It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over

Murphy Swing

The greatest baseball players fail to get on base the vast majority of their at-bats. In fact, Daniel Murphy—second baseman for the Washington Nationals—currently holds the title for the highest batting average this season at .411. To many, that batting average justifies the $37.5 million, three-year contract the Nationals just signed with Murphy. That’s $37.5 million for failing six out of ten at-bats. To be fair, when he does make contact with a pitch, he usually scores runs and contributes to the Nationals top standing in the National League East. Continue reading

Historians and Hamilton: Founders Chic and the Cult of Personality

How does a crony capitalist son of a whore, and a militarist pumped up by delusional aspirations of honor, grow up to be feted by liberal scholars? [*]

Since the turn of the millennium, historians have lambasted the phenomenon of Founders Chic as a fundamental distortion of history. Placing the roles of specific, prominent individuals at the heart of sweeping narratives of the founding era meant that popular histories exaggerated the importance of individuals, at the expense of understanding the contribution of less-celebrated Americans or the role of broader societal and historical processes. Yet much of the reception of Hamilton, the hottest ticket on Broadway, seems to suggest that hagiography is acceptable, so long as it’s done to a catchy song-and-dance routine. It’s as if the only problem with Joseph Ellis, David McCullough and Ron Chernow is that they didn’t write to a hip-hop soundtrack. Continue reading

The Book as a 400 Individual Medley

poolWhen I swam in college, I had a teammate named Liz, who probably swam every event in the meet lineup at least once during the three years I swam with her. This versatility is unusual in a swimmer; we tend to be specialists who have one to three events we hone over the course of four years. But Liz’s ability to take on different events, distances, and strokes made her a perfect (or unfortunate, depending on how you see it) candidate for the ironman of all swim events: the 400 yard individual medley. Shorter than the mile by far, but just as grueling because of its demand that swimmers be proficient in all four of the strokes, this race was one I never had to swim. I was a middling backstroker, and my coaches used to make me swim breaststroke when they wanted a laugh. I was a butterflyer, an occasional middle-distance freestyler, and a relay sprinter—but I knew the theory of the 400 IM. You had to pace yourself on the ‘fly, especially if you weren’t great at it, work the underwater kick off the walls on the backstroke, keep the breaststroke long and strong, and get the hell off the wall and head for home with everything you had left in your lungs for the freestyle.

Remember, way back when, when I said I’d check in to talk about the book-writing process? Those of our readers who’ve written a book or two probably thought that promise was hilariously ambitious, and I’m inclined to agree. Continue reading

The Question of Narrative

borgesdesmazieres2Should historians embrace the art of narrative, or treat it with more suspicion? In his review of Sven Beckert’s Empire of Cotton back in July, USIH’s Kurt Newman argued that “the book-length narrative” is not “the proper form for the presentation of a historical argument.” Narrative, he wrote, involves too much selection, too many authorial choices hidden from the reader. “Most importantly,” Newman suggested, “constructing a narrative is almost always tied up with some telos or end,” a teleology that serves as expression or conduit of ideology, pulling us towards the outcome we imagine fits. Narrative, in other words, is something more than reasoned argument. It enlists desire to shape the way we think. Continue reading

Historians Attend Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton: An American Musical

This post was written by Christopher Minty and Nora Slonimsky, who, many moons ago, woke up early on a Sunday morning to purchase tickets to the opening-night preview performance of Hamilton: An American Musical, which took place on July 13, 2015, at the Richard Rodgers Theater in New York CityThis post was originally posted on July 192015It was removed as a courtesy to the show’s creative and promotional teamsIt has been reposted with significant alterations and additions.

hamilton_FBHip-hop is on Broadway, not just in a popular YouTube video. On Monday, July 13, 2015, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit off-Broadway musical, HAMILTON, made its debut on the big stage. On August 6, 2015, rebranded as Hamilton: An American Musical, a much-applauded, diverse cast returned to perform in the official opening of a much larger, hopefully long-running production at the Richard Rodgers Theater.

Continue reading

Seriously, though, was the American Revolution a Civil War?

On February 18, 2014, Tom Cutterham asked, “Was the American Revolution a Civil War?” According to Cutterham, understanding the Revolution that way might be useful. If we did, he suggested, “we’d better understand the way the modern world—the nexus of state, citizen, and property—was born in and determined by violence.”[1] Continue reading

The Charleston Shooting and the Potent Symbol of the Black Church in America

Emanuel landscapeLast night, Dylann Storm Roof entered the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, sat through an hour-long meeting, and then opened fire on those in attendance. Reverend Clementa Pinckney, a state senator, was among nine individuals who were killed. Many are shocked at not only the grisly nature of the shooting, but also its location. “There is no greater coward,” Cornell William Brooks, president of the N.A.A.C.P, declared in a statement, “than a criminal who enters a house of God and slaughters innocent people engaged in the study of scripture.” Yet this experience is unfortunately, and infuriatingly, far from new: while black churches have long been seen as a powerful symbol of African American community, they have also served as a flashpoint for hatred from those who fear black solidarity, and as a result these edifices have been the location for many of our nation’s most egregious racial terrorist acts. Continue reading