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Past Meeets Present

In this feature, historians offer their views on the relationship between current events and larger historical themes, between the past and the present, placing some of the most controversial political and social topics of the day in historical perspective.

There are 8 matching records, sorted by date of article. Displaying matches 1 through 8 .


past
We Were Soldiers Once . . . But Hollywood Isn’t Sure in Which War
Maurice Isserman, Professor of History, Hamilton College.
In March 2002, Paramount Pictures released the film We Were Soldiers Once. Based on the best-selling book, We Were Soldiers Once . . . And Young, the film tells the story of the first battle of the Vietnam War from the perspective of two participants, a U.S. commander and a reporter. The film opened to somewhat mixed reviews, praised for its “patriotism” and criticized for its sentimentality. But as Maurice Isserman, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of History at Hamilton College, and co-author of America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s, writes, the film deviates from historical events at several critical junctures. Isserman explores the ways in which the film ignores several important aspects of the story and invents others to fit into a Hollywood tradition of war films.
Resources Available: TEXT.

past
Experimenting with Our Liberties
Robert S. Alley.
In his second week as President, George W. Bush wasted no time fulfilling his campaign promise to direct federal dollars toward the charitable work of what he described as “faith-based” organizations, otherwise known as religious groups. “We will not fund the religious activities of any one group,” President Bush promised, “but when people of faith provide services, we will not discriminate against them.” But is Bush’s plan allowable under the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution? Robert S. Alley, Professor of Religion and Humanities, Emeritus, at the University of Richmond, argues that it is not. Alley uses the writings of the constitution’s two most prominent framers, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, as well as more contemporary views on the separation of church and state, to make the historical and constitutional case against Bush’s plan. (Posted March 2001)
Resources Available: TEXT.

past
’Thirteen Days’ Doesn’t Add Up
Michael Nelson, Political Science Professor, Rhodes College.
The film Thirteen Days, a Hollywood account of the Cuban Missile Crisis, purports to take audiences “behind the scenes” at the White House during the tense and critical period when nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union seemed not only possible but likely. Feature films, television shows, and novels that fictionalize the past invariably include dramatic embellishments and fictitious encounters, and they have a powerful impact on how students understand history. Michael Nelson, professor of political science at Rhodes College, analyzes Thirteen Days and other fictional treatments of the presidency (notably the television series The West Wing) and explores strategies for teaching students about the complexities of power and politics beyond the movie theater. (Posted February 2001)
Resources Available: TEXT.

past
Trial and Error: Capital Punishment in U.S. History
William S. McFeely.
Americans engaged in the debate over the morality and effectiveness of the death penalty, as well as issues of discrimination in its application, often mistakenly assume its unquestioned presence throughout American history. William McFeely, pulitzer prize-winning historian and Abraham Baldwin Professor of the Humanities emeritus at the University of Georgia, addresses the long-standing historical debates over capital punishment, examining legislative efforts to both limit and allow the death penalty, attempts to make the process more “humane” by reforming the method and conditions of execution, and changing public attitudes that reflect current political and social trends. (Posted January 2001)
Resources Available: TEXT.

past
The Second Amendment Under Fire: The Uses of History and the Politics of Gun Control
Saul Cornell, Associate Professor, Department of History, The Ohio State University.
With the National Rifle Association and a “million moms” squaring off over American gun control laws, historian Saul Cornell explores the meaning of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Americans’ widely divergent understandings of the “right to bear arms.” Cornell closely examines the debates that surrounded the ratification of the Bill of Rights, and the different interpretations that historians and legal scholars have subsequently brought to bear on those debates, to make his case about the right to gun ownership in the contemporary U.S. (Posted January 2001)
Resources Available: TEXT.

past
The Amistad Case in Fact and Film
Eric Foner.
Historian Eric Foner, DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University, examines the issues surrounding the historical film Amistad. In this essay he explores the problems faced by the producers of Amistad and the shortcomings of both the film and its accompanying study guide in their attempt to portray history. More importantly, Foner raises questions not only about the accuracy of details and lack of historic context, but also about the messages behind Hollywood’s portrayal of history as entertainment. (Posted March 1998)
Resources Available: TEXT.

past
Between a Rock and a Hard Place: A History of American Sweatshops, 1820-Present
Peter Liebhold and Harry Rubenstein.
Demonstrations and public campaigns against well-known corporations such as Nike, Wal-Mart and The Gap have raised awareness of sweatshops among many Americans, especially among many young people. Peter Liebold and Harry Rubenstein, curators of an exhibition on sweatshops at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, place the current debate on sweatshops in the garment industry in a historical context and explore the complex factors that contribute to their existence today. (Posted July 1998)
Resources Available: TEXT.

past
Impeachment 1868/1999
Eric Foner.
With the U.S. Senate convening for the impeachment trial of William Jefferson Clinton, it seems useful to look back at the only other impeachment trial in U.S. history—that of Andrew Johnson in 1868. We present three pieces that reflect on the past and present of impeachment by the leading historian of that era, Eric Foner, the De Witt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University and President elect of the American Historical Association. The first is an editorial that compares the politics of the two impeachment trials. The second provides background information on President Andrew Johnson’s opposition to civil rights legislation during Reconstruction and the third provides a more detailed look at the impeachment of President Johnson. We also present links to several websites that offer teaching resources on the current impeachment trial as well as impeachments of the past. (Posted January 1999)
Resources Available: TEXT, IMAGES.