Thursday, May 15, 2008

Blogging (in) the Past

Thirsty for more? Hungry for history? Leave your feedback in the comments section.

1. What were your expectations about the class blog in August? Were those expectations met, exceeded, or unmet? Why?

2. What is the best thing about having a class blog? The worst? Why?

3. What was your favorite post and why?

4. What would you change about the blog? Why?

5. Additional thoughts?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

September 11, 2001 in History

Our tour through American history ends this year with September 11, 2001--specifically how the nation and the world remembers "that day." We thus focus on the concept of historical memory, in essence the act of remembering or recollection. I've constructed this concept via mathematics:

(t, p, c, c) individual remembrance + collective recollection = historical memory

[t=time, p=place, c=culture, c=context]

Even though the equation cannot account for all historical variables and the multiple contingencies of time and place, when we consider time, place, culture, context along with individual memories and collective recollection then we can begin to understand how and why societies remember events in certain ways. We identified various kinds of evidence for these memories: textual, visual, material, and oral.

This unit began with yours truly describing memories of 9/11--specifically the birth of my first child on that day. Then after reading the e-mail from a survivor who worked in 2WTC, we listened to some of the memories musicians offered as the remembered and/or commemorated 9/11, and we encountered the memories of children and 9/11. Movies also play a significant role in how 9/11 has been recollected, as does various kinds of art and architecture. And since each individual remembers events differently, with historical memory there are always counter memories, or alternative stories or counter narratives--mostly referred to as conspiracy theories. As such conspiracy theories have their own history and can serve as historical evidence to analyze.

Bruce Springsteen's "The Rising" offered musical memories, and the Harvard educated Islamic hip-hop artist Abu Nurah defines jihad through rhymes and rhythms. Country musician Charlie Daniels interprets 9/11 with "This Ain't No Rag, It's a Flag," as does Toby Keith in "Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue, and Alan Jackson's "Where Were You?" Christian singer Derek Webb responded to 9/11 and subsequent events with "My Enemies are Men Like Me," and Jewish reggae artist Matisyahu remembered it through "What I'm Fighting For." Although this is just a small musical sampling of memories among many, it reflects multiple points of view.

Countless movies provides visual dramatizations as well, and United 93 is an interesting film since it used both actors and professional pilots and fight attendants. Here's a helpful list of 9/11 in films, and other segments of popular culture. The list helps us to think further about the reach of historical memory and cultural commemoration.

Various on-line archives continue to document September 11, 2001 and provide countless resources, including images, audio, and art. See the September 11 Archive, the Library of Congress's collection, an archive devoted specifically to TV coverage, an archive that documents what it calls "prior knowledge," and another resource called "9/11 Truth." Other resources include an academic journal titled Journal of 9/11 Studies, as well as tons of books on the subject. Finally, the Journal of American History devoted a 2002 issue to teaching and 9/11, and published those articles as a book. I have also used legal historian Mary Dudziak's edited collection of essays on 9/11 in class.

Counter memories of many events persist, and conspiracy theory has a history all its own. A stock industry rose up, for example, offering alternative readings of the JFK assassination. Books continue to pour off the presses about this subject. The most notable and well-known counter stories about 9/11 come in an on-line documentary titled "Loose Change." Critics contest the film, and the filmmakers are adamant about evidence and interpretation. The theologian David Ray Griffin is probably the most prolific writer on the subject, with a book about his own investigation, a book about the 9/11 Commission Report, a book that addresses his critics, and an "open letter" to politicians and the media.

Two days of class presentation and discussion about this event hardly does justice to the enormity of the topic, but it does provide a way to think about something "familiar" with new eyes and hopefully in an entirely new way.

As I said way back in August, history is not simply just what happened in the past, but "facts" about which many people offer points of view.

How did our brief discussion--and your own perusal of the additional material I've provided--enhance, amend, revise, refine, challenge, and/or confirm your memories and understanding of 9/11?

[Photos: WTC and pictures of the flag. Whisper here.]

Monday, May 5, 2008

Cold War Conclusion(s)

As we make our way to the end of the Cold War, and move into the 1990s and beyond, there are a few things worth taking a look at.
If you just can't get enough of 1980s entertainment, and Cold War culture in general, here's a clip of the training scences from Rocky IV. And here's a fighting scene--conflict between the great superpowers that, pardon the pun, rings true on screen.

For more on the Cold War, here's a little something on the fall of the Berlin Wall from ABC, and Ronald Reagan's famous quip to "tear down this wall."

[Photo credit here.]

Friday, May 2, 2008

Believe it or Not: Faith in the Oval Office, Religion in/and American Politics

To enrich our discussion and the 1980s and the rise of the Religious Right, this post provides additional resources for investigating the intersection of faith and politics.

(Read more about this picture of George W. Bush here.)

The subject of countless books and studies, and various documentaries, the rise of the Religious Right and its life in contemporary politics, most notably emerging during the 1976 and 1980 Presidential elections, and significant factor in the 2000 and 2004 election, is an integral part of understanding contemporary America. And, of course, discussions and questions about religious faith have been a part of the 2008 presidential campaign.

The well known evangelist Billy Graham was the subject of some important studies that appeared last summer--all on the topic of religion and politics. The ABC documentary "Pastor to Power: Billy Graham and the Presidents," is a nice companion to the book by Time writers Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy titled The Preacher and the Presidents: Billy Graham in the White House. Since last summer, another important book to appear is Randall Balmer's God in the White House. Here's a radio interview with Balmer about his book.

Back to Billy Graham, Balmer's documentary on Graham is a good one, and Rice University sociologist William Martin wrote one of the most important biographies on Graham.

Here's a trailer for a documentary on George W. Bush's religious faith, and at the end there's a clip of him speaking at Second Baptist Church in Houston in 1999. There's also a picture of Bush on the campaign at this SBC in Stephen Mansfield's The Faith of George W. Bush.

In addition to class discussion we will view clips of evangelical historian and Episcopal priest Randall Balmer's award-winning documentary on American religion titled Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory as well as the documentary The Jesus Factor (you can view the entire documentary on-line; this is a very helpful resource with tons of material for discussion). You may also want to check out Balmer's 2006 essay "Jesus is Not a Republican." And here's a group supporting Jesus for President (and here too). Evangelical activist and author Jim Wallis here answers the question, "Was Jesus a Politician?" Finally, sociologist and author Tony Campolo weights in with "Is Jesus a Republican or a Democrat?"

The radio show Speaking of Faith also recently aired shows on evangelicals and politics. One is on the progressive evangelical Jim Wallis, the other on the conservative activists Rick and Kay Warren. Most recently, Speaking of Faith had a show on a generational dynamic in evangelical political action.

Offering a variety of perspectives, here's another show about evangelicals and politics, and a radio program as well, and a blog, The Evangelical Outpost.

[Photo credits here and here and here.]