• Timothy Garton Ash’s comments on the new French genocide denial law got me wondering what you all think about the limits of free speech and historical inquiry. (Thanks to Seth Rima — one of my former students, coincidentally interviewed this week at our department blog! — for sharing his thoughts.)
• My January trip to Europe scouting sites for a travel course on World War I yielded a post asking what role museums play. Look for two more in this vein next week: one on military history museums in London; the other on two such institutions in Belgium and France.
• The last time I taught Human Rights in International History, the opposition party had just held its Florida primary, with the winner bouncing back big from a loss in South Carolina. Time will tell if that augurs better for Governor Romney than it did for Senator Clinton… Anyway, I used the blog to try to remind myself what to say in that class as the semester started.
• Big news for our church: we’re hosting a workshop led by Soong-Chan Rah in mid-February.
• Inspired by something David Neff of Christianity Today wrote in his rebuke of the conservative pastors who tried to anoint Rick Santorum, I’ve spent a couple of weeks trying to write a post on why I continue to use the term “evangelical” to describe myself. I’m glad I procrastinated long enough to read John Schmalzbauer’s contribution yesterday to the “What is an evangelical?” series over at the God’s Politics blog. His post taught me that the history of evangelicalism is even more complicated than I knew. And that doesn’t change my mind; it just encourages me to think more carefully about how others have used the term before I add my own two cents.
• Mark Silk on the president’s comments at the National Prayer Breakfast: “The Postmillennial President.”
• Alain de Botton worries that the modern world “has secularized badly,” and suggests that fellow atheists ought not throw out the benefits of religion with the bathwater of supernatural belief. All of which struck Ryan Dueck as irenic in tone (less nasty than, say, Richard Dawkins — one target of de Botton’s), but nonetheless “patronizing… arrogant… shortsighted… naive.” (H/T CC Blogs)
• Don Miller on why Scripture has so much poetry: “…because it is attempting to describe a relational break man tragically experienced with God and a disturbed relational history man has had since then….”
• Environmental writer Bill McKibben’s condensed version of the Gospel seems to be about half the way there… But I suppose “The Gospel in thirty words or less” is less catchy than “seven words or less.”
• 2012 marks the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, a milestone that I’ve already noted is inspiring little interest among most Americans. 2012 is significant in the military history of my home state for a different reason: it’s the 150th anniversary of the US-Dakota War, fought in the Minnesota River Valley while the rest of the Union was busy with the Civil War. While local historical societies are busy preparing sesquicentennial events, I wrote on our department blog this week that the nature of that commemoration is complex and controversial, especially among present-day Dakota leaders and scholars.
• David Brooks writes that the United States has “bifurcated into different social tribes, with a tenuous common culture linking them.” And the two tribes aren’t the 1% and 99%, but the 20% and the 30%.
• And philosopher Gary Gutting finds a simple enough answer for the bitter divide separating liberals and conservatives: “…we have never gotten over the French Revolution.”
• Historian Tony Judt’s final book — a reflection on the intellectual-political history of the 20th century — takes an unusual form: transcribed conversations with another esteemed European history, Timothy Snyder. As the review in tomorrow’s NY Times points out, “Snyder, highly erudite and opinionated himself, is not your typical journalistic interviewer; the book is more a dialogue than an autobiography.” But then the review is written by another highly erudite and opinionated intellectual: Francis Fukuyama (a sometime target of Judt’s), whose review becomes, not surprisingly, a dialogue with the dialogue.
• What’s causing tuition to rise at public universities? (Surely not professor salaries!) What President Obama plans to do about it, and whether he’ll succeed. The Atlantic analyzes.