Caveat emptor: These lectures have sometimes been written and typed in haste so I hope they aren’t too poorly written and too confusing. Additionally, since I




НазваниеCaveat emptor: These lectures have sometimes been written and typed in haste so I hope they aren’t too poorly written and too confusing. Additionally, since I
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Europe from Settlement of the New World to Today

A Thematic History


Caveat emptor: These lectures have sometimes been written and typed in haste so I hope they aren’t too poorly written and too confusing. Additionally, since I grew up, in part, in Canada, Australia, and parts of Europe (where English is often translated into English not American English) they contain spellings more consistent with English, Canadian English, and Australian English rather than American English. Finally, I consider myself just as much a European as American historian so I have tried to link developments in the US to developments in Europe and other Settler Societies (like Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) if far too briefly. Enjoy.


Forward


History is not, in my perhaps not so humble opinion, hard or positivistic sciences (though we can get them closer to or further away from “hard science”). That doesn’t mean that there aren’t facts, however. John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas on 22 November 1963. Not every analyst agrees on why Kennedy was assassinated—did a lone gunman do it? Were there several shooters? Was Lee Harvey Oswald a patsy? Nor do all analysts agree on the reasons for the assassination of Kennedy—was Castro paying back Kennedy for the CIA attempts to assassinate him? Was it the mafia who assassinated JFK? Was the CIA behind the assassination attempt? Is there any unquestionably right answer here?


History then is an interpretive discipline, perhaps even an art form. Historians have long disagreed with each other about the stuff of history. And historians have long been impacted by their own social and cultural contexts both of which influence how they read or interpret history. I tend to read history through the prism of my cynicism and anti-utopianism. If you are looking for the Pollyanna, everything is going to be alright, we are heading toward a bright future, I am not your man. I am not a neo-liberal or neo-capitalist or a Leninist utopian. I tend to see history in negative hues emphasizing human depravity, to use a religiously tinged term that is somewhat out of fashion these days. If I wanted to phrase this in more secular terms I would say, I see humans as fallible. When I look at history I see wars, abuse, patriarchalisms, misogynies, rapes, brutalities, destructions, inhumanities, and, well you get the point. One of my critics at RateMyProfessors recognized this and was apparently appalled by it. To each his or her own. I do see some of the good things humans have done as well. A human gave us one of the great artistic achievements in media history, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Humans are, after all, angels and demons to use that religiously tinged terminology again.


You don’t have to agree with my perspective. Feel free to believe that capitalism is slowly but surely bringing about heaven on earth. If you are going to argue against my perspectives, however, I expect you to ground your criticisms on the best available evidence and to debate with me not ignore what I said or wrote.


One more thing about doing history, history always involves selectivity. Neither I nor anyone else can tell you everything—and history is about everything from sports to fashion to the everyday lives of human beings to the TV programmes we watch—about everything. Neither I nor anyone else can tell you everything that happened during every single minute of every single day during every single year.


Finally, there are two issues that my “reviewers” on RateMyProfessors bring up that I want to address because I find them, to put it bluntly, rather “bizarre”. Let me explain why.


One of my “reviewers” claims that I will insult you if I don’t agree with you. Not true. One of these individual who I “insulted” had the audacity to claim that he hated Buffy the Vampire Slayer though he had never seen it (this reminds me of a young woman who I once met and had a discussion with who claimed to hate Coen Brothers films but had never seen one). Another “reviewer” claimed I wasn’t sensitive to his/her views. There might be some truth to this latter since I do not take fully seriously feelings that aren’t backed up with empirical data. I suspect that this student is upset about my reaction to his/her take on college towns, specifically that they are any town (Albany, New York City, LA, Boston, Louisville, Iowa City, Bloomington, Indiana, Ithaca) that has a college in it. Such a position is, of course, meaningless. (and meaningless categorizations are not what the humanities and social sciences are all about). Anyone who has ever been in Ithaca knows that there is a difference between Ithaca and Albany. Ithaca is a college town. Cornell University dominates the city economically (Cornell employes one out of every three persons in Tompkins County), culturally (Cornell’s concerts, talks, exhibits dominate the city’s cultural life), demographically (those who go to Cornell and work there comprise a significant segment of the population of Ithaca and Tompkins County), geographically (Cornell constitutes a significant proportion of the geography of Ithaca), and politically (Cornell plays an important role in Ithaca politics). Albany, of course, is not a college town. Albany is not dominated geographically, demographically, politically, economically, or culturally by the University at Albany, Saint Rose, or the professional schools near Albany Med. It is a political town (the state is the city’s largest employer), a regional medical centre (Albany Med is the hospital for this region of upstate New York), and a regional shopping centre (people come from all around to shop at Crossgates Mall and Colonie Center). This is a class in which history is important. History is grounded in an empirical analysis of the empirical evidence. History (and Anthropology, Sociology, and the Humanities) focuses on factors intellectuals and academics have long regarded as of causal importance in human life—geography, demography, economics, politics, and culture—the very factors I utilized to explore whether Ithaca or Albany are college towns or not. Fundamental to all university subjects is the fact that if you haven’t seen something you simply cannot validly analyse it. If you haven’t seen and closely analysed all of Buffy or all of any TV show (or works by a particular director or author) you cannot truly analyse them.


Now despite the total lack of validity in what this young man said about Buffy what he said is historically and culturally important though not in the way he thought when he said it. Humanities scholars and social scientists not only need to explore how and in what contexts TV (film, literature, and so on) are produced but also how they are consumed. The fact that this individual hates Buffy without ever having seen it tells us something about him (and about humans in general). The young woman who hated Coen Brothers films who hated the Coen Brothers actually hated Coen Brothers films because they did not fit into her definition of “independent film”. This is, of course, ideological rather empirical analysis. It is “analysis” guided by normative prejudices rather than by descriptive analysis. In the final analysis these reactions tell us more about the consumer (the person making the statement) than the product (the object the consumer is making the statement about).


While I find it important to analyse how humans consume products in this class I want us to closely analyse products before we make normative (whether ideological, theological, metaphysical, or aesthetic) claims about them. In order to analyse Buffy as a product of specific historical, social, cultural, and economic moments and longer historical, social, cultural, and economic factors we have to explore the institutional and economic contexts in which Buffy was made, what those people who made Buffy thought they were doing, whether there were conflicts or consensus or both between these two groups, and whether there was conflicts or consensus within these two groups. Saying “I don’t like it because” simply will not do in an academic class. Personally I don’t think such statements should play in intellectual culture in general.


Let me repeat something, I am not one of those people who thinks that anything any student says is worthy of compliment. I expect every student in this class to be analytical and systematic in their comments and writings. I expect you, in other words, to be academics and intellectuals. I expect you to look at all of human history through those prisms through which all social scientists and teachers of the humanities use to explore human life—economics, politics, culture, demographics, and geography. An expression of feelings or thoughts without empirical backup is not acceptable in this class.


Now for the second matter. Another of my “reviewers” claims that a Canadian (I am a Canadian though I have lived in the US for most of my life) should not be teaching American history. The assumption here, I guess, is that only Americans can and should teach American history because only they can fully comprehend it. Let’s take this statement at face value for the moment. If it is correct this means that only Europeans can write European history, that only Spanish can write Spanish history and that only Catalonians can write Catalonian history. But let’s push this further. If my “reviewer” is accurate can we say that only women can write women’s history? That only Spanish women can write Spanish women’s history? That only Spanish bourgeois women can write Spanish bourgeois women’s history. That only bourgeois Catalonian women can write bourgeois Catalonian women’s history. Well, you get my drift. Pushed to its furthest extent I suppose this means that only a single individual can write a single individuals history. But let’s pull back from this nihilistic edge for a moment and pose some questions to my (not so) anonymous “reviewer”. Would my “reviewer” assert that only Europeans can study and teach European history? Would he urge any American engaged in the study of Europe in colleges all across the nation to find something else to do, something that is consistent with their “nationality”?


We can critique such a “position” from a number of perspectives—my “reviewer” fetishises nationality (a phenomenon that is a social and cultural construct and which has only “existed” for a relatively short period of time in human history) and my “reviewer” assumes that all Americans think the same way (patently false). But let’s get real here. My “reviewer” is not upset because I am a Canadian. He is upset because my empirically grounded approach to US history is not congruent with his ideologically determined myth of US history. Such a reaction is common among those whose notion of history is guided by ideology rather than empiricism. Nationalism, and my “reviewer” is grounding his idea of how history should be done in nationalism, is, like religion (another ideologically grounded phenomenon), a meaning system. Meaning systems are fundamentally ideological (metaphysical, aesthetic, ethical). The question you have to ask and answer is whether you prefer a meaning system grounded in empirical evidence or whether you prefer one grounded in ideological myth, whether you prefer a nationalist myth or an analysis grounded in the facts. Take your pick. By the way, for those of you with a healthy sense of irony you might recognize that it is here in this assertion of the need for indigenous analysis of indigenous history that the “left” and the “right” meet in their own version of (a postmodernist) heaven.


So off we go…


Viewings and Listenings: Thinking about History


History as Detection

History Detectives, PBS

http://www.pbs.org/opb/historydetectives/

Michael Penn, “Try”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oivI6HCEPt0

1997, Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

Talking History: Who Owns History, 1 July

http://www.albany.edu/talkinghistory/arch2004july-december.html

Talking History: Historical Lies and Distortions, 27 June

http://www.albany.edu/talkinghistory/arch2007jan-june.html

Talking History: Teaching History in Schools, 22 September

http://www.albany.edu/talkinghistory/arch2005july-december.html


Parodying and Satirising History

The Unauthorised History of New Zealand, TV 2 (2005-)

“Visitors”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xY2_I1Wu3OU

“Birds and the Bees”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YDeKQdWc73k

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s0RqkrenDpQ


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