Historian of the Left

Brooks’ “Practical University”

In his latest New York Times editorial, David Brooks encourages online education companies to impart not only technical knowledge but also what he calls “practical knowledge.” The “practical [online] university” of the future, he claims, should not only teach students what to do, i.e. technical skills, but also how to apply those skills in a practical setting, i.e. the modern corporate workplace. In order to do this, online schools must Read More

“Dear Michel” (an excerpt from the archives)

While sifting through the papers of the Bavarian SPD leader Waldemar von Knoeringen at the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in Bonn a few months ago, I came across a heart-rending letter from May 22, 1946. Writing almost exactly one year after the Nazi capitulation, Knoeringen’s old comrade from the Neu Beginnen group Eugen Nerdinger tries to explain what it was like for a social democrat to survive in Germany under Hitler, how Read More

Minecraft! Reflections by Two Scholars Who Should Know Better

– Co-authored with Jennifer L. Allen – When the full version of Minecraft, a computer game by Mojang, turned one year old last month, we thought that it would be fun to share our experiences of and reflections on this thing that’s been haunting our dreams. We should begin by admitting that we’ve only tried single-player mode; entering into a war of all against all in multi-player mode struck us Read More

What Darwin and Turing Missed

In a recent article for The Atlantic, the philosopher Daniel C. Dennett compares the work of computer pioneer Alan Turing to Darwin’s theories of evolution and natural selection. What both Darwin and Turing realized, argues Dennett, was that the operations of any complex system can be reduced to the apparently mindless repetition of its individual parts. The motor of history can thus be characterized as “a purposeless, mindless process [that cranks] Read More

The Austere Option

Matt Taibbi, blogging for Rolling Stone, recently posted a thoughtful critique of European and American calls for “austerity” in response to the global economic crisis. His basic point is that the burden of proposed austerity measures — cuts to welfare, public services, and government spending in general — falls disproportionately on the shoulders of the lower and middle classes,  leaving wealthy bankers and financial institutions virtually untouched. “If there’s going Read More

ChronoZoom: Do Technology and the Natural Sciences Make History Easier?

Scholars of history and of the humanities in general take umbrage when scientists lay claim to what they think of as their own territory. ChronoZoom, a project conceived of by a former student at UC Berkeley, Roland Saekow, is the latest attempt by scientists to fit human history inside the natural history of the earth and the cosmos. Funded by Microsoft Research Connections, the project involves a giant digital timeline Read More

The Politics of Anniversary (and a Remark on the Fives Fetish)

Important historical dates, such as a revered leader’s birthday or a noteworthy battle, often become ingrained in the public consciousness through celebration or commemoration of their anniversaries. But it is not always so clear why we choose to “anniversarize” certain dates and not others. The world religions place a great deal of emphasis on historical tradition, perhaps none more so than Judaism. Every year, Jews around the world gather to Read More