Book Censors get Muggled

An Arkansas judge has ruled that Harry Potter books do not encourage witchcraft and therefore must be readmitted into a public school library.


Not King Arthur…But King James II

I know everyone thinks of James II as the king who failed and…ran away. He was an absolutist and a religious bigot to boot. Well, my friend and fellow grad student Scott Sowerby has proved us all wrong.

According to the Harvard Gazette:

Sowerby’s most striking piece of evidence is a diary he found in a small, obscure record office in northern England in which the diarist recorded a speech made by James. In the speech, the king makes a striking comparison between racial and religious toleration.

“Suppose there should be a law made that all black men should be imprisoned, it would be unreasonable. We have as little reason to quarrel with other men for being of different opinions than as for being of different complexions.”

As far as he knows, Sowerby is the first scholar to read this diary. Discovering the transcription of the king’s speech was an electrifying experience.

“I got chills down my spine. I had to stop working for about a half-hour. It’s important because he’s made a mental leap that few others had made at the time.”

Wow. I can’t wait to read Scott’s book!

New Link

I’ve been a poor citizen of the blogosphere lately. Not only had I never noticed the excellent blog called Invisible Adjunct, I didn’t realize this person linked to me. I’ve reciprocated.

Incidentally, Invisible Adjunct’s current entry explains why “herstory” is an inappropriate word for “history.” I couldn’t agree more.

Museum Looted

Looters in Baghad have completely plundered the National Museum of Iraq, which housed what was probably the world’s finest collection of Sumerian and Assyrian artifacts.

Apparently a small contingent of Marines was unable to stop the looting for more than half an hour. Excuses for looting generally have been that there are too few American troops in Baghad to prevent rioting and looting. Hmmm. Surely our vaunted war planners anticipated such activity in Baghad?

Museum directors and art dealers in the US and Europe should lead an effort to prevent these stolen artifacts from winding up in the hands of private collectors and museums abroad. We owe it to the people of Iraq to help them preserve the ancient history of their land as much as possible.

A New Novel about the Revolution

A friend of mine sent me this information regarding former President and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Jimmy Carter’s first work of historical fiction will be published this fall.

Chalk up another first for former President Jimmy Carter. The Nobel Peace Prize winner will publish “The Hornet’s Nest,” his debut novel this fall. Publisher Simon & Schuster is scheduling a late autumn release for Carter’s work of historical fiction.

According to S&S executive director of publicity Victoria Meyer, the novel will “depict the drama of the Revolutionary War as it evolved in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas. It describes the causes and dramatizes the struggle for freedom based on detailed accounts by British and American historians, personal diaries of the combatants and what the author knows about the participation of one of his ancestors.” When we phoned on Monday, Meyer said Simon & Schuster had not set a publication date but

“one should be forthcoming shortly.”

Said S&S executive vice president David Rosenthal in a prepared statement: “This is our fourth book with President Carter. We are thrilled he has again chosen to collaborate with us and honored to be his publisher.”

I’ve long been interested in reading a GOOD historical novel about the American Revolution. Although I enjoyed “Johnny Tremain” and “Arundel” both of these books had their problems. It seems that Americans are constitutionally incapable of writing decent fiction about our founding moment. Perhaps President Carter will be up to the task.

Private Lynch’s Captivity Narrative?

In a New York Times piece today, Melani McAlister argues that the narrative of Jessica Lynch’s rescue conforms to those of colonial women held captive by Indians in the seventeenth century.

This is an interesting idea that in the end shows the dangers of making this kind of comparison. Mary Rowlandson did see herself as a captive Christian among heathens, surrounded by dark forces at work in the world. Her narrative, written five years after her redemption, dehumanizes Indians by calling them “Barbarous Creatures” and “Small Devills.”. Cultural historians have described this interaction as the classic confrontation between an American (read: European) woman and the moral and cultural “other.”

By making this comparison, McAlister has inadvertently reinforced many of the ideas about the Iraq war now circulating: that America is surrounded and hounded by dark forces (ie, terrorists), that Americans are Christians set upon by heathens (ie, the Arab world generally), and that Americans are confronting a frightening and incomprehensible “other” (ie, Iraqis) that makes war more easily justifiable. Yes, Lynch’s story resonates, as McAlister says, but for all the wrong reasons.

Instead of using this historical document to reinforce our ideas about war, we should be using it to question both war and the idea of the “other.” The cultural divide between Indians and English was too great and the violence too immediate for Mary Rowlandson to view her captors as humans who were also beset with bewildering and disorienting circumstances. One would hope, though, that more Americans, including the current Administration, would have the analytical apparatus to understand why the rest of the world feels threatened by our belligerence.