Sexuality and Sumner Welles

29 Aug

The latest episode of the American History Too podcastwelles (which I co-host with Glasgow University’s Mark Mclay) focuses on historical attitudes towards the LGBT (to use an anachronistic term) community in the United States during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Our guest, Chris Parkes, has made this the focus of his research for a considerable period, with a particular interest in the life and circumstances of foreign policy figure Sumner Welles. Towards the end of the episode, Chris also discusses the challenges and rewards of teaching LGBT history as part of broader university history courses.

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Presidential Libraries: The Gerald R. Ford Library, Ann Arbor, Michigan

28 Aug

This is the first in a series of guides to three US presidential libraries. Rather than simply talk about the archives themselves, these are intended to offer some guidance to the town/city the library is in, where to eat, drink, and how to get around. This is primarily intended to help those travelling from outside the US. Part 2 will look at the Jimmy Carter Library, Atlanta, Georgia, and part 3 will look at the George H W Bush Library, College Station, Texas.

Where?

The Ford Library is located at 1000 Beal Avenue, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 48109, on the North Campus of the University of Michigan. Ann Arbor itself is a great little city, with plenty of accommodation and dining options. There’s also a lot to do beyond visiting the archive (if you have any time spare, that is). Ford is the only presidential library where the archives and the museum are in different cities (the museum is in Grand Rapids, MI).

ford giscard

Presidential relaxation, Gerry Ford style.

How to get there

On both my visits, I travelled via Detroit Metro Wayne County airport, the main air transport hub for the area (located in Romulus, just outside of Detroit proper). Both international and domestic flights arrive at DTW’s two terminals, McNamara and North. Ann Arbor isn’t too far from DTW, and the Michigan Flyer coach service offers regular, cheap shuttle services between the airport and AA’s Blake Transit Center. I’ve never had any problems using the flyer, and the drivers have always been extremely pleasant and helpful. There are also cabs, but that would cost between $60-80 for a single journey. The Flyer is probably the best option.

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A New Cold War?

27 Mar

I was recently asked to offer some commentary for this BBC piece on whether or not we’re in a new Cold War. Obviously, such articles can only use a tiny fraction of the submitted information, so I thought I’d place my full responses here. The questions are those posed by the BBC and, of course, all of my thoughts can and should be contested.

1) When would you say Cold War tensions peaked and why?

The period that we call the Cold War had deep roots in the nineteenth century, and more immediate roots in the period from the 1917 Russian Revolution onwards. It emerged after World War Two as the result of misperception, misunderstanding, ideological fixation, economic tension, and – crucially – the decisions of key individuals such as US president Harry Truman and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. It’s a handy term that covers the period from the mid-1940s to the late 1990s, encompassing the confrontation between the two major (at the time) ideological systems of liberal capitalism and collectivist communism. It was not the only major feature of the period, but it came to be entangled with other facets of the post-World War Two world such as decolonisation and the emergence of newly independent, formerly colonised, states.

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On The North Korean Conundrum

26 Sep


Like two petulant six-year-old boys lobbing insults at each other about who has the most complete football sticker album or the best Transformer, Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un continue to have at it. If a kindergarten class was dosed up on Sunny Delight and extreme political positions, and given access to nuclear weapons, this is what it would look like. Were it not so serious, it would be laughable.

There’s been millions of words written and spoken about the situation in an effort to inform and understand. There have also been millions of words written and spoken in an effort to take us (meaning humankind) to war. I’m sure everyone will agree that the former position is preferrable.

This is, then, a short, annotated rundown of some of the more useful, sane outputs on the situation. One issue that the vast majority of us (and I include the president of the United States in this) do no understanding of North Korean history and politics. However, Gregg Brazinsky does, and these remarks are essential listening for those who want to get to grips with North Korean motivations.

It’s also vital that we understand the long legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War and the way in which the United States (as the lead actor on the United Nations side) prosecuted that war. While I don’t always agree with Bruce Cumings, this piece in the Guardian is a useful rundown of the massive aerial bombing campaign that levelled much of the north during the war.

Gaining perspectives from inside he DPRK is tough, but not impossible. Evan Osnos’s lengthy essay in The New Yorker is definitely worth your time, given the author’s very recent experiences on the ground in Pyongyang.

How, therefore, do we approach the situation and what can history tell us? Jayita Sarkar and Ori Rabinowitz are thoughtful, exceptionally well-informed analysts of nuclear issues, they present the case for diplomacy and export controls in this great Washington Post op-ed.

Also in the Washington Post, I argued a couple of weeks back that diplomacy is the only route forward. I still stand by that position, although there has been some respectful disagreement.

And what are the challenges for diplomacy? The chances of persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear capability is practically zero. As Uri Friedman notes, South Africa is the only nation to have developed and given up nuclear weapons. His article in The Atlantic offers a useful rundown of the similarities and differences. It’s also worth reflecting on the toxic effects of Trump’s recent speech to the United Nations.

Yes, all of this stuff is from what some would describe as ‘the liberal media’. You can find plenty of warmongering for yourself, and I have no intention of providing links to calls for the destruction of North Korea and its people.

The Heights of the Cold War

3 Dec
Above: The height of Cold War satire.

Above: The height of Cold War satire. Slim Pickens as USAF Major ‘King’ Kong rides the bomb in Dr Strangelove.

A recent article in the Daily Mail, plus a subsequent Twitter conversation, has provoked me to address this blog posts to journalists everywhere. This is not some academic lecturing from his lofty ivory tower (it’s actually made of brick, and my office is only on the first floor), rather a plea for a little bit of historical thinking.

Daily Mail journalist Matt Hunter examines on a tense standoff between the air forces of the United States and the Soviet Union in October, 1986. Hunter notes that “The incident above the Barents Sea, near Soviet waters, took place between a US Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird and a MiG-31, the premier Soviet interceptor aircraft, at the height of the Cold War 30 years ago.”

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Trump, Assassinations and American Politics

10 Aug
Donald J Trump

Above: The most dangerous man in America?

In a move that – while shocking – should not have been entirely unexpected, Donald Trump recently made a veiled call for the assassination of Hilary Clinton, should she be elected. In a campaign characterised by wild statements and manifestly un-presidential public behaviour, this is quite something.

Reactions have varied from the (rightly) appalled to the supportive (warning, that last link is to tinfoil hat central, Breibart). Most observers would conclude that even cryptically calling for the elected leader of the nation to be assassinated over the issue of Supreme Court selections is a step way, way too far. I make no bones about it: I believe Trump is a dangerous, ill-informed individual who – if elected – could do untold harm at home and abroad (although on the last point, I would direct you to this informative piece by the University of Reading’s Mara Oliva).

I was, however, curious if this was something that had happened before. Thanks to the wonders of our networked age, I was able to call upon the fantastic expertise of a bunch of great historians.

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The Road to Trump

14 Jul

trump-GOP-575x323With the US Republican Party convention looming, and – barring some last minute apocalypse – with Donald Trump certain to be the party’s candidate for the presidential election, our latest American History Too! podcast focuses on the last fifty years of Republicanism in America.

Mark and I were delighted to be joined by the University of Oxford’s Paddy Andelic for this first of two special episodes on America’s political parties. Paddy will be back on our upcoming episode looking at the Democratic Party over the last fifty years.

In this episode, however, we consider the evolution of the modern Republican Party from the candidacy of Barry Goldwater in 1964, through the victories and humiliation of Richard Nixon, the new ‘morning in America’ under Ronald Reagan, ‘compassionate conservatism’ under George W Bush, to ‘making America great again’ with Donald Trump.

It’s a fascinating discussion, so please do listen and feel free to give us feedback.

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