Above Image: Taken in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem (July, 2016).
While shopping in a small gift shop in the Israeli city of Nazareth last summer, I recall engaging in some small talk with the local shop owner, who over the course of our conversation told me he was a Palestinian Christian. At one point, and I don’t recall what I said to prompt the declaration, he exclaimed “We were the first Christians!”
Nazareth is, after all, the hometown of Jesus Christ and has had a significant continual Christian population from much of the last two millennia. I smiled and he laughed and then we completed my purchase of a small crucifix for my son. For some reason, the shop owner’s proud words have stayed with me since the trip and often come to mind when I think of the Palestinian people that I met during my time there. Continue reading →
As a college professor, I occasionally receive solicitations by non-profits to bring their speakers or films to campus. Such organizations cover a broad range of ideologies and causes. Most recently, I received an interesting email from the College Programs Manager at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (VOC), which bills itself as a “501(c)3 founded by a unanimous act of Congress in 1993.” The email notes that the VOC “exists to educate individuals about the history, ideology, and legacy of communism” and that their efforts have “touched students in all 50 states on 100 different campuses.” Then I was encouraged to consider hosting an event in partnership with the VOC at my college, for which they offer film screenings, lectures, and panels.
I am not familiar with the VOC and so I would want to investigate the organization much more carefully before I would consider inviting them to campus, but on the surface, based on what little I know of them, I find their stated goals admirable. Many young students born after the fall of the Soviet Union have little idea of the impact communist ideology on various societies during the era of the Cold War. As a former Marine, coming from a family in which my father served in the Navy during the height of the Cold War and my brother served in the Marine Corps in the early 1980s, at a time when the propaganda war between the Soviet Union and the U.S. was at one of its high points, I have long been aware, on a somewhat personal level, of the threat communist ideologies once posed to the western world. We have all also became aware of the high level of Soviet communist penetration into many facets of U.S. society during the Cold War once it ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the release of previously secret sources that reflected the extent of that penetration. Moreover, while later completing my Ph.D. at the University of Florida under the direction of the great medieval historian Florin Curta, who himself grew up in the communist state of Romania, and was conscripted into its military where he served as a paratrooper in its army, I was introduced to the various hardships and depredations of such a system on a much more personal level through the eyes of my now friend Florin.
In the recently published Seven Myths of the Civil War(Hackett Publishing Co.), one of the book’s six authors, Ian Patrick Hunt, confronts head on the dual issue of Abraham Lincoln’s private opinions and official positions regarding African Americans. Through his nuanced analysis of the evolution of Abraham Lincoln’s thoughts and actions, Ian Patrick Hunt puts to rest the oft-repeated charge that the sixteenth president of the United States was a racist. But the question remains, was he “The Emancipator,” as this statue in Park Plaza, Boston proclaims? Known as both the Emancipation Memorial and the Freedmen’s Memorial (due to the original’s having been funded by freed slaves), this copy of Thomas Bell’s statue was presented to the city in 1879. The original stands near Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. Consider its imagery. A larger-than-life Lincoln places his right hand on the Emancipation Proclamation that rests on a pedestal, thereby bringing to mind his presidential inauguration when he placed his hand on a Bible. Assuming a heroic yet benign posture, he towers over a kneeling former slave. Unseen in this photograph, a whipping post draped in cloth stands behind the two men. This is a powerful statement, but how true is it? Continue reading →
As Brooks D. Simson convincingly demonstrates in the recently published Seven Myths of the Civil War (Hackett Publishing, Sept. 2017), the claim that African Americans served, in any appreciable numbers, as combatants in Confederate forces has no basis in fact. It is, however, an incontrovertible fact that nearly 200,000 African Americans voluntarily served in the Union forces, acquitted themselves with devotion and honor, and were a significant factor in hastening the end of the war. Continue reading →
When I first began teaching at Florida State College at Jacksonville in 2010, Dr. Wesley Moody was a senior historian who became both my mentor and my friend. Always in a coat and tie, with a conservative, formal approach to dealing with students and teaching, Wes is very much a professor in the classic or traditional sense. He values scholarship, seeing it as essential for high-quality instruction, and so although he has tenure, he nevertheless pushes himself to engage constantly in high levels of scholarly productivity. If one did not know him, that person would never realize just how friendly he can be. He is from north Florida, born and raised, as his southern accent makes clear, and his easy-going style when socializing can be both charming and disarming. He is a top-level historian and his work has won high praise from the likes of James McPherson, Professor Emeritus of Princeton University, but he is also not above using the phrase “y’all” in a private conversation. Continue reading →
Today, I read a curious essay in the Washington Post by Professor Matthew Gabriele, a fellow historian of the crusades, titledIslamophobes want to recreate the Crusades. But they don’t understand them at all. I’ve never met Professor Gabriele, but I am familiar with his otherwise solid scholarship and reputation for kindness. In his essay, he made some strong claims about what crusade historians believe, as well as the nature of the Islamic threat facing eastern Christians in the era of the First Crusade and how that threat was understood by western Christians at the time. I want to consider some points related to his comments on those issues here.
Professor Gabriele is most concerned with how modern people are comparing the situation in the era of the First Crusade with the troubling occurrences of modern Islamic terrorism in the West. He also objects to any notion that the crusades were, at least initially, a defensive response to Muslim aggression. He cites various modern westerners who are not specialists on the medieval crusading movement who have made statements romanticizing the crusades and arguing for their return.
I agree with Professor Gabriele that the past does not repeat itself and the situation of the eleventh century is certainly far different than the one we find ourselves in today in the twenty-first century. Crusading, in any form resembling the expeditions of the eleventh and twelfth century, is not the solution to the, as of yet, unsolvable problem of modern Islamic terrorism, which according to the Global Terrorism Index claims the lives of over 30,000 people worldwide per year, with most of them Muslims.
Where I disagree with Professor Gabriele, surprisingly, is in his understanding of crusading history and what crusade historians over the last thirty or forty years have written about the origins of the crusading movement. Continue reading →
On March 25th of 2016 I was invited to do an early morning live interview for WJXT Channel 4 in Jacksonville. The topic, as usual, was a sobering one, as we were to discuss the terrorist attack that had taken place in Brussels a few days earlier on March 22nd. Three coordinated bombings by a ISIS affiliated terror cell had resulted in 35 deaths and over 300 wounded in Brussels, and the attackers had connections with the same cell that had carried out attacks in Paris four months earlier, which had resulted in 130 killed and 368 wounded. As I headed in to do the interview, I learned that I would not be doing it alone, as was usually the case, but this time the station had lined up another guest I had never met before, Dr. Ellen Glasser. As we did the joint interview, I did not really know anything about Ellen, as we had only briefly introduced ourselves beforehand, but I was very impressed with her commentary and felt considerably out of my league when I learned more fully of her background. Continue reading →