Tag Archive: history

  1. MEN’S BASKETBALL: James Jones, hoping to encourage African American history course requirements, joins board at ABIS

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    For James Jones, George Floyd’s killing at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer in May sparked several discussions.

    “I couldn’t have a conversation with anybody without the George Floyd murder coming up,” said Jones, who enters his 22nd season as the head coach of Yale men’s basketball this fall.

    But Jones, who is Black, found that many people, especially those his age or older, had already decided where they stood on Floyd’s murder and race in America before dialogues began. As much as seeing “all different shades of people” protesting in New Haven encouraged him, he felt others had unfairly shifted the narrative around Black Lives Matter and efforts at change.

    Earlier this month, Jones joined the Board of Directors for the Advancement of Blacks in Sports, a new national organization that seeks to promote racial, social and economic justice for Blacks in athletics and beyond. His players describe him as an optimist — staying locked at home with family in quarantine “is nothing” when Jones compares his current situation to sacrifices made during wars and other tragedies — and the head coach has real hope in America’s youth. At ABIS, he is co-chair of the “Teaching African American History” education initiative.

    “We feel that the biggest problem with African Americans being shot for little or nothing is because of a lack of knowledge,” Jones said. “I think that [by] understanding people, it slows the fear of African Americans, so these things can cease to happen. If there was a better understanding of people that are next to you, if we understood the plight of people and who they are, it might make it easier for us to be able to live together.”

    The committee, which also includes his younger brother and Boston University men’s basketball head coach Joe Jones, hopes everyone who goes to high school and college takes a class in African American history.

    Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway, left, greets Jones before Yale’s game at Memphis in November 2018. Hardaway serves on the Black Lives Matter Initiative at ABIS. (Photo: Joe Murphy/Yale Athletics)

    Jones and ABIS

    Founded by grassroots basketball coach Gary Charles, ABIS primarily draws collegiate and AAU basketball coaches together with others involved in athletics. The group also features professionals in music, law and business on the Executive Committee and Board of Directors. Most involved with ABIS, though not all, are Black.

    Jones said he had previously interacted with Charles at AAU basketball tournaments that the ABIS founder has organized. Younger brother Joe, Jones added, knows Charles well, and all three are from Long Island.

    Both Joneses now have significant experience as Division I head coaches. With 333 career wins and 21 seasons after he earned the Yale job in 1999, James is the all-time winningest men’s basketball coach in school history and has the second most wins in Ivy League history. But James said being a Black head coach added pressure, particularly early in his career.

    “You know if you’re not successful how this works: if I’m not successful, it’s not like they’re going to hire another African American to fill my shoes,” Jones said. “I felt like I needed to be successful to help the people after me.”

    In 2019, after Yale won Ivy Madness and advanced to its second NCAA Tournament under Jones, he was recognized with the Ben Jobe Award, given annually to the top minority coach in Division I men’s basketball.

    The examples of successful Black head coaches that came before him helped pave his way, he added.

    “It wasn’t something that I acknowledged, but it’s something that I know was there for me knowing that [former Georgetown coach] John Thompson and [former Temple coach] John Chaney and [former Arkansas coach] Nolan Richardson were able to be successful at something I wanted to do,” Jones said. “Subconsciously, it made it easier to do what I did.”

    ABIS, which officially launched at the start of September, consists of several sub-committees that devote attention to specific areas of focus within the organization’s mission of promoting racial, social and economic justice for Blacks. Among others, Georgia State men’s basketball coach Rob Lanier leads a group on the ACT and SAT; Howard men’s coach Kenny Blakeney chairs the voter registration committee; Cal women’s coach Charmin Smith and Depaul men’s coach Dave Leitao oversee a group around hiring practices; and Oklahoma State men’s coach Mike Boynton and Towson women’s coach Diane Richardson lead the Supplier Diversity Initiative. Boston University women’s coach Marisa Moseley is co-chair with Jones on the education initiative.

    When it comes to his own committee work around African American history education, Jones said he has talked with a couple professors at Yale but declined to name them publicly. He said the committee’s original thinking was to approach the issue from a “macro” level, but they are now considering approaching the idea at the institutions and schools with which they are associated.

    “I’d like to see [an African American history graduation requirement] everywhere in the country,” Jones said. “Not just at Yale. I’d like to see it everywhere in the country where people could understand each other … People have said they think they should change the name to All Lives Matter, but you’re not understanding what’s going on when you say stuff like that, you’re not really getting it. I think that’s the biggest problem — trying to educate people in terms of what’s happening.”

    Jones specifically referenced the University of Pittsburgh, which over the summer introduced a required, one-credit course on anti-Black racism for all first-year students.

    McClellan Hall, home of the History Department. (Photo: Sanya Nijhawan)

    An African American history requirement at Yale?

    Yale currently imposes area and skills requirements on undergraduates, asking students to complete a language requirement and take two course credits in each of the humanities and arts, social sciences and sciences, as well as two credits in classes that hone quantitative reasoning and writing skills.

    “The Department of History’s distributional requirements are defined by geography and chronology,” History Department chair Alan Mikhail wrote in an email to the News. “We have not discussed formally changing that, but as Chair I am always open to student feedback and suggestions, of course.”

    Mikhail added that the department’s course offerings often track student interests. This semester, he noted, the department’s most popular courses are on African American history, global health and the history of the political present. According to the most recent course demand statistics available on Sept. 6, 104 students are enrolled in “The Long Civil Rights Movement” taught by Crystal Feimster, making it the largest course in the History Department this fall.

    Chair of the Department of African American Studies Jacqueline Goldsby GRD ’93 ’98 said that discussion around a possible African American history or ethnic studies requirement for Yale College has surfaced twice since she assumed her role as department chair in 2014. In November 2015, the student group Next Yale listed an ethnic studies distributional requirement as its first demand in a list presented to University President Peter Salovey.

    The second instance occurred this past summer, when Aja Horwitz ’01 circulated a petition to make African American history a graduation requirement — not just at Yale, but at colleges in general. The petition received just over 2,000 signatures.

    Goldsby said discussions this summer did not result in any formal vote, but the consensus was that faculty members needed to have a broad conversation about the topic that stretches across units that teach African American history. Faculty in History, American Studies and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, she noted, all teach significant strands of African American history in their work.

    “We want everyone to learn about African American history,” Goldsby said. “That is not the question. We teach African American history every day. But why not Latinx history, why not Native American history, why not also Asian American history? … If Yale instituted a diversity requirement, why should it focus only on African American history?”

    One potential solution would be to adopt a broader ethnic studies requirement, as the California State University system did in July. But beyond concerns around the specificity of a potential course requirement, the department also identified other cautions during informal discussions this summer.

    Considerations around resources and departmental capacity influence large curricular changes. Goldsby said that to her knowledge, there are currently six faculty members whose research focus lies in African American history: David Blight, Crystal Feimster, Elizabeth Hinton, Matthew Jacobson, Edward Rugemer and Nicole Turner.

    Personally, Goldsby feels the department may lose some autonomy over its hiring and priorities if African American Studies houses a requirement. Properly staffing a required course in African American history for over 6,000 Yale College students might skew the department’s ability to grow in other fields where its faculty teach, Goldsby said, including art history, anthropology, economics, French, literature, music, political science, psychology and sociology. The requirement could reshape hiring in the discipline, increasing faculty hires and graduate student admissions to field enough instructors who specialize in African American history.

    Finally, Goldsby said department faculty thought requiring all students to take a course on something as sensitive as race could create hostile class environments that detract from the experiences of professors and other students. Although some students would certainly be interested and intellectually stimulated, faculty members — who might often be junior, non-tenured faculty of color, Goldsby said — could need to deal with students who resent being forced to complete such a requirement. The situation would also be challenging for tenured faculty, she added, while instructors in other required areas like QR-credit courses or language classes do not necessarily need to consider that racially charged class dynamic.

    “This is not to say one doesn’t do this,” Goldsby said. “It’s to say these are the kinds of questions that need to be thought through.”

    “The ways in which athletes and the whole athletic world are rising up is powerful and important,” she added. “We cherish [sports] as a space where we can come together, where there’s a kind of congregation, and all of us who watch and enjoy sports value it as a space of shared enthusiasm and experience. So for these athletes to say, ‘No, the world comes into the arena too,’ that’s a big deal, and I totally respect it.”

    With 333 career victories, Jones ranks as the winningest men’s basketball coach in school history. (Photo: Matt Dewkett/Yale Athletics)

    For Jones and ABIS, the work is just beginning. Jones discussed issues around race with many of his players over Zoom this summer, and ABIS group meetings now have him on Zoom every two weeks. His subcommittee on teaching African American history meets once every month, he said. ABIS has plans to add some student-athletes to its team, but Jones said the group is still working through that as it continues its launch.

    Jones’ involvement in ABIS begins alongside what promises to be the most unusual season of his coaching career, if a season occurs at all. He is home in Pauli Murray College, where he receives COVID-19 testing like other members of the Yale community, and said it is nice to see students back in the courtyard interacting with each other. Phased strength training is set to start soon for the handful of his players enrolled in residence, and Jones said he has filled the program’s previously vacant director of basketball operations position, although the hire is still being processed.

    His schedule this fall is largely free from the hectic routine that accompanies preseason practice, nonconference air travel and recruiting. ABIS, he said, is something he could have made time for regardless.

    “Well, I think that [the time’s] certainly been helpful, but I’d like to also think that we would have found the time to try to do this work because of how necessary it is,” Jones said. “Our country is so divided in so many different ways, and if we can find ways to bring our country together, I think it would improve all of us.”

    ABIS officially launched on Sept. 2, 2020.

    William McCormack | william.mccormack@yale.edu

  2. The Extraordinary History of Ordinary People

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    In a whimsical sermon to his extended family, the Reverend Wicks Cherrycoke of Thomas Pynchon’s “Mason & Dixon” states that “History is not … [Remembrance], for Remembrance belongs to the People.”

    The past is typically observed from the macro level, taught and discussed in terms of nations, empires and governments. General history charts the clashing of armies, the rise and fall of states and the sweeping effects of natural events. Most individuals discussed in textbooks are Great Men and Women whose actions have altered in dramatic ways the path of the human species. Rarely are the stories of the so-called ordinary people remembered, let alone recounted.

    “No One Remembers Alone: Memory, Migration and the Making of an American Family,” currently on display at the Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale, highlights the courtship of two young lovers, Abram Spiwak and Sophie Schochelman, and their experience as Russian Jewish immigrants at the beginning of the 20th century. Curated by Patricia Klindienst, “No One Remembers Alone” is a love story told through the couple’s postcards, a batch of which were rediscovered by their family in 2008, and many of which still have their original one-cent stamps.

    Between 1882 and 1924, 2.6 million Eastern European Jews came to America, among whom were Sophie and Abram. In Russia in 1905, the Jewish people were blamed for a failed coup to overthrow the Romanov dynasty. A horrific pogrom ensued, and refugees poured across the border into Europe, where they were likewise unwelcome. Sophie and Abram, who had met just months before in the Russian city of Odessa, were separated in the chaos, as Sophie and her family made the 1,000-mile journey across the Atlantic. After Abram himself arrived in New York, he found her living in an apartment in the Lower East Side and immediately set about wooing her a second time.

    The exhibit begins with a postcard sent August 8, 1907 and covers their relationship over the course of the next several years. Sophie and Abram’s story is a universal one — that of two young people caught in the sweep of history, bolstered by each other’s love. The postcards illustrate their relatively difficult financial situation. They squeeze in as much writing as possible to capitalize on paper, writing in tight, compressed font and scribbling messages in the margins.

    The exhibit’s chief accomplishment is in illustrating Abram and Sophie’s humanity while illuminating and commenting on their time. It treats them as they are — human beings — rather than turning them into historical monuments. Over the course of their correspondence, the pervasive anti-Semitism of the 20th century remains in the background (on one occasion Abram reveals that he has been passing as a Christian to circumvent his landlord’s policy of barring Jews). Major historical events are rarely discussed. It is easy for one to envision oneself in either Sophie or Abram’s shoes.

    The exhibit also does an admirable job of highlighting their love for each other — the love that sustained them through a difficult time in a strange land and that eventually spawned a family. The poignancy of the exhibit comes chiefly from one’s awareness of the trials that they faced in setting foot on American soil. Their correspondence is a typical one. They arrange dates, passionately express their affection for each other and pester each other to write more frequently. One can always sense the emotion and feeling in every one of the words they write, even when they discuss trivial matters.

    On many of the postcards, Abram and Sophie sign off “I am always yours.” Thanks to “No One Remembers Alone,” their mutual promise holds true, 100 years later.

  3. From the Field, Through the Years

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    In 1916, Yale head coach T.A.D. Jones gathered his team in the locker room before the game and said, “Gentlemen, you are now going to play football against Harvard. Never again in your whole life will you do anything so important.”

    He wasn’t far off.

    Yale and Harvard first met on the gridiron in November of 1875 at Hamilton Park in New Haven. A ticket was 75 cents and 2,500 fans showed up. Harvard won. Since that afternoon, The Game has inspired fanfare and history, and Yale-Harvard has become the quintessential college rivalry.

    In reaction to the popularity of The Game, in 1903 Harvard built a colossal U-shaped stadium out of reinforced concrete — a novel engineering idea for the time — on the far side of the Charles River, across from the campus. The seating capacity 30,323. In 1914, Yale erected an even larger stadium. Dug deep into the West Haven soil, this structure was the first of its kind: a full, oval-shaped, wrap-around bowl. Since its completion, the Yale Bowl, as they decided to call it, has served as the prototype for modern football stadiums. Its seating capacity: 61,446. The two stadiums marked the permanence and grandeur of the rivalry. Sprawling across their respective landscapes, the structures symbolized each university’s enthusiasm and respect for the game.

    Since that November day at Hamilton Park in 1875, The Game has generated an unparalleled history. Presidents, politicians, movie stars, singers, people from all over the world have attended The Game. It is reported that even the governor of Hawaii attended the first Yale-Harvard game played in the Bowl, in 1914. In 1920, 80,000 fans, the largest crowd ever assembled at The Game, made the trip out to the Bowl to witness Harvard goose-egg Yale 9-0. (The Bowl’s capacity used to be higher.) In 1930, The Game became the first U.S. football match broadcast in England. In the 1940s, columnist Red Smith affirmed the popularity of the Yale-Harvard football contest when he dropped “Harvard-Yale,” and capitalized “The Game,” elevating the matchup from normal sporting contest and defining it as the collegiate athletic event par excellence.

    Both teams have produced casts of characters of equal historical importance. Walter Camp, “the Father of American Football,” a player and a coach for Yale in the 1870s, ’80s and ’90s, created the modern scoring system, the positioning of players on the field, the system of downs, the line of scrimmage and the snap back from the center. The list goes on, from Tommy Lee Jones, to Stone Phillips, to Ted Kennedy, to Larry Kelly and Clint Frank, to John Hersey, to Archibald MacLeash and Calvin Hill. Players have gone on to become politicians, pioneers in business, Pulitzer Prize winners, poets, actors, television personalities and NFL stars. One can’t help wondering which of the current players will fulfill this legacy.

    The cast of characters and the rivalry’s storied history distinguishes The Game. Quarterback Morgan Roberts ’16, who is from North Carolina and played one year for Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) powerhouse Clemson University, said, “In the South, the only Ivy League game people really talk about or think about is The Game. It’s the only game people ever really put any thought into because ESPN puts some broadcasting on it. They give it some national coverage because of the history and legacy of it […] It’s America’s amateur pastime.” Former Yale linebacker Kerr Taubler ’14 added, “It’s our bowl game.” Yale-Harvard is at the forefront of America’s old football rivalries. That November day in 1875 marked the birth of the great Ivy League rivalry, the first of a line of many collegiate rivalries like Michigan–Ohio State, Texas-Oklahoma and Army-Navy.

    But despite the Bulldogs’ upper hand in the overall record, 65-57-8, in recent years the Crimson has owned The Game, however one may measure it. Harvard has won 12 out of the last 13 meetings, including the last seven in a row. The Crimson have out-scored the Elis 202-75 in that seven-year span. Last November, the Yale faithful watched as the 8-1 Crimson steamrolled the injury-stricken Bulldogs 34-7.

    This year, though, things are looking different.

    * * *

    The evidence is everywhere. Last year, Yale went into The Game with five wins and four losses. After their victory against Princeton last Saturday the Bulldogs are 8-1 and in contention, with Harvard and Dartmouth, for a share of the Ivy League title — a distinction the team hasn’t enjoyed since 2006. And the improved record comes as no surprise. The Yale offense leads the league in just about every category: passing, rushing, total yards, first downs, conversions and total points.

    Asked about the differences between this year’s offense and last year’s, Roberts responded, “Certainly more confident. Once we’ve put some good numbers and score some points and get some guys involved, you get to the point where you become really confident.”

    Anchored by a seasoned line that Roberts says “is just unreal,” this year’s offense features a host of Ivy League standouts. Senior Tyler Varga ’15, a two time All-Ivy running back, has had a record-breaking season, leading the Ivy League in rushing yards and touchdowns. His numbers double those of the runner-up in the category.

    As for the aerial assault, the Elis feature dangerous weapons in receivers Deon Randall ’15, the team’s captain, and senior Grant Wallace ’15. In his first year as quarterback for the Bulldogs, Roberts is having an exceptional season, leading the league in passing yards, touchdowns, completion percentage and passing efficiency.

    Defensively, the Bulldogs have had similar successes. Although the core of the defensive unit is young, starting mostly sophomores and a few freshmen, a number of key players have returned, three of whom — Cole Champion ’16, Foyesade Oluokun ’17 and William Vaughn ’15 — earned All-Ivy honors last year. As sophomore linebacker Darius Manora ’17 — who took an interception into the endzone against Brown — asserts, “We obviously don’t have as much experience as a lot of the teams we’ve been going against […] but we’ve been growing steadily every game. We’ve been getting better and better. Just recently we had our best defensive game against Princeton.” He went on, “We’re very strong up front […] We have guys who like to come up and hit. That’s what we preach, that’s what we strive for in our defense. We want hitters.”

    This new success has much to do with to a new approach to training the Bulldogs have adopted. A sign hangs above the entrance to the tunnel that runs under Derby Avenue, connecting the Smilow Field Center and the football practice field. It reads, “One Play Warrior.” Every day before practice, players walk beneath the sign. Its message: Focus, stay in the moment, one play at a time. The team has embraced these ideals since last April when mental conditioning coach Brian Cain began to talk to the team.

    Asked about the effectiveness of the mental training, sophomore fullback/tight end Jackson Stallings ’17 noted, “The mental approach is 90 percent of athletics […] Your ability to control the game mentally allows you to do more physically […] It has really changed the culture of Yale football from someone who looks to the last game of the year and says, ‘All right, we gotta beat Harvard like everybody says,’ and instead focuses on a small picture and executes his job each play.”

    Manora adds, “[Cain] preached to us to focus on the process rather than the outcome. And our defense tries to do the same thing. So each play we try to play as hard as we can, rather than get caught up in if we gave up a big play or made a big play ourselves. And I think that is the key to us winning games. We don’t get caught up […] We just keep playin’.”

    The team adheres to this system of beliefs. And they’ve proven their devotion again and again throughout the season. In the first game, Lehigh scored three unanswered touchdowns in the first quarter. Unfazed, the Bulldogs got to work, creeping back, and then winning the game 54-43. A week later they pulled off an even more stunning feat, upsetting Army 49-43. Since those two games, this faith in the process and focus on the moment have served the Bulldogs well in countless situations throughout the season. One can only wonder how it will help against Harvard tomorrow.

    *  *  *

    During halftime of the Princeton game last Saturday, Calvin Hill ’69, likely the most accomplished living Yale football player, stepped out from under the archway at the 50-yard line. Hill had returned to the Bowl as part of the game’s “Legends of the Bowl” ceremony.

    When asked how it felt to be back, he smiled and said, “It’s wonderful.” Then he motioned to the field, “I haven’t seen Bruce Weinstein in 40 years.”

    Really? That’s it? Here he was: Calvin Hill, perhaps the greatest player in 142 years of Yale football. A guy who played in the NFL for 12 years, four-time all-pro, two-time Ivy-League champion, record-breaking track star, an athlete so good legendary Yale football coach Carm Cozza said he could have played all 22 positions on the field — and this struck him the most upon returning to Yale.

    He wasn’t aglow with memories of past glory, his victory over Harvard in 1967, or the legendary tie game in 1968. He didn’t seem awestruck at the grandeur of the Bowl, or the exuberant crowd, or the medal he was awarded as an honorary “Legend of the Bowl” to commemorate the one-hundredth anniversary of the stadium. Instead, Hill was happiest to see Bruce Weinstein, his pal and former teammate, whom he hadn’t seen in ages.

    Later that evening a couple more recent alumni affirmed Hill’s statement. When asked what he missed most about Yale football, Kyle White ’14, former Yale defensive tackle, said, “It’s all about the brotherhood. There’s a really special bond with Yale football. It’s really quite unique.”

    Former Bulldog left tackle Wes Gavin ’14 said: “The bottom line is that Yale football is a brotherhood. It takes a lot to become a part of it. It has a long history behind it. And it’s something really special.”

    Yale football is unique. And the Yale-Harvard game is special. In terms of fanfare, publicity, and hype, Yale-Harvard doesn’t hold a candle to Florida-Florida State, Auburn-Alabama, or USC-UCLA. The Yale Bowl has no jumbotron, there will be no 300-person marching band performing at halftime, Mariah Carey won’t sing the national anthem, and it’s been decades since the Yale Bowl has seen a full crowd.

    Nevertheless, ESPN’s College GameDay will cover the Game on Saturday, instead of any of the number of ACC, SEC, or PAC-12 games. As Roberts states, “This game means so much to the community. It means so much to Yale. It means so much nationally […] I think there are great rivalries in the ACC, great rivalries in the SEC, that might get a little more media coverage than we get, but … I think the emotional investment, the equity over 130 years is much greater than any other rivalry. And that is why it’s so special.”

    Irrespective of media attention or massive fanfare, this “emotional investment, the equity over 130 years” places Yale-Harvard in the same echelon as any of the great collegiate football rivalries across the country. It also creates the brotherhood Gavin, White and Hill touched upon. A brotherhood, the three alumni suggested, which transcends the final score of the Game, which lasts so long that when they return to the Bowl, after one year or 40 years, their old friend’s face brings back more fond memories than the Bowl, The Game, or the University itself.  

    There’s no complex explanation to it. “In all honesty … It’s just fun,” Stallings admitted. “It’s fun to go out there and play with your buddies, it’s fun to play with confidence.”

    *  *  *

    For Morgan Roberts ’16, Candler Rich ’17, Khalid Cannon ’17, Jackson Stallings ’17, Darius Manora ’17 and the 101 other players on the Yale football team, The Game has an entirely different meaning. For them, the fun comes from playing The Game well, doing the job right, “sticking to the process,” and knowing that, when the clock hits zero, the final tally will take care of itself. It comes from all of their 106 teammates. And the ultimate reward they may draw from The Game will come years from now, when, stiff-kneed and gray-haired, they walk into the Bowl once more.

    *  *  *

    When I asked running back Candler Rich if, with everything on the line, he was feeling anxious about The Game. He smiled, almost holding back a wink, and asked, “What’s there to be anxious about?”

  4. American historical mythologies: Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick

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    Q: Untold Histories is both a documentary series and a book. Do you think these two media fulfill different functions in getting your story out?

    PK: I think it’s two ways of conveying the same message. There’s actually another way, too, if you listen to the audiotapes. When I listen to the audio book, even after having written it, it’s still very powerful to me. But film has a different emotional resonance than reading a book, and when you put together the history with the skills of a brilliant filmmaker, each documentary episode feels like a feature film. Oliver did a great job of taking his words and my words, getting the visuals, and putting that together with the narration.

    Q: Can you talk a little bit about your time at Yale, Mr. Stone? I know you started out here, and then finished at NYU.

    OS: I was over in the freshman dorm, McClellan? George Bush was in my class. I’ve been back a couple of times — my son almost came here but he went to Princeton instead … I was here for the 2000 celebration, which was disgusting. I was literally turned off. The President [Levin] had turned into a money-grubber. It was the richest turnout I’d ever seen. Bush the father gave a speech, and they were loving him, cheering him … It was a celebration of capitalism, the turn of the century, and I just felt so sick that week, just felt like it was such a surfeit of self-love.

    Q: When you guys are presenting a documentary with an angle, or an interpretation, how do you interweave objective facts and their interpretations?

    OS: He’s a history professor. He should answer that. It’s tricky.

    PK: Even facts themselves are interpretation. When you get down to it, there are certain hardcore things, and those are uninteresting for the most part. History is all about interpretation, which is why it’s so silly when people call us revisionists, because historians are all, by definition, ‘revisionists.’ When people label us ‘revisionist,’ they mean ‘left-wing revisionist.’ At the University level, [Yale Professor of History and Cold War expert] John Gaddis is just as much of a revisionist as we are, but he’s revising from a different perspective. So I think that you’ve got to present the facts honestly, and then you’ve got to give your interpretation of what it means. We’re trying to show patterns across history. We start in the 1890s, we accelerate with World War II and the aftermath. We have an interpretation that says that the world could have turned out very differently and we would have been much better off had it turned out differently, and that the Cold War was effectively avoidable.

    OS: There’s this very important issue of who did what, when. When you say ‘facts’: The American settlers arrived here in ‘date, fact.’ The Indians massacred them in ‘date, fact.’ If you omit everything in between, about what the settlers did to the Indians, then of course it’s a massacre; of course it’s a simple act of revenge. So you have to be very careful when you say things, because omitting facts is a lot of what historians do.

    PK: You have to be selective. All historians select facts that can reinforce their argument. It doesn’t mean we don’t see the other side; we know what Stalin did, we know how horrifically he treated people within his own country. But we can look at that and say, still, he was not imposing dictatorial regimes in the beginning. There was a window there of about two years, when the United States and the Soviets could have worked out a different relationship.

    Q: What are the differences in creating a feature documentary and creating a fictionalized feature film like JFK? Do you think one is more effective at getting a message across?

    OS: Two different mediums, enormous differences. Drama films require condensation: You have actors, you have makeup, you have sets, you have to recreate reality. With a documentary, presumably you already have a reality that you are interpreting, and realities exist in our archive footage. In order to do [curate archival footage in a compelling way], you’ve got to take a big-picture-look at what really matters; we omitted certain things, absolutely, but I think we got the right picture and the right spirit. For me it was very exciting — not dealing with actors was great. We are dealing with a script, we are writing a narrative line, and choice of words is crucial, as is fact-checking. In a feature film, nobody fact checks you. I enjoy [making both feature films and documentaries] enormously, because one requires an enormous amount of theatrical vantage and imagination and storytelling. Frankly, a documentary does too, but with a documentary I had the chance to be rigorous. I basically went back and got a post-graduate degree in history with Mr. Kuznick.

    PK: He got a B.

    OS: I learned a lot about American history, which I hadn’t known, even though I’d lived through it.

    PK: Okay, he got an A. I just raised it.

    Q: So, how do you think your experiences as a Vietnam War veteran influence how you look at things, like history and American politics?

    OS: You have to realize I grew up Republican. I might have been George Bush in 2000 had I not lived my life and [concluded] that a large part of what I learned in American history was mythology, and not true. Vietnam felt patriotic at the time, but everyone who actually went there saw something else. I think that’s true of every war we’ve fought so far. And it’s not just war; it’s also domestic policies, our actions and covert intelligence to overthrow regimes. The way we teach American history is part of that cover-up. So I reached this place where I was very uncomfortable with what was being done. I feel that our greatness has been wholly compromised.

    Q: It’s interesting that you use that word, ‘mythology’ in the context of war education. How else do you think that our history education today is a ‘mythology’?

    PK: A lot of the project was inspired by Oliver looking at his daughter’s high school history textbook, and being disappointed by what she was learning and what she wasn’t learning … You run into two problems: One, that people know almost no history, and secondly, that the little bit they do know is usually wrong.

    Q: You guys have called Obama a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” Do you stand by that, and what would you like to see in the 2016 election?

    PK: I’d like to see “ABC,” Anybody But Clinton, on the Democratic side. She is just much too hawkish for my taste. Obama is a colossal disappointment. Maybe we should have known better. There was something so compelling, so attractive, after those years of Bush … just Obama’s intelligence, the fact that he was so articulate, that he had a vision, and he seemed to be a man of peace, and that he’s African American. That combination was very attractive to us. The only thing I like about Hillary is her gender. I think it’s time to have a woman President, but someone else, like Elizabeth Warren. Obama wasn’t as bad as he might have been, given the pressures he was under, but he wasn’t as strong. If Obama had been President in 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, he would have listened to the generals, we would have invaded Cuba.

    OS: I want to make one addendum, because I don’t want to seem wholly negative: I’m not saying ‘anybody but Hillary.’ I accept that it seems inevitable that it will be her. So how do you live with her? Obviously you hope for amelioration, you hope that her foreign policy might be more nuanced than it’s been in the past. The problem is [that there’s] a pattern in American history, starting in 1894 [that accelerated us into] a national security state and then a global security state. It’s not [Clinton’s] fault, it’s almost like she’s been brainwashed; she just has to go along with that line. You can’t get along on either party without increasing military superiority. The problem’s not Hillary — how does anyone come up against what this country has become?

  5. The Heir to King John?

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    John DeStefano Jr. was elected as the 49th mayor of New Haven in January 1994 and has held this office for 10 consecutive terms. In January of this year, however, he announced that his time in office would be over: He would not seek re-election.

    In the wake of DeStefano’s announcement, several contenders stepped up to fill his shoes, but after the results of September’s primary, two candidates have risen to the fore: Toni Harp ARC ’78 and Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10.

    Of the two candidates Harp is most often seen as DeStefano’s successor, both by her critics and champions. But after 20 years under one mayor, would a Harp administration mean more of the same?

    According to her campaign, Harp’s platform rests on economic development, education reform and improving public safety.

    For those looking for change, Harp promises to increase coordination between the mayor’s office and the Board of Aldermen and increase community involvement in public safety — both of which were not DeStefano’s top priorities, at least according to the senator’s camp.

    But even within these issues, there are similarities in the rhetoric used by Harp and the mayor. Though their proposed ways of accomplishing them differ, Harp and DeStefano advocate for the same goals, and in almost the same language.

    But in response to the criticism that she and DeStefano are similar politicians, Harp pointed out that change isn’t necessarily good for its own sake.

    “I hope that when I’m mayor that people feel that same sense of stability,” she said.

    Harp promises to be able to continue many of the mayor’s emphases, especially in areas such as education reform and public safety. According to Harp’s campaign, Harp has a lot of support from local politicians, especially the Board of Aldermen, because she knows the city just as well as the mayor does. But while this means that Harp, if elected, would have much of the support that ensured DeStefano’s longevity, for better or for worse, it also means that the city’s priorities wouldn’t be likely to change.


    The Early Days

    Harp first became active in New Haven politics when DeStefano was in office. She came to New Haven as an architecture graduate student almost 40 years ago and was elected as Ward 2 alderwoman in 1992. In 1993, she became state senator of Connecticut’s 10th district.

    But Harp was not always perceived as DeStefano’s successor, or necessarily his ally.

    Harp campaign manager Patrick Scully said the two were able to collaborate on some legislative goals when she first arrived, and resisted calling the two politicians rivals during the rest of DeStefano’s term because they’ve occupied different political spheres: Harp as senator and DeStefano as city mayor.

    But during New Haven’s 2011 mayoral campaign, Harp made the bold decision to endorse Clifton Graves, who ran against DeStefano. In her endorsement speech, Harp advocated for a better solution to reducing violence in the city, citing the 23 homicides that had been committed already that year.

    During that same election, Harp’s popularity was compared to DeStefano’s even though she was not running for mayor. A survey commissioned by DeStefano’s reelection campaign in 2011 analyzing voter preference between DeStefano and Harp ranked the state senator over the mayor.


    Two Thumbs Up

    Still, over time Harp has found support from many of the same people as DeStefano. And the most prominent of these have been the local unions.

    Local 34 and Local 35, which represent Yale’s workers, endorsed her in June of this year, but she has also received support from over 10 other unions, including the New Haven Federation of Teachers, and the New Haven Firefighters.

    These endorsements have become a major selling point for Harp, earning her an endorsement from the New Haven Register, which specifically cited her connections to the Board of Aldermen and to the unions.

    DeStefano has stared down union demands in the past. In February of 2011, he fired 16 New Haven firefighters, a situation that led to a union protest and eventually escalated into a prominent court case: Ricci v. DeStefano. But even in the face of legal opposition, DeStefano continued to act independently.

    President of “Yale for Elicker” Drew Morrison ’14 questioned whether Harp would do the same. He explained that many view Harp as beholden to special interests, given how much she has relied on union connections during the campaign process.

    “[If Harp is elected] a lot of the ideas and decisions are not going to come from the mayor,” Morrison said. He argued that Harp is running from a “bully pulpit.”

    But others see Harp’s connections differently: as a way for her to work more efficiently.

    Scully emphasized that Harp would not be afraid to stand up to her supporters if she disagreed with them.

    “She isn’t beholden to them by any means,” he said in reference to her union connections.

    And Harp doesn’t just rely on unions. She has the endorsement of most New Haven Aldermen. Members of the board are happy to see a mayoral candidate who is on the same page as them, especially since DeStefano’s policies weren’t always coordinated with theirs.

    According to Alderman Frank Douglass (Ward 2) and Jeanette Morrison (Ward 22), Harp’s hopes for New Haven are in harmony with the Board of Aldermen’s Vision Statement for 2013-2014.

    Douglass has known Harp for a long time, and he believes she’s ready to work with the board. “Its personal between me and her,” he joked.

    Personal might be a good watchword for the Harp campaign, at least according to Scully.

    “DeStefano is more of a top-down type of mayor,” he said “Toni Harp is more of a bring everybody to the table leader.”


    Getting Schooled

    After being sworn into office in 1994, John DeStefano set out on the ambitious mission to renovate or rebuild every New Haven public school. Now New Haven schools, newly renovated, boast innovative designs: white concrete and glass at Hill Regional Career High School and curved brick at Truman School, to name a few.

    Like DeStefano, Harp emphasizes education reform as one of her priorities. But where DeStefano emphasized infrastructure, Harp prioritizes reform in the classroom. One of her main emphases has been on expanding curriculum improvements such as tailoring content to the needs of the kids in the class.

    Harp commended DeStefano’s work on public schools, but added that “we have to make sure that inside those beautiful school buildings we have a world-class education that works.”

    Harp has found support for these policies among local politicians, and Douglass specifically commended her for moving in the direction that New Haven’s students need.

    “I think she’ll play a big part in actually making sure that the school systems work as opposed to just having new facilities,” he said.

    Many of those within the education system also seem to agree. As an educator at Gateway Community College, Alderwoman Morrison believes that Harp’s education policy would give more students an education that would prepare them for college-level classes, something that wasn’t the case under DeStefano.

    Perhaps because of this difference, Harp said that she feels a sense of urgency when it comes to education reform. DeStefano’s policies, in school reform as well as construction, have worked so far, but she believes that there is more to be done, and that it needs to come quickly.

    “We can’t afford to take years to create the change that these children need,” Harp said.


    5-O on Your Block

    The New Haven of the early 90s, when DeStefano first took office, was much different, and more dangerous, than the New Haven of today. It was the site of widespread violence, much of it caused by drug wars.

    And even as much of that violence has disappeared, DeStefano has kept reduction of crime at the top of his priorities list.

    In 2012, there were 50% fewer homicides and 30% fewer non-fatal shootings than there were in 2011. In 2013 to date, violent crime is down 10%. This change has been due in a large part to DeStefano’s efforts.

    If elected, Harp promises to continue DeStefano’s public safety policies, but to focus on community engagement, specifically through community policing. Many concerned citizens of New Haven, she argues, would like to be more involved in their own security.

    This model of policing relies more on neighborhood watches and officers on walking beats in New Haven’s neighborhoods. It’s good for community involvement, according to Harp’s campaign, but not New Haven’s traditional approach. According to Harp, at the start of DeStefano’s time as mayor, he was a proponent for more community involvement in public safety, but as he moved through police chiefs, the community-policing model fell by the wayside in favor of other priorities, such as targeting violent criminals instead of on-the-block policing.

    Harp was the first to make a strong push for community policing in New Haven when she was the Ward 2 alderman and, while her emphasis isn’t the same as the mayor’s, her approach has local support. Current Police Chief Dean Esserman, according to both Harp and Scully, is on board with a shift in focus.

    “Community policing is the linchpin of [Harp’s] public safety policy,” said Scully.


    Two Chefs in the Same Kitchen

    Although many parallels can be drawn between DeStefano and Harp, her supporters see her possible election as one that will bring about a lot of change. Connecticut congresswoman and Harp endorser Rosa DeLauro acknowledged that DeStefano was an “outstanding” mayor who brought a lot of good to the city. But she also said that she looks forward to Harp’s “historic” election. If she wins the vote, she will be the city’s first female mayor.

    “She has a vision and understanding for the city, and the skills to create a great future for New Haven,” DeLauro said.

    But some of Harp’s opponents worry that if elected, her similarities to DeStefano will result in stasis for New Haven. Since they share similar goals and work with the same coalitions, they argue the opportunity for change in New Haven would be limited. They want a new mayor, not another DeStefano.

    But Harp supporters argue that differences do exist — especially in her willingness to try new approaches to old issues.

    Douglass emphasized that, in the end, Harp and DeStefano would work towards the good of the same New Haven, though her proposed approach has a different flavor than the current mayor’s.

    “I don’t see her as anything like DeStefano,” he said. “They wear two different aprons.”

  6. Burnt Siena

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    Ambrogio Lorenzetti painted his fresco of “Good Government” in Siena’s Palazzo Pubblico 700 years ago. Workers run scythes over the hills outside the city walls. Orange shingles rise and fall like dust swirling in the wind. Burnt sienna roofs cut into green Tuscan hills that roll into farmland, vineyards and wineries. Lorenzetti’s landscape looks like the Siena of today. The same green hills swell into purple mountains in the distance. The cobblestone walls still snake around a city of convoluted alleyways.

    I never figured out the streets. One main thoroughfare leads you through the city but to get to the monuments takes extra effort. You can’t just see a building, decide you want to go there and walk towards it. You’ll get lost in serpentine trails of cobblestone that will break the soles of your shoes and you’ll wind up going back the way you came.

    The stones are immobile. Nothing grows or decays. The water flows from aqueducts built centuries ago. The feeling of your historical insignificance hovers over you when you look at Siena from a rooftop. Old palazzos, old belfries, old air. You imagine that a thousand years ago the air was just as dry, the mountains just as purple, the cobblestones just as unyielding. It’s not the kind of age I’m used to. It’s the weight of centuries, of ancient human bodies being buried under green hills and rotting and turning to soil raked by the scythes of their descendants. It’s the weight of a plague that killed half the city in the Middle Ages and a war that scarred its people seventy years ago.

    I couldn’t grasp this historical heaviness. I didn’t matter to Siena. Its streets could have swallowed me up and it wouldn’t have made a difference.

    But the people of Siena have made some difference. The city has headed somewhere since its founding, even if it’s unclear just where. When you talk to today’s locals, they will tell you how something like the Palio evolved to its present form. The Palio, a race held every year in the public square, dates back to the 1200s, when citizens raced their haltered cows across a grassy field. Now it’s horses that gallop around cobblestone streets matted with a layer of dirt. It took 800 years of citizens to make that change from cow to horse, grass to dirt. They counted for something.


    The 118 Freeway in Los Angeles is a rich historical monument, but not for the same reasons. An outsider will find nothing in it. To him it is just a freeway, wider than most, rutted in parts. But when I drive along the 118, I discover a collection of selves: There is me when I am five in a booster seat; when I am twelve; when I am eighteen and have my own car. My memories have turned the 118 into something more than just a freeway. When I take the curved overpass and see the San Fernando Valley sprawled out before me, I feel I matter in some way. Who else would be there at that moment to see the tract homes bathed in smog? Sometimes I think that without me the 118’s leaden gray layers would dissolve into the air, stripped of any purpose.

    In the absence of a historical narrative, you matter immensely. You carve out your own biographical space in a city where nothing happens. There are no military victories to celebrate or great churches to help bridge the gap between now and before. Instead, there are freeways and trees, parked cars and fences. They compose my history. I could tell you about the time I trespassed onto the Knollwood Country Club Golf Course by myself and ran in the sprinklers and felt more alone than I’ve ever felt since. I could show you the bend in Pineridge Street that leads you away from the setting sun and back to it. But I couldn’t tell you the history of my neighborhood of Granada Hills. There is only the history of myself. There is neither urgency nor inevitability to any of it. It has no epochal sweep. This history depends on whether I decide to write my name in wet cement, or pull leaves off a hedge.


    In Granada Hills, you can sometimes smell a metallic odor. The collective trash of Los Angeles putrefies in the Sunshine Canyon Landfill and the odor wafts down to the people in the valley below. If it’s really bad, you can call a professional smeller who comes to your street to record the smell. “Smells like the dump all right,” he says. He takes down some notes and leaves. They say there’s going to be a class action suit and all those notes will matter to someone.

    The waste will never be put to good use. It won’t be buried underground or made into fertilizer. The people of the San Fernando Valley probably can’t even make money off a lawsuit. There is only an enormous landfill situated atop a hill and its passing odor.

    We have not built any burnt sienna churches or painted any grand frescos. Buildings crop up out of nowhere and get torn down again without explanation. The recurring wildfires lose their terrifying power to destroy a city’s history when there is no history to destroy.

    When you drive along the 118 at 80 miles per hour, you feel light as air. You’re the only person living, the only person driving this way. You are racing the other drivers to the edge of the freeway, to the ocean. You get out of your car and face away from the waves breaking against the shore. The water recedes, the foam dissolves. The sand drips away and only your feet remain, planted on the beach as long as you can hold them there. The sand yields to the shape of your feet, yours alone, and leaves an impression. The water washes over and it disappears.