — and have been able to understand them as not just expressions of our contemporary politics but as part of our nation’s long-standing relationship between politics and history. That context that my work has offered has been important because it has not only made me more attuned to when politicians and political parties of both sides use representations of the past to manipulate their audience by drawing on their emotions and previously held beliefs, but has also made it possible for me to then ask important questions such as: who is the intended audience for specific depictions of American history, for what purposes are those depictions being used, and why do those depicting it expect it to resonate with their specific audience? Therefore, I think my work as a historian of memory and politics has made me a more critical “consumer” of history as used in the public square and I would like to think my book would do the same for its readers.
Slavery in the Age of Memory: Engaging the Past: Araujo, Ana Lucia:  9781350048485: Amazon.com: BooksAna Lucia Araujo, Howard University, author of Slavery in the Age of Memory: Engaging the Past (2020)

I have been studying the history and the legacies of slavery in the Atlantic World for nearly twenty years, and we know that the growing interest about the slavery past is closely associated with the persistence of racial inequalities, racism, and white supremacy. But all this could be perceived as an abstract idea. Of course, we have seen black social actors and their academic allies decrying the absence of public markers memorializing this past for several decades, but in the summer 2020 it was the first time that anti-racist public demonstrations (reacting to the assassination of George Floyd) reenacted these debates in tangible ways, not only in the United States, but also in Britain, France, Belgium, Portugal, and many other countries. Living through this time is a strange experience. As these monuments became the target of demonstrators denouncing anti-black racism, it is much more evident on how these devices embody the values of white supremacy. Suddenly, the topics that I discussed in a book to be released in October 2020, were popping up on my computer screen as current events in the summer 2020. The attack by white nationalists, white supremacists and nazis on the US Capitol of January 6, 2021 is also an expression of this context. It’s the culmination of a long history of slavery and racial violence that started centuries ago, but that reemerged in recent years through the actions of white terrorists such as Dylan Roof in Charleston and the mob to defend the statue of Robert E. Lee that happened in Charlottesville in 2017. The speed of the events and the fact that we are physically and emotionally tired make the task of the historian harder. But it offers me a great opportunity to see this history of the present, on which I worked for several years, unfolding before my eyes. At the same time, as someone researching the memory of slavery, I know that working on topics close to the present poses many challenges. And in the present context, it’s very hard to see these events from a broad enough perspective. Still, scholarship and the search for truth, no matter how challenging, are the best path forward.

Remembering the Enslaved Who Sued for Freedom Before the Civil War - The  New York TimesWilliam G. Thomas III, University of Nebraska and author, A Question of Freedom:  The Families Who Challenged Slavery from the Nation’s Founding to the Civil War (2020)

When I was researching and writing A Question of Freedom, a reckoning with the history of slavery and racism in the United States was already underway. I saw the book was one means to repair American history and confront the terrible menace of white supremacy unfolding at the time — the murder of Black church members at Emmanuel African Episcopal in 2015, the police shootings of unarmed Black men and women, and the violence of Charlottesville in 2017. I set out to write A Question of Freedom because I wanted to understand how slavery had gained sanction under the law and in the Constitution despite its obvious incompatibility with the founding principles of equality and natural rights. Slavery was a moral problem. And Revolutionary Americans knew it. What I did not realize at first was that slavery was always a dubious institution in the law. It had been fought and contested in the law from the nation’s founding and before. One of the main points I try to make is that particular families experienced slavery. Many Americans see slavery as an abstract institution, faceless and nameless. In most textbooks Black families are almost never mentioned by name. But there was nothing abstract about slavery. And Black families, like the Queens and the Mahoneys, who sued slaveholders for their freedom were at the center of the nation’s founding in a way most Americans have not acknowledged. Their freedom suits amounted to a concerted effort to bring the problem of slavery before the nation. Once I met with the descendants of these families, I wanted to tell the story in a way that made it clear that this history is still with us today, that this is palpably felt history. It affects real people, real families. In A Question of Freedom I wanted readers to experience what I was experiencing: the vibrant immediacy of the past, the heightened awareness that events 240 years ago have profound, indeed personal, consequences in our world today.

The Lost Tradition of Economic Equality in America, 1600–1870: Mandell,  Daniel R.: 9781421437118: Amazon.com: BooksDaniel Mandell, Truman State University, author of The Lost Tradition of Economic Equality in America, 1600-1870 (2020)

Quite clearly the subject of my book, American concerns about economic inequality, has been woven throughout this year’s crises in the U.S. This was particularly true of the pandemic, during which the stock market and the numbers of homeless and hungry have both skyrocketed; with the political wars, as one party pushed for massive federal assistance and the other insisted that low-wage workers should essentially be forced back to work regardless of the danger; and (perhaps a little less obviously so) with efforts to confront the racial inequalities imbedded in so many of our country’s concerns. But I was disappointed that the many speeches and extensive commentary on these issues never acknowledged that this country had a long tradition, going back to before its founding, that the health of our republic required avoiding extremes of great wealth or terrible poverty. In fact, I started on that book a decade ago because that history was never mentioned even as the widening wealth gap became a chasm with the Crash of 2007-2008. Alas my hope that the book would help revive that tradition seems, like so many other (and more significant) hopes and dreams, to be steamrollered by the crises of this moment. 

Hearing Enslaved Voices: African and Indian Slave Testimony in BritishSophie White, University of Notre Dame and author, Voices of the Enslaved: Love, Labor, and Longing in French Louisiana (2019); co-editor, Hearing Enslaved Voices: African and Indian Slave Testimony in British and French America, 1700–1848 (2020)

As an historian of race and slavery, I am constantly struck by lasting legacies, not least in the perpetuation of formal and informal rules aimed at continued disenfranchisement. I am just as struck by the recurring attempts to repudiate this disenfranchisement, and how this disavowal manifested itself both then and now. My research delves into the ways that enslaved individuals in colonial America spoke up, in courtroom testimony, about their subjugation. Thanks to archives that put these individuals’ words front and center, I show how, just as with the Black Lives Matter movement, they used their voices to call out inequities. And if we listen to what they had to say, we hear in their testimony a demand to be heard, to be seen, to be named, and above all, in a damning rebuttal of the premise of slavery, we see them put their full humanity on display.

Peter Alegi on Twitter: "https://t.co/LveH8EPAJP… "

Daryle Williams, University of Maryland, Co-PI enslaved.org and Editor, Journal of Slavery and Data Preservation (both launched, 2020)

2020 was a year when I spent a lot of time staring at Google Sheets. In the shorthand of morning domestic chatter, I merely needed to say “spreadsheets” in response to my husband’s query “what are you working on today?” A few dozens of those Sheets were created by me, for the Free Africans of Brazil Dataset, and many more were part of the terrific datasets published online for the launch of Enslaved: Peoples of the Historical Slave Trade. In time, Enslaved.org seeks to reshape the fields of slavery studies and inclusive scholarly communications, unleashing the power of linked open data to more fully see and understand experiences of enslavement for named individuals and their families. This important, collaboratively produced site aims to be a space where humanists and data scientists, academics and family historians, as well as continental Africans and people of the Diaspora re/un-cover black life matters in a fullness denied them by the archives of the transatlantic trade and its aftereffects. But in a year in which black peoples and allies took to the streets in revolt against the algorithms of oppression, I also wrestle with the fact all this work relies heavily upon the historical anti-black technologies of identification, tracking, and surveillance. From the musty ledger book and nominal registry to the stultifying and disciplining tedium of the spreadsheet, I wonder often, what are we to do when we make people into data.


To read more historians contextualizing this historical moment, I recommend first the excellent Made By History series on the Washington Post. It is edited by expert historians and sometimes they publish multiple op-eds a day written by expert historians. On the events on January 6th, Megan Kate Nelson has created a round-up of ongoing writing by historians, and Lindsay Chervinsky one for historians who have been writing about the political and other fallout including impeachment. On pandemic, Monica Green and other historians of medicine (with links) included her own and other work in this recent Twitter thread. The American Historical Association has collected a bibliography of COVID-related responses by historians.