On Influencing People, historically considered

6 Feb

Edward L. Bernays is regarded as one of the fathers of public relations. Although he died more than two decades ago, his influence pervades modern western consumer culture.

‘Group of Girls Puff at Cigarettes as a Gesture of “Freedom”’, read the front page of the New York Times on April 1st, 1929. It was no April Fools’ joke; rather, this spectacle of liberated, smoking women was one of Bernays’ most celebrated publicity stunts.

Bernays’ client, George W. Hill, president of the American Tobacco Company, had asked him: ‘How can we get women to smoke on the street. They’re smoking indoors. But, damn it, if they spend half the time outdoors and we can get ’em to smoke outdoors, we’ll damn near double our female market. Do something. Act!’

So begins Iris Mostegel’s History Today piece on Edward L. Bernays. You may read the entire article here.

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Blackface in some historical perspective

5 Feb

Last Friday, it was revealed that Ralph Northam, the Democratic governor of Virginia, had featured, on his medical-school yearbook page, a photograph of a man in blackface and a man in a Ku Klux Klan hood. Northam immediately apologized for appearing in the photo, but he then changed his story and said that neither person in the photograph was him; he did, however, say that he had once put shoe polish on his face as part of a Michael Jackson costume. By the end of the weekend, many members of the Virginia and national Democratic parties had called for Northam’s resignation.

To discuss the subject of blackface and its historical role in American politics, culture, and racism, I spoke by phone with Eric Lott, who teaches American studies at the cuny Graduate Center and is the author of “Love & Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy & the American Working Class.” An edited and condensed version of our conversation is below.

You made read the New Yorker interview with historian Lott here. And, to read the Native News Online op-ed entitled Why is Blackface Racist but Playing Indian is Not? click here.

Slavery, History, and Relativism

1 Feb

Recently, John Turner contributed an important post concerning John Myles, one of the founders of the American Baptist tradition, and in the process, he noted that Myles owned several slaves. Myles was certainly not alone in that. By any measure, Jonathan Edwards was one of the greatest figures in early American history, a brilliant religious leader, and a daunting polymath. We also know that in 1731 he traveled to Newport, Rhode Island, in order to buy a slave, a “Negro girl named Venus,” and that at various time he might have owned as many as six slaves. Those facts are not in dispute. But how should they affect his reputation, or how we commemorate him? By extension, we also know that a great many distinguished early Americans in the secular realm were slave holders, including a large portion of the founding generation of national leaders, and so were many institutions, particularly colleges. What should we do with that information?

So begins historian Philip Jenkins’ thoughtful analysis of thinking morally about the past. You may read his entire Anxious Bench post here.

A New History of Native Americans Responds to ‘Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee’

26 Jan

“The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee,” by David Treuer (Ojibwe), examines … recent generations of American Indian history. Through memoir, interviews and extensive reading, Treuer counters the familiar narratives of invisibility that have so readily frozen America’s indigenous peoples. Interweaving stories from family members, the voices of policymakers and assessments of contemporary youth culture, the book introduces alternative visions of American history. The result is an informed, moving and kaleidoscopic portrait of “Indian survival, resilience, adaptability, pride and place in modern life.” Rarely has a single volume in Native American history attempted such comprehensiveness.

So observes historian Ned Blackhawk about David Treuer’s new history of Native Americans. You may read the entire book review at the New York Times here.

The Sins of Early Evangelicalism

26 Jan

For many evangelicals, George Whitefield (1714-1770) represents the very best of their tradition. He remains one of the few unifying figures in a fissiparous movement. At the risk of overstating things, the Grand Itinerant may serve as a basis for definition: “An evangelical is someone who likes George Whitefield” at least sounds plausible. Even historians who today question the possibility of finding such a thing as evangelicalism in the eighteenth century use labels like “Whitefieldarians” to describe a nascent religious movement that later became evangelicalism.

It’s worth remembering, however, that in the eyes of many contemporaries, the honey-tongued preacher represented the very worst of religion in their day. Critics assailed him as rancorous and divisive, and even many friends considered him a liability.

So begins historian Peter Choi in summarizing much of his argument in his new book about George Whitefield and early evangelicalism. See what he has to say not only about Whitefield but also Phillis Wheatley and Olaudah Equiano here.

Christian humility and the task of history: Recovering the legacy of Herbert Butterfield

21 Jan

Just over seventy years ago, in the autumn of 1948, several hundred people gathered at noon across seven consecutive Saturdays in Cambridge. The location was a lecture hall on Mill Lane, and they were there to hear the eminent historian Herbert Butterfield.

So begins Australian historian Simon Kennedy’s essay on Butterfield’s classic lecture series Christianity and History. You may read the entire essay here.

American Indians and World War I

9 Jan
Captain Ben Davis Locke (Choctaw) with American Indian soldiers

Captain Ben Davis Locke (Choctaw), in front, with American Indian soldiers at Camp Stanley, 1918. Courtesy of Francine Locke Bray.

The American Indians in WWI Centennial Commission and the Sequoyah National Research Center at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock have launched a new website. You may explore it and its links here.

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