One goal of studying the past is not to be trapped by history but to transcend it.
— Historian Michael B. Katz (1939-2014)
ToM regularly covers disciplinary conferences. Last week, the University of Pennsylvania hosted “The War on Poverty at 50: Its History and Legacy.” Your ToM correspondent spoke at the event while furiously taking notes during all the panels to produce the write-up you have before you. Videos of the event will be up shortly and embedded below. (Panelists, if you’re reading this, let me know if something’s missing or distorted, and I’ll modify this account immediately. I tried to keep these as brief as possible while conveying the major thrusts of the papers.)
The past few years have seen a resurgence of scholarly interest in the War on Poverty: LBJ’s signature polices and programs that addressed a number of spheres, including education, nutritional, health care, and job training…
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The covert actions of the US government abroad, and their domestic ramifications, have drawn an increasing amount of attention from journalists and the general public. Yet for decades historians like Thomas Bender and Amy Kaplan have mined similar territory in an effort to debunk the rhetoric of American exceptionalism and to demonstrate how US foreign policy reshape demographics, national culture, and local politics.
In Covert Capital: Landscapes of Denial and the Making of U.S. Empire in the Suburbs of Northern Virginia, Andrew Friedman demonstrates how CIA skullduggery in Vietnam, Central America, and Iran intersected with burgeoning post-World War II suburbanization in Northern Virginia. The transnational flow of capital, covert agents, and refugees reshaped the region’s built environment and demographic layout in unexpected ways. Secret CIA activity in Central America and Southeast and Central Asia drew elites from El Salvador, Vietnam, and Iran into US orbits overseas and these…
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This is fantastic. Merry Christmas.
(Courtesy of the JFK Presidential Library.)
The recent release of Jose Padilha’s reboot of the RoboCop franchise offers ToM another opportunity to indulge in extreme historian geekiness. As an unabashed lover of the original 1987 RoboCop, I jumped at the opportunity to write a dual review of both films, reflecting on their contrasting messages and cultural commentaries.
Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 version was a masterpiece. No, seriously. Taking place in an unspecified, but not too distant future, the film is set in a dystopic, post-industrial Detroit. The film’s Motor City is riddled with crime and drugs, where police are killed with shocking regularity. The thinly veiled illusion to urban blight during the Reagan years is hard to miss. RoboCop ’87 is a biting indictment of neoliberal urbanism. The central villain of the film is the Omni Consumer Products (OCP) corporation, whose maniacal plan is to bulldoze the slums (which seems to be most of the city)…
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Last week I wrote about whether or not we really needed economic growth, and I claimed that the central problems facing our economy and our society were not about the size, scale, or growth of our economy, but rather about some deeper, undisclosed set of problems. This week I am trying, haphazardly and tentatively, to work through what those problems might look like. Also to predict the future.
One of the things that bothers me about economics—both in its academic guise as a social science discipline and its neoliberal political guise as a quasi-religious faith in which bankers and CEOs serve as high priests—is its general failure to talk about what it’s for. Historians have a whole subfield, historiography, dedicated to how and why we write history. But because the economy is so self-evidently important to the fabric of our society, economists get a kind of pass. Economics is important…
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If “you keep telling people that they are unfairly treated and teach them disrespect for the law,” Chief William Parker told reporters in the aftermath of the Watts Riots, then violence is inevitable. Parker’s commentary, an attempt to deflect his own department’s culpability for the civil unrest veered into increasingly racist territory. In Parker’s worldview, trouble only started “when one person threw a rock, and like monkeys in a zoo, others started throwing rocks.” Calls by assemblyman Mervyn Dymally for a civilian police review board were little more than a “vicious canard,” argued the imperious police chief.
The legacy of the riots, fifty years old next year, has reverberated throughout Los Angeles and Southern California history and its echoes can still be heard today. Undoubtedly, the riots accelerated white flight from communities like Compton, where ironically, black, white, and Latino residents had repelled looters. While discrimination persisted in…
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