U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Intellectual History And the Week That Was

I planned on writing a post this week about the tumultuous events on the campuses of Missouri, Yale, Amherst, Kansas, and elsewhere this week. However, after the events in Paris and Beirut in recent days, I felt it important to instead utilize this space as a one-stop shop for reading up on the historical context for some of what’s occurred this week. I have every intention of writing about the campus turmoil of the past few weeks. I doubt it is ending anytime soon, and it is necessary for everyone interested—whether you are backing the protesters or believe their protests are a waste of time—to at least understand what this generation of young African American college students has experienced in their lives. Failing to understand that means, ultimately, being unable to understand the source of these protests and the combination of anger and deep sadness behind them.

With that said, I urge you to take a look at the African American Intellectual History Society’s assembling of the #MizzouSyllabus, which is a follow up to both the events at the University of Missouri and the earlier #CharlestonSyllabus (which is now being turned into a book as well). What they have done is assemble a reading list of blog posts, editorials, articles, and books which all provide some context to what’s going on at Missouri and elsewhere. Feel free to add more suggestions using the #MizzouSyllabus hashtag on Twitter—by no means is their current list exhaustive, and they’re certainly looking for more entries. One article I’d like to bring everyone’s attention to is from The American Prospect on the importance of Historically Black Colleges and Universities in today’s academic world. (Also take a look at this follow up piece.)

Meanwhile, in regards to what happened in Paris and Beirut, one should read about these events from multiple angles. First, it is clear that one of the targets of the assault on Paris was the soccer match between Germany and France. This symbolism is easy to spot—a large, public space with thousands of French citizens cheering on their team (and, no doubt, some traveling German supporters as well) would be a tempting target for any terrorist organization. But also consider what those teams represent for France and Germany. They are both teams filled with players of different colors and backgrounds, representing the potential for European multiculturalism in an era when the very thought of a multicultural Europe is under siege due to war in the Middle East and culture clash in the heart of Europe. Laurent Dubois and his work on French soccer is good reading in that regard.

As for understanding ISIS, the group that has claimed responsibility for the attacks, here are several articles that offer a variety of reasons for why young people (mostly men) join the organization: here at The Nation Lydia Wilson has conducted interviews with captured ISIS fighters. The Atlantic devoted a cover story several months to the rise of ISIS. Foreign Affairs also has a fascinating story about the maintenance of ISIS’ territory as a “Revolutionary state.”

By no means is this an exhaustive list of sources. And, as I stated above, I will return to the campus upheaval at Missouri and elsewhere in a future blog post. Suffice to say it was a week none of us will forget, in a year filled with such weeks. The old adage “May you live in interesting times” comes to mind. Sometimes, one grows tired of interesting times, but as intellectual historians, we should not shy away from thinking about how everyone should understand the historical context of all that has happened.

One Thought on this Post

  1. Robert,
    The Nation piece from last month that you link is very interesting; thanks. An excerpt for those who may not have read it:
    There is no question that these prisoners I am interviewing are committed to Islam; it is just their own brand of Islam, only distantly related to that of the Islamic State. Similarly, Western fighters traveling to the Islamic State are also deeply committed, but it’s to their own idea of jihad rather than one based on sound theological arguments or even evidence from the Qur’an.

    And in a previous paragraph the author describes a British ISIS recruit ordering the book Islam for Dummies from Amazon.

    Also she emphasizes the resentment of young Sunni Iraqis vs. the U.S. for its destabilization of the country, the resulting civil war, etc.


    As for the Stephen Walt piece in Foreign Affairs, it’s completely different but also worth reading. (I agree with a good deal of it, but have some quibbles.) The framework comes from his book Revolution and War, published roughly 20 years ago.

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