Category History

Interpreting ossuary boxes

Roughly seven years ago the discovery of a 2000-year old bone box (or, ossuary) which is engraved with the words James, Son of Joseph, brother of Jesus, was announced, setting in motion a media, scholarly, and now judicial frenzy.  There is not much doubt that the 20-inch long box is about the right age to […]

Publishing the papers of the U.S. founders

More than a half century ago, the Congress committed to producing definitive editions of the papers of the American founders – Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin in particular.  The first volume (which happened to be volume one of the Jefferson papers) was published in 1950, while Harry […]

When social science is painful

The latest issue of the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (#621, January 2009) is wholly focused on the report authored in 1965 (read it here) by Daniel Patrick Moynihan focused on the status of black families, “the most famous piece of social scientific analysis never published” (Massey and Sampson, pg. […]

Neil Armstrong’s sublime silence

Over the holiday I had a chance to watch Ron Howard’s elegant documentary about the US-USSR race to the moon, a film that interviewed nearly all those who still live and walked on the moon.  All, that is, but Neil Armstrong, the very first human being to step foot on the lunar surface.  If human […]

How free trade regimes collapse

Under circumstances of international economic duress, free trade is especially jeopardized:  democratically elected officials, even those committed in principle to unfettered commerce as the best-available engine of economic growth, will cede to local demands for protection.  Desperate to preserve market share, governments will be tempted to raise tariffs that make imports more expensive and locally […]

How global warming imperils our history

C. Brian Rose, president of the Archeological Institute of America, introduced the November/December 2008 issue of Archeology with an editorial that begins as follows: Global warming is real and it is one of the gravest threats facing our shared cultural heritage.  According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the ten warmest years have all […]

On the relevance of Lionel Trilling

I am aware of no specific anniversary that has prompted the spat of recently revitalized interest in the life work of Lionel Trilling, the legendary Columbia University professor and author most famously of The Liberal Imagination (1950).  But suddenly his writing has sprung back into intellectual circulation:  the first third of an unfinished novel, The […]

Remembering the radio “War of the Worlds”

Seventy years ago this week Orson Welles and his Mercury Theatre on the Air performed a radio broadcast version of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds which immediately became a legendarily contested example of the power of mass mediated communication.  The broadcast, enlivened with simulated but realistic-sounding journalistic reporting, told the story of a Martian […]

Retrieving the historical David

The question of whether the biblical David actually existed and the extent to which he ruled over a minor tribe or a major kingdom may seem tangential to those who connect to him mainly as a mythic figure or by religious faith – the boy who killed Goliath, the young shepherd who loved Jonathan and […]

Reciprocity and 21st century liberalism

In Madison, Wisconsin this weekend for the biennial Public Address Conference, I had the pleasure tonight to hear a most interesting keynote address given by John Murphy, a communication scholar at the University of Illinois, as well as responses given by two of the field’s most productive scholars.  The talk was aimed to respond, one […]

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