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Tilting at Windmills

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September 22, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

THINGS I DID NOT KNOW....Darrin McMahon writes about the study of history in Europe and the United States:

Whereas you can go to almost any small college in America and find, say, a professor or two of French or German history, you will be hard-pressed to find a professor of American history anywhere in France or Germany. There are, to be sure, notable exceptions, as well as a number of programs teaching a kind of trendified American studies film courses with heavy doses of Zizek and Critical Theory and that sort of thing. But a course on the American Revolution, the New Deal, or the Civil War? Good luck.

Really? But how can they maintain an effective level of condescension toward us if they don't study our history? This is really quite astonishing, isn't it?

Kevin Drum 9:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (162)

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Comments

This is really unsurprising. Europeans constantly condescend to Americans, despite the fact that-- on average-- they're far less curious and productive than we are.

Posted by: American Hawk on September 22, 2006 at 9:51 PM | PERMALINK

It must be their damn lax socialist educational policies. Them and their stupid universal healthcare, bunch a jerks....
America's Least Wanted

Posted by: budpaul on September 22, 2006 at 9:54 PM | PERMALINK

This is really unsurprising. That Karl Rove's tactics have defused to the point of saturation.

Posted by: elmo on September 22, 2006 at 9:58 PM | PERMALINK

Wow, Kevin ...

That's probably the most disappointing post I've ever seen you write.

We are the cultural hegemon. Europeans, after slavishly copying us in all matter of commercialized cultural innovations (think movies and pop music), probably feel that they'd prefer the time to study their own history -- which is a great deal longer, to say the least.

And who, after all, can really blame them?

And I say this as someone who majored in American studies.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on September 22, 2006 at 10:00 PM | PERMALINK

I'd make the assumption that it's barely covered in their world social studies, but for the most part, they cover each of these issues as they affect the history that they're telling.

The American market has often tweaked the world, but take any particular country in the world, and you'll be hard pressed to find many colleges with one of each.

We have to remember to everyone else, we're not 'special'.

Duh.

Posted by: Crissa on September 22, 2006 at 10:02 PM | PERMALINK

This is BS.

1) I don't know many SMALL colleges that have French or German history in exclusive courses--granted there are the World or European history courses that are usually in two parts.

2) I have seen several not-small uni's in Germany with courses in US history or with its principles featured heavily in other blended courses.

Conclusion: We're really about the same on this count.

Posted by: redtape on September 22, 2006 at 10:03 PM | PERMALINK

Bob: Are you seriously suggesting that Europeans have no need to study American history? That they should do nothing except sit in a cocoon and study themselves? Wow.

Still, if this is the most disappointing thing I've ever written, I guess that means I must be doing pretty well.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on September 22, 2006 at 10:04 PM | PERMALINK

Crissa & redtape:

Word.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on September 22, 2006 at 10:06 PM | PERMALINK

Also, do we really want to compare these things? Should we bring up the number of Europeans conversant in English vs. the number of Americans equally conversant in any European language? (This is a bit askew from the topic--economics, etc explain this phenomena legitimately vice the other--but the original topic is asinine.)

Posted by: redtape on September 22, 2006 at 10:07 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin:

No, of course not. But, as Crissa and Redtape suggested, the Euros doubtless get doses of American history in conjunction with other, more broadly defined survey courses.

Why would you expect the Europeans to study, say, the Civil War -- which is a huge topic -- to the degree that Americans would?

Do we take an entire semester to study the Thirty Year's War?

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on September 22, 2006 at 10:09 PM | PERMALINK

I never thought I would say this, but American Hawk is right. Europeans are pretty lazy and self-centered.

Posted by: b on September 22, 2006 at 10:11 PM | PERMALINK

Also, do we really want to compare these things? Should we bring up the number of Europeans conversant in English vs. the number of Americans equally conversant in any European language? (This is a bit askew from the topic--economics, etc explain this phenomena legitimately vice the other--but the original topic is asinine.)

Except for those ghettoized by 'Ebonics education', every American is familar with the predominant European language: English.

But thanks for playing.

Posted by: American Hawk on September 22, 2006 at 10:13 PM | PERMALINK

...republicans promoting torture as they build the American gulag, the POTUS destroying the US Constitution, unbridled violence and chaos in Iraq and Afghanistan, neocons ramping up for manufactured invasion of the lies round II, housing bubble bursting, global warming could be starting to run out of control, ...yadda, yadda, yadda.

Oh, Europe isn't studying all 230 years of American history - now there's a topic worth dissecting in this otherwise unusually quiet and dull period of human activity. Way to ferret out what is truly important Kevin...glad we can always count on you to 'uphold the blog of the stupid, masquerading as serious dialog'.

Posted by: pluege on September 22, 2006 at 10:14 PM | PERMALINK

PS - and I say this from long experience in high-tech. Many European scientists, few that I would hire. Always whining about how Europe is better, and never showing up for work.

Fun to visit Europe, though.

Posted by: b on September 22, 2006 at 10:14 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin:

And b demostrates why your post is so disappointing.

Because you've just thrown chum in the water for anti-European trolls.

These comments are going to become unreadable by the 20th or so post ...

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on September 22, 2006 at 10:14 PM | PERMALINK

1) Don't take unsupported anecdotes from TNR as reflecting reality.
2) The Europeans I've known have had at least as good a grasp of American politics and culture as the average American (who will be hard-pressed to name the continent Europe is on). Although they will not generally be able to identify the latest Murdered Blonde nearly as well.
3) OTOH, that's anecdotal, so you shouldn't believe me, either.

Posted by: calling all toasters on September 22, 2006 at 10:15 PM | PERMALINK

Also, as a country slightly over 200 years old, there hasn't been that much time for history to take place. We're largely a European colony, after all. Johhny come lately, the new kid in town.

Posted by: SteveAudio on September 22, 2006 at 10:16 PM | PERMALINK

Well, my bachelors is in biochem, so I did not take a lot of humanities in my curriculum. But do european universities have anything like the Western Civ I and II courses I took as an undergrad? Those were the courses I took that taught the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution and the european viewpoint of the two world wars.

Is this really an issue?

Posted by: Joyfully Subversive on September 22, 2006 at 10:16 PM | PERMALINK

b...your calling Europeans lazy and your using a single lower case letter as your "name" here? Brilliant!

Posted by: elmo on September 22, 2006 at 10:17 PM | PERMALINK

every American is familar with the predominant European language: English.

English is predominant in exactly how many European countries, you incredible tool?

Posted by: calling all toasters on September 22, 2006 at 10:18 PM | PERMALINK

And American Hawks shoots...and scores with a half-witted follow-up.

However, learning a bunch of languages, while kind of cool in a cocktail party sense, is part of the problem. It is a transactional cost, just like changing currencies or paying commissions. It decreases productivity because valuable schooling time that could be used to learn something of value. Sure, maybe if you want to be literature in the original language, it is worthwhile. But having to learn extra languages in order to conduct normal transactions is just a tax on brainpower.

Many European companies use English as their official language to diminish these transaction costs.

Posted by: b on September 22, 2006 at 10:19 PM | PERMALINK

Anecdotally, I confirm what calling all toasters said regarding my own European acquaintences -- who are also as well-versed in American pop culture (movies and music) as we are.

The difference -- they also know the history of the Roman Empire cold.

Personally, I'd trade that even over full knowledge of the Civil War.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on September 22, 2006 at 10:20 PM | PERMALINK

Actually Kevin, this was one of your better, and funnier posts.

Posted by: jerry on September 22, 2006 at 10:22 PM | PERMALINK

I learned my latin and my history of the Roman Empire and about ancient greece during the 13 years I spent on the receiving end of a ruler.

Posted by: Joyfully Subversive on September 22, 2006 at 10:22 PM | PERMALINK

English is predominant in exactly how many European countries, you incredible tool?

http://ec.europa.eu/education/policies/lang/languages/index_en.html


47% of Europeans speak English, more than any other language.

Once again, thanks for playing. We have some lovely parting gifts for you, such as a book on 'googling'. You may collect your prize after you get your head out of your ass.

Posted by: American Hawk on September 22, 2006 at 10:24 PM | PERMALINK

Isn't this topic a little pedantic? We all have bigger fish to fry than whether American History gets short-shrift on european campuses. I mean really. Slow news day?

Posted by: Joyfully Subversive on September 22, 2006 at 10:27 PM | PERMALINK

Recalling those Western Civ courses - I recall learning that Latin was the first Universal Language, spread by the Romans who brought you the empire. During the Enlightenment, French emerged ad the Universal Language. In the post-war 20th century, English became the dominant Universal language. In all fairness, American Hawk, the statistics on the link you provide reflect that. When I was in college in the mid and late 80's, that Western Civ professor told us that Japanese would be the next universal language. He was close. The current emerging universal is Chinese.

Posted by: Joyfully Subversive on September 22, 2006 at 10:32 PM | PERMALINK

Exactly Joyfully Subversive. How come everyone is afraid to talk about Hugo?

Posted by: elmo on September 22, 2006 at 10:33 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, you really have to stop accepting the ridicuous premises of every knucklehead you read on the inets. There are plenty of 'merican studies programs in Europe. In fact, I was fortunate enough to witness an anti-US demonstration outside the Institut fr Anglistik und Amerikanistik at Hamburg University in the summer of 1982.

Europe insular? As opposed to the US? LMAO.

Posted by: Disputo on September 22, 2006 at 10:34 PM | PERMALINK

By "Universal language" I mean the language of commerce.

Posted by: Joyfully Subversive on September 22, 2006 at 10:41 PM | PERMALINK

Who here thinks SciFi award first when you see or hear "Hugo"? I'm just curious. (Myself, I think real science is cool enough all by itself.)

Posted by: Joyfully Subversive on September 22, 2006 at 10:50 PM | PERMALINK

I first thought of Victor.

We were, after-all, talking about Europe.

Posted by: Disputo on September 22, 2006 at 10:51 PM | PERMALINK

I studied for a year in a French high school and I learned more history in that one year than in the three I spent in an American high school. I think the average European could take the average American on on American history (not to mention world history). I suspect the amount of history necessary to do well on the subject in the French baccalaureat is more than most American college graduates know. "Hard-pressed to find any professor of American history anywhere in France or Germany"? I really, really doubt it. Whoever says that hasn't actually tried. It's true that traditionalism in the educational system there favors earlier periods in general, unlike ours, where it's all twentieth and twenty-first century, all the time. Here, positions are constantly being cut from earlier periods to add to the modern/contemporary roster. There, when a position is vacated in ancient history, they generally fill it with an ancient historian. It's not a bias against the United States; it's a bias against newness. But I still think they know vastly more about us than we know about them.

Posted by: rabbit on September 22, 2006 at 10:51 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, this is very true.

Back in the mid 1990s I was at a meeting of then German President Richard von Weizscker with German grad students at the University of Chicago, and the consensus complaint at the meeting was exactly this: Germans have a sense of 'false familiarity' with the US, and assume they don't actually need to study the US. There is a sense that the US not really a serious object of study outside of some ghettoized academic areas like film studies popular culture, since the US is in all relevant ways 'sort of like us, just a bit different' and we already know all about it from watching TV. Yes, there is 'Amerikastudien', but chairs in the areas are not common and don't get much attention.

At least we've solved the sense of 'false familiarity' with the US problem by now, moving on to disgust. But it may result in more academic resources following in the US area studies in Europe.

And yes, this problem was news to President von Weizscker.

Posted by: stefan on September 22, 2006 at 10:52 PM | PERMALINK

Me too Disputo. I was just curious, given our web masters affinity for the SciFi genre who thought of the SciFi award rather than Victor. i could have phrased it better. Sorry for any misunderstanding perpetrated by the use of imprecise language.

Posted by: Joyfully Subversive on September 22, 2006 at 10:56 PM | PERMALINK

One more comment on why Germans (or Europeans) did not study the US: since lots of German (or European) practices are in some ways very Americanized, Germans (or Europeans) assumed that studying their own practices meant studying American practices as well. But this was not true, but Germans (or Europeans) failed to recognize this.

Superficial similarities can be very misleading...

Posted by: stefan on September 22, 2006 at 10:57 PM | PERMALINK

I think Kevin is right in his comment. Only Americans should be allowed to sit in a cocoon and not study other cultures. For the Europeans to think that they can too is very elitist and, uh, European. I know that I, like all other Americans, am very well-versed in European history, not to mention the Middle East, Asia, and all other parts of the world. I am sure I am typical of the always outward-looking American mindset.

Also, it hurts my feelings when the Europeans don't pay attention to me and my fellow Americans, especially since we are the bestest nation ever and it is well-known that we invented freedom all on our own.

Cripes, does anyone in this nation ever get tired of complaining about how no one takes us seriously enough? Grow up on this issue, Kevin.

Posted by: abjectfunk on September 22, 2006 at 10:58 PM | PERMALINK

I have to bow out for a bit. The chopper is landing with a trauma in three minutes. I will check back later.

Posted by: Joyfully Subversive on September 22, 2006 at 10:59 PM | PERMALINK

My experience, while more than 25 years old at this date, was that the better Italian newspapers had as good coverage of American politics and current events as the better American papers, and the leftist papers had far better coverage of American labor news than a good American big city newspaper would. No American newspaper I have ever read came close to the quality of coverage of European domestic affairs that the better Italian papers provided about American events.

Also, I recall it was far easier to try to get at the reality behind the reporting when you knew the paper had a socialist, rightist, or communist slant and could adjust for that than it is to get at what is behind the peasoup blandness of the self-congratulatory "objectivity" of the American media.

Posted by: Gene O'Grady on September 22, 2006 at 11:06 PM | PERMALINK

This is a fucking stupid post.

Posted by: Eurotrash on September 22, 2006 at 11:15 PM | PERMALINK

Sheesh.. Maybe it's because Europeans study history in high school.

Posted by: Dan Ryan on September 22, 2006 at 11:15 PM | PERMALINK

Yet, somehow, virtually every European I know seems to have a much better grasp of American history and Constitutional Democracy than 99% of Americans.

Funny, that.

Posted by: Brautigan on September 22, 2006 at 11:24 PM | PERMALINK

Really? But how can they maintain an effective level of condescension toward us if they don't study our history? This is really quite astonishing, isn't it?
Kevin Drum

... maybe they've studied our history and found it to be the etiology of their condescension.

... and by "condescension," all you're admitting to is your own insecurity.

Posted by: Nads on September 22, 2006 at 11:27 PM | PERMALINK

American history at Oxford University
I presume one can search other universities as well. It's best to check before agreeing with any statement that seems to be nonsensical, especially one coming from TNR or other right-wing sources.

Posted by: Mike on September 22, 2006 at 11:34 PM | PERMALINK

But how can they maintain an effective level of condescension toward us if they don't study our history? This is really quite astonishing, isn't it?

Why would they be interested in the descendents of the people who left there? If they seriously considered the motives of the emigrants, it might hurt their own feelings.

Posted by: republicrat on September 22, 2006 at 11:37 PM | PERMALINK

American history doesn't exactly cover as much ground as French or German history, does it? There are probably European academics who study the indigenous people of the Americas, at least. You probably wouldn't be able to find a French history professor in the U.S. who doesn't know about anything that happened before the French Revolution.

Posted by: neil on September 22, 2006 at 11:42 PM | PERMALINK

republicrat:

That's so bloody ... parochial.

Again, every single European person I know is as well-versed on subjects American as at least the average American.

This post was the mother of all red herrings. Kevin's *really* gotta curb his appetite for slapping half-digested crud from TNR up on the blog. This has given me the same level of agita that I see many get for Kevin's Andrew Sullivan fetish.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on September 22, 2006 at 11:46 PM | PERMALINK

An American here with a 14-year-old in a Parisian bilingual (French/English) school. No American history yet - actually, pretty disappointed about this.

As far as France goes, I think Kevin's point is not too far off.

Just one reason why this makes sense which hasn't been touched on: for a while European history was American history, since the country was colonized by the European powers (England, France, and Spain). What was American history before Jamestown and St. Augustine and New Orleans ? Putting aside the claim of the Indians, it was whatever the Europeans were doing, the Hundred Years War and so forth.

But I would agree (warning: personal generalizations based on anecdote) I find the French ignorant of American history. Well, I also find Americans ignorant of American history. What's different about the Europeans is that they are pretty well drillled in the history of their own country. So maybe I should say: Europeans know the history of their own countries, but are ignorant of American history, while Americans are just ignorant of everyone's history?

Posted by: a on September 22, 2006 at 11:49 PM | PERMALINK

I bet some of the places that lack "American History" as such have "American Studies" which includes history.

Note also that European countries have more written history, covering a much longer period than we do. Some of the equivalent period here gets taken care of in anthropology and even archeology depts.

Posted by: Michael Froomkin on September 22, 2006 at 11:53 PM | PERMALINK

.It's best to check before agreeing with any statement that seems to be nonsensical, especially one coming from TNR or other right-wing sources.

It cracks me up that a magazine which has the express purpose of promoting democrat policies and getting democrats elected is 'right-wing'. Your enemies really are everywhere, aren't they?

Posted by: American Hawk on September 22, 2006 at 11:56 PM | PERMALINK

And I say this as someone who majored in American studies.

It shows.

Hell, Americans barely get taught recent American history now. My kid knew the names of every Indian tribe in California, and all about the ancient Egyptians from school but had no idea who Ulysses S. Grant or Harry Truman was.

Posted by: barcooda on September 22, 2006 at 11:59 PM | PERMALINK

The time for Europeans to have familiarized themselves with the Civil War (or the "War of Northern Aggression," as "American" Hawk likely thinks of it in private) was, alas, over a century ago. There were lessons aplenty to be learned about what would happen when the principles of automation and mass production were applied to armed conflict: seldom have so many generals on so many sides been so poised to fight the last war (the gentle Germans being on this occasion, as a couple of decades later, somewhat ahead of the curve)!

Posted by: Rand Careaga on September 22, 2006 at 11:59 PM | PERMALINK

I don't doubt that there are far fewer American history courses offered in European universities (compared with American universities), but if you're going to use the phrase "you'd be hard pressed to find..." you'd really better support your claim with some hard evidence. I don't need a seven-figure study on the matter, even just some anecdotes about course offerings at leading European universities.

But then - you know - that whole blog just looks stupid. The Proper Backlash Liberal perspective on American (and European) universities is that they were all infiltrated by pomo deconstructionist vermin at some point in the last forty years, and that we should bring back the Great Age of the American academy when it was all about Truth and Light (and keeping out the Jews and women and other riff raff).

Is anyone really a great fan of postmodernism? I don't know too many people who know anything about it who aren't just a little bit - I don't know - morose about these times. But on the other hand the backlash liberals (as well as their conservative friends) don't seem to understand that epistemology (which is all postmodernism is) tends to be the dominant mode of intellectual inquiry in the west during periods of empire and cultural decline (the last was the Hellenstic and Roman Imperial Age). Foucault and all the rest didn't cause that decline - they just had good timing - and they sure the hell didn't cause the American Empire to happen.

There won't be another great age of philosophy until there is a new dominant worldwide religion uniting the physical and metaphysical, and whenever that happens it rarely seems to be good for the Jews. The New Republic should be careful what it wishes for.

Posted by: Linus on September 23, 2006 at 12:01 AM | PERMALINK

My children and I all attended schools outside the United States at various points in our primary and secondary educations. We learned more American History in world history and survey classes in other countries than I did in American History class as a freshman in college in this country.

So I have to throw my lot in with the "This is a non-issue" camp.

Posted by: Global Citizen on September 23, 2006 at 12:01 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

Be careful about these sorts of single-source, out-of-nowhere claims. First of all, European schools by and large do a much better job of teaching history overall during the *high school* years, and that includes US history, so there's less of a need for catch-up in college. I spent weeks in Europe recently and was impressed at the depth and complexity that most young Europeans could discuss pertinent issues in US as well as European history. (Case in point: A discussion in Amsterdam with some Dutch youths about the Mexican War and the massive cultural impact of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo after it.)

Second, I know of plenty of US colleges with French and German departments (which is a sort of fusion of language and history, cultural teaching) but know of few with just flat-out history departments in these countries alone, except for the specialists-- and I suspect that European countries are fairly similar.

Third, remember that European universities are far more specialized than US universities. They start people on a track of becoming docs, lawyers, scientists, whatever straight into college-- no undergraduate period, whereas we have 4 years of broad liberal arts education. (Again, Europe's high schools serve the role of our undergraduate institutions here.)

Fourth, we in the US are hilariously ignorant of our own history. Just catch a Jay Leno Jaywalking skit sometime and watch the seniors at decent US universities, flailing while trying to figure out who was US President during the Civil War, having no clue whatsoever that the Bill of Rights is the first 10 amendments to the US Constitution. Most Europeans know these things by heart.

This is one reason why I find it funny when the wingnuts go off on their latest nativist anti-immigrant feel-good hate crusade du jour, railing against all those durn foreigners messing up US culture-- when the majority of us in our own country don't even know the basics of our nation's origin and fundamental elements of our civic history and culture, we need only point the finger at ourselves. If the wingnuts want us to be a more unified nation, the first thing they could do would be to get a little more on top of our nation's rich civic history themselves.

Posted by: Wes on September 23, 2006 at 12:03 AM | PERMALINK

Global Citizen:

I think the article was talking about colleges. But if the lower schools are in fact teaching American history, then it is a non-issue when it comes down to it.

Posted by: belleview on September 23, 2006 at 12:03 AM | PERMALINK

rmck1: That's so bloody ... parochial.

I am lots more interested in China and Japan than in Europe, though German is the only language other than English in which I can read scientific articles.

I was assuming that Kevin's factoid about the lack of American history professors was correct.

The people whom I met in Europe knew about contemporary America, but nothing about US history. Way less American history than the European history that I knew.

Lots of Americans (maybe just the ones that take the history AP exam) know about the German invasion of France in 1869, and about the attempted revolution in France in 1870. None of the French and Swiss whom I met had any idea of the scale of the American Civil War, with its greater duration, vaster geographic extent, and greater murderousness. I only had a tiny sample, so you may be right overall.

Posted by: republicrat on September 23, 2006 at 12:07 AM | PERMALINK

holy shite..

Did Glenn Reynolds take over writing this blog?

you will be hard-pressed to find a professor of American history anywhere in France or Germany.

Wow. Conratulations for being too lazy to do a three minute google search. The fucking Sorbonne has a department of NORTH AMERICAN STUDIES along with every major university in Europe.

Posted by: SAO on September 23, 2006 at 12:08 AM | PERMALINK

American Hawk babbled out of his anus:

"Except for those ghettoized by 'Ebonics education', every American is familar with the predominant European language: English.

But thanks for playing."

Actually, dimwit, Europeans tend to be fluent in 3 or 4 languages at a time. They start learning early when language acquisition is more or less free of charge, and before long they're multilingual (usually including English though often not, especially in the south of the Continent).

Oh, FWIW German and French both have a much stronger first-language presence in Europe than English, and with the economic ties via the EU, they've been paradoxically becoming stronger in recent years, not weaker.

Oh BTW American (Chicken)Hawk, based on your name, I presume you're one of these brave souls supporting our war in Iraq enough that you're ready to go and enlist to serve in our badly undermanned armies and fight for your country, like a true patriot, in Iraq. Right? Or are you really just a coward at heart, as most of us suspect you are?

Posted by: Logan on September 23, 2006 at 12:10 AM | PERMALINK

I'm late to the party and didn't read the whole thread. Re-reading the post it does address colleges.

Of course it is entirely possible that the schools that my children and I attended growing up brats hit the areas relative to American History precicely because a significant minority of the students were children attached to the base that employed their town?

Posted by: Global Citizen on September 23, 2006 at 12:11 AM | PERMALINK

"-how can they maintain an effective level of condescension"

They took one look at the torture bill - whatelse do they need. They don't have to know us all that well to see we headed the path to third world nation. Jeebus, who wants to study a fraud.

And congratulations Kevin it looks like Dems have cowardly decided not to stop Bushs torture bill and isnt that exactly what Kevin wanted?

It is those so called centrist folk, like ones for Washington Monthly that keep telling Dems to be very, very scared and not fight back to any of those really ugly things Bush does. This is where the Dems lose the November elections for house. Because liberals simply won't show up to vote for sorry hind ends.

Posted by: Cheryl on September 23, 2006 at 12:15 AM | PERMALINK

It cracks me up that a magazine which has the express purpose of promoting democrat policies and getting democrats elected is 'right-wing'.
Posted by: American Hawk

I, on the other hand, find it hilarious that the most vocally jingoistic and nominally pro-america sentiments posted here belong to an immigrant who somehow feels entitled to nativist sentiments that would make pat buchannan blush.

seriously american hawk ... are you even a citizen yet?

Posted by: Nads on September 23, 2006 at 12:15 AM | PERMALINK

nativist sentiments that would make pat buchannan blush.

And Bay Buchanan rip her bodice.

Posted by: Global Citizen on September 23, 2006 at 12:19 AM | PERMALINK

The fucking Sorbonne has a department of NORTH AMERICAN STUDIES along with every major university in Europe.

Where?

Posted by: lepew on September 23, 2006 at 12:20 AM | PERMALINK

And like a moon phase, here comes Kevin again with his Sensible Liberal schtick, hoping to appease his right-wing trolls. Gotta throw in some gratuitous French-bashing just to let 'em know that you're still a cool guy, and just *so* *damn* Sensible!

Good lord, Kevin, what makes you think that freakin' AMERICANS know anything about American history? Let me guess, you're still trying to work your way up the Instawanker cocktail weenie party set? Brushin' up on your reflexive asshole bonafides to prove that where the rubber meets the road, you're just like them?

Posted by: Irony Man on September 23, 2006 at 12:21 AM | PERMALINK

Wes:

Excellent post.

Linus:

Likewise. Incidentally, apropos of pomo -- have you ever read David Foster Wallace's essay "greatly exaggerated ... ", about a young American philosopher's take on Roland Barthes' famous essay The Death of the Author? If not, it's in his collection of non-fiction essays A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. It's marvelous.

republicrat:

Well, if you read scientific papers in German, you're probably talking to hard science types, and they tend, as a rule, to be a little weak in the humanities -- and this might be especially true in European education systems, where they specialize earlier than we do.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on September 23, 2006 at 12:22 AM | PERMALINK

Some half-wit named "b" blathered:
"However, learning a bunch of languages, while kind of cool in a cocktail party sense, is part of the problem. It is a transactional cost, just like changing currencies or paying commissions. It decreases productivity because valuable schooling time that could be used to learn something of value. Sure, maybe if you want to be literature in the original language, it is worthwhile. But having to learn extra languages in order to conduct normal transactions is just a tax on brainpower.

Many European companies use English as their official language to diminish these transaction costs."

B, anybody who posts in a public forum with a single letter-- and who actually sounds off on how lazy European scientists are when he's too lazy to come up with a half-decent handle himself-- sounds like either (1) a loser who's projecting his own shortcomings and failures upon other people in a jingoistic sort of way, or (2) a clueless tool with a single-channel way of looking at the world, or both.

I've worked with people who are monolingual and multilingual before, and the skills of the multilinguals were far greater than being interesting at a cocktail party. Something about the acquisition of multiple languages enables one to easily switch between codes and to magnify their communications skills in whatever language they're speaking. They also seem to have a much better grasp of logical structures and better verbal and math ability. Almost every single one of the multilinguals I've met was smarter, faster, more creative, more interesting, and in general much more productive than the monolinguals.

If you're going to trot out that tired old crapola about how "the EU is hamstringing itself with all these translation costs (up to about $50 million a year), you're going to make me laugh at all night. Considering that Shrub and company piss away over $1 billion every week in Iraq, I'd say that the Europeans are spending a comparative drop in the bucket to ensure good communication amongst each other.

Oh, and, BTW, I too have worked in Europe, with both American and European engineers-- in fact, I was a branch manager in Germany. Guess what? By and large, the Germans, Poles, Czechs, Hungarians, Russians, Indians, Chinese and Vietnamese who worked there (German was our common language) were invariably much harder working and more productive than the Americans. The Americans would often stay later, and supposedly clock longer hours, but they always got less done. This was in part b/c some of them were too lazy to actually learn German effectively even though the company provided free classes for them, but also b/c they'd doodle around for half the damn afternoon while the Europeans were actually getting on top of their duties. I wound up firing 2 of the Americans who worked there-- none of the Europeans, and I'm a guy who feels agony firing anybody except for a lethal combination of tremendous incompetence and bullying behavior toward their colleagues.

IOW, all this crap about US productivity is BS. We only have higher productivity numbers b/c we put in such ridiculous numbers, but productivity/hour is almost invariably higher in Europe. They get more done there, and they actually have time to enjoy their weekends and have a life.

Posted by: logan on September 23, 2006 at 12:23 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, how DARE you post anything other than insane ravings about Bush and Amerika?

Posted by: dnc on September 23, 2006 at 12:23 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

We are not a nation with much of a past. We have hardly much of history - 250 years, a revolution and a civil war, but hardly the meaty material that interests historians and scholars.

The idea that we have a history that should be analyzed and studied is more than hilarious; it is just plain dumb. The story of our country in the 20th century is pretty impressive but there is not much depth in there for scholarly analysis.

Sorry to disappoint you Pal. But the Europeans are right.

PM

Posted by: Provident Masochist on September 23, 2006 at 12:25 AM | PERMALINK

logan:

Nice rant :)

Provident Masochist:

Word.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on September 23, 2006 at 12:28 AM | PERMALINK

Jesus. Are you guys serious? Most of you seem to think there's really no need for university level classes in American history for European students.

That's crazy. It's not a matter of Americans thinking we're special and everyone should study us, it's a matter of American history being as important to an understanding of the world as French history, British history, Japanese history, or Latin American history. Actually, given America's place in the world today, it's more important.

I'm stunned. If McMahon is factually wrong, that's one thing, but if he's right it's a legitimate and disturbing observation. And the suggestion that no liberal should ever say anything critical of Europe because it somehow helps out the wingnuts is absurd.

And as for the suggestion that America doesn't have enough history to be worth studying, words fail me. I'm pretty sure 400 years is quite enough to fill up a class or two.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on September 23, 2006 at 12:30 AM | PERMALINK

But in fairness Kevin, european history spans hundreds of years and reaches across millenia, and asian and middle eastern history spans thousands of years. It just doesn't take the same amount of time to cover it.

Posted by: Global Citizen on September 23, 2006 at 12:33 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin:

It's that you're FACTUALLY FLAT-OUT WRONG.

Europeans are extremely well-versed in American history. They just get it 1) at the highschool level, which as many have noted is like the equivalent of the first couple years at an American liberal arts college and 2) in survey courses about topics in history, where American stuff is covered.

I'm sure that on average, say, a Brit or an Italian would more than hold his/her own against an American in pop quiz of American history.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on September 23, 2006 at 12:37 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin:

400 years? As opposed to what ... two milliennia?

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on September 23, 2006 at 12:39 AM | PERMALINK

And the suggestion that no liberal should ever say anything critical of Europe because it somehow helps out the wingnuts is absurd.

Nice strawman. We're not on you because you're "being critical of Europe". We're on you because you seem ignorant of what you're being critical of, and the tone of your criticism shows a gratuitousness that we see all the time in wingnuts. You seem very eager to keep company with some real assholes, and we just can't understand why.

Posted by: Irony Man on September 23, 2006 at 12:43 AM | PERMALINK

American Hawk flatulated thusly:

"http://ec.europa.eu/education/policies/lang/languages/index_en.html

47% of Europeans speak English, more than any other language.

Once again, thanks for playing. We have some lovely parting gifts for you, such as a book on 'googling'. You may collect your prize after you get your head out of your ass."

That's as a second/third language, dumbass, and their proficiency in that language is highly variable. I spent many years in Germany, Holland and Scandinavia-- in that northern belt of Europe where English proficiency is supposedly top notch-- and while an enormous number of people could speak decent English, it was almost never the key language of discourse. Even in the Netherlands, where the economy basically depends on drunken loudmouths in the bar districts from Britain and the United States, they'd kick you out of the country if you knew English but scorned Dutch after a period of time. Even then, less than maybe 1/3 of the university graduates in those countries really had genuine English fluency to the point that they could e.g. carry out sophisticated business or technical transactions in English (and even then, those people invariably preferred to communicate in Swedish, Dutch or German amongst each other). When I was in Germany, my German was essential to get anything done on a large scale, and even in the Netherlands, my very rudimentary Dutch was make-or-break in actually sealing deals. There would usually be *somebody* in Rotterdam who could transact with me in English, but in a couple cases German became the lingua franca, to my surprise-- it was just a function of wherever the person on the other side had done their internships in business or engineering.

In southern Europe, English proficiency was much lower, especially in the Mediterranean. If anything, French enjoyed greater sway there. In Eastern Europe, my German was much handier than my English in communicating with them. Overall, German and French had a stronger hold throughout the Continent when the Eastern European countries are taken into account.

It seems to be a uniquely American trait to boast about how lazy we are in learning about the languages and cultures of other countries. Needless to say, it doesn't do a whole lot for our international prestige.

Oh, BTW, American Hack, hate to remind you of this-- but you still haven't indicated your enlistment date on Iraq here. C'mon, Hack, either put up or shut up, are you man enough to back up your talk, or are you just a mass of stinking hot air as we all suspect you are?

Posted by: Logan on September 23, 2006 at 12:44 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin:

There may very well be, say, less specific knowledge of all the battles and reverses of the Civil War. (Hey ... I'm a little sketchy on some of that stuff and I majored in American studies). But that's okay; they probably have a good grasp of the overall arc, the issues involved and the denouement as it affected later developments (notably Reconstruction, Jim Crow and the Civil Rights eras). Likewise, the history of much of the 20th century is intertwined between the US and Europe. How could you study either world wars as a European without studying the American roles in them?

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on September 23, 2006 at 12:46 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah, Kevin. Why should what America has done in the past 200 years be as significant in today's world as the Carolingian Renaissance?

Posted by: DaProfessor on September 23, 2006 at 12:48 AM | PERMALINK

DaProfessor:

Well, I'd go for the development of German counterpoint, but I'm kinda biased that way :)

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on September 23, 2006 at 12:53 AM | PERMALINK

Hmmm, maybe there aren't American history professors in European university history departments because America ranks its own department and its scholars ("Americanists") publish in their own journals.

Gosh, next week TNR can publish an expose on how philosophy departments no longer study science!

http://www.eaas.info/profile.htm

"The European Association for American Studies is a confederation of national and joint national associations of American Studies in Europe. It was founded in 1953, in Schlo Leopoldskron, Salzburg, and its formal constitution was agreed upon in 1954. Each of the 20 member associations from 26 countries is represented on the Board of the Association (which convenes once every year). The number of Americanists represented through the national associations has risen to 4200.The conditions of membership are set out in the Articles..."

Posted by: beowulf on September 23, 2006 at 1:10 AM | PERMALINK

"The current emerging universal is Chinese."

It's already here, at least for a good chunk of the world. One of my company's postings is in Bangkok, Thailand, and while I haven't had a long-term assignment there, I've been there on many occasions for a week at a time to work out proposals with my counterparts in the office there. About 6 years ago, I could pretty reliably and consistently find people who spoke English to help guide me through the city, and while frankly it wasn't really that widely spoken, English was clearly the closest thing that Bangkok had to a business language.

Last time I was there 3 months ago-- damn, how much things have changed. There's still a goodly number of people who can chat in English, but as far as international business, Chinese already has the upper hand.

I was a bit surprised at this, b/c I thought that China's problems with the authoritarian government and lack of intellectual property laws are hindering business. But to my surprise-- and this was from many multilingual Thais who spent years in China-- things really have loosened up there, and there's a proto-democratic foundation being laid down, oddly enough a principal result of the vast and complex series of civil, property and securities protections law codes that the Chinese government has been compelled to put together. Apparently, small-scale elections at the local level are already taking place, and the CCP is evolving in a similar sort of direction as Mexico's PRI and Japan's LDP-- as a clearly dominant party but already introducing some opposition in the discussions as necessary, while steering toward consensus.

If anything, it seems that China's fledgling electoral institutions may wind up being more democratic than Japan's, where the LDP really does have a kind of stranglehold, and backroom deals still have an overmighty impact in deciding election outcomes. The CCP has candidly admitted that challenges in e.g. energy efficiency and renewables, property protection and water delivery require much more frank discussion among people with expertise, with less suppression of information. China still has a mainly consensus-based political system, but there's a greater movement to open debate and sharing of information, which in turn has attracted far more foreign students to China's universities. We're only beginning to see the effects.

Posted by: logan on September 23, 2006 at 1:23 AM | PERMALINK

This is laughable. Europeans know FAR more about American history than the other way around. There is not that much to know about America anyway- the last couple of hundred years of history are only a tiny part of history, and a lot more happened in Europe during that time than in the USA. The democratic revolutions are a common western movement, not at all specific to America. America was back then conveniently out of reach of the aristocrats and monarchs. No time for Boston tea parties, the true fighters stood their ground at home rather than sneak off to America to become Walmart greeters.

Posted by: BRD LEIF on September 23, 2006 at 1:32 AM | PERMALINK

When I visited Germany in 1985 as part of a high school exchange program, the German family I stayed with had a son my age who was studying American history in school.

Now, I certainly didn't get much German history at my high school, and I don't know anyone who did... so I'm inclined to suspect that, as others have said, this claim of McMahon's is just bogus.

Posted by: Evan on September 23, 2006 at 2:09 AM | PERMALINK

rmck1 (Bob): "Why would you expect the Europeans to study, say, the Civil War -- which is a huge topic -- to the degree that Americans would?"

They certainly haven't ignored it. One of the best comprehensive accounts of the U.S. Civil War I've ever read -- succinct, yet rich in prose and full of detail -- can be found in Volume IV of The History of the English-Speaking Peoples, which was written by Sir Winston Churchill.

I would daresay that Mr. Churchill's intricate understanding of and keen insight into that turbulent period in Ameerican history, as well as his analysis of the war's significance within the context of western history, far exceeds that which could be offered today by a majority of American scholars.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on September 23, 2006 at 2:42 AM | PERMALINK

So, which candidate for the American Presidency got over a million votes (15% of the electorate) while serving a sentence in a Federal pen?

What history do you know?

Posted by: deejaays on September 23, 2006 at 2:43 AM | PERMALINK

1980-2 A Level History - 50% American (1770s-1930s) and 50%British History.

1983-86 BA Hons Hist.Durham - 1/3 one year "Foundations of the American Republic, 2/3rds 1 year "The Presidency of Andrew Jackson".

I really doubt there's a dearth of opportunities to study US History in Europe. Real, in-depth Historical study,and not ersatz American Studies. Durham wasn't the only University in the UK that offered a decent exposure to studying US History 20 years ago, and I doubt that it's very different
today.

Virtually every American to whom I've revealed my study of US History has expressed astonishment that I did so. This pseudo-perception of European indifference to American History is a new one; I'd be interested to see what proof there is for it.

It seems to work like this; Europeans are arrogant and disdainful of the US (cf. their objections to the entirely unobjectionable Bush Administration. Therefore, they must be disdainful of American History, therefore it's a distinct possibility that no European centres of learning of note offer
the opportunity to study, apart from pseudo-course like American studies that smells of post-modernism and relativism, because Europeans are French. Well, some of them anyway.

Should this argument be supported with some facts? Why? Everybody "knows" Europeans are arrogant and disdainful of the US (cf. their objections to the entirely unobjectionable Bush Administration...

Posted by: Alan on September 23, 2006 at 4:19 AM | PERMALINK

Because you study American history in grade school, dummy. I went to school in London on the 70s when I was 7 to 17 and I covered American history twice. All of it.
I also briefly covered Russian history, Swedish history, some German. French of course. Lots of British. As well as classical Rome and Greece.
Why don't you just ask someone who studied there instead of making snide comments? Unless of course you are using the deadly weapon of SATIRE....which I think some people may not have noticed.

Posted by: Phil on September 23, 2006 at 4:40 AM | PERMALINK

"you will be hard-pressed to find a professor of American history anywhere in France or Germany"

Really ?
http://www.iu-bremen.de/academics/courses/Fall_2006/SHSS/830101_1/
that took about ,oh, 5 seconds with google.

http://www.uni-erfurt.de/nordamerika/zentrum.html

that took about another 5 seconds...

Posted by: kb on September 23, 2006 at 4:42 AM | PERMALINK

how can we maintain our level of condescension?

by your behaviour which gives us ample fuel

Posted by: Michele on September 23, 2006 at 4:46 AM | PERMALINK

What ?! This is so wrong. I don't know about Germany but i know about France. I studied American history quite a bit when i was 16 (for something like 3 months i think).

In fact i think that french students learn a lot more history than in America. In the US it seems that if you don't go to college you learn very little history, or geography. In France you study a lot of that stuff and other things like philosophy before going to college, that makes a big difference IMO.

Sorry Kevin, but this is simply wrong.

Posted by: Grigou on September 23, 2006 at 5:23 AM | PERMALINK

"Lots of Americans (maybe just the ones that take the history AP exam) know about the German invasion of France in 1869"

Hmm, Most europeans don't know about that invasion.

Although they are more familar with the invasion of 1870......

Posted by: kb on September 23, 2006 at 5:26 AM | PERMALINK

Two questions ............

1. How many of you, educated in the US, can tell me about the Putney Debates of 1647? (While I spent a year on the philosophical underpinnings, politics and text of the US Constitution - and another term on the Civil War.)

2. How come I found myself telling my highly educated Friend A in Missouri that in principle his kayaking Friend B could start in the lake behind his house in Minnesota and arrive, still in the kayak, almost at A's front door? News to him!

Educated in Europe, I gave up geography at age 14 - exactly 50 years ago - and still remember more than most of my US friends were ever taught.

Posted by: maureen on September 23, 2006 at 5:40 AM | PERMALINK

Without Google, weren't the Putney debates what brought about Englands Constitutional Monarchy? Wasn't Cromwell involved? (the Grandees maybe?) But in fairness, I was not educated solely in the US.

Posted by: Global Citizen on September 23, 2006 at 5:51 AM | PERMALINK

I have not heard the Putney debates refered to since leaving grade school in Wales in 1972.

Posted by: Global Citizen on September 23, 2006 at 5:53 AM | PERMALINK

kb: "Hmm, Most europeans don't know about that invasion. Although they are more familar with the invasion of [France by the Germans in] 1870 ..."

Not fair! Most American high school students would have trouble finding Germany or France on a world map. Just be thankful that the writer was only off by one year in his citing of the actual date of the Franco-Prussian War's commencement.

At least American high school students no longer have to look on a map for one of the namesakes of that aforementioned war, since Prussia -- long recognized and feared as the primary harbor of German militancy and expansionist thought -- was legally abolished by the occupying Allied powers following the end of World War II.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on September 23, 2006 at 6:10 AM | PERMALINK

I'm an American living in Italy, and while I can't speak about dueling history course offerings at uni's, I can say that in my experience Europeans are far more knowledgeable about America than Americans are about Europe. And that includes their awareness of American history. Kevin might feel slighted if in fact there is some kind of curriculum inequity, but it's an irrelevant position to take. Americans have a long way to catch up before they match Europeans on their understanding of the world.

Posted by: la dolce vita on September 23, 2006 at 6:13 AM | PERMALINK

maureen: "How many of you, educated in the US, can tell me about the Putney Debates of 1647?"

While taking an upper-level class in Modern British History (1600 - present) at the University of Hawaii, I once skipped an essay question about the significance of the Putney debates during my class midterm.

However, I wasn't penalized because we could choose any two of the exam's four questions to answer in detail. I still received a A.

Does that count?

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on September 23, 2006 at 6:34 AM | PERMALINK

Me: "I stiil received a A."

But it most certainly wasn't in English grammar.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on September 23, 2006 at 6:44 AM | PERMALINK

That's truly bizarre. The most powerful country in the world for most of the last century (including right now), the country that bailed them out in two world wars and took primary responsibility for their defense in the Cold War - and they don't study us?? That's fucking crazy.

Especially because, in world affairs right now, to the world's great chagrin, we're the 900-pound gorilla that sits wherever it wants. You'd think they'd like a clear idea of what makes us tick.

I mean, I get pretty upset that, despite our deep involvement in the rest of the world, we make little effort to train many people in the languages of key countries or regions, and that dearth can be a real problem at regular intervals. The wake-up call that our fate was tied to the Arab world came back in 1973, fercryinoutloud, and we still don't have very many Arabic speakers available as translators. We're probably better-situated with respect to Chinese speakers due to immigration, which is good because they can send our economy into a tailspin just by cutting back on how much more they're willing to lend us.

But for Europe not to have American history as a standard subject - that's equally dumb, if not more so.

Posted by: RT on September 23, 2006 at 7:30 AM | PERMALINK

This is the sort of post that could do with being supported by data.

Posted by: otto on September 23, 2006 at 7:36 AM | PERMALINK

I can't speak for Germany, but I live, study and have teach in France, and it's just not true that there aren't professors of American studies. At the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, for example, there is a department of History and Civilization in the Americas (http://www.ehess.fr/ue/2006-2007/dom217.html), which includes courses on "Latin American modernity," "Religious pluralism and social society in the United States," "Puritanism and Anglo Saxon Culture in the United states," "Migrants and Migrations from France to the United States," among other graudate seminars.

There is also a Center of North American Studies (http://www.ehess.fr/html/html/CEN_5_53.html) at EHESS.

The University of Paris I has a center of North American Studies (http://ameriquedunord.univ-paris1.fr/).

The University of Paris III has a Institute of the Anglophone World. And the University of Paris IV has a center of Western US and Anglophone Pacific studies (http://www.westpac.paris4.sorbonne.fr/).

And finally, there is a French Association for American Studies (http://etudes.americaines.free.fr/afea/index.php).

It took me 5 minutes to come up with these off the top of my head. The idea that one can't learn about the US in France is simply not true.

The classes offered here range from the American revolution and Lewis and Clark to the American justice system and Catholicism in the US and from Westerns and Manifest destiny to American Indians.

As a matter of fact, I tought a class on American civilzation and culture at the University of Paris VI. These classes were mandatory for all of my students, who were all graduate students in the field of biology. I focused one semester on how the electoral college works and the next on the Civil Rights movement.

It makes me laugh to hear an American talk about "European insularity." I'm surprised that Kevin hasn't seen the obvious irony in Darrin's statement.

Posted by: sean on September 23, 2006 at 7:52 AM | PERMALINK

That should read "study and teach."

Sorry.

Posted by: sean on September 23, 2006 at 7:54 AM | PERMALINK

RT: Are you saying that we should not have returned the favor to France? The war of independence was won because the French bankrupted their nation helping the fledgling American experiment get off the ground. The War of 1812 was similarly a successful military venture in the American column because of French intervention on behalf of the United States.

If we are going to persist in French-bashing, we should change the names of all of our military ranks, because they are all derived from the French.

And one last thing: The French government was not able to adequately defend against the agressions of Germany in the last century, the French people never surrendered. Ever heard of a little movement called the French Resistance?

Or would you dismiss the brave citizens of France who never surrendered, fought back with whatever meager tools they could get their hands on and who hid Jews in their attics out of defiance as terrorist insurgents?

Posted by: Global Citizen on September 23, 2006 at 8:05 AM | PERMALINK

So, which candidate for the American Presidency got over a million votes (15% of the electorate) while serving a sentence in a Federal pen?

Would it be that Socialist candidate Eugene V. Debs, for whom now-defunct New York radio station WEVD took its call letters?

Posted by: Vincent on September 23, 2006 at 8:11 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, Darrin is factually wrong. I don't know about France, but one would not be "hard pressed" to find professors of American history in Germany (amerikanische geschichte in German). Certainly you can't just go to any Fachoberschule or small Universitt and find an Anglo-American studies program, but as has been pointed out the school system here in Germany is really not easly compared to the American system. The schools are more focused on specific fields, with less of an emphasis of your typical wide range of "liberal arts" credit hours (here's a quick overview).

Furthermore, as others have noted, considering the range of history to be covered in general it makes sense that the average European would learn more about and be more interested in local history than US history. As I recall my history education in the US, I remember having to learn (western-focused) world history and American history. When taking a standard (western-focused) world history course you cover 3,000 years or so and most of that is in, well, Europe and the Mediterranean surrounds. So if you have an equivalent program in, say, France, that means that you study world history and the history of France -- which is to say mostly European, Mediterranean, and French history.

That said, I've not noticed a huge lack of knowledge of American history, but then it's not something that comes up in daily conversation, even daily conversation over politics.

As for the comments by those who claim Germans (or other Europeans) are lazy and unproductive ... well, these folks just don't know what they are talking about.

Posted by: josephdietrich on September 23, 2006 at 8:12 AM | PERMALINK

Joseph Dietrich: most Americans in 2006 think of "Dr. Z" when they think of Germany.

Posted by: Global Citizen on September 23, 2006 at 8:25 AM | PERMALINK

we were stationed at Rhine Mein during the Cold War, and my second stepfather (Mom has been widowed twice) is a German national.

I am apalled by the willful ignorance and jingoism of my cheeseburger-eating, video-game-playing fatass fellow Americans.

Posted by: Global Citizen on September 23, 2006 at 8:29 AM | PERMALINK

Doesn't anyone Google?
http://www.westpac.paris4.sorbonne.fr/site/western_globe/actues-doctorants.htm

Posted by: hector on September 23, 2006 at 8:52 AM | PERMALINK

I haven't read all the messages above, when it gets to "Europeans" this and "Americans" that already on the first few messages I lose all interest.

But just for the record, when I was in high school in Italy I remember studying "History." Not Italian, or American, or European. Of course, there was a clear focus on Italian and European history, but there was an effort to cover all different civilizations of the various continents, and yes, American history was included. Not much maybe, and I might not know all the dates of the wars fought in North America, but I do have a solid knowledge of what happened in this world of ours and when, and that is what I think matters.

To study one particular "history" of a country without a good knowledge of what was going on in the rest of the world is not really knowing history, sometimes it can be just plain indoctrination.

Stefano

Posted by: an Italian on September 23, 2006 at 9:02 AM | PERMALINK

Jumping into this late, and don't have anything to offer but anecdotal stuff. However, looking at my wife, who just got her green card (yay!) and is a product of the English educational system (Royal Holloway University of London) plus a year abroad at NYU:

she speaks English (duh), French, Spanish, German and Hebrew (learned the Hebrew at NYU as part of Holocaust studies).
She's a politics/history major at RHUL, and while she's never taken an individual American history class, she took one class her first year that was strictly on American government. Beyond that, just about every class she's taken on the politics side has dealt to a large degree with American history as it affected Europe, which is much of the time. The main parts I remember her discussing with me were the Gilded Age, WWI and the aftermath, the Depression, and the Cold war (specifically, the Marshall Plan and Reagan). So while no, she never discussed the Civil War with me, she can smack down a number of people on whether the gold standard or the Smoot-Hawley tariff was more detrimental to Germany's descent into fascism. Which is probably not a bad thing.

Posted by: jonathan on September 23, 2006 at 9:20 AM | PERMALINK

Europeans I meet on the internet obviously know American history as well as or better than Americans.

Posted by: Gary Sugar on September 23, 2006 at 9:33 AM | PERMALINK

Since when do you need to go to college to study history? They have these things called "books," and they don't require a professor to interpret them for you.

Posted by: Red on September 23, 2006 at 9:43 AM | PERMALINK

Europeans generally try to reserve pornography for the back alleys, where it belongs. American history is one long obscenity, from the slaughter of the Arawak Indian tribe by Christopher Columbus and his crew to the murder of the 3,000 innocents at the WTC, punctuated by cheery moments of self-congratulatory flag-waving. Europeans prefer things less vile and blood-thirsty.

Posted by: A Cynic's Cynic on September 23, 2006 at 9:57 AM | PERMALINK

This is the most disappointing post, because for all your faults, Kevin, I don't think I've ever seen you just lie.

I don't even work in academia, and I know a professor who teaches a course in the history of the United States in a European university. I know no professors teaching the history of any European country in an American university, but I'm capable of imagining that there are some.

Want to know why we really look down on you, Kevin? It's not because you don't know things, it's because, as an American, you cannot conceive that what you don't know about can nevertheless exist. That's the true meaning of American insularity.

Posted by: derek on September 23, 2006 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

This is a lot of nonsense.

First of all France and Germany have no "small" colleges at all. You will go to a lyce or gymnasium until you are 19. Thats 13 years of school education.

In these schools you have history professors and while the emphasis is on European history of course you learn quite a few things about America, its constitution, Civil War, New Deal etc.

At least I did.

After school you go straight to university. Studies tend to be a lot more specialized there. But of course in history studies US history takes its proper place.

I'd say that a German student when he/she is 19 knows a good deal more about the American Civil War than the American college student knows about the German democracy mocement in the 19th century.

Posted by: German student on September 23, 2006 at 10:19 AM | PERMALINK

this is a nonsensical post as it is factually incorrect... I just reviewed the University of Leiden in Holland... obviously not a well known name in America, hence perhaps in American eyes a "small" european university...see attached courses of study in history both bachelors and masters..taught in Dutch not English...I assume a casual glance at other European universities would uncomver the same:

http://www.arts.leidenuniv.nl/index.php3?m=11&c=61


Posted by: leftyMN on September 23, 2006 at 10:43 AM | PERMALINK

English studies at Paris IV

The English Department (UFR) of the University of Paris IV is located in the Sorbonne buildings, in the heart of the Latin Quarter. It is, thus, heir to centuries-old traditions concerning teaching and research in the humanities and the human sciences.

English and North American studies have been well-placed there for quite some time, thanks to the impetus given by renowned professors like Charles Cestre, Maurice Le Breton, Louis Cazamian, Louis Bonnerot or Roger Asselineau.

Today, with a solid team of 74 teachers, this department offers a complete program in English.

While increasing the already-high quality of the teaching at all levels through on-going research, the purpose of the department (UFR) is to guarantee students the best preparation possible in their development as teachers or researchers, to provide all the methodological and critical tools necessary to a good knowledge of the culture of English-speaking countries, and to help students discover and appreciate the history, literature, arts and social life of these countries through the complementarity of the disciplines that make up this field, and through diversification into two different course programs:

Posted by: SAO on September 23, 2006 at 11:23 AM | PERMALINK

Except for those ghettoized by 'Ebonics education', every American is familar with the predominant European language: English.

Posted by: American Hawk on September 22, 2006 at 10:13 PM | PERMALINK


Hey American Hawk, go try explaining to a typical Brit that he speaks a "European language." He'll kick your American arse.

Posted by: Friend of Labor on September 23, 2006 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

I find the whole topic quite laughable. I lived in Germany for six years during the late 80's and into the 90's. I guarantee you the "average" American Joe six-pack and the "average" Herman Hefeweizen are on par with their inability to understand or recall world/regional history and basic Algebra or higher math.

Posted by: 1SG on September 23, 2006 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

The post is completely misinformed. I've taught in both France and Germany, and the average French and German student in the Humanities knows *far more* about U.S. history and government than vice versa. And there are far more students in both of those countries studying English and American literature, American Studies, American history, etc. than Americans studying France and/or Germany. I sent this to an American friend who has been teaching in France for a dozen years, and this is his reply:

This is simply not true of course. It may be the case that HISTORY
departments do not devote as many resources (faculty and courses and
conferences) to American history, but ENGLISH departments most definitely
do. As you may remember from your time in Toulouse, history in language
departments is typically taught under the rubric "Civilisation"; and this
can cover blocks of time, such as "The War of Independence to the Civil
War", "The Civil War up to World War I", etc.; or it can be packaged so as
to treat a narrower time period or topic or individual. There are courses
on, for example, the McCarthy era, the Sixties, The Jazz Age, etc., and
courses on Emerson, FDR, etc.
Contrary to what the author of that blog piece seems to suggest, though more
resources may be going to teaching French and German history in History
departments in the U.S., I would be quite confident that the average French
university student (and definitely any English major) would know far more
about U.S. institutions and its history than her American counterpart would
know about France.

I suspect the situation is similar in Germany (ie, the studying of U.S.
history is happening intensively in language departments around the
country).

Posted by: jeff on September 23, 2006 at 12:13 PM | PERMALINK

Is the person who keeps commenting as "Kevin Drum" actually a troll? Because otherwise I can't explain his ignorance, incuriousness, and uncritical acceptance of things he reads on blogs.

Or maybe it's just that good old American educational system.

Most European universities have English pages, but it takes a modicum of knowledge of foreign languages to get past the surface.

Professeur en etudes nord-americaines? Gibberish! Why don't they talk English?

Posted by: rabbit on September 23, 2006 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, following from the tortured logic of your initial post, if it is true (as the thread demonstrates) that Europeans in fact are paying due attention to American history, does this mean they are justified in maintaining an effective level of condescension towards us?

Many of us are reacting to the unnecessary snark of this throw-away line, not simply to your gullibility to believe the silly and inaccurate proposition in the first place.

By the way, go to Crooks and Liars and look at Lewis Black's wonderful routine on travelling abroad. Hate to think of you being in the camp Black so effectively mocked.

Posted by: Friend of Labor on September 23, 2006 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

Still scratching head: perhaps Darrin McMahon counted only those scholars of American history whose title is actually "Professor"? Which corresponds roughly to distinguished named chairs in American universities--of which there are precious few. To count all the historians whose academic rank corresponds to our assistant, associate, and regular full professors, you have to look to a range of titles that don't have "professor" in them. Maybe that was just too confusing for Mr. McMahon?

Posted by: rabbit on September 23, 2006 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

Except for those ghettoized by 'Ebonics education', every American is familar with the predominant European language: English.

Proving yet again that "American Hawk" is not only racist, but an idiot.

Learning other languages is a huge benefit - it gives you access to a world of thought that would be otherwise closed off to you, it helps you understand the world from the perspective of others, and a host of other things.

But American Hawk knows everything there is to know already. Because he speaks English.

Sort of.

Posted by: chuck on September 23, 2006 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

They don't take us seriously because most US political conversation is buried under a mess of parochiol references that sound just gruesomely trivial and unlikely.

There was a survey a couple of years ago that discovered something like 80% of people in the UK think New Orleans is a state.


In the first World War European militaries, each for their own good reasons, failed to learn anything from the American Civil War and set about making all the errors of trench warfare all over again.

More recently, after decades of enthusiastically agreeing with American commentators about how lousy US society is, France set about building exactly the same kind of bleak, cheap warehouse housing projects.

Posted by: cld on September 23, 2006 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

Congratulations to savvy Europeans if they've discovered that our written history is all too often seriously inaccurate. We are, after all, awful prevaricators about who we have been and who we are. I'd have to see some backup to McMahon's assertions. Having lived in four countries in Europe, my own experience is that it's hard not to come away with the impression that they often know more about us than we do about ourselves!

Meanwhile, the post seems a tad xenophobic.

Posted by: PW on September 23, 2006 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

A cynic's cynic: Are you suggesting that Europeans don't study European 20th Century history? You say they prefer things 'less vile and blood-thirsty'? So they must not study their roles in the greatest attempt at genocide in human history? The genocide waves they inflicted upon each other throughout the beginning of the 29th Century, the 6 million Jews they slaughtered for kicks? Just wondering....or do you consider those events less 'vile and blood-thirsty'?

Posted by: Bluedog on September 23, 2006 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

Should read 20th Century above.

A European claiming US history is more vile and blood-thirsty' has got to be joking.

Posted by: bluedog on September 23, 2006 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

What an astonishing thread.

We have people posting that yes, Europeans learn American History, in fact learn it better than Americans do.

We have people posting that yes, Europeans don't learn American History because there's no history to learn.

We have people posting that yes, Europeans don't learn American History because America and Americans are stupid and parochial so there's no point.

We have people posting that yes, Europeans know American History from watching TV and movies.

We have the usual claim that Americans know nothing about Europe, or European History, as though that is relevant in a discussion of what Europeans know or learn.

What we don't have is anyone posting any facts. We have anecdotes, we have urban myths, we have America-bashing factoids, we have European-bashing factoids.

What a bunch of wankers.

Posted by: DaveL on September 23, 2006 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

Dear DaveL:

In other words, more or less the typical thread on this site.


Posted by: Friend of Labor on September 23, 2006 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

What kind of liberal criticizes Europe? You're supposed to be worshipping Europe and crapping on America. You've been away from college too long. Get with the program.

Posted by: dnc on September 23, 2006 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

DaveL:

I posted a fact. It is a fact that one would not be "hard pressed" to find an American History program in German universities unless one was somewhat incompetent. There are many universities that offer such programs. There may not be as many American studies programs in France an Germany as there are German and French studies programs in the USA, but frankly I don't think there are as many universities in either country (remember, we are talking about nations that have together a population of at best 50% America's and a land area of Wyoming and the Dakotas).

Since the entire basis of this post is based on false information published by the New Republic, I don't think we need to provide more facts than that.

Opinions however, now that's another matter. You know the old saying about opinions ... and anyway, since the meat of TNR's post is basically "hey, America's important and those damn condescending Europeans should know more of our history to realize how important we are," I don't see how you would avoid comments of the "anecdotes, ... urban myths, ... America-bashing factoids, ... European-bashing factoids" sort.

Posted by: josephdietrich on September 23, 2006 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

http://www.paris4.sorbonne.fr/fr/article.php3?id_article=129

On trouvera aussi des sminaires sur le thtre lisabthain, les voyages dans lAngleterre du XVIIe sicle, la ville britannique du XVIIIe sicle nos jours, lAngleterre victorienne, lhistoire et la littrature de lOuest amricain, les relations entre la Grande-Bretagne et le Commonwealth, les fictions amricaines contemporaines, limmigration aux tats-Unis et les relations inter-culturelles, la linguistique anglaise, lcosse au XVIIIe sicle, les tudes de genres (roman anglais contemporain, posie, thorie critique), lhistoire culturelle, lhistoire des ides, des arts ou des mdias.

(there's quite a bit of American history in the above... that's at Sorbonne IV, which is a decent French university, if hardly grand ecole)

http://www.cndp.fr/doc_administrative/programmes/secondaire/histgeo/accueil.htm

On this page you can find the curriculum for the Baccalaureat (the French high school finishing exam). Under geography, you will find an entire module devoted to 'The United States, the most puissant (powerful) nation in the world'. 'premiere puissance mondiale' p17.

This strikes me as a classic 'throwaway' comment reflecting the American inferiority complex some neoconservatives have about European criticism.

The reality is if Americans knew in their hearts that they were doing the right thing in the Middle East, that their global policies were enlightened, sensible, and long termist, they would worry less about German or French (or British) criticism.

Their reactions are always those who feel culturally inferior, or have a guilty conscience because they know they have put their hand in the cookie jar. By attacking their critics, they try to hide the weaknesses in their own arguments and behaviours.

The next phase of this argument is virtually *always* to mention Nazi Germany: Germany falling to fascism, France being overrun and defeated*. As if nations never have bad political decisions, totalitarian regimes after they suffer catastrophic defeats in wars and economic collapses. And as if nations don't lose wars and get invaded: 1812 anyone? Not every country has the US strategic depth.

* I'm not a Daniel Goldhagen guy:

Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (Vintage) (Paperback)
by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen

A much better thesis (also by a American historian) is contained in:

Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland (Paperback)

by Christopher R Browning

Browning's point, which is sustained by Stanley Milgrom's experiments, and by events at Abu Ghreib, is that you can take any ordinary group of men, put them in an environment where they will commit atrocities. You only need a few evil geniuses at the top, you don't need to draw on some alleged 1000 year history of antisemitism, unique to Germany and not to other European countries.

Posted by: John on September 23, 2006 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

josephdietrich, you indeed approached posting a fact, and although you didn't actually mention any specific German universities with American Studies (more-or-less) programs, you at least sounded convincing in claiming such exist.

The more interesting thing is the idea that Europeans in general can be excused from not knowing much about American History because they have to study all that World/European History as well, including their own country's history.

Of course, this is precisely what American students face also. They study World/European History and American History. High school students in my town have many History options available; my older daughter took a full year of modern European History, starting with the French Revolution and concluding with WW2, as well as a more general history course that covered the world since WW2, and of course American History.

Actually, the people on this thread who are the most contemptible are those who claim that since American History only goes back X years (250 or 400 or 500 -- take your pick) there is nothing there to study. If they take their own advice and ignore American History, how can anyone take them seriously when they post on any American political topic?

Posted by: DaveL on September 23, 2006 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

DaveL,

I dont know how McMahon arrived at his conclusions. Simply said, in case of Germany theyre wrong.
I wrote two comments over at Matthew Yglesias
http://www.matthewyglesias.com/archives/2006/09/american_exceptionalism/#comment
dealing with that topic. I especially mentioned the search words used and some of the results.

Heres a short summary:
1) University history departments in Germany normally deal with a certain time period. For example "Ancient World", "Middle Ages", "Early Modern Age" (1500-1800) or "Newest Modern Age" (1800 till today). A Google search using German found numerous lectures/courses dealing with American history. History departments dedicated to one country or region are more seldom but they do exist. For American studies, I could name Heidelberg, Berlin and Cologne for example. (They might be more but I only looked at the first two result pages.)

2) Almost every university in Germany got an "Anglistik" and/or "Amerikanistik" department.
("Anglistik" means studying the English language, Anglo-American literature and culture. "Amerikanistik" is essentially the same but focuses especially on the USA. With less coverage of Great Britain for example.)
It should be obvious that in order to study that you also need an understanding of American history and politics. So American history is an integral part of "Amerikanistik".

McMahon especially mentioned the "American Revolution, the New Deal and the Civil War".

My conclusion after a Google search?
Just looking at the links Id say that practically every German university with a history department, economics department or "Amerikanistik" department covers one or all of the three topics mentioned by McMahon. As well as other American history topics I should add.

Posted by: Detlef on September 23, 2006 at 4:03 PM | PERMALINK

There have been many embarrassing moments in this discussion, starting with Kevin's pointlessly snarky topic introduction. However, speaking as a patriotic American, could my fellow citizens PLEASE use spelling and grammar check when you are debating educated foreigners? You make us all look like illiterate bumpkins.

The blog's usual trolls can handle that job without our help.

The funniest line in the discussion so far? Suggesting that the average educated American would know or care about the German invasion of France in 1870. I occasionally drop historical topics into conversation, and have done so for several decades. Very seldom do I get any reaction other than a blank look or a patronizing giggle, even from people with advanced degrees from elite universities. Once you get past "Columbus sailed the ocean blue, in fourteen hundred and ninety-two" people get all glassy-eyed.

On the other hand, I have exchanged email with more than one British correspondent who thinks the Battle of Agincourt conclusively proves British superiority to the French. Apparently, no one teaches them that the French won that war and most of the others they fought with the British up until the 18th Century.

Every country has its own quirks.

Posted by: Berken on September 23, 2006 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK

DaveL: given that I'm posting way down in the comments section of a blog, I have to admit that I am a bit lazy about doing research on the topic. I assumed that the interested reader might google "amerikanische geschichte" and find out for themselves, although now that I think about it "Geschichte Nordamerikas" or "Geschichte der Vereinigten Staaten" might be better. Furthermore, there are a lot of American studies programs that, while not history programs, would probably fit the bill since they focus on the language, culture, and literature in addition to the history of both the US and Great Britain. "Anglistik and Amerikanistik" is a good search term for that.

In any event, I know from just a quick search that Unis in Berlin, Cologne, Jena, Kassel, Heidelberg, Erlangen, Duisburg-Essen, and Bochum have professors specializing in either American history or American studies.

I'll agree with you on those that say that American history was not long enough to be worth studying are wrong. On the other hand, you don't have to know the entire history of a nation to be able to comment on issues of current politics.

The idea that Europeans can be excused from knowing American history is not one I am trying to promote. However, the claim that Europeans as a whole don't know or care much about American history is not surprising, simply because they don't live in America. I suspect a similar dynamic is at work in the US regarding European history: sure, most American students have a passing familiarity with the Greeks, the Roman Empire, the Middle Ages, the Crusades, and the World Wars, but I doubt most really know or care much about the details (well, except for WWII and the Nazis, as there is a seemingly endless supply of TV shows about that subject).

At the end of the day I am arguing that Darrin is both factually wrong and wrong in his apparent assumption that if only Europeans knew more about our history they would be less condescending and insular (which themselves are claims that are basically opinion and not much else).

[on preview, what Detlef said]

Posted by: josephdietrich on September 23, 2006 at 4:19 PM | PERMALINK

The point Kevin started with, McMahon's assertions in the New Republic (that shining light of historical scholarship), are gross generalizations that are simply not true. They're more informative about McMahon's own assumptions than they are about the state of education in Europe. It is not the case that European universities are somehow inattentive to US history. There are plenty of American history and culture specialists in European university systems. As many respondents to this thread have pointed out, college-educated Europeans generally know a great deal more about the U.S. on all levels (history, politics, culture, etc) than college-educated Americans know about Europe. Which educational system, on that criterion, does a better job of contributing to the creation of an informed public? It seems fairly clear that McMahon's tendentious assertions in The New Republic that "Europeans" (which Europeans? Are they all the same?) are "insular" and guilty of "an inveterate cultural condescension" are not intended as any sort of informed observation, but as argumentive clubs with which to beat contemporary European critiques of US policy.

Posted by: satchmo on September 23, 2006 at 4:21 PM | PERMALINK

Well, gee. Europeans have a LOT more history to cover, you know, being so much older and all.

Our us history courses barely make it up to World War II.

Besides, what's to know that they already don't understand about our history?

Posted by: sa rose on September 23, 2006 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK

satchmo,

Your assertion that college educated Europeans are more informed about American history, politics and culture than college educated Aemricans are similarly informed about Europe is just an assertion, nothing more. That European respondents concur in the assertion is meaningless, I'd expect nothing else.

Posted by: tonto's expanding headband on September 23, 2006 at 5:29 PM | PERMALINK

"...you will be hard-pressed to find a professor of American history anywhere in France or Germany. There are, to be sure, notable exceptions...."

That is simply pathetic. The first statement simply contradicts the second. You won't find one anywhere, unless of course you look in the obvious places, like universities.

Really, you should be ashamed of yourself.

Posted by: Kevin Donoghue on September 23, 2006 at 5:33 PM | PERMALINK

Someone near the top of the thread cast aspersions on the work ethic of European scientists. I can only assume this person has never heard of the Max Planck Institute. I was there for a few weeks one semester, and was constantly (physics humor - sorry) amazed by the scientists I encountered there. They were not the lazy sluggards suckling the national tit that the poster early in the thread disparaged with a wide brush.

Posted by: Global Citizen on September 23, 2006 at 5:55 PM | PERMALINK

Tonto: "That European respondents concur in the assertion is meaningless, I'd expect nothing else."

Amazingly, Tonto, some people make assertions based on something other than self-interest or nationalistic jingoism. McMahon's assertions, the basis of the thread, are manifestly incorrect. It is not true that European universities neglect the study of US history. His misrepresentation is simply a thrown-off comment in a two-paragraph post, itself based on another two-paragraph post by Casey Blake that makes similar overgeneralizations as part of a complaint about perceived European "anti-Americanism."

What is interesting is that this thrown-off, misinformed generalization sparks such commentary and argument in this context.

I'm not asserting any superiority of anyone to anyone. I'm merely observing the obvious, that McMahon's misinformed generalizations are not really about "Europe" at all but, more likely, one small example of current US defensiveness about US misdeeds and the country's severely weakened position in global discussions.

And Tonto, if you really think that general US awareness of Europe is equal to or greater than general European awareness of the US (the answer seems obvious to me, but truly I'm often mistaken about things and always eager to become better informed), then I suggest comparing the last week (or month, or year) of coverage of things European/World in the W Post and NYT (as print media of record in US) to coverage of things US/World in the Corriere della Serra, the Frankfurter A. Zeitung, Le Monde, or the Guardian (as print media of record in Europe).

I leave you to your own conclusions, but as best I can tell, the comparison is not very flattering to US media, or to any assertions of general US knowledge or awareness of things non-US that might be based on it.

Don't McMahon's complaints about "European insularity" strike you as the pot calling the kettle black? I mean, at the current historical juncture, with the US pursuing unilateralism and the disastrous policies of a notably Orwellian and propagandistic regime, that's a pretty laughable accusation. If insularity is the question (and that's the general accusation behind McMahon's mininformation about the teaching of US history in "Europe"), the US is hardly in a position to be throwing stones.

Posted by: satchmo on September 23, 2006 at 7:13 PM | PERMALINK

Whereas you can go to almost any small college in America and find, say, a professor or two of French or German history

Really? The university I attended was not that small and I don't think there were history professors that specialized in French or German history. Maybe European history, which is a much broader field and one that been around for a lot longer than the United States has existed.

Posted by: little ole jim from red country on September 23, 2006 at 7:44 PM | PERMALINK

Shame on you Kevin! I normally have a great deal of respect for your posts but this is really jingoistic and foolish. For the record, I am a teacher at a private liberal arts college and to help slay your straw man, our history department does not have a single scholar of French or German history. One professor's research deals primarily with British history but that is as close to European history as we get. Why don't you go eat some freedom fries.

Posted by: Bill Hicks on September 23, 2006 at 10:22 PM | PERMALINK

satchmo,

Part of the problem in talking about "Europe" is a tendency to ragard it as if it were a political, linquistic and cultrual unity like the United States rather than a congeries of separate nations. Every European country has its "newspaper(s) of record" and its state run radio/TV service, each with its particlar view of the United States. There's more coverage of the United State, in totality, than American coverage of Europe but I don't know if this translates into the average European being better informed than the average American. Too, a big, lumbering, rich country with a pervasive pop culture like the United States can hardly avoid being on every European's mind at one time or another. I'm sure they're concerned more about us than they are about Latvia or Finland (to pick two countries at random).

Don't mistake the writings of Darrin McMahon for a cosmic statement.

Posted by: tonto's expanding headband on September 23, 2006 at 10:28 PM | PERMALINK

Any "Etats-Uniens" know anything about General Brock and his importance to U.S. history?

Posted by: evagrius on September 23, 2006 at 11:05 PM | PERMALINK

I will play without Google - Was Brock the Canadian General who kept Canada from slipping into the American column in the war of 1812?

Posted by: Global Citizen on September 24, 2006 at 1:05 AM | PERMALINK

Europeans constantly condescend to Americans, despite the fact that-- on average-- they're far less curious and productive than we are.
Europeans constantly condescend to Americans
Europeans are pretty lazy and self-centered.

That's just three of the highly stupid generalizations on this topic. I couldn't read much further. But I loved this:

...But having to learn extra languages in order to conduct normal transactions is just a tax on brainpower.

Many European companies use English as their official language to diminish these transaction costs.

Posted by: b on September 22, 2006 at 10:19 PM | PERMALINK

b typifies the lazy type. Obviously only wants to trade with people who speak his language. Forgotten about those who blazeed a trail into China or, previously, Japan only by speaking THEIR language. Dolt.

I have to wonder how far any of these people have travelled in Europe and who they spoke to.

For those with only short-term memory, recently it's been hard not to sound condescending on the foreign policy front. But I think most would agree that can be blamed on a small cotery of idiots.

Other than that, Europeans vary more than US citizens, their politics traverse from neo-nazi to communist, they have their own culture and are open to other neighboring cultures, they import US culture and have it imposed on them, and history learned -- from Roman to present day -- revolves around their national history and if and when the USofA affects them.

Really, except for France, Britain and Spain, the US does not intrude until the 20th century, some 2300 years into history. Once the Revolutionary War is done with, there's nothing the US does that effects the course of British and French history until then either.

I think you might want to reflect on the famous US geography scores to see who might be "lazy", "less curious", "condescending" or "self-centered".

Posted by: notthere on September 24, 2006 at 2:56 AM | PERMALINK

I'm afraid it's aboslutely true, Kevin. In fact, when I was in grad school in the mid-nineties, I actually wrote a paper where I surveyed all the writings of French historians of the United States -- reading everything that had been written took about a month, and much of it was synthetic rather than original research; even where the scholarship was original, it only rarely became recognized by American historians.

The proper context for this, however, is the sorry state of academia in Europe generally. It's not just that the average French university has fewer historians of the U.S. than the average American university has historians of France -- it's that it has fewer historians of France than the average American research university has of France! Put simply, the United States dominates the production of original historical knowledge of all countries. This is just one small part of our general academic primacy, and the hegemony of the U.S. in the production of basic science.

However, what's also worth noting is that none of this says anything about the appreciation of the significance of history. Here I think McMahon's article is misleading: the real question is how much people care about history, and think history matters when they think about foreign countries. In this respect, most foreigners who think about it at all are much more conscious of our history than similar Americans are abroad. One would be hard-pressed to find an informed public anywhere else in the world that think that American history doesn't matter for explaining our actions in the world. By contrast, many powerful Americans just don't think history -- ours or anybody else's -- matters very much. The Iraq misadventure is hardly explicable otherwise, for example. What's shameful about the U.S. is not so much ignorance of foreign countries' history, as our mindless sense that such histories don't matter. By contrast, no one abroad thinks that the United States's actions are intelligible outside the broader sweep of our imperial rise, and the internal dynamics of our peculiar form of turbocapitalism. It's a matter, in short, of historical consciousness, not historical knowledge. And in this respect, most Americans, even powerful ones, are sleepwalking through history.

Posted by: Nils on September 24, 2006 at 8:19 AM | PERMALINK

While I think that various commenters here have admirably made the case that the original comment here was worthless - in that Europeans tend to both have far more extensive historical studies in secondary school than Americans, and in that there are a decent number of scholars of American history in European countries - I think there is a tiny nugget of truth here.

Perhaps it is simply an anglophone bias on my part, but as far as I can tell there's a lot more *really important* historians of Europe at American universities than there are historians of America at European universities. I'm a grad student in history at an "elite" American university, and there's a fair number of Europeans in my program who came to study *European* history. I am dubious that very many Americans go to Europe to do graduate study in American history.

I think a lot of this comes down to money (which the top American universities have a lot more of than most European universities), but I think that in the topmost levels, one can find a difference. This doesn't mean that Europeans are ignorant of American history, just that top level historians of Europe are more likely to be trained in America than top level historians of America are to be trained in Europe.

One would add to this that the United States ends up getting a lot of British professors, due to economic issues (top American universities offer way more money to senior professors than British universities do), so you find the top British professors often spend much of their careers in the United States.

That all being said, the original comment is still nonsense.

Posted by: John on September 24, 2006 at 8:22 AM | PERMALINK

It matters because the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence in One nation under God - written by great and noble men and kept, protected, cherished, defended and passed on for generations - is the best law in history for people who dare live free, and we are standing upon our heritage - this precious legacy of liberty - blindly, and peeing - yearning for servitude, looking back towards Egypt, Europe - betraying our heritage, nation, ancestors, children (aborted ghost children), our braver neighbors who still take the harder high road and keep this world civil for the rest of us, even knowing what we are.

...

"I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

"If people let government decide which foods they eat and medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who have lived under tyranny."

"The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but the newspapers."

"God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure if we have removed their only firm basis; a conviction in the minds of men that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever."

- Thomas Jefferson

''Jeffersons war against the Barbary pirates was taken up after more than one million Europeans had been made slaves by Muslim traders.'' - http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=MGIyZjU5NWI0MTJlNDQyMjUxZmRkMDkxODEyMTEyODk

Posted by: btdt on September 24, 2006 at 8:24 AM | PERMALINK

Kevein should know better than to post as fact unverified assertions from a New Republic blogger.

Here is the website of the European Association for American Studies. It appears to have active affiliates in every European country, and Turkey as well (links are posted on the main page). If anyone is curious, here is a survey of current American Studies programs in each country, from their current journal.

Drilling down to France, a country specifically mentioned in the TNR post as having no interest in the US, it appears that there is a hefty government-sponsored national institute for American Studies, the Centre dtudes nord-amricaines."

Antone curious about the actual rather than imagined state of American Studies in Europe would do well to spend twenty minutes perusing this site.

"Things I Did Not Know" indeed.

Posted by: No Preference on September 24, 2006 at 9:04 AM | PERMALINK

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Posted by: vv on September 24, 2006 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

Baloney. There are European scholars and courses on American History. Here's one example among many.

Freie Universitat Berlin Abteilung fur Geschichte Nordamerikas

http://www.jfki.fu-berlin.de/faculty/history/index.html

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"But how can they maintain an effective level of condescension toward us if they don't study our history?"

Rien de plus facile. We just read the news of what your espece de bete government is doing every day, mon vieux. And, if that fails, we read the betises you perpetrate on your blogs.

Posted by: ajay on September 25, 2006 at 6:15 AM | PERMALINK

Someone said that no one has posted any facts discounting Kevin's ridiculous post. I beg to differ:

I can't speak for Germany, but I live, study and teach in France, and it's just not true that there aren't professors of American studies. At the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, for example, there is a department of History and Civilization in the Americas (http://www.ehess.fr/ue/2006-2007/dom217.html), which includes courses on "Latin American modernity," "Religious pluralism and social society in the United States," "Puritanism and Anglo Saxon Culture in the United states," "Migrants and Migrations from France to the United States," among other graudate seminars.

There is also a Center of North American Studies (http://www.ehess.fr/html/html/CEN_5_53.html) at EHESS.

The University of Paris I has a center of North American Studies (http://ameriquedunord.univ-paris1.fr/).

The University of Paris III has a Institute of the Anglophone World. And the University of Paris IV has a center of Western US and Anglophone Pacific studies (http://www.westpac.paris4.sorbonne.fr/).

And finally, there is a French Association for American Studies (http://etudes.americaines.free.fr/afea/index.php).

It took me 5 minutes to come up with these off the top of my head. The idea that one can't learn about the US in France is simply not true.

The classes offered here range from the American revolution and Lewis and Clark to the American justice system and Catholicism in the US and from Westerns and Manifest destiny to American Indians.

As a matter of fact, I tought a class on American civilzation and culture at the University of Paris VI. These classes were mandatory for all of my students, who were all graduate students in the field of biology. I focused one semester on how the electoral college works and the next on the Civil Rights movement.

It makes me laugh to hear an American talk about "European insularity." I'm surprised that Kevin hasn't seen the obvious irony in Darrin's statement.

Go to any of the links that I mentioned above, and you will see that it is patently false that one is hard pressed to find American history taught in France.

http://thehumanprovince.blogspot.com

Posted by: sean on September 25, 2006 at 6:48 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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