We believe that when people think historically, they are engaging in a disciplined way of thinking about the world and its past. We believe it gives thinkers a knack for recognizing nonsense; and that it cultivates not only intellectual curiosity and rigor, but also intellectual humility. Join Al Zambone, author of Daniel Morgan: A Revolutionary Life, as he talks with historians and other professionals who cultivate the craft of historical thinking.
Episode 206: Sick and Tired
In her new book Sick and Tired: An Intimate History of Fatigue, Emily K. Abel has written the first history of fatigue, one which also contains a memoir of her own experiences as a cancer survivor afflicted with fatigue. In this wide-ranging history, Abel shows how our view of fatigue is intimately connected with our view of work, and how "the American cultural emphasis on productivity intersect to stigmatize those with fatigue...When fatigue limits our ability to work, our society sees us as burdens or worse." Beyond that one of the particular burdens of fatigue is that is has such an immediate effect on one's life that no friend or medical test can confirm. Abel explains how fatigue how it has been ignored and misunderstood by both the general public and medical professionals, but she also shows how we have attempted to treat it through a variety of sometimes terrifying means.
Emily K. Abel is professor emerita of public health and women’s studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the author of several books, including Hearts of Wisdom: American Women Caring for Kin, 1850–1940.
Episode 205: Can There Ever Be History for the Common Good?
A young boy hands out flags to the public prior to the start of the 1981 Inauguration Day parade. Source: US National Archives
“Patriotic history is more suspect these days than it was when I was its young student, 50 years ago,” writes Eliot Cohen. But, he continues, “civic education is also inextricably interwoven with patriotism, without which commitment to the values that make free government possible will not exist” since “civic education depends not only on an understanding of fundamental processes and insttitions, but on a commitment to those processes and institutions…”
These are observations contained in Cohen’s contribution to a new title from Templeton Press, How to Educate an American: The Conservative Vision for Tomorrow's Schools, edited by Michael J. Petrilli and Chester E. Finn, Jr. With me to discuss this essay, civic education, and the possibility of teaching history for the common good are Jonathan Zimmerman, Professor of the History of Education at the University of Pennsylvania, himself a former public school social studies teacher, and Eliot Cohen, Dean and Robert E. Osgood Professor of the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.
We've never tried anything like this on Historically Thinking before--getting together people who disagree about some things, but also respect one another and have a basis from which to reach agreement. But we think that you'll like the result.
For Further Investigation
Eliot A. Cohen, “History, Critical and Patriotic: Americans need a history that educates but also inspires," Education Next
Jonathan Zimmerman, "Civic Education in the Age of Trump: Public schools in the United States Public schools in the United States aren’t teaching students how to engage diverse opinions."
Episode 204: The Peace Treaty of 1916 That Didn’t Happen
By August of 1916, the combatants in the First World War had been locked in struggle for two years. While the German Empire had enjoyed astonishing and unexpected success on the eastern front, on the Western Front things were very different. The German plan to bleed the French Army dry at Verdun had begun in February, and had months of further futility and agony to go. The Allied attempt to break the German lines along the River Somme had begun on July 1, and would go on to November, with increasingly marginal and catastrophic results. If ever there was a time for both sides to consider a peace settlement, the autumn of 1916 was it.
As Philip Zelikow argues in his new book The Road Less Traveled: The Secret Battle to End the Great War, 1916-1917, the possiblity of peace was much more substantial than has been generally realized. The failure to achieve it would have consequences that are almost too many to categorized, and provides us today with profound lessons. Philip Zelikow is White Burkett Miller Professor of History and J. Wilson Newman Professor of Governance at the University of Virginia. A past director of the Miller Center at UVA, he was also Executive Director of the 9-11 Commission.
Episode 203: The Saint, the Count, and Sourcing (Historical Thinking Series)
This is the third of our conversations on the skills of historical thinking, and this time the subject is sourcing. It’s a term invented by Sam Wineburg–patron saint of this podcast, whom you can listen to in Episode 100, also talking about sourcing–and it refers to the act of identifying sources, contextualizing and assessing documents for bias, reliability, relevance, and point of view. To paraphrase the title of one of Sam's books, sourcing is perhaps the most unnatural act of historical thinking, and it's one that teachers of history perhaps find the most difficult to teach.
That's certainly the case for Leah Shopkow, Professor of History at Indiana University in Bloomington. The difference is that she decided to something about it, not just for herself, but for all those attempting to teach sourcing. This she has done in a new book The Saint and the Count: A Case Study for Reading Like a Historian. It’s an exciting book because it's really what I hope will be a new genre. Simultaneously it's both a monograph on a medieval subject that should be of interest to any medieval historian, and a primer for undergraduates (and graduates; and even faculty) on the art of historical thinking. This is like finding a delicious candy bar that scares away bears, and helps you lose weight.
(This week's image was suggested by Leah Shopkow; it's of a reliquary designed to contain a relic of St. Thomas Becket, and on its sides shows his murder. When you listen to the podcast you'll realize how appropriate this is.)
Episode 202: Talking History, Podcasting, and the Age of Jackson, with Daniel N. Gullotta
Today's podcast is something we haven't done for a year, a conversation with another history podcaster. A year ago, just as the pandemic was beginning to ooze out over the globe, I talked with Michael Robinson, host of the great Time to Eat the Dogs. This week I talk with Daniel Gullotta, who hosts a podcast I’ve thoroughly enjoyed since it began, The Age of Jackson. Daniel focuses on talking with authors of the latest books that focus on American politics, culture, religion—and just about everything else—in the first fifty years of the 19th century. Lately he has featured conversations on the two Shawnee brothers who shaped American history; fear of Mormons in Jacksonian politics; and “sexual tumult” in 19C America. I talk with Daniel about his funny accent; Sicilian-Australians; why he got interested in American religion; and bespoke tailoring, as well as podcasting, and American evangelical support for the Democratic Party in the 1820s.
Episode 201: Isaac Newton, After Gravity
In 1696, Isaac Newton, then Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, moved rather suddenly to London. There he took the position of Master of the Royal Mint, residing at first nearby the mint in the Tower of London. He would by the end of his life have spent more time living in London then in Cambridge.
Yet historians have often been reticent, even embarrassed, to delve into the second act of Newton's life. After gravity, the calculus, and optics it all seems so pedestrian. Fortunately Patricia Fara, Emeritus Fellow at Clare College, Cambridge, has taken Newton's London life seriously. In her book Life After Gravity: Isaac Newton's London Career she unpacks Newton's other life: as a royal official, a courtier, a builder of institutions, a proponent and beneficiary of empire, and an acquirer of worldly goods. Along the way she shares such gems with us as the number of silver chamberpots Newton owned when he died (two); what Newton changed about Britain's money; his favorite book of the Bible (Daniel); where he invested his money; and his time in Parliament as Member for the University of Cambridge. And, connecting the various episodes of the book, is an analysis of a painting by William Hogarth, in which there are many Newtonian resonances.
Thoughtful and Interesting
This is a really interesting podcast. Hosted by a historian, it is a great resource for anyone wanting to engage in history on a deeper level. As a high school history teacher, I have learned a great deal not just about particular topics but about how to think and ask questions like a historian. Highly recommended.
Great for history lovers
Great guests, a well-prepared interviewer, good topics. Home run.
These conversations about academic history are examples of what constructive criticism is.