Pivotal Moments in World History: Three Interviews
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6 Historically Speaking · July/August 2008 to employ time to transform the social world reminds us that time is defined in relation to the purposes it serves. Allen, assistant professor of English at the University of Ottawa, has performed a valuable service in tracing aie manifold ways in which major American writers and craftsmen reconceptualized time in the 19th century. This »conceptualization had broad implications for the conventional biblical chronology ; for perceptions of natural history in a democratic society taking shape in what Perry Milleronce called Nature's Nation; and for our own understanding of modern nationhood. MichaelKämmen is Newton C. FarrProfessorof American History andCulture atCornellUniversity. He is the authorof a variety of books andarticles on legal, cultural, andsocialhistory. His People of Paradox: An Inquiry Concerning the Origins of American Civilization (Knopf, 1972) won the PulitzerPrice in 1973. Kämmen's most recent book is Visual Shock: A History of Art Controversies in American Culture (Vintage, 2007). Pivotal Moments in World History: Three Interviews Conducted by Donald A. Yerxa OXFORD UNIVERSITYPRESS HAS RECENTLY ROLLED OUTA world history companion to its highly successful Pivotal Moments in American History series. Historically Speaking editor DonaldA. Yerxa interviewed OxfordUniversityPressacquisitionseditorSusanFerberalongwiththeauthorsof thefirst two installments in the series, Mark Gregory Pegg andJohn Charles Chasteen. Donald A. Yerxa: How do the first two volumes illustrate your vision for the series? Susan Ferber: Both John Chasteen and Mark Pegg take important and recognizable historical moments and present new views. What distinguishes them particularly for the series is the way in which they move beyond national or regional interpretations and discuss how these historical moments resonated beyond die places and times they occurred. Yerxa: What are some of the other volumes in the pipeline? Ferber: We have under contract books on the making of the Magna Carta, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and the outbreak of World War I, the October Days of the French Revolution and the signing of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, and other projects in the planning stages, including the Boxer Rebellion. Yerxa: What is fueling the considerable interest in history's pivotal moments? Ferber For a trade audience, I think there's long been interest in exploring the makings of great events and great men, so this isn't anything new. For a narrative, any time you have a moment of crisis, a moment of great decision making, a moment when the course of history could have been radically different had a different outcome occurred , it makes for inherendy dramatic writing, and that's something different types of readers can actively engage with. Understanding individuals within larger social processes becomes very apparent in these accounts. And finally, because these books stress the long-term impact, they give readers a clear understanding of why the past has continued to matter—and potentially had different meanings—for later generations. * * * Yerxa: How do you assess what constitutes a pivotal moment in world history? Ferber That's a tricky question, since one person 's "top ten" moment may not be widely known to others. And there are moments that are pivotal but had a very small ripple effect outside their immediate region. This is particularly true for periods when communications technology was slow. What we're trying to do for the series is to look broadly at all parts of the globe and think about social, cultural, environmental, military, political , and technological moments when something shifted the course of historical events. And, of course, we're trying to find authors who can narrate these moments in such a way that their world importance is conveyed in their broadest possible context. Donald A. Yerxa : Could you provide our readers with a brief summary of the standard interpretation of the Albigensian Crusade? Mark Gregory Pegg: The standard interpretation of the Albigensian Crusade is that it was a holy war against the "Cathars" who, wreathed in myth and tragedy, are die most famous heretics of the Middle Ages. The traditional story of the Cathars begins quiedy , furtively, in the 11th century, their presence faint and uncertain. Then halfway through the 12th century there they are, loud and visible from the Mediterranean to the North Sea, until...