In the film Back to the Future Part II (1989), the characters of Marty McFly and Doc Brown travel to the future year of 2015. Not to go too far into the plot (which many of you may already know), while in the future Marty gets the idea to buy a sports almanac to bring back from the future and make money betting on sports. But before they leave 2015 (October 21st to be exact) Doc discovers the almanac and gives the reasoning behind the building of his time machine. Doc say to Marty: “I didn’t invent the time machine for financial gain. The intent here is to gain a clear perspective on humanity. Where we have been. Where we are going. The pitfalls and the possibilities. The perils and the promise of perhaps an answer to that universal question – why?” Continue reading
Tim O’Brien’s short story collection, The Things They Carried (1990), is in part about the culture and life experience American soldiers brought with them to Vietnam, and how this past helped shape identity and action in a foreign environment. And though many have heard of the Huguenots, being French and protestant as a prerequisite, few know their story until they became one of the largest groups of emigrants in European history.
The Huguenot diaspora would spread to lands considered old and new, and would go on to found communities across the Atlantic like New Paltz and New Rochelle most prominently in the colony of New York. This unique people and their pre-refugee history are treated with clarity and depth in The Huguenots (Yale University Press, 2013) by Geoffrey Treasure. Treasure, who has written book length biographies on Louis XIV and Cardinal Mazarin, brings his expertise on the history of France to bear on this often overlooked and underrepresented early modern French community. Continue reading
The famous Riddle of the Sphinx asks, “Which creature has one voice and yet becomes four-footed and then two-footed, and finally three-footed?” To which Oedipus answered: “Man, who crawls on all fours as a child, then walks on two feet as an adult, and then as an elder uses a walking stick.”
This is what crossed my mind as I came across a small sculpture of Franklin D. Roosevelt as the Sphinx, with cigarette holder and all, at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum gift shop. I’d often find myself browsing the store during breaks from my research there, but the oddity of the sculpture stuck with me as I was unable to answer the riddle of FDR as Sphinx until reading Roosevelt’s Second Act: The Election of 1940 and the Politics of War (Oxford Univ. Press, 2013) by Richard Moe. Continue reading
Big Data is a controversial subject featured in the news almost daily, from the NSA spying programs to the rise of corporate data brokers. For better or worse this data exists, and the high value of information to both governments and private interests alike, make it look as though the practice is here to stay in one form or another. But, it is not the entry of data collection into the many aspects of our lives that I am exploring here; rather it is how this data can be mined in the future by historians. Continue reading
This year marks the 350th anniversary of the Second Esopus War, which was fought primarily between the Munsee Esopus and the New Netherland colonists in 1663. The image of an “Indian” war most often conjures up scenes of the American West, yet this conflict took place right in the proverbial backyard of the Hudson Valley.
The Esopus Wars were centered around the settlement of Wiltwijck, a place we know today as Kingston. The conflict completely changed the power dynamic of the region, from one dominated by American Indians to European colonists. While from another angle, a look at the war’s participants offers a view of the diverse population that composed Dutch New York. Continue reading
The nation or country, what entity is of more importance to modern society? What about capitalistic economy, secularization, democracy, and progress as normative American values. All hold sway, for better or worse, on our perceptions of the world and our place within it. And it is from this vantage point in modernity that we look towards the actions of those who lived before us, reaching back through time to filter the past through the eyes of the present. This is history, and this is why the practice of history is an art and not a science. It is imperfect, an extension of the historian and the times in which they live.
But how then, asks Donna Merwick in Stuyvesant Bound: An Essay on Loss Across Time (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013), can we better understand Peter Stuyvesant from our vantage point in the modern world, back to one that was premodern and existed between the post-Reformation and pre-Enlightenment periods. A world in which the United States of America cannot be predicted or imagined, though the history written about Colonial America often chooses a narrative that fits into a story of nationalistic genesis. Continue reading