“history” articles

A summary of Reza Aslan's Zealot


Thinking about the history of Jesus requires thinking historically about the era in which he lived and the circumstances surrounding the early stories written about him. In his book, Zealot, Resa Aslan provides a valuable (and compelling) historical framework for approaching these topics, but ends up using it to say more about the development of early Christianity than about Jesus.

System of expansion, system of contradiction


If the period of American history between the end of the US Civil War and World War I—perhaps called the Gilded Age—does not contain events that register strongly in the emotional consciousness of many Americans, it is not because this period did not contribute to major changes in the world of the time. With such intensely violent conflicts serving as bookends, the intervening years may seem like an intermission providing a lull between compelling stories, rather than part of a much larger drama that was, itself, punctuated by violence. Instead, this period demonstrated a larger pattern of aggressive activity, insecurity, and unrest; these were all closely bound up in the ongoing struggle for progress and prosperity, though, and the American ideal highlights the latter glory and dismisses the former distress. It is good to see the full truth. Studying this period allows us to see an example of how persistent economic expansion rapidly sets the stage for systemic shocks and conflict.

A summary of William Appleman Williams' The Tragedy of American Diplomacy


Statesmen and other influential American figures at the start of the 20th century believed that the dramatic surge of expansion that sharply marked the 19th century was essential to American prosperity and security going forward. In his book The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, William Appleman Williams tracks the continuity of this idea through the middle of the 20th century, and contrasts this uncompromising pursuit of expansion with the American belief that this economic intervention would also bring peace and wealth to the rest of the world. The tragedy that Williams promotes to the title of the book is the fact that American ideals contradicted themselves: they spoke about freedom and self-determination while simultaneously depending on privileging American access and control.

A summary of Geoffrey R. Stone's Perilous Times


The government of the United States has repeatedly moved to suppress free speech and other civil liberties during times of national crisis as far back as 1798. That is the point of departure for the broad and detailed Perilous Times. With this book, Geoffrey Stone provides an extensive legal history of the country, with a very pointed and important focus on the freedom and constraints of its citizens to offer critiques of the government itself at extreme moments. Though judicial interpretation has consistently worked to augment defenses for such protests, this only comes respectively later, after equally consistent pressure from the government has circumvented all such existing defenses during the time of crisis itself.

World War I and the continuity of control in the Middle East


Prior to the start of World War I, the great Powers in Europe (The United Kingdom, France, and Russia) had continually expanded their influence in the Middle East. The conclusion of the war formalized this influence in key areas with the treaties and diplomacy that developed the system of mandates in the region. The United Kingdom serves as a key example of an outside power that reshaped Middle Eastern political institutions to serve its own ends. The victors of World War I, for example the UK, used both their military victory and the regional circumstances in the Middle East to further solidify their dominance in the area.

The extensive hopes and expectations for the bomb


A look at two critical histories of the decision to use atomic bombs towards the end of World War II reveals a different picture than what had been asserted by the official and deliberate oversimplification and distortion after the bombs were used.

Belief in the Civil War


It is a real challenge, but it is also of real value to assess the basic motives that lead people to behave in certain ways and to make certain decisions. The intensity, tumult, and pointed moral factors that surrounded the US War of 1861 make it a useful focal point for the study of the moral trajectory of the United States, as well as a poignant exemplar of the execution of moral will.

A summary of John R. McKivigan's The War against Pro-Slavery Religion


The development and strengthening of abolitionism in the North prior to the US war of 1861 portrays an intensifying moral commitment there. Even given the church schisms over slavery in the 1830s and 1840s, however, Northern churches remained ambivalent about antislavery activism, as John R. McKivigan shows in The War against Pro-Slavery Religion. Many abolitionists believed that slavery could only be successfully conquered by means of the church; they worked fervently in their churches to shift them to a position of radical antislavery, but the Northern churches resisted taking such a stand until the coming of the war.

A summary of Mark A. Noll's The Civil War as a Theological Crisis


In the first decades of the existence of the Unites States, leading to the War of 1861, evangelical Christianity had largely imbued the nation's citizenry with a sense that they were being guided providentially on a path that would enable the country to usher in the Kingdom of God. With The Civil War as a Theological Crisis, Mark A. Noll describes the problems that were growing within this national understanding as the war approached and then broke. He also hints at how this crisis may have fundamentally changed religious attitudes throughout the country.

A summary of Mitchell Snay's Gospel of disunion


A major development that would contribute to the US war of 1861 was the Southern decision to secede from the Union. Many historians see an array of factors that led the South to this point. With Gospel of disunion, Mitchell Snay argues that the moral and cultural influence of religion contributed significantly to the South's growing sense that it no longer could participate in the Union. In this book, Snay shows how Southern religion ended up being a multipurpose tool in facilitating the coming war: it identified points of conflict with the North while it also helped to bring Southerners together.

A summary of C. C. Goen's Broken Churches, Broken Nation


Religious institutions of the United States in the early and middle nineteenth century closely followed and contributed to the larger national efforts. Thus, as C. C. Goen describes in Broken Churches, Broken Nation, the schisms in the dominant Protestant denominations in the 1830s and the 1840s both foreshadowed and prepared for the more destructive civil crisis to come.

A summary of James H. Moorhead's American Apocalypse


How did the United States perceive and justify itself with respect to the crisis surrounding the War of 1861? In order to understand “the moral tone of the victorious Union” (xii), James Moorhead reviews the particular position of Northern “mainstream” Protestant denominations in his book American Apocalypse.

Lessons learned from A People's History of the United States


I recently finished reading A People's History of the United States. In this article, I comment on the impact of this book, including its strong impact on me as well as some of the lessons that I learned about how resistance against oppression can fail.