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Posts Tagged ‘Groundhog Day

“History is what we choose to remember”*…

In the mid-1940s, Edmund S. Morgan, a mild-mannered young historian, was teaching at Brown and making a name in the quiet field of early American studies. Having published a slim, well-received collection of essays on the New England Puritans, he might have seemed the very model of the unassuming scholar at the outset of a modest career, satisfied to refine the work of great forebears in a narrow field. That wasn’t Edmund Morgan. The Second World War was over. The United States was developing an energetic vision, which would come to fruition in 1960 with the election of John F. Kennedy, of its new global leadership role. In keeping with that vision, Morgan launched a bold new interpretation of the nation’s founding.

Throwing out elder historians’ prevailing focus on the founding generation’s self-interest (Clarence Alvord had said that George Washington became a patriot to defend speculations in Indian land) and on its class conflicts (Carl Becker had said that the Revolution was not only over British rule but also over the rule of elite Americans), Morgan sought to identify the grand principles that the revolutionary generation agreed on. “What the colonists had to say about Parliamentary power and about their own rights deserved to be taken seriously,” he explained later.

As the U.S. began to exercise new power around the world, Morgan set out to show that the protests in the 1760s and ’70s against the Stamp Act and other British policies offered slam-dunk evidence of a founding American consensus on principles of rights. Inherent to the American character, that consensus unified the colonists, he said, inspired the Revolution, and brought about the United States. In the larger context of his work, and the work of similarly minded colleagues, the lesson was that the founding American commitment to rights persisted in postwar U.S. commitments to modern liberal democracy.

The impact of this interpretation was by no means limited to the late 1940s and the 1950s. Historians who built out what Morgan largely began—what became known as the consensus approach—turned early American history into a booming field and made big names for themselves. Born about a century ago, in Morgan’s generation, were Douglass Adair, Daniel Boorstin, Richard Hofstadter, Forrest McDonald, and Bernard Bailyn. Born in succeeding decades were Pauline Maier, Gordon Wood, Carol Berkin, Sean Wilentz, and Akhil Reed Amar, among others. As dissertation advisers for scores of scholars, many of them have held great sway in their profession.

Even more striking is their success in shaping conceptions of the American founding widely held among the American public. That power and some of its complications were seen in recent controversies involving two of the younger members of the group (though not young anymore), Wood and Wilentz. In late 2019, Wilentz organized a letter, also signed by Wood and three other historians, criticizing The New York Times Magazine’s much-discussed 1619 Project, which frames slavery, racism, and Black Americans’ struggles for equality as the key drivers of American history. The signers said the 1619 Project ignored objective historical fact and was steeped in politically influenced bias. In early 2020, Wilentz followed up with an essay in The Atlantic whose title put the issue bluntly: “A Matter of Facts.” Because these objections to the 1619 Project were made not on the basis of a competing framework but on the basis of plain fact revealed by deep expertise, they struck many readers as insurmountable on their face.

That’s how consensus history works. Anyone hoping to explore the depths of America’s not-so-consensus-filled past will run into this presumption, on the part of widely respected scholars, of their superior objectivity as a basis for higher authority. The roots of that presumption can be found in the approach launched by Edmund Morgan about 70 years ago…

William Hogeland (@WilliamHogeland) explains how not to learn about the American past: “Against the Consensus Approach to History.” Eminently worthy of reading in full (soft pay-wall).

* “In fact, the past is not history, but a much vaster region of the dead, gone, unknowable, or forgotten. History is what we choose to remember, and we have no alternative but to do our choosing now.” -Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Joseph J. Ellis

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As we ponder our past, we might recall that it was on this date in 1653 that a Dutch settlement on the southern tip of Manhattan Island was incorporated as New Amsterdam. It became the seat of the colonial government in New Netherland… and in 1664, after the English took over from the Dutch, New York City.

The Castello Plan, a 1660 map of New Amsterdam (the top right corner is roughly north). The fort gave The Battery its name, the large street going from the fort past the wall became Broadway, and the city wall (right) possibly gave Wall Street its name.

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Happy Groundhog Day!

“Don’t try to make children grow up to be like you, or they may do it”*…

 

Your correspondent is headed several time zones away, so (Roughly) Daily will be on hiatus until February the 10th or so.  Meantime…

15 year olds

 

In 2000, the OECD asked 15-year-olds what they wanted to be when they grew up. Some 47% of boys and 53% of girls picked 10 careers, including doctors, teachers, lawyers and business managers.

In 2018, the OECD asked again. Though the nature of work has changed dramatically since the turn of the century, kids’ answers have not: An even larger share of both boys and girls say they want to go into the same 10 professions…

See the breakdown at “The world of work is changing, but the career aspirations of teenagers are not.”

[image above, source]

* Russell Baker

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As we reassess our aspirations, we might recall that it was on this date in 1972 that Tom Stoppard’s Jumpers premiered at the Old Vic in London.  A satire of academic philosophy– likening it to a less-than-skillful competitive display of gymnastics and juggling– the play is set in an alternative future in which British astronauts have landed on the moon… leading to fears that the landing  would ruin the moon as a poetic trope and result in a collapse of moral values.

Egad!

Michael Hordern as philosopher George Moore (from the playtext cover). Moore is about to loose the arrow and disprove Zeno’s arrow paradox.

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Happy Groundhog Day!

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

February 2, 2020 at 1:01 am

Freezing the fugacious…

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Performance artists have long felt the urge to record their creations so that they could be shared and performed again as created.  Musical notation dates back (at least) to 2000 BCE (a  cuneiform tablet that was created at Nippur, Sumer); dance notation, to the early 18th century.  But it wasn’t until the early 1980s that jugglers had a way to record and share their moves.

Invented by Paul Klimek in Santa Cruz, California in 1981, Siteswap (as the system is known) was further developed by Bruce “Boppo” Tiemann and Bengt Magnusson at the California Institute of Technology in 1985, and by Mike Day, Colin Wright, and Adam Chalcraft in Cambridge, England in 1985.  (In the U.K., the system is known as “Cambridge Notation.”)

Its simplest form, often called “vanilla siteswap,” charts throws as though one were to watch someone from above as they were juggling while walking forward– an approach sometimes called a “space-time diagram” or “ladder diagram.”

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But over the years, the system has gotten more sophisticated, embracing more elaborate representations, like the “state diagrams” (that capture the positions of juggled objects in the air at any point, and allow the deduction of available options for next tosses).

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As Slashdot reports,

‘Siteswap has allowed jugglers to share tricks with each other without having to meet in person or film themselves,’ says James Grime, juggling enthusiast and math instructor for Cambridge University. Still unclear on the concept? Spend some time playing around with Paul Klimek’s most-excellent Quantum Juggling simulator, and you too can be a Flying Karamazov Brother!

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As we struggle to keep all of our balls in the air, we might recall that it was on this date in 1972 that Tom Stoppard’s Jumpers premiered at the Old Vic in London.  A satire of academic philosophy– likening it to a less-than skilful competitive display of gymnastics and, yes, juggling– the play is set in an alternative future in which British astronauts have landed on the moon… leading to fears that the landing  would ruin the moon as a poetic trope and result in a collapse of moral values.

Egad!

Michael Hordern as philosopher George Moore (from the playtext cover). Moore is about to loose the arrow and disprove Zeno’s arrow paradox.

 source

Happy Groundhog Day!

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

February 2, 2013 at 1:01 am

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