Knowledge is power. Over the last three decades this old aphorism of political philosophy has been central to the study of colonialism in history, anthropology, and literary and cultural post-colonial studies. Revised and re-launched in social theory by Michel Foucault, the theme gained momentum after the publication of Edward Said’s highly influential book, Orientalism, in 1978.
Michael Huckabee, former Arkansas governor, frequent presidential candidate, and former Fox News host, opens the election year reissue of his 2014 manifesto God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy with the arresting anecdote of 2012’s ‘Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day’.
Reconstruction, we are told, has moved on.
Just after eight o’clock in the evening on 17 June 2015, 21-year-old white supremacist Dylann Roof walked into the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, carrying a semiautomatic handgun. He sat with 12 parishioners and their pastor, South Carolina state senator Rev. Clementa Pinkney, for about an hour, as they prayed and read from the Bible.
Thomas Jefferson has had a rough few years. Since DNA established beyond a reasonable doubt that he fathered children with his slave Sally Hemings, Jefferson has been pushed into the shadows and forced to watch as his political rivals John Adams and Alexander Hamilton enjoy the limelight.
Paradigm shifts in historiography seem to come all at once rather than being spaced evenly along the disciplinary trajectory. The last such shift in writing about slavery and race (including civil rights) in the United States came between the late 1950s and the mid-1970s.
In Thinking the Twentieth Century, Timothy Snyder proposes to his friend Tony Judt that the historian’s task is ‘like making paths’ through a forest by leaving signs. Judt qualifies this. ‘The first thing’, he argues, ‘is to teach people about trees. Then you teach them that lots of trees together constitute a forest.
During the horrific famine of 1932–3, did Ukrainian peasants die because they were Ukrainians or because they were peasants?
Never has the extraordinarily rich literature on mass atrocity seemed more relevant as ongoing reports from around the world remind us that we live in an age of genocide. This vast repertoire of scholarly work can appear at maximum capacity with countless overarching theoretical frameworks of mass violence.
Paul Preston is a renowned historian, and is considered one of the world’s leading experts on 20th-century Spanish history. His book on the genocidal actions taken against Spanish civilians between 1936 and 1945 is an important resource that has changed historiography on the period.