I read Zach Carter’s magisterial biography of John Maynard Keynes, The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes. Not only is it a super-readable education in economics and a sweeping history of the 20th century told through the prism of one of its most important intellectual and political figures, it also turns out that Keynes was … VERY COOL. Did you know that he was a core (the core?) member of the Bloomsbury set and close friends and sometimes housemates with Virginia Woolf? How about that he was married to a world-famous Russian ballerina? Or that, even though his economics work wasn’t particularly mathematical, he started his career with a work on probability and exchanged mathematical proofs with Bertrand Russell? The guy was really amazing, and so is Carter’s book.
I also highly recommend Jim McGrath’s article in The Public Historian on Museums and Social Media During COVID-19.
My boys love a Youtuber called MatPat. His real name is TK, and he produces several video series including “Film Theory,” “Game Theory,” and “Food Theory.” In each video, he makes an elaborate, meandering conjecture: how to survive the Hunger Games, how to predict Oscar winners, why Minecraft is so popular, etc., etc., etc. They’re silly, dense with facts, expertly produced, and fun. But one of these videos stands head and shoulders above the rest: How Trump is Winning with Reality TV. Posted in February 2016 — still early in the Republican primary — the video predicts a Trump victory; explains exactly how it will happen based on Trump’s previous career as a huckster, media badboy, and reality TV star; and presages the media manipulation mastery that Trump will use as President to avoid accountability and poison our politics. It’s something only a social media virtuoso with 9 million subscribers could understand so completely: you just gotta watch.
I just finished Alan Mikhail’s God’s Shadow, an excellent history of the Ottoman Empire told through the lens of one of its greatest leaders, the Sultan Selim, who ruled the most powerful empire in the world (outside of China) in the 16th century. It provides a much appreciated rebalancing of early modern European history away from its usual focus on the rise of the West. My only quibble is that it sometimes veers into confusing more important with more good, i.e. of painting the Latin West as racist and imperialist while breezily sidestepping the vigorous, military expansionism of the Ottomans as enlightened, magnanimous, and without ethnic prejudice. Surely there was plenty of cruelty and violence and debasement of “the other” on both sides of the Mediterrean 500 years ago.
We have an amazing, talented group of graduate student assistants at Greenhouse Studios this year. Check out their self-authored introductions on the Greenhouse Studios blog.
The Sourcery project, in partnership with colleagues at Northeastern University Library, just wrapped up a series of workshops on “Remote Access to Archives and Special Collections.” These brought together archivists and researchers over five weeks to talk about the challenges and opportunities for remote and electronic access to archival collections presented by the current COVID-19 crisis (and, indeed, before and after it). It was a lively, sometimes contentious set of conversations, which really drove home how little researchers and archivists have done to really understand where each other are coming from. We’ll be posting a white paper with findings from the meetings in the coming months. Stay tuned.
Caitlin Flanagan’s eloquent description of how histories, true or false, operate in families (e.g. Elizabeth Warren’s family):
How many times during my childhood did my father tell me that when his grandmother and her sister sailed to America, they had traveled ‘a class above steerage’? I was a Hula-Hooping child of the atomic age, growing strong on USDA beef and Cocoa Puffs. What did I know about steerage? But I knew my father in the complete and inchoate way that a child knows her parent, and I knew he wanted me to understand something important to him and—somehow—to me. I understood the lesson to be: The Flanagans have been down, but they have not been out. ‘We tell ourselves stories in order to live,’ Joan Didion once wrote. And we tell them inside our families so that something can live within them, some idea or value, some complicated honoring of an elder.
via The Atlantic
Test everything; retain what is good.
1 Thessalonians, Chapter 5
Hugh Trevor Roper on specialization in history…
Today most professional historians ‘specialise’. They choose a period, sometimes a very brief period, and within that period they strive, in desperate competition with ever-expanding evidence, to know all the facts. Thus armed, they can comfortably shoot down any amateurs who blunder… into their heavily fortified field… Theirs is a static world. They have a self-contained economy, a Maginot Line and large reserves… but they have no philosophy. For historical philosophy is incompatible with such narrow frontiers. It must apply to humanity in any period. To test it, a historian must dare to travel abroad, even in hostile country; to express it he must be ready to write essays on subjects on which he may be ill-equipped to write books.
Hugh Trevor-Roper, quoted in Norman Davies, Vanished Kingdoms: The Rise and Fall of States and Nations