This is a film about grief – raw, directionless, sudden grief. The film focuses on Mrs. Kennedy’s three days after the death of her husband, President John Kennedy, and how she does her best to cope with such a powerful, public murder. From the opening sounds of strings being tuned down on a black screen (which become the signature musical motif), to long shots of Mrs. Kennedy (played by an excellent Natalie Portman – it would be a crime if she doesn’t get at least a nomination, she should win her 2nd Oscar for this role) wandering through the White House alone, switching outfits, searching for meaning and mooring like an unanchored boat. You get an inside look into Mrs. Kennedy’s personality, her strength, her anger, and her love for her husband (despite the troubles that are only alluded to). The film shows you as she begins packing up the White House for its new occupant and preparing her children for the inevitable loss that they cannot understand at such a young age. Mrs. Kennedy is also shown obsessing over the legacy of her husband, a good man as she has said, whom she loves as he sits in his rocking chair with Caroline and John, Jr. at his feet. This is the image that she leaves us with, one which some people who know about JFK’s philandering might ask why she still stays with him. Her confidante and aide, Nancy Tuckerman (played by Greta Gerwig) is Jackie’s sounding board, her friend, and giver of best advice. Peter Sarsgaard plays Attorney General Robert Kennedy, a grief stricken man who appears to have buried a brother before with the death of his older brother, Joe Jr., during World War II.
Jackie tells an unnamed reporter (who is probably Theodore White, journalist extraordinaire who has covered many presidential elections – article written 2 weeks after JFK’s death here) the inside scoop about what went on but is so meticulous and private that she edits what he is allowed to say. This, according to the NYT film review, is where the Camelot imagery and myth surrounding the Kennedy presidency is begun. But the larger question that comes through in this interview is how does Jackie separate herself from this very public tragedy. She needs to be a mother to her two young children (and to two dead ones interred next to their father in Arlington National Cemetery) but she also has to be a grieving widow to the rest of the nation. As the reporter put it, JFK, the nation’s father, had been killed, and Jackie, the nation’s mother, had to carry on with steel in her spine. Try to imagine something that traumatic has happened to you, and you are one of the most famous people in the country. How do you cope? How do you grieve? How do you move on?
How does the film portray Mrs. Kennedy during her 1962 tour of the White House (original here – https://youtu.be/CbFt4h3Dkkw)? How does she seem different / similar to First Ladies that you might know best – Laura Bush and Michelle Obama? Why?
Did the film use the right amount of reference to JFK’s woman troubles, should it have explored these issues in depth more, or should they have been mentioned at all in a film about the man’s wife? Why?
Why do you think Mrs. Kennedy asked the ambulance driver and the nurse who James Garfield and William McKinley were, and then Abraham Lincoln? How did their answers transfer Mrs. Kennedy’s obsession with her husband’s funeral? (Also, is this a fair comparison between Lincoln and Garfield and McKinley? Why or why not?)
The movie seems obsessed with legacy and myth-making. Jackie is one of the first to try and preserve her husband’s legacy, one time comparing him to Jesus and temptations in the desert, and at other times, to Lincoln and preserving the Union and freeing the slaves (though he technically didn’t). Do you think President Kennedy deserved this kind of mythos surrounding him? Why or why not?
How did the film’s non-linear (jumping from time period to time period) story telling distract or add to the overall narrative, in your opinion?
Pick 4 of these questions (including #4) and answer them in a minimum of 300 words to get full credit for this extra credit assignment. Due by February 17 before class.
Here’s the t-shirt design for this year. $8 for S-XL. $11 for 2XL. Fill out the Google Form below ASAP to get your shirt. I would like to order these as soon as we get back and have them to you by the end of January. Your cooperation is needed. https://goo.gl/forms/XFTDD921nb8EpUqH3
Historiography is the history of the history, or how interpretations of an event have changed over the years. Usually, historians reflect the main concerns of the time period in which they write (for instance, Progressive historians are concerned about economic factors driving events because they wrote during the reform-minded era, the Progressive Era -1900-1915). Sometimes, enough historians write in a similar viewpoint that history scholars call them historical schools of thought (Nationalist, Progressive, Consensus, New Left, etc.). And sometimes, these schools of thought are dominated by an historian who writes an incredibly influential book on that subject (Charles Beard, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution). One of the things that I hope you understand from this look at historiography is that the history of events and their interpretations can and are constantly changing. Here is a link to a wikipedia page on general U.S. historiography – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historiography_of_the_United_States
Before the Civil War (1861-65), many people were focused on who the Constitution put in charge of the nation: the states or the federal government? Also, many controversies surfaced in whether they should interpret the Constitution literally as written (strict interpretation) or to interpret the Founders’ intent (loose interpretation). It seems that the writers of this document weren’t ready to answer those questions either in Philadelphia in 1787 and wanted to leave some wiggle room for interpretation for future generations (this is my loose interpretation). The Civil War ended this controversy with the federal government enforcing its supremacy over the states in the defeat on the Confederacy.
Nationalist School (post Civil War – 1900)
George Bancroft began writing his epic history of the U.S. before the Civil War and continued until 1887. His first volume, found here, covers from the early voyages to the New World until the Glorious Revolution in England in 1688 (for us in APUSH, this history ignored the Native Americans in Ch. 1 and focused primarily on the Spanish and the founding of the colonies up until 1688 – over 600 pages in his first volume!). Bancroft and other historians wrote American history reflecting the Gilded Age and American economic growth, railroad expansion, the closing of the interior frontier, and their beliefs in Anglo-Saxon superiority. Nationalist writers believed that “the orderly progress of mankind toward greater personal liberty” was due to white Christian people and their inherent ability to build strong governments.
Nationalists viewed the creation of the Constitution as an extension of the Revolution. The Articles of Confederation were too weak to deal with internal threats and problems (Shays Rebellion, economic depression) or with external threats (Spain and England). The American people were divinely picked by God (“City on a hill”? American exceptionallism?) to create a perfect republic, and the men at Philly were creating a new government for the betterment of the nation.
Progressive School (1900 – 1930s)
This time period saw many people concerned about the effects of massive wealth redistribution that widened the gap between rich and poor, in addition to the negative effects of urbanization and industrialization (slums, poor working conditions, low wages). This era saw a huge uptick in reforms that attempted to solve these problems. Carl Becker saw the Revolution as two concurrent changes: one to break away from British rule, and another as to who will rule at home (which culminates in the Constitution). Charles A. Beard was the one of leading historians of the time with his popular 1913 book, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the U.S. (found here).
Beard found that the men who made the Constitution had strong economic motives to ensure a powerful federal government because “most of these men held public securities, a form of personal property that would increase dramatically in value” if a new government was strong and improved its credit rating. These conservative men had economic interests in banking, public securities (or bonds and promissory notes to Revolutionary war soldiers), manufacturers, and merchants involved in shipping and trade. All of these economic interests declined because of the weakness of the Articles of Confederation. Those who opposed the Constitution were working men and small farmers who were deep in debt. Our new document was designed to protect private property against state assemblies that were much more democratic and likely to protect small farmers and debtors. Beard also saw the creation of the Constitution as undemocratic because there were no “common men” involved, and the proceedings were done in secret. Also, there was no bill of rights protection for Americans, unlike many state constitutions. Beard’s primary focus in his history is class conflict.
Consensus School (1940s – 1960s)
After World War II, some historians moved away from the class conflict interpretation of American history and shifted toward consensus. Because we were engaged in the Cold War with Russians (a country whose ideology is steeped in class conflict – Marxism), consensus historians de-emphasized class conflict and taught that our conflicts are steeped in competition of businessmen and entreprenuers that has made America great. These historians are somewhat throwbacks to the Nationalist school who wanted to strengthen America “as a world leader with a history as a strong and united country free from class-based oppression”. “The cement holding us together is our widespread prosperity and universal acceptance of the principles succinctly summarized in the first parts of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Our political struggles have always been within the center rather than between the left and right extremists.”
They saw the Revolution and Constitution as one continuous movement (as opposed to Beard’s democratic revolution against the British and a conservative counter-revolution for private property with the Constitution), and that the state constitutions were created by the same people who signed the Declaration of Independence. Consensus historians saw the Constitution as primarily a political document, not economic like Beard. The delegates at the convention were primarily concerned with making a better government than the Articles, one that was based upon “representation, fixed elections, a written constitution that is a supreme law and contains an amendment clause, separation of powers and checks and balances, a bicameral legislature, a single executive, and a separate court system.” These historians challenged Beard’s assertion that the poor didn’t have a say in the Constitution, stating that 2/3 of men at this time owned enough property to vote in state elections, many of whom were small farmers. These historians include two of my favorites, Daniel Boorstin and Richard Hofstadter (author of the extra article on the Founding Fathers: The Age of Realism).
Intellectual or Republicanism Historians (1950s – 1980s)
This group of historians is dominated by Gordon Wood and Bernard Bailyn. These two assert that Americans adopted many British ideas like anti-authoritarianism, written constitutions, compact theory, and human rights. Both the Federalists and Anti-Federalists shared a major distrust of central government, and that the 1770s and 80s saw a big push for egalitarianism (push for equality) that the Constitution tried to restrain. The Constitution, essentially, was a rescue attempt to save the Revolution from failure by restraining its democratic excesses.
“Revolutionary Republicanism was centered on limiting corruption and greed. Virtue was of the utmost importance for citizens and representatives. Revolutionaries took a lesson from ancient Rome, they knew it was necessary to avoid the luxury that had destroyed the Empire. A virtuous citizen was one that ignored monetary compensation and made a commitment to resist and eradicate corruption. The Republic was sacred; therefore it is necessary to served the state in a truly representative way, ignoring self-interest and individual will. Republicanism required the service of those who were willing to give up their own interests for a common good. According to Bernard Bailyn, “The preservation of liberty rested on the ability of the people to maintain effective checks on wielders of power and hence in the last analysis rested on the vigilance and moral stamina of the people.” Virtuous citizens needed to be strong defenders of liberty and challenge the corruption and greed in government. The duty of the virtuous citizen become a foundation for the American Revolution.”
New Left / Neo-Progressive School (1960s – 1980s)
These historians were shaped by the social and political changes going on in the U.S. like the Civil Rights and women’s rights movement and the student protest movements against the Vietnam War. They are a throwback to the Progressive Era, but some writers thought that Beard had oversimplified things with his strictly economic approach. Beard did not include many of the people who were not part of the political process in the Revolutionary Era: blacks (both free and slave), women, and Native Americans. Social historians began to weave their stories within the tapestry of American history and present a fuller picture. “The “new” theoretically differentiates them from the unimaginative, Socialist Party orientation of the old left of the 1930s and 1940s. The “left” signifies an orientation toward methods and concepts that focus on the masses and their experiences, “history from the bottom up,” as it is called. Unlike the old left, the New Left avoids the preconceived molds of Marxist theories, which distorted the facts to fit a foreign doctrine. The historians of the New Left demand the inclusion of those features of our history that explain how we came to be a violent, racist, repressive society.” Some of these historians are Gary Nash (you read his essay, “Radical Revolution from the Bottom Up”) and Howard Zinn.
This video is here just for your interest.
Nash, in particular, looks at both Northerners and Southerners deeply involved in making the Constitution a stamp of approval for slavery since it guaranteed slavery with a fugitive slave clause and the South’s boost in Congressional representation with the 3/5 Compromise. Other historians argued against the Consensus historians’ assertion that our political legacy is basically liberal and democratic. The time period of the 1780s -leading up to the Constitutional Convention – was time of disruption, overtaxation, and heavy economic hardships. The poor were forced to pay their taxes in gold and silver (extremely hard to get) and not allowed to use paper money. This school’s approach refocuses on class conflict in which different segments argued over who’s responsible for fixing the economy, “which segment should sacrifice for the good of the whole.”
I’ve presented you with four different schools of historiography concerning the Constitution. Your job is to explain, with plenty of examples from class and your readings: 1. Which school of history do you agree with most and why?; 2. Which school of history do you disagree with most and why?
Due Wednesday, December 21, 2016 by class. 300 words minimum.
I hope you enjoyed Loving, the story of an interracial couple and their desire to stay married and be left alone. This is a Civil Rights story, it’s a love story, and it can also be seen (in today’s context) as a metaphor for marriage equality. To quote Lin Manuel Miranda, “love is love is love.”
The sheriff, the judge, and other opponents cite the Bible and refer to God’s law (sparrows are for sparrows, robins for robins) when pushing against the Lovings’ marriage. When religion is mixed in with a secular argument like the one here, how can religion make the issue more complicated? Feel free to cite additional examples not included in the movie.
Richard is portrayed in the movie as reluctant to challenge the ban on interracial marriage in the courts. He is willing to relocate to Virginia to be closer to family, and move out of D.C. after his son is hit by a car, so this is more symbolic than official. Mildred, on the other hand, is very determined to oppose the law, and in doing so, is willing to step into the spotlight provided by the media. Why do you think Mildred is more willing than Richard to challenge the law?
Richard, for the most part, seems to blend into Black society in rural Virginia as well as in the Black section of D.C., while his white neighbors / co-workers both in the city and country don’t take his integration so well. Though this isn’t necessarily answered in the movie, what do you think it is in Richard’s background that makes him different than some of his white neighbors and co-workers? Feel free to speculate.
This could have been a very different film in the hands of another writer and director. Sometimes, movies go for shock value by sensationalizing events with graphic violence and language, but Loving has neither. The movie still gets across the menace of racism in the way Mildred is treated while in jail or the brick found on Richard’s car seat, but in a much less confrontational way. Why do you think the writer and director made these choices? Are they downplaying the racism while emphasizing the Lovings’ emotional attachment? Another reason? Why?
Answer 3 of the four questions, minimum 300 words total for all three questions, due by Friday, January 6, 2017.
After reading your short answers comparing Reagan’s 1st and 2nd terms regarding foreign policy, and it made me wonder what you think is the turning point of Reagan’s presidency, especially with regards to the Cold War and the Soviet Union.
Schools of history fall into a couple of areas regarding the end of the Cold War:
Gorbachev is the main reason why the Cold War ended. It was his reforms (glasnost and perestroika), different from the previous Soviet leaders, that prompted Reagan to renew negotiations over reducing / eliminating nuclear weapons;
Gorbachev was the reason why Reagan considered the Zero Option in Europe – Gorbachev proposed the Zero Option (for all nuclear weapons) at the Reykjavik Summit which eventually turned into the INF Treaty in 1987 that eliminated all intermediate range nuclear missiles (especially those in Europe).
It was Reagan playing hard ball with the Soviets / Gorbachev over SDI when Gorbachev proposed the Zero Option at the Reykjavik Summit in 1986, that Reagan refused to abandon SDI, which led to the INF Treaty (in a roundabout way).
SDI’s introduction was the pivotal moment of the Reagan presidency because it forced the Soviets back on their heels, wondering how to counter it, and if there could be anything done about it.
Reagan’s refusal to entertain detente and cast the Soviet Union as the “evil empire”, plus a massive increase in military spending caused the Soviets to match us or risk losing the edge it had in conventional and nuclear weapons.
But there is also some unconventional thinking about the Reagan / Bush administrations and how they helped end the Cold War:
The CIA’s aid to the mujahideen in Afghanistan helped sink the Soviets deeper into an unwinnable war, forcing the Soviets to use their best troops, and spend oodles of money that it didn’t have.
While the Berlin Wall collapsed and the Eastern European countries and Soviet Republics broke away (1989-1991), President Bush did everything he could to encourage them to put democracy first and Communism second. He did not ask for military aid to be sent to these countries, but he supported their break w/ the Soviets. Even during the hard-line coup in the Soviet Union in August 1991, President Bush and his administration fought hard to support Russian President Boris Yeltsin in his resistance to the Communists.
So which event or person or concept was the most pivotal to ending the Cold War and why?
Explain your answer in 300 words or more. Due Thursday, Dec. 1 by class.
Tim O’Brien’s book, The Things They Carried, focuses on the members of Alpha Company as they hump across Vietnam and also how they dealt with civilian life (“Speaking of Courage”).
1. The things that the soldiers carried in battle were not just physical things but mental / emotional as well. Henry Dobbins wore his girlfriend’s pantyhose around his neck as a comforter. But after the war is over and done with, the soldiers, like Lt. Cross, carry guilt and pain around with them.
2. The novel is also about truth, especially with the story, “How to Tell a True War Story,” which seems contradictory in many cases. But maybe that’s what the truth really is in a war-time environment – unclear.
3. The novel also captures loneliness and isolation experienced by the American soldiers while in the Vietnamese jungle. Though the soldiers are surrounded by their comrades in arms, many don’t feel a connection to each other. Could this be because they’ve been drafted into a war they don’t want to fight? Or that war is the most loneliest experience – do or die on the battlefield?
4. How does shame or the idea of letting another person down motivate Tim and other soldiers in the stories?
“They carried the soldier’s greatest fear, which was the fear of blushing. Men killed, and died, because they were embarrassed not to. It was what had brought them to the war in the first place, nothing positive, no dreams of glory or honor, just to avoid the blush of dishonor. They died so as not to die of embarrassment.”
Pick two of the four topics to write about and also include a brief assessment of the book.
300 words minimum for your total response. Due by Wednesday, Nov. 9 by class (yep, Wednesday).