Echos of McCarthy

As many of you may already know, the political landscape of the 1940s and 50s United States was marked by high anxiety surrounding the ever-present threat of communism’s spread.  The most well-known and visible results of these anxieties were the creation of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) to investigate suspected communists and the subsequent rise of Senator Joseph McCarthy and McCarthyism, an anti-communist movement that culminated in the televised Army-McCarthy Hearings.1  While the formal era of McCarthyism ended in spectacular fashion with the fall of Senator McCarthy in 1954, there were other, subtler shifts happening across that same landscape that we can still see echoes of in today’s political attitudes and maneuvers.

“How and What to Tell a Communist” propaganda ad by The Timken Roller Bearing Company. (Humboldt State University)

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Guys, Gals and Non-Binary Pals: Gender and Early Medieval Monasticism

Today’s mainstream western culture desperately clings to the male-female binary as an absolute truth. Transphobia is still the norm in many places and the idea of gender as a spectrum is still a taboo in much of the world. But was this binary always so absolute? What happened when monks began thinking of themselves as transcending the worldly order and thus the whole concept of gender altogether?

Mis van de H Gregorius Rijksmuseum
Detail of The Mass of Saint Gregory, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, Anynomous, c. 1500

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Turn It Around: Intellectual Turns that Flipped History Writing Upside Down

While people have been writing history since the beginning of written language, the way they have done so has, of course, been evolving ever since. Greek poets, for example, didn’t use the same methodologies as nineteenth century historians. In this post we want to take a look at three of the most recent theoretical waves that shifted historians’ perspectives on writing history and that helped shape historical research as it exists today: the linguistic turn, the cultural turn, and the performative turn. These “turns” didn’t just impact history (or even had their origins in history), but instead touched most of the social sciences and made scientists across fields have a minor breakdown and possibly an existential crisis or two. Who doesn’t love drama, right?

Medieval reenactment in Bruges, Belgium (via Gruuthuse museum)

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Getting Creative with Primary Sources

In our last methodology post, we very broadly discussed different types of source materials that inform historical research and writing.  Today, we’re going to take a little detour and talk specifically about primary sources for a minute because even within the historical community there is often a limited (and limiting!) view of what can constitute a good primary source and how they should be used.  So, c’mon, let’s leave our preconceived notions at the door and get creative!

Mentally Unstable punk fanzine (source)

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When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again – The Roots of American Feminism

Most Americans are familiar with images of Rosie the Riveter as a champion of women in the workforce during World War II.  It’s also fairly common knowledge that the shift away from so-called “traditional” gender roles that began during WWII and intensified after the war led to the modern feminist movement.  The Second World War wasn’t the first time American women entered the workforce in large numbers though – the same thing happened during World War I!  So why did the 1940s and 50s usher in a new era of gender relations instead of the 1920s?

Women at the Douglas Aircraft Company in Long Beach, CA. (Library of Congress)

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What the Vikings Looked Like to a Frankisch Monk Chronicler ca. 995

The Viking Age and Viking people in general have been capturing people’s imagination for centuries. Just look at the popularity of The History Channel’s hit series “Vikings”or the numerous ads that pop up online for Viking-related fantasy games. But the Vikings definitely weren’t very popular in their own time. To be fair, sacking and raiding churches and monasteries didn’t generally grant you a good reputation in early medieval Christian Europe. In this post I want to take a look at how one chronicler in particular, Richer of Rheims, described the Vikings in his Historiarum libri IIII.

The British Library-Cott.Tib.Bv f.40v
Norse ship. Anglo-Saxon manuscript, 10th Century. B.M., London. (via Getty)

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Types of Sources and How They’re Used

Sources are the lifeblood of the historian’s craft.  They inform every aspect of our research and our arguments and without them, we wouldn’t be able to form meaningful narratives about the past.  In this post, we’re going to explore the different categories of source materials and how each is commonly used in scholarly pursuits.  In addition, we’re going to cover how historians evaluate the informational value of sources – a process that is just as applicable to reading today’s headlines as it is to reading a historical text!


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