In the Past Meets Present feature of History Matters, prominent scholars engage with some of today’s most controversial topics and discuss them in light of the past. A new essay by Saul Cornell, Professor of History at Ohio State University, entitled "The Second Amendment Under Fire: The Uses of History and the Politics of Gun Control," traces legal and popular concepts of gun control from colonial times to the present (see abstract below). Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and Abraham Baldwin Professor of the Humanities emeritus at the University of Georgia, William McFeely analyzes the history of the death penalty in his essay, "Trial and Error: Capital Punishment in U.S. History." McFeely argues that laws, interpretations, and public opinion have been far from static over the course of American history (see abstract below). And Michael Nelson, Professor of Political Science at Rhodes College, explores the new film Thirteen Days and its use in the classroom (see abstract below). Upcoming essays will examine the historical contexts and legacies of hot contemporary topics such as the separation of church and state, national drug policies, and the Electoral College.
You can also read analysis by Eric Foner in which he discusses the controversies surrounding the film Amistad, exploring the problems faced by the film’s producers and the historical shortcomings of the film and its accompanying study guide. Foner also raises questions about the messages behind Hollywood's portrayal of history as entertainment. Or you can follow a discussion of the past and present of the sweatshop by Harry Rubinstein and Peter Liebhol, in which they place the current debate on sweatshops in a historical context and explore the complex factors that contribute to their existence today.
History Matters (created by the American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning at the City University of New York and the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University) assists social studies and history teachers at high schools and colleges around the world by providing a non-commercial starting point for exploring the Web and offering an array of teaching resources that are grounded in the latest scholarship.
"The Second Amendment Under Fire: The Uses of History and the Politics of Gun Control"
With the National Rifle Association and a "million moms" squaring off over American gun control laws, Cornell explores the meaning of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Americans’ widely divergent understandings of the "right to bear arms." Cornell closely examines the debates that surrounded the ratification of the Bill of Rights, and the different interpretations that historians and legal scholars have subsequently brought to bear on those debates, to make his case about the right to gun ownership in the contemporary U.S. http://historymatters.gmu.edu/search.taf?_function=detail&layout_0_uid1=39042&_UserReference=8FC94B941DB01F46BE2CEC23
William S. McFeely
"Trial and Error: Capital Punishment in U.S. History"
Americans engaged in the debate over the morality and effectiveness of the death penalty, as well as issues of discrimination in its application, often mistakenly assume its unquestioned presence throughout American history. McFeely addresses the long-standing historical debates over capital punishment, examining legislative efforts to both limit and allow the death penalty, attempts to make the process more "humane" by reforming the method and conditions of execution, and changing public attitudes that reflect current political and social trends. http://historymatters.gmu.edu/search.taf?_function=detail&layout_0_uid1=39327&_UserReference=8FC94B941DB01F46BE2CEC23
‘Thirteen Days’ Doesn’t Add Up
The Cuban Missile Crisis meets Hollywood in the new $80-million blockbuster film Thirteen Days. In this essay, Michael Nelson, Professor of Political Science at Rhodes College, offers an insightful analysis of the film. Despite its historical shortcomings, many students learn about history from these popular portrayals. Thus Nelson explores ways to use this film and others to explore historical fiction, popular culture depictions of power and politicians, and strategies for engaging students in the quest to understand the complexities of the past beyond the movie theater. http://historymatters.gmu.edu/search.taf?_function=detail&layout_0_uid1=39364&_UserReference=8FC94B941DB01F46BE2CEC23
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