Henry Steele Commager on America during the Cold War

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Randall Stephens

The November 24, 1954 episode of Longines Chronoscope featured Henry Steele Commager (video embedded here).  That was not unusual for
the news and views program, which regularly featured heads of state, intellectuals, novelists, and other notables.  But the subject of the discussion is particularly interesting all these years later.  Maybe that's especially poignant because Commager was one of America's foremost historians at that time. Here he weighs in on American identity, the pressures of conformity, the post-war economic boom, and freedom of expression.  

This was filmed in the wake of the Korean War, the hydrogen bomb test on Bikini Atoll, and not long after the historic Brown vs. Topeka Supreme Court decision.  Red Scare paranoia remained strong. The coming month of December would see the US Senate reprimand Joseph McCarthy, by a vote of 67–22, for "conduct that tends to bring the Senate into dishonor and disrepute."

Here are some of the questions posed to Commager by hosts Larry LeSueur (CBS News correspondent) and August Heckscher (chief editorial writer for the New York Herald-Tribune):

LeSueur: So, professor Commager, we'd like to ask you: Do you think that this country when it was smaller and less powerful, but when we had less responsibilities, do you think we were happier then than we are now?

LeSueur: Professor Commager, do you feel that our freedoms such as speech are more circumscribed now than they have been in the past?

LeSueur: Surely professor Commager there's less conformity now than in the days of the Puritans?

Heckscher: Would you say that . . . we exaggerate our standard of living in comparison to the standard of living of foreign countries, for example?

LeSueur: Do you think our country is more or less unified in some areas, on foreign policy for example, now than it has been in the past during some of our crises?

How are historians reflecting on the pressing issues of our day?  What will the opinions of contemporary historians look like more than 50 years from now?

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Sheldon Hackney on C. Vann Woodward as Dissenter

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Randall Stephens

Today is the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington "For Jobs and Freedom." So, to continue with the theme of Monday's post--concerning history/historians, activism, and civil rights--I excerpt below part of Sheldon Hackney's 2009 essay in Historically Speaking, "C. Vann Woodward, Dissenter."

Here Hackney discusses C. Vann Woodward's political outlook, civil rights work, and the parameters of dissent in the 1960s.

Hackney is the Boies Professor of U.S. History at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the former president of the University of Pennsylvania (1981-1993) and the former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities (1993-1997). He is the author of a variety of books and articles, including Populism to Progressivism in Alabama (Princeton University Press, 1969) and Magnolias without Moonlight: The American South from Regional Confederacy to National Integration (Transaction Publishers, 2005):

One of the most striking things about the young C. Vann Woodward was his affinity with dissent. It was not just his authorship of Tom Watson, Agrarian Rebel, the book that launched his academic career in 1938, nor the fact that he approached W. E. B. DuBois earlier with hopes of writing about him, nor his toying with the notion of following his biography of Watson with one of Eugene Debs. Those are important indicators, but it is even more interesting that in every situation he found himself in during his early years, he gravitated toward the most progressive people and places–exploring Harlem when he was a Masters student at Columbia in 1931-32, getting involved in the Angelo Herndon Defense Committee when he was back in Atlanta teaching at Georgia Tech, hanging out at that den of left-wing conspirators, Ab's Book Store in Chapel Hill, when he was working on his Ph.D. and the Watson biography. He was sympathetic to the union organizing movement among cotton mill workers in North Carolina and met Glenn McLeod, who became his wife, because of those pro-union activities. As a young man, he made two trips to Europe, visiting the Soviet Union on both of them, revealing at least a curiosity about communism. When he was teaching at Scripps College, 1940-43, he helped defend a faculty colleague who was under attack for suspected fascist sympathies, an early indication of his devotion to free speech on campus. He was always where the political action was. . . .

As chairman of the program committee of the Southern Historical Association in 1949, he enlisted John Hope Franklin in a successful plot to integrate the program of the Southern Historical Association meeting in Williamsburg, Virginia. Then, in 1952, when Woodward was the president of the SHA, he went to great lengths to integrate the meeting in Knoxville, Tennessee. Franklin reports that Woodward did not seem worried or nervous about these radical departures from past practices; he handled all questions and challenges with humor. He seemed to enjoy it. (John Hope Franklin interview with Sheldon Hackney, August 27, 2006. Audiotape in author's possession.)

Shortly after those signal events, Woodward and Franklin were enlisted to provide historical advice and tutoring for Thurgood Marshall and his team of lawyers who were bringing the school desegregation cases to the Supreme Court. The revolutionary result, the Brown decision, was announced May 17, 1954. That fall, Woodward gave the Richards Lectures at the University of Virginia, which in 1955 became the book,
The Selma to Montgomery march,
Life magazine, March 19, 1965.
The Strange Career of Jim Crow. With Professor Woodward standing prominently in the audience at the end of the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965, Martin Luther King, Jr., from the steps of the Alabama Capitol, described The Strange Career of Jim Crow as "the historical bible of the Civil Rights Movement." (C. Vann Woodward, Thinking Back: The Perils of Writing History [Louisiana State University Press, 1986], 92.) This was hyperbole, to be sure, but Woodward was there, where every good radical belonged.

That was the apogee of the civil rights movement, and of New Deal liberalism in general. The next year, Stokely Carmichael replaced John Lewis as Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and then announced the new slogan of "Black Power" on the continuation of James Meredith's "March Against Fear" through Mississippi in 1966. The antiwar movement soon shifted from "protest to resistance." The New Left dreamed aloud of revolution. All of these leftward lurches were met with disapproval among the public, easing the way for the rise of the New Right, whose organizational and intellectual infrastructure had been growing for more than a decade. Everything changed.

We see this shift dramatically in the life of C. Vann Woodward. When SNCC approached him in August 1966 to join a distinguished group of intellectuals in sponsoring the SNCC Faculty Fund, he demurred:


If I sponsor the SNCC Faculty Fund, I shall be sponsoring a split in the Civil Rights Movement, a split not only between organizations and leaders, but between races within the movement. You force me to choose between Stokely Carmichael on the one hand and A. Philip Randolph and Martin King on the other. By taking one side I oppose the other. I cannot consistently support both. If I let you use my name in this drive, I should have to resign a board of Randolph's and one of King's on which I serve. I cannot do that. I respect both men and their work too much and would not do anything to embarrass or discredit their leadership. If you compel me to choose, I will have to choose their way instead of Carmichael's. I would prefer not to turn my back on any part of the movement, but you leave me no choice. (C. Vann Woodward to Miss Linda Moses of SNCC, August 10, 1966. C. Vann Woodward Papers, Box 52, Folder 623, Yale University Library, Manuscripts and Archives. Hereafter cited as CVW Papers.)

When Staughton Lynd accused Yale of firing him because of his antiwar activities and his trip in December 1965 and January 1966 to Hanoi with Tom Hayden, a trip organized through the good offices of the American communist, Herbert Aptheker, Woodward defended Yale. . . . (Read more at Project Muse.)

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The Late Historian Robert Zieger on the 1963 March on Washington

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Randall Stephens

From Life magazine, September 6, 1963.
Across the US and around the globe people are marking the 50th anniversary of the "Jobs and Freedom" march on Washington, D.C.  Roughly 200,000 men and women, young and old, black and white gathered to demand justice and equality on Wednesday, August 28, 1963. 

Among the throng who came together around the reflecting pool at the Lincoln Memorial were a collection of historians. (How interesting to think how this event so shaped the writing of those in attendance and many more who witnessed it from afar or learned of it years later.)  Some were soon-to-be historians or historians-in-training from the University of Maryland, Howard University, Johns Hopkins University, UVA, George Washington, and others. Among the many in attendance were Clayborne Carson, Dorothy Drinkard-Hawkshawe, and Robert Zieger

From Life magazine, September 6, 1963.
Zieger, who passed away this year, was Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Florida. He was a remarkable historian, mentor, and all-around mensch.  (Read Paul Ortiz's commemoration here on the blog.)  One of Zieger's last works was For Jobs and Freedom: Race and Labor in America since 1865 (University Press of Kentucky, 2007). Zieger wrote an essay about his experience of researching and writing the book in Historically Speaking. Here he also reflected on that day in August 1963 in D.C. Here's a brief excerpt from "Jobs and Freedom," Historically Speaking (May/June 2008):

Shortly after I had begun active work on [For Jobs and Freedom], historian John Bracey visited [the University of Florida] campus and gave a fascinating talk to students about the state of black history at the time he began graduate school at Northwestern in the early 1960s. It soon became apparent that Bracey and I were of a similar age. He recounted that in the initial syllabus for his 19th-century U.S. history seminar, there were no works by black scholars or, apart from works that dealt with slavery as a political problem, about the black experience in antebellum America. Bracey and a colleague, with the complete support of an abashed seminar director, soon rectified the omission. Bracey told this story as a way of indicating to his undergraduate student audience how far black history and race history had traveled in the four decades since.

Bracey’s experience resonated with mine, though in a different key. My advisor, Horace Samuel Merrill, and his wife, Marion Galbraith Merrill, were in those days civil rights activists in the suburban Washington, D.C., area where the University of Maryland is located. Even so, however, we read little if any black history or race history in our 20th century seminar. To be sure, some of Sam’s students, notably Thomas Cripps, were beginning to explore themes in black history. And it was certainly true that as the civil rights movement hit its high-water mark in those years, I joined my graduate student colleagues in supporting, and sometimes even in participating in it. Still, it took me far too long to understand the centrality of race to the American historical experience and to begin to incorporate the theme of race and labor into my own work.

I like to think, though, that in some subterranean precincts of my young historian’s mind the seeds of the book I would write in my late sixties were beginning to germinate. At any rate, that’s the way it appeared to me when it came time to write the introduction to For Jobs and Freedom. I chose as my starting point the fact that while I was at the August 1963 march on Washington, I left during Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous speech:

"I still have a hard time confessing that I didn’t stay for Dr. King’s speech. As far as I was concerned, civil rights was a matter of politics and morality, not one of religion. Anyway, I had parked a long way off, it was getting late, and I had to pick up my wife at the Prince Georges County bank where she worked. So I threaded my way back through the throng lining the reflecting pool, across the Washington Monument grounds, up along Pennsylvania Avenue, the speakers’ voices growing fainter. Since I had parked on one of the side streets off East Capitol St. behind the Library of Congress (my normal haunts in those dissertation writing days), I made my way through the Capitol grounds.
From Life magazine, September 6, 1963.

It did occur to me that I should find some souvenir of the March; something to prove to my progeny and to the students to whom I planned one day to teach U.S. History that I Was There. The discarded bright orange-and-black placard lying behind a low hedge would do the trick, even if it did have a slight tear. “The UAW Says Jobs and Freedom for Every American,” it read. Since my ambition was to be a labor historian, it seemed to fill the bill perfectly.

But I will confess that I hadn’t really thought much about the “Jobs” part. Civil rights was about public accommodations, voting rights, and schools. Yes, certainly, demonstrators in southern towns and cities had demanded employment in the stores and shops. But it was the classrooms, the voting booths, and the hotels and restaurants that made the biggest headlines. Of course, an instant’s reflection affirmed, the placard was dead right: without jobs, freedom was a coin of limited value. Jobs were the modern equivalent of the Reconstruction Era’s forty acres and a mule—and we all know what happened when the freedmen were denied title to the land they and their forebears had worked for generations. Yes, it was true: all this was indeed about jobs and freedom."

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History Classroom Roundup

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Alastair Jamieson, "Germany's Angela Merkel teaches history class on Berlin Wall anniversary," NBC World News, August 13, 2013

German Chancellor Angela Merkel drew on her Communist-era experiences to teach a history class at a school on Tuesday - the 52nd anniversary of the construction of the Berlin Wall.

Merkel, who is campaigning ahead of next month’s general election, gave a 45-minute lesson as a "substitute teacher" for a 12th-grade class in east Berlin.>>>

Sacha Cordner, "Lawmaker Considering Legislation To Cut Down 'Islam-Bias' In Fla. School Textbooks," WFSU-Tallahassee, August 5, 2013

A Florida lawmaker is considering legislation that would give the public input on the content found in Florida school textbooks. His overall aim is to cut down on what he calls the “Islam-bias” in state schools.

Melbourne Republican Representative Ritch Workman says Prentice Hall’s “World History” book not only puts an inaccurate spin on Islam, it also dedicates a whole chapter to the religion.>>>

E. C. Gogolak, "Using Baseball History to Teach Children Big Lessons," NYT blog, August 7, 2013

On a recent morning in the Longwood neighborhood of the South Bronx, residents on Fox Street were starting their day. Reggaeton played from a second-story window. A man whistled a nursery rhyme while briskly pushing a toddler in a stroller. A woman stood on the corner with rollers in her hair, smoking a cigarette. And in a room at the end of a hallway on the first floor of 830 Fox Street, about two dozen children, ages 6 to 12, sat before a big-screen TV mounted on the front wall.>>>

Ryan Arciero, "1912 eighth grade exam: Can you score highly on a revealing history test?" Examiner, August 12, 2013

A 1912 eighth grade exam is having quite a few students and adults alike this week wonder whether they can score highly on a test that many Americans’ ancestors may have had to take when in the single-school classroom. Thanks to a history museum’s donation of a test that’s over 100 years old, Web Pro News shares this Monday, Aug. 12, that some may be surprised at how much this exam truly reveals.>>>

Matthew Albright, "Delaware school district considers class about Bible," USA Today, July 24, 2013

WILMINGTON, Del. -- A school board in Delaware will vote Thursday on a proposal to offer a high school class examining the Bible's role in society and history, tying the state into a national debate over the limits of religion in schools.

Supporters say the elective class would not be a religious Bible study class discussing matters of faith, but would focus instead on the text's influence on history and society. Students would read the Bible and an accompanying textbook.>>>

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From Roosevelt to Roosevelt

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Jonathan Rees

As a good liberal, I’ve always claimed that my favorite President ever is/was Franklin D. Roosevelt.  After all, his legacy STILL defines what liberalism means and what government does down to this day.  However, as I’ve gotten older, my opinion of Franklin Roosevelt has grown steadily worse.  First, there’s how he treated Eleanor.  Second, there’s the fact that the New Deal didn’t go further.  Lastly, like making batches of wine, some bits of the New Deal have aged better than others.

As a historian, I’ve been drawn to an entirely different, somewhat less liberal President—Franklin Roosevelt’s distant relation, Theodore.  Sure, there’s the whole warmonger thing.  That’s not too appealing.  And as a liberal, Teddy’s presidency was not nearly as charged as his unsuccessful campaign’s platform in 1912.  But as a personality, Teddy Roosevelt has every other President beaten hands down (with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln, but I’d still give the nod to Teddy there by a smidge).

Let’s look at the biographies.  When I read biographies, the part I usually hate comes right the beginning.  How many historical figures are more interesting in their youth than they are when they’re adults?  If you’ve ever read David McCullough’s Mornings on Horseback you’ll know he stopped that book in Roosevelt’s early twenties and it still made me cry.  (I’m not telling why if you don’t already know.  You should read the book.)  I’m not a huge fan of Edmund Morris’ three-part TR biography, but unlike say Robert Caro’s series on Lyndon Johnson, where the research is the best trait it’s Morris’ subject that makes all three of those books worth reading.

Now, there’s even a subgenre of books that cover only short periods of Teddy’s life.  Candace Millard’s River of Doubt is one of the best books that I’ve ever read, and it only spans a very short period of the man’s life AFTER he left office as President, namely his trip to Brazil.  Other than John Quincy Adams, which President deserves a book-length treatment for any part of his post-presidential career?  A few months ago, I read Richard Zacks’ Island of Vice.  The book only covers TR’s two years as New York City’s Police Commissioner, but it’s absolutely superb—not just because of the
Robin Williams as TR in Night at the Museum (2006)
vice, but because the prude who wanted to stop it was just so darned interesting.  I hope nobody does the inevitable “TR in the Badlands” book before I can get around to it, because I want a good excuse to visit Harvard and rummage through his papers someday.  They must be marvelous to read.

While I think I’m still closer to FDR politically, Theodore Roosevelt would definitely now be my answer to the old chestnut, “Which historical figure would you like to eat dinner with if you had the chance?”  Barring that, he’s also the President whose biography I’d most like to see come to the screen.  Even now, I’d pick Robin Williams in “Night at the Museum” over Bill Murray in “Hyde Park on Hudson” any day of the week.  Williams can be serious and funny at the same time, while Murray just looks uncomfortable.

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The Eve of Reformation?

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Steven Cromack

What was life like for those living during the time of Martin Luther? Is Western Civilization on the eve of another Reformation? Modern society certainly indicates, at the very least, that people are speaking up and speaking out.

In the United Kingdom a rapidly increasing number of people are flocking to the “emerging churches.” Led by people like Peter Rollins (How [Not] to Speak of God) and other renegade pastors, these “churches” meet in bars, at skate parks, and other profane places. The theology of the emerging church takes a postmodern approach to Christianity and conceives that institutional churches have lost the true meaning of the Christian faith because people are too focused on following prescribed, meaningless rituals. Instead, emerging Christians sit together and read the Gospels and talk about Jesus the Christ.

Across the Atlantic in the United States, scholars, theologians, journalists, and ordinary people are launching their own assault on mainstream Christian practices. In his 2011 controversial book Love Wins Rob Bell indicts “traditional” Christianity on the charge of using the concept of Hell as a means of social control. Accept Jesus, or you go to Hell. Complete this Christian checklist, or you go to Hell. Go to church, or burn in Hell. This notion, Bell argues, runs counter to the crux of Christianity, which is that love wins because God’s love is infinitely more expansive than the box in which we place it, along with Heaven, Hell, and our own narrow conception of God. Bell goes even further to say that Hell will be empty because God’s grace extends into Hell itself.

Theologians from many of the divinity schools have entered the fray. In her book Almost Christian Kenda Creasy Dean, a theologian at Princeton Theological Seminary, argues that teenagers practice a “mutant form” of faith called “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,” and that conventional American churches and their members are responsible for its cultivation. “After two and a half centuries of shacking up with ‘the American Dream,’” Dean writes, “churches have perfected a dicey codependence between consumer-driven therapeutic individualism and religious pragmatism. These theological proxies gnaw, termite-like, at our identity as the Body of Christ, eroding our ability to recognize that Jesus’ life of self-giving love directly challenges the American gospel of self-fulfillment and self-actualization.”

Andrew Sullivan published an article in Newsweek entitled “Christianity in Crisis.” In it he argues that Christianity has been destroyed by modern culture and the American Dream. He urges Christians to embrace Jesus, not American, get-rich evangelism. People’s priorities have become mixed up, Sullivan asserts: fundamentalist Christians support the torture of terror suspects and oppose homosexuality and abortion despite the fact that Jesus said nothing about these matters.

In 2012, Ross Douthat came out with Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, in which he writes that “America’s problem isn’t too much religion, or too little of it. It’s bad religion: the slow-motion collapse of traditional Christianity and the rise of a variety of destructive pseudo-Christianities in its place.” Indeed, Joel Osteen, the mega-church pastor who insists that God wants you to be happy, healthy, and rich has published a new book awkwardly entitled Everyday a Friday.
 
In many ways, religion has become a dirty word. People now take “religion” to mean organized Christian churches--along with their scandals, hypocrisy, and backward and fading traditions.  In 1999 a Gallup survey asked Americans “Do you consider yourself spiritual or religious?” 54% responded that they were “religious but not spiritual.” By 2009 only 9% of Americans affirmed such a statement.

Is Western Civilization overdue for another reformation? 

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On the passing of Pauline Maier

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Chris Beneke


Pauline Maier passed away Monday. Her academic title was William Kenan Jr. Professor of History at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It’s a distinguished position, but hardly does justice to the person who filled it.

I didn’t know Professor Maier was ill. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine her in a non-effervescent condition. Every other observation I’ve encountered since Monday affirms the testimony of my own experience: Maier was irrepressibly charming, ceaselessly brilliant, and blessed with a thunderous, seminar-shaking laugh.

Professor Maier published important books at a stately pace. There were four major monographs, one per decade. The first two changed our understanding of pre-Revolutionary politics;  the third upended standard interpretations of the Declaration of Independence;  the fourth provided the first full account of how the U.S. Constitution was ratified. Each was definitive, the sort of book that every early American historian needs to read at some point. Each was also a marvel of original documentary research and nonfiction storytelling.

Pauline Maier, the world-renowned scholar and teacher, also happened to be kind. She didn’t dispense saccharine praise to the minor figures who clamored for her attention. Instead, she offered genuine respect for their ideas and lots of tough, useful criticism. As a graduate student with no prior acquaintance, I invited her to comment on a conference panel. She agreed and, when the time came, cheerily directed me to think about many rudimentary things about which I should have already been thinking. A few years later, when I asked her to read part of my book manuscript—a punishingly dry and tedious tome—she agreed again, and then administered the thorough, friendly thrashing it needed.

These were the kind of things she did for people and partly explains why she published four landmark books instead of eight. Maier treated her fellow historians with the same honest consideration that she tendered her historical subjects, remaining ever open to the possibility that the lowly might possess more insight than their better appointed counterparts (as well as the possibility that they might be out of their senses). Ratification’s acknowledgements leave no doubt how much she appreciated the assistance that others offered in turn. She thanked them not merely in lists of names, or even sentences, but whole paragraphs. Word count be damned.

Maier was more irreverent in her work than big-name professors typically are. She had little use for unsubstantiated assumptions or pious orthodoxies. She had a keen eye for the workings of power and a still keener appreciation for the anxieties of those who confronted it. But Maier never succumbed to the vain illusion that doing history is the same thing as doing politics.

Professor Maier loved good argument but always approached the past with the kind of wonder and excitement that those burdened by mountains of historiography often find difficult to muster. Of course she knew the relevant scholarship inside and out. Maier just didn’t have much use for the things that we habitually say about those who lived before us. She wanted to know what they said themselves.

Scholars as celebrated as Pauline Maier are vulnerable to severe cases of self-absorption. That was not a malady from which she suffered. In addition to the innumerable kindnesses she extended to other historians, she was perpetually delighted by her children, grandchildren, and Rhode Island garden. And she loved her husband Charlie.

If, as planned, I had been able to attend her spring seminar at the Massachusetts Historical Society, I would have seen Professor Maier one last time. But I had kids to watch at home. As much as I regret that absence, I suspect she would have told me that the time was better spent with my boys. That’s one of the reasons I’ll miss her.

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CFP: “Soundscapes: Music from the African Atlantic, 1600-present,” March 7-9, 2014

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The Carolina Lowcountry and Atlantic World Program (CLAW) at the College of Charleston in Charleston, South Carolina invites paper proposals addressing the transnational and transcultural impacts of music throughout the Atlantic World for a conference to be held
March 7-9, 2014.  We are especially interested in twentieth and twenty-first century music and cultural exchange, but the conference is open to any work that examines the movement of music in the Atlantic World from the 1600s to the present. We welcome a broad range of submissions, but especially encourage submissions that utilize an interdisciplinary approach.  Proposals may address any area of music in the Atlantic World. We invite scholars to submit proposals for individual papers and panels that address such questions as:

* Tradition and modernity in popular and indigenous music in Latin America, the Caribbean and West Africa
* Music, Race, and Empire
* Jazz in a global context
* Trans-Caribbean identities in Salsa, Reggae, and Calypso music
* Pan-African Rhythms
* Caribbean beats and protest music in the 1970s
* The British Invasion and Rhythm and Blues in the United Kingdom
* Hip Hop and political activism in Africa and the Caribbean
* Race and Beach Music on the American Atlantic Coast
* Musical culture and diaspora studies


Proposals Due:  Friday, December 6, 2013

All Presenters will be notified if their paper or panel has been accepted by December 22, 2013.  Presenters and participants are expected to register for the conference by February 7th, 2014.  Registration will open in October 2013.

As with previous successful CLAW program events the conference will be run in a seminar style: accepted participants will be expected to send completed papers to the organizers in advance of the conference itself (by February 28th, 2014) for circulation via password-protected site. At the conference itself presenters will talk for no more than ten minutes about their paper, working on the assumption that everyone has read the paper itself. This arrangement means that papers may be considerably lengthier and more carefully argued than the typical 20-minute presentation; and it leads to more substantive, better-informed discussion. It also generally allows us to move quite smoothly toward publication of a selection of essays with the University of South Carolina Press.

Proposals for individual papers should be 200 words, and should be accompanied by a brief one-page biographical statement indicating institutional affiliation, research interests, and relevant publishing record for each participant, including chairs and commentators. Please place the panel proposal, and its accompanying paper proposals and vitas in one file. Please submit your proposal electronically with CLAW conference in the subject line to the conference chair, Dr. John White at WhiteJ@cofc.edu by December 6, 2013.

If you wish to send a proposal for a 3 or 4 person panel, please send a 300 to 500 word proposal describing the panel as a whole as well as proposals for each of the individual papers, along with biographical statements for each of the presenters. The organizers reserve the right to accept individual papers from panel proposals, to break up panels, and to add papers to panels. Notification of acceptance will be sent by December 22nd, 2013.

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Larry Eskridge on the Jesus People in Modern America: An Interview

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Randall Stephens

[Cross-posted from Religion in American History]

Life magazine, June 30, 1972
Larry Eskridge is Associate Director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals and editor of the Evangelical Studies Bulletin at Wheaton College.  With Mark Noll, he was co-editor of More Money, More Ministry: Evangelicals and Money in Recent North American History (Eerdmans, 2000). 

Eskridge has also written the definitive account of one of the most significant mass religious movements of the last century.  His
God’s Forever Family: The Jesus People Movement in America (Oxford University Press, 2013) examines the fusion of the hippie counterculture and evangelical Christianity that burst onto the scene in the late 1960s. I recently caught up with Larry to ask him about the project, his research, and more.


Randall Stephens: What first got you interested in the topic of the Jesus People?

Larry Eskridge:
I found the Jesus People an interesting topic at several levels.  At the most basic was the fact that I came of age during that period and had been personally involved in the Jesus movement in my local area in northern Illinois.  So, if doing history often serves as something of an exercise in self-biography, I stand guilty as charged by dint of being curious about the overall movement and the reasons for its success and eventual disappearance.


At a larger level I’ve long been interested in the way that evangelical religion intertwines with mass media and popular culture and the Jesus People offered plenty to study at that level as they were the subject of a great deal of media coverage as well as replicating various aspects of the counterculture and youth culture in a comfort with pop culture and music that was, traditionally, very unusual within the overarching evangelical subculture.

Finally, my interest grew as the result of conversations I had in the late ‘80s with a few evangelical historians who discounted the impact of the movement and who viewed it as some sort of immature, irrelevant, generational religious fad.  As I remembered the movement’s pervasive presence during the ‘70s I thought that it had been a pretty important influence in the lives of a lot of evangelical Baby Boomers and shouldn’t be dismissed so easily.  Not only were the Jesus People a colorful, interesting bunch with their communes, street papers, and Jesus rock bands, but they also represented a chance to take the religious life and experience of young people seriously. I was frankly taken aback by the manner in which some scholars apparently were able to easily discount the religious experiences and attachments of young people in our more-or-less contemporary settings—they surely didn’t do that with the young audiences that were impacted by the preaching of Jonathan Edwards!

Stephens: How influential do you think these countercultural evangelicals have been in shaping American Christianity?


Hippie preacher Lonnie Frisbee with
Kathryn Kuhlman and Chuck Smith.
See more on Youtube.
Eskridge: Well the book argues that they were surprisingly important in shaping the nature of American evangelicalism and—by reason of the growth in evangelicalism’s organizational, cultural, and political influence in subsequent years—a larger force within the overall history of the ‘60s and ‘70s than has heretofore been thought. In many ways I believe you can’t have a real handle on that period—especially on the youth culture of that era—without acknowledging the Jesus People as one of the important aspects of what was going on.

In terms of the American church there were obvious institutional outgrowths—the growth of the Calvary Chapel network of churches and its offspring the Vineyard, for example. But the larger impact was felt at the grass roots level in the manner in which the movement modeled a different relationship with popular culture and youth culture.  Before the Jesus People evangelicalism had a very nervous, if not downright oppositional, relationship to “worldly entertainments” and all the allures of popular and youth culture.  The Jesus movement, however, was much more comfortable in baptizing popular/youth culture and making a Christianized version that could be put forward as a means to both evangelize unbelieving youth and build up the kids who came from evangelical homes and churches.  There was, and still is, opposition to this way of handling these boundaries between “the World” and “The Church,” but to a large degree, the Jesus People marked a revolution in handling these relationships.
Undated poster for Berkeley music fest

In terms of the particular historical moment, the Jesus movement’s biggest bottom line was in generational terms: it played a major role in keeping evangelicalism together by providing a much easier path for a lot of people—particularly evangelical kids raised in the church—to navigate the massive changes that buffeted American society and culture during that period.  The Jesus People had a degree of “with-it-ness” and a cultural cache that the larger movement certainly didn’t possess going into the late ‘60s.  I think it’s fair to say that if the Jesus People hadn’t come along when they did the evangelical church would have been nowhere near as formidable a force throughout American culture come the 1980s and beyond.

Stephens: You spend some time focusing on Christian rock.  How did this genre emerge when and where it did?

Eskridge: Music was such an important element in what held youth culture together by the 1960s that it would have been truly surprising if any sort of popular movement could have had any grass roots traction without a musical component. The Jesus movement was certainly obsessed by music just like the larger youth culture—”Jesus Music” seemed to naturally pour forth in the form of halting, homemade folk songs and bluesy, rock tunes from the earliest manifestations of the movement all across the country. A whole network of musical groups and venues grew up within the space of a few short years along with the infrastructure to distribute the music to Jesus Music fans. Of course this was all surprising in that the music of the Jesus People was an obvious departure from the norms of the larger evangelical subculture. Certainly there was no shortage of resistance among older, more traditional church people to the new forms of music.  But the combination of cultural crisis, earnest Jesus People fervor, and the sheer size of the generational cohort eventually served to lessen most older evangelicals’ opposition. I think most adults in the churches saw that it would be a better alternative to cultivate their kids’ enthusiasm for Jesus by indulging their new worship choruses on Sundays and letting them listen to Jesus Rock in their spare time.

Stephens: Could you say something about the kinds of sources you worked with for the project?

Eskridge: When I started working on this I was kidded by one friend, “in the biz,” that I wasn’t doing “history” so much as “current events.”  That’s not altogether a wrong-headed notion I suppose, but as I went along I quickly found out that there were a lot of challenges in taking up this sort of project.  First of all, being smack-dab in the middle of the information age while attempting to study a movement that was this far-flung, disconnected, and disorganized mean that there were simply a lot of sources with which one had to contend—books, people, documents, records and tapes, magazines, newspapers, video, etc.—and that they were all over the place.  A lot of the most basic materials had no institutional homes and were the sorts of things that libraries and archives simply had not concerned themselves with collecting—as a result, a lot of stuff was squirreled away by former Jesus People in boxes and file cabinets in their homes.
1971

Second, I quickly realized that I was dealing with living historical subjects that could actively help and challenge you as you were in the process of research—not the sort of active relationship one might expect when writing about, say, Charlemagne. It also became pretty clear that I was stepping onto contested ground in the sense that there were evolving, competing narratives about the “Jesus Revolution’s” development, history, and importance as well as former Jesus People still trying to sort out its meaning and importance, strengths, and weaknesses. While this could sometimes get a bit uncomfortable, it was usually a help in the sense that it helped me to get a better handle on the complexity of the movement.

Overall, however, I think one of the biggest advantages that presented itself in the decade + that I was working on this topic was the opportunity presented by the development of the internet.  From the perspective of 2013 that sounds fairly pedestrian, but in terms of reaching out to prospective historical sources it was a major boon.  Not only did it allow us to find and contact former leaders who had seemingly disappeared into the woodwork, but it gave us an opportunity to connect with a lot of folks who had been part of the Jesus movement at the grass roots level.  With the help of the purveyor of a Jesus Music fan website I and another historian of the Jesus People—David Di Sabatino—were able to whip together a survey targeting those who had been involved with the movement.  Looking back, it was way too long and hardly a masterpiece of social science design, but through the grace and persistence of the more than 800 people who took the time to complete the survey it did provide an extraordinary entrée into the larger Jesus People memory banks.  When all was said and done I believe that the information folks supplied served as a really valuable corollary to the more “normal” sorts of historical digging.

Stephens: What are you currently working on?

Eskridge: At the moment I’m concentrating on duties related to my regular gig with the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals (ISAE) at Wheaton College, particularly a conference on “The Worlds of Billy Graham” which is being held Sept 26-28.  I do have two large chunks of material, which I’m thinking about a bit for future purposes.  On the way to doing the Jesus People I piled together a fair amount of material on evangelical youth culture in the post-war period that preceded the Jesus freaks. I had intended some of that for this book but it had to be axed in the service of a shorter manuscript; so, that could be something that could be explored a bit more fully.  Another area I’ve always been interested in is the world of religious broadcasting, especially the early radio preachers.  I don’t think the fundamentalist radio folks have ever been researched very deeply—certainly not the way the televangelists were back in the 70s and 80s.  I have a lot of stuff on the Chicago evangelist and radio pioneer Paul Rader—who started broadcasting in early 1922—that could be of some service in helping to understand the mass media imperative that has been so strong a force within evangelicalism.

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The Temptation of Historical Fiction

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Dan Allosso

So I’m thinking very seriously about getting to work on my story about a British radical named Charles Bradlaugh (1833-1891).  Bradlaugh is the British equivalent of America’s “Great Agnostic,” Robert Ingersoll, only more so.  Unlike Ingersoll, Bradlaugh was extremely political—he was even elected to Parliament and prevented from taking his seat for six
Charles Bradlaugh
years by the conservative opposition because he could not take the religious oath of office.  I’ve been researching him, off and on, since about 2006.  In that time, I’ve tried on the idea of writing a straight biography of Bradlaugh, but Londoner Bryan Niblett recently wrote a very good account of Bradlaugh’s adult years (especially the Parliamentary struggle), called Dare to Stand Alone.  I was thinking of writing the story of Bradlaugh’s youth for a young adult audience.  Bradlaugh was thrown out onto the streets of East London by his parents at age 16 for declaring himself an atheist.  He participated in Chartist riots and got clubbed over the head by the police.  He joined the army and was shipped to Ireland where he had to evict starving peasants from their homes during the famine.  The story of Bradlaugh’s youth is like a set of instructions on “how to make a radical.”


And he lived in very interesting times.  Bradlaugh met everyone!  And this is the part that makes him so attractive as a subject for fiction.  In a biography, I could observe that young Charles and Charles Dickens were at the same Reform demonstration in 1868.  In a novel, I could give them dialog!  Same with many important historical characters: John Stuart Mill, Charles Darwin, William Gladstone, Karl Marx, Giuseppe Garibaldi, Giuseppe Mazzini, Charles Sumner, Ralph Waldo Emerson—Bradlaugh actually knew all these people!  Rather than simply telling why Marx and Bradlaugh couldn’t stand each other, it might be much more fun to show it.

It’s no secret that historical novels are widely popular, and I think it’s because most people prefer to be shown than told.  What I lose in authenticity, I can make up in immediacy.  Good historical fiction is based on lots of real research, and seems to try to maintain the reader’s interest by being plausible.  The characters have to stay “in character,” or else it’s just anachronistic fiction using some names from history.  The ultimate model of this kind of writing, for me, is Neal Stephenson’s Baroque series beginning with the novel Quicksilver, which I’ve just been rereading.  Although some elements of the story are completely fantastic, the characters generally behave as you’d expect them to (if you had studied them to the degree Stephenson did), and they always show up on cue at the times and places recorded in real history—although often with slightly different motivations and mental states than they really had at the time.

Freedom to speculate about the interior lives of the characters is one of the attractions of fiction, for the writer.  The other big attraction is the ability to "fill in the blanks," and tell the story as you believe, but can't quite prove, it must have happened.  Several people who read An Infidel Body-Snatcher and the Fruits of His Philosophy said they’d wished there would have been more about Charles Knowlton’s wife, Tabitha.  Problem was, there was no data I could use to expand her role.  I suppose I could have said more about women’s work, and drawn some type of outline of a typical 19th-century wife, but that wasn’t what people were asking for.  They wanted to know how much Tabitha was a catalyst for Knowlton’s thinking, and how she felt about her husband being hounded and imprisoned for his ideas.  I had nothing to hang my hat on, in a biography.  In a novel, I could have told the story as I’m almost certain it happened—but not certain enough to call it history.

So in any case, I’m outlining Bradlaugh’s story as a novel, and planning on including fictional (but plausible and “in-character”) dialog with the many important real people he meets.  I’ll also introduce a few completely fictional characters who will exemplify the world in which Bradlaugh lived.  The point, I think, is to give readers a way to understand the time, place, and story, without reading the background I’ll have to read to produce it.  A way to touch these people and understand something about their lives, times, and legacy without reading thousand-page biographies of each.  Readership numbers suggest historical fiction is one of the main ways many people gain an understanding of history.  And, if done well, it can be based on the same type of information (mostly, authoritative secondary source material) that goes into (much less popular/readable) textbooks.  This is suggested in Stephenson’s Acknowledgements at the beginning of Quicksilver, where he says, "Particular mention must go to Fernand Braudel, to whose work this book may be considered a discursive footnote.  Many other scholarly works were consulted…Of particular note is Sir Winston Spencer Churchill’s six-volume biography of Marlborough, which people who are really interested in this period of history should read, and people who think that I am too long-winded should weigh."  It was Stephenson’s series, incidentally, that got me started studying history and drove me to grad school.  So, big circle completed, I guess—except, of course, I’ve still got to finish that dissertation!

The contemporary relevance of the story is a bigger concern—certainly a more explicit
Richard Carlile
concern—for historical fiction than for academic or textbook history.  Luckily, some themes seem to be universal.  For example, if part of the point of a story about a nineteenth-century freethinker is to explore radicalism and allow readers to think about the one percent and the occupiers, consider the following passage written in 1819 by Richard Carlile (whose family young Charles Bradlaugh lived with, after being disowned by his own):


The question of reform is at this moment to be looked at from two points of view, the first is whether there is sufficient virtue to be found in the aristocracy and landed interest of the country to enforce it; or whether the unrepresented, and consequently, the injured part of the community, must rouse and bring into action their strength to bring about that which must finally be enforced.  I am of opinion that every opportunity has been afforded the former, had they possessed the virtue; and having neglected the opportunity, or rather having shewn a want of feeling altogether in the cause, the latter are imperatively called upon immediately to unite, to rally their strength; and I have no doubt but they will be found sufficiently formidable to carry the measure…


It wouldn’t take much to render these words in a way that would “work” for popular audiences, and they might like to hear the story of an agitator who, although he was jailed for six years for sedition and blasphemy after writing the words above, understood that the new technology of cheap printing would make him invincible.  “As this kind of business,” he wrote from the Dorchester Gaol, “depends on the periodical publications, we can begin anywhere with half an hour’s preparation, and laugh at the Vice society, and all the influence they can use against it.  If one web be destroyed, a few hours’ work will spin another stronger and better than before”  (from Edward Royle’s anthology, The Infidel Tradition from Paine to Bradlaugh, 1974).  I like to imagine a guy like Carlile living in the age of the internet and twitter.  I also like to think today’s agitators and radicals could gain some ideas and inspiration, knowing these stories.

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Mitch Daniels’ Email Criticizing Howard Zinn Roundup

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Chris Beneke
 
Tom LoBianco, “Daniels Looked to Censor Opponents,” The Associated Press, July 16, 2013
“Emails obtained by The Associated Press through a Freedom of Information Act request show Daniels requested that historian and anti-war activist Howard Zinn's writings be
banned from classrooms and asked for a "cleanup" of college courses. In another exchange, the Republican talks about cutting funding for a program run by a local university professor who was one of his sharpest critics. … The emails are raising eyebrows about Daniels' appointment as president of a major research university just months after critics questioned his lack of academic credentials and his hiring by a board of trustees he appointed.”

The Mitch Daniels email, February 9, 2010
“This terrible anti-American academic finally passed away. The obits and commentaries mentioned that his book ‘A People’s History of the United States’ is ‘the textbook of choice in high schools and colleges around the country.’ It is a truly execrable, anti-factual piece of disinformation that misstates American history on every page. … Can someone assure me that it is not in use anywhere in Indiana? If it is, how do we get rid of it before any more young people are force-fed a totally false version of our history?”

92 Purdue faculty members, “An open letter to Mitch Daniels,” July 22, 2013
“We trust our colleagues to introduce young people to the facts of history, but also to the much more difficult, much more essential practices of critical thinking. We trust our K-12 colleagues to know how and when to present challenges to received knowledge and how to encourage their students to judge such challenges for themselves. And we trust them to decide how and when to use controversial scholarship such as Zinn’s in their classrooms. This kind of academic freedom is essential to all levels of education, whether within a tenure system or not.”

American Historical Association, “AHA Releases Statement,” AHA Today, July 19, 2013
“The American Historical Association would consider any governor’s action that interfered with an individual teacher’s reading assignments to be inappropriate and a violation of academic freedom.   Some of the relevant facts of this case remain murky, and it is not entirely clear what in the end happened, or did not happen, in Indiana. Nonetheless, the AHA deplores the spirit and intent of former Governor Daniels’s e-mails of 2010 …. Whatever the strengths or weaknesses of Howard Zinn’s text, and whatever the criticisms that have been made of it, we believe that the open discussion of controversial books benefits students, historians, and the general public alike. Attempts to single out particular texts for suppression from a school or university curriculum have no place in a democratic society.”

Robert Cohen and Sonia Murrow, “Who’s Afraid of Radical History,” The Nation, August 5, 2013
“Innovative history teachers across the United States have for decades used A People’s History at the high school level in similarly comparative and rigorous ways. High school teachers desperate to breathe some life into their classes have distributed Xerox copies of Zinn’s most provocative chapters to offer a contrast to state-mandated textbooks, seeking to engage students in historical debate so they learn that history involves sorting out competing interpretations of the past rather than mere memorization of names and dates. These teachers have been drawn to Zinn because he offered their students a uniquely accessible introduction to the new social history, which revolutionized historical scholarship beginning in the 1960s.”

Rich Lowry, “Daniels vs. Zinn,” The National Review Online, July 30, 2013
“The caterwauling in the Daniels controversy about the importance of academic inquiry is particularly rich, given that Zinn didn’t believe in it. He had no use for objectivity and made history a venture in rummaging through the historical record to find whatever was most politically useful, without caring much about strict factual accuracy. ‘Knowing history is less about understanding the past than changing the future,’ he said. He joined his propagandistic purpose to a moral obtuseness that refused to distinguish between the United States and its enemies, including Nazi Germany.”

Sam Wineburg, “In Indiana, history meets politics,” Los Angeles Times, August 2, 2013.
“The Purdue faculty dismissed criticisms of Zinn's scholarship by Handlin and presidential historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. as coming from the ‘consensus school of U.S. history.’ But their dismissal ignored the searing criticisms of historians with impeccable leftist credentials, such as [Michael] Kazin and Princeton historian Sean Wilentz, who wrote that for Zinn, ‘everyone who was president was always a stinker and every left-winger was always great.’ … His [Daniels’] view of history, presented in his 2011 book "Keeping the Republic," is as one-sided from the right as Zinn's was from the left. … What bothers me most about the whole flap — about Daniels' emails and about the Purdue faculty's reaction to them — is the way nuance was sacrificed to politics. We've come to expect politicians under fire to engage in spin. But when academics respond in kind, they reduce education to a game of politics. The loser in this game is truth and the students we are supposed to teach about the value of pursuing it.”

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Got Lactase?

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Randall Stephens

In a recent issue of Nature, Andrew Curry offers up the latest theories on milk and civilization in the West.  How and why did ancient herders supplement their diets with cheese roughly 6,800 to 7,400 years ago?  Who were these early cheese makers? What were the results of the new cheese diet and the later reliance on milk?

Says Curry:

farming started to replace hunting and gathering in the Middle East around 11,000 years ago, cattle herders learned how to reduce lactose in dairy products to tolerable levels by fermenting milk to make cheese or yogurt. Several thousand years later, a genetic mutation spread through Europe that gave people the ability to produce lactase — and drink milk — throughout their lives. That adaptation opened up a rich new source of nutrition that could have sustained communities when harvests failed.


Curry also notes that:

This two-step milk revolution may have been a prime factor in allowing bands of farmers and herders from the south to sweep through Europe and displace the hunter-gatherer cultures that had lived there for millennia. “They spread really rapidly into northern Europe from an archaeological point of view,” says Mark Thomas, a
An advertisement from the 1920s
population geneticist at University College London. That wave of emigration left an enduring imprint on Europe, where, unlike in many regions of the world, most people can now tolerate milk. “It could be that a large proportion of Europeans are descended from the first lactase-persistent dairy farmers in Europe,” says Thomas.

 
Working on very modern topics, I find all of this endlessly fascinating. The hard science, sleuthing, and guesswork that go into tracing these developments over thousands of years is simply amazing. It also makes me curious to know more about how region and other food stuffs--and especially those that can be easily stored--shaped the arc of human history.

Read more of the article here: Andrew Curry, "Archaeology: The milk revolution," Nature, July 31, 2013.

For more on foodways and history, see Don Yerxa's 2009 interview with Ken Albala in Historically Speaking.

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Karel C. Berkhoff on Stalin, the Media, and World War II

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Randall Stephens

How did Stalin control the media during World War II?  And how did that level of control shape the direction of the war and compare to similar efforts in Germany?   Karel C. Berkhoff explores these and other questions in his June 2013 Historically Speaking essay, "Motherland In Danger: How Stalin Micromanaged The Media During The War With Nazi Germany and Hurt Mobilization Efforts." (See the full piece at Project Muse.)

Asks Berkhoff: "If you lived, say, in Novosibirsk or Tashkent during World War II, what were you told? What did Soviet newspapers and radio tell Soviet civilians, and what did it all mean for the outcome of the war?" 

Throughout he notes that Stalin's extensive wartime propaganda stood out when compared to contemporaries.  Here's a brief excerpt:

A close look reveals that during the war with Nazi Germany, known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War, Soviet propaganda was much more centralized than in Nazi Germany. Joseph Goebbels led the German Ministry of Propaganda, but he lacked dictatorial power; competing forces remained in place. In the Soviet Union, however, one man basically decided everything. Stalin created a central information bureau, instructed editors, studied drafts of newspaper articles, glanced at page proofs, and immensely tightened censorship. He squeezed out the voices of real people, quite contrary to the view that the war made him loosen his grip.


Stalin found keeping control more important than stimulating and mobilizing people, so in this sense, Soviet propaganda was more totalitarian than its notorious Nazi counterpart. The extreme centralization, as both an ideal and a practice, had no equal in wartime Europe. Nothing shows this better than the Soviet state’s almost immediate confiscation of radio receivers from its own citizens; only wire radios remained. It was all because of fear. Stalin led a regime that had known for a long time, even under Vladimir Lenin, that its popular support was slim, and now, at war with Germany, he feared that his citizens might become less loyal to him. Stalin also feared that accurate information might benefit Nazi propaganda or cause the Americans and other allies to reconsider their Soviet aid.

One could argue that propaganda that barely informed did not really hurt the war effort because the home country was under attack and the invaders’ regime was more brutal and murderous than any earlier occupation in world history. It is true that eventually the “war of annihilation” declared by Adolf Hitler just had to be opposed. The danger underlined in Soviet propaganda was real, and Soviet citizens realized that, indeed, Nazi Germany offered them nothing but slavery and death. Stalin’s propaganda told them that the “Hitlerites” were murdering innocent civilians, including women, children, and the elderly; soon rumors and first-hand accounts by refugees confirmed these tales. The entire country was under threat. Moreover, Stalin, in a rare brilliant stroke, made propaganda speak more of the “fatherland” and the “motherland” than of Russia, a word that alienated many non-Russian citizens. While Russian patriotism did flourish, the Georgian-born dictator restrained its chauvinistic version.

In various ways, the war propaganda of the Soviet Union resembled that of other belligerents. There were stories about selfless war heroes, which people suspected were partly or wholly untrue, and if Moscow received information contradicting the tales—corpses not found, dead heroes turning out to be alive––it was suppressed. Soviet citizens were also provided with many stories about traitors. In Germany, the UK, and the U.S., too, the media searched for and found war heroes and traitors. If British and American propaganda denigrated entire nations as enemies, for most of the war, Soviet propaganda also emitted hate speech—it encouraged and incited ethnic hatred and violence. In an ideological heresy tolerated by Stalin, the German people, not just their leaders or the “fascists,” became evil incarnate.

Most surprising is the similar treatment of what we now call the Holocaust: how the Nazis—assisted by many other Europeans—succeeded almost completely in murdering all the Jewish men, women, and children within their reach. Early on, Stalin and his associates were told by various sources that the Nazis were exterminating all Jews. But the media hardly ever highlighted this killing campaign. Stalin was aware that many of his associates and subjects were anti-Semitic. Telling the country about Jews would hurt the war effort against those who were exterminating them, he seems to have assumed. Here, too, Soviet coverage resembled British and American reporting.

Read on through your library subscription to Project Muse, or subscribe to Historically Speaking here.

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