Above Images: (left to right) Professor Laurence Marvin of Berry College, Professor Patrick Geary of the Institute for Advanced Study, and Professor Florin Curta of the University of Florida.
When I was working on my Ph.D. in history, I believed that I was the only student in the graduate program at the University of Florida that had any military experience. I may have been wrong, but I was not aware of anyone else who had served. 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.
An interview with my good friend, mentor, and one of the leading historians of the early Middle Ages on his life under communism in Romania and now as a leading American academic. This interview has staying power as it was originally the second most viewed item of 2014 and continues to be popular (with daily referrals from search engines) in 2015. Continue reading →
In defense of President Obama, who had recently been criticized for his comparison of the medieval crusaders to modern Islamic terrorists (see my response here), the New York Times published an essay on Friday (“The First Victims of the First Crusade”) by Susan Jacoby. Her essay highlighted the brutal attack on Jews during the First Crusade and, once again, equated the crusaders with modern Islamic terrorists. She wrote, “Anyone who considers it religiously and politically transgressive to compare the behavior of medieval Christian soldiers to modern Islamic terrorism might find it enlightening to read this bloody story.” She then described the horrors of the slaughter and compared it with the killing of religious minorities recently carried out by ISIS in the Middle East.
Jacoby then ended her piece with an odd celebration of the virtues of the post-Enlightenment West. In it, she contrasted the medieval Christian past with the modern post-Enlightenment western world, arguing that groups like ISIS “offer a ghastly and ghostly reminder of what the Western world might look like had there never been religious reformations, the Enlightenment and, above all, the separation of church and state.”
Jacoby’s comments, particularly those contrasting the medieval and modern west, caused a stir among medieval historians, much of it negative.
Dr. Florin Curta, Professor of History and Archaeology at the University of Florida, is one of the leading medieval historians in the world. His language capabilities, which include a reading knowledge of no less than eleven languages (including some he does not bother to list on his C.V.), are rarely matched even among academics. Moreover, his ten books, many on very complex historical issues, have consistently received positive reviews from his fellow historians with one winning the American Historical Associations’ Herbert Baxter Adams Prize in 2003. See links to his C.V. and publications here.
Yet while his academic background is exceptional, his personal background is (at least) equally fascinating. Dr. Curta grew up in Romania while it was under communist rule. As a young man he was drafted into the Romanian army where he served as a paratrooper. Once he was done jumping out of perfectly good airplanes with a rifle strapped to his back, he pursued his education in Romania as both a historian and archaeologist. One could suggest, only half jokingly, that he was the original Indiana Jones. Continue reading →