Friday, December 30, 2011

FORUM - An Undergraduate Book Review: The Road by Cormac McCarthy - Reviewed by Joe Griffiths

The Road. By Cormac McCarthy. New York: Random House, 2006. ISBN # 978-0307387899

Reviewed by Joseph Griffith

Ashland University

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Letters, Drama, and Music in 2007, Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel, The Road, is a haunting tale of human triumph. As a father and his son travel the desolate road to the West Coast, they unintentionally encounter other survivors of “the blast” along the way: travelers, beggars, cannibals, and hunters. It is, in plainest terms, an unforgettable contrast of men’s wickedness and one man’s courage in the face of death.

One of McCarthy’s greatest accomplishments in this story is his vivid demonstration of the hopelessness of humanity when all seems lost. Humans eat other men, women, and children to stay alive. The vast majority of the human race operates without regard to morality. In a disheartening way, McCarthy writes that a large portion of ‘decent people’ become animals when pushed to their limit.

It is the catastrophic nature of the world that pushes men to their limit. In no other post-apocalyptic tale has the absolute desolation of the earth been more simply realized. Years after “the blast”, enormous trees fall to the ground because their roots finally lose their grip. It is as if the world is actually falling down around them. The landscape and sky grow greyer with every moment. The crops have perished years ago, and so have the animals. There is nothing new to eat, only a scarce amount of canned food. In short, McCarthy illustrates a barren America in a very tangible way.

Even the way the story is told exudes hopelessness. Not one character in the text is given a proper name (in fact, the main characters are simply dubbed “The Man” and “The Boy”). When the father finds tracks in the mud, the boy asks whose it is. “I don’t know. Who is anybody?” replies the father. There are no quotation marks throughout the entire book. It is as if the thoughts, actions, spoken words, and recollections of the characters are all compiled into one droning text.

In addition, the story is told in sheer, painful silence. The father and the son meander across a destroyed America without lengthy conversation, presumably to save valuable energy. With a sense of numbness and dull despair, they wear layer upon layer to stay warm, and every time the father coughs up blood, he is brought closer to death’s door. As time continues, they become more and more detached from the world before the flash. In this setting, a man forgets what he wants to remember such as “colors; the names of birds; things to eat; finally the names of things one believed to be true” and remembers what he wants to forget. McCarthy truly portrays a constant, hell-like atmosphere.

McCarthy’s masterful exposition of the total destruction of morality, the environment, and sound, makes the narrative that much more unforgettable. In other words, the simple resolve and inspirational justice of the father and his son shine all the brighter when contrasted with the wicked brutality of humanity. “Sometimes I tell the boy old stories of courage and justice, difficult as they are to remember,” the father explains.

The father offers no revolutionary new thoughts on the purpose of mankind. He has no fail-proof plan for the salvation of the human race. In fact, when his son asks him, “Are we still the good guys?” he answers with a vague affirmative. “All I know is the child is my warrant, and if he is not the word of God, then God never spoke.

Unlike most end-of-the-world stories, there are no alien invasions, large-scale wars, or warrior kings in The Road. Instead, the driving force of the story is the father’s love for his son. While some may say that the story lacks an obvious, triumphant message, it is precisely because of this that this novel is so compelling. Even in the bleakest of times, the true love of a father is all a boy needs. In my opinion, that is a story worth reading.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Festum grande celebramus

Latin students from  HIST 201 end the semester by singing Christmas Carols in Latin in Andrews Hall. All together now, "O! tinniunt, tinniunt, tintinnabula."

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

FORUM - An Undergraduate Book Review: The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else by Hernando De Soto - Reviewed by Marc Zimmerman

The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else. By Hernando De Soto. New York: Basic Books, 2000. ISBN # 10-0-465-01615-4

Hernando De Soto’s book, The Mystery of Capital, attempts to address the root problems of why capitalism has only thrived in the West and has failed in developing and former communist countries. More importantly, however, the book also drives at why the success of capitalism, not the failure of capitalism, is paramount in the continuing growth and eventual economic success of developing and former communist countries. Too often in today’s society, the problem of poverty in third world and developing countries is handled ineptly by the West. The West has tried countless times to provide financial aid, food aid, medical aid, city planning, government reform, etc. to these countries. All of these efforts, however, have thus far proved unsuccessful. De Soto argues that although these efforts have short term benefits for developing and former communist countries, they do not address the root causes of the problems. The bottom line of De Soto’s argument is that capitalism triumphs in the West and fails everywhere else because the West has succeeded in reincarnating their material possessions into capital, which is the life blood of small business, entrepreneurship, and the success of capitalism.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

FORUM - An Undergraduate Book Review: The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam reviewed by Luke Rogers

The Best and the Brightest. By David Halberstam, New York: Ballantine Books, 1992.
ISBN # 449-90870-4

American foreign policy in the Post-World War II world has been studied and critiqued by journalists, historians, politicians, theologians, and average citizens of numerous nations. One of the most frequently analyzed instances of American foreign policy is its intervention in Southeast Asia that ultimately matured into the Vietnam War. In “The Best and the Brightest”, David Halberstam attempts to explain how both the informal and official decisions of the Presidents and Washington elite from Eisenhower to Johnson contributed to American’s unsuccessful and seemingly inextricable stint in Vietnam.  

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Jenna Beadle's Study Abroad in Spain

Jenna Beadle, a senior Political Science and History major with a minor in Spanish, spent two months of the summer in Alicante, Spain.  Ashland University offers a variety of study abroad experience and partners specifically with the Center for Cross-Cultural Studies, (See which has locations in Córdoba, Argentina; Havana, Cuba; and Seville and Alicante, Spain.  She was required to take one intensive grammar course for each month she was there and had the option of an elective each month—she wisely chose Spanish dance and Wind surfing.  "The experience I had was truly incredible.  I would recommend this program to anyone because it was outstanding; I was able to obtain ten credit hours and finish my minor.  The benefits of submersion have a very large impact on your comprehension of a language and your speaking skills.  There really is no substitute for it." 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Forum: An Undergraduate Book Review - The Closing of the Muslim Mind by Robert R. Reilly reviewed by Lindsey Richey

The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamic Crisis.
Robert R. Reilly, Wilmington: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2010. ISBN: 9781610170024

The modern Islamism crisis is gaining more and more importance, while it has remained somewhat of a mystery to the general public. Robert R. Reilly attempts to explain the issue as well as dispelling any misconceptions about the entire crisis. Reilly focuses on the theological difference that resulted in the removal of philosophy from the repertoire of Islamic belief. Utilizing a wide range of sources, Reilly establishes the fundamental change in belief as well as how such a change was accomplished and illustrates the repercussions such a change created in modern times. Reilly does a thorough analysis on the differences between the Mu’tazilites, with their philosophical roots in reason and free will, and the Ash’arites, with their theological roots in Allah’s omnipotence.

FORUM: An Undergraduate Book Review - The Big Short by Michael Lewis reviewed by Marc Zimmerman

Michael Lewis, The Big Short, New York City, W.W. Norton & Company Inc., 2010,
ISBN, 978-0-393-33882-9

The Big Short, by Michael Lewis, provides a fascinating and unique perspective on the subprime mortgage crisis of 2008. Lewis takes the reader on a journey of the events preceding the crisis. He examines the events leading up to the crisis from the perspective of Michael Burry, Steve Eisman, and Greg Lippmann. Although these were not the biggest players on Wall Street, they were some of the few that saw the insanity that had ensued in the housing market and foresaw the inevitable crash. Thus, Lewis’ account of the financial crisis is set apart from others not only for the eloquence and page-turning style of his writing, but because of the narrative approach of his work. This combination provides financial geeks with an entertaining read, and  in addition can inform anyone who is seriously interested in learning more about the financial events that have shaped this generation. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Al Ghazali: Interesting Conference at OSU in November

"Abu Hāmid al-Ghazālī (1058-1111) is a central figure in the history of Islamic theology, jurisprudence, philosophy and Sufism. Of Persian origin, he lived and worked in Baghdad and in other intellectual centers of the Muslim world of the 11th and 12th century." So says the website of an international conference devoted to understanding al-Ghazali's thought and legacy.  There are many good reasons for learning something about Al-Ghazali, among which are the following two.  First, he is sometimes said to be the second most important man in Islamic history - for his defense of Islam and for his critique of Greek philosophy. Indeed, he may be the most successful critic of Greek philosophy ever.  Secondly, one of the most interesting papers at the conference is on this very subject, "Al-Ghazālī’s Critique of Philosophy"; it will be delivered by Charles Butterworth, who is a teacher of Dr. Paddags. 

A description of the conference and its program can be found here:  The conference is scheduled for November 10-12 at the Mershon Center for International Security Studies at the Ohio State University in Columbus. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Students' Study Habits, Then and Now

A few days ago, I noted a new book called Academically Adrift, which analyzes data on various trends in colleges and universities.  One interesting finding is how little contemporary students study as compared to students in earlier years.  Before the 1960s, full-time students spent an average of forty hours a week on academic pursuits (studying and attending classes). Today, full-time students report spending an average of only 27 hours per week on academic pursuits, “less time than the typical high school student spends at school.”  Average time studying fell from twenty-five hours per week in 1961 to thirteen hours per week in 2003!  Interestingly, this drop in devotion to study has had little impact on grade point averages or graduation rates, which gives us a new perspective on grade inflation.  Students have developed the “art of college management,” which includes the subordinate arts of “shaping schedules, taming professors and limiting workload.”  Taming professors?  Interesting concept, and in fact the drop in students’ study time appears to be due as much to professors demanding less (less reading and fewer assignments) as to students trying to limit their workload.  So, we all have something to think about here.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Quotes on History

Over the centuries all sorts of thinkers have commented on the importance of knowing history. Here are a few quotes that I thought were particularly apt:

"If you would understand anything, observe its beginning and its development." --Aristotle

"This I regard as history's highest function, to let no worthy action be uncommemorated, and to hold out the reprobation of posterity as a terror to evil words and deeds." --Tacitus

"Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of preceding times. This arises from the fact that they are produced by men who ever have been, and ever shall be, animated by the same passions, and thus they necessarily have the same results."--Machiavelli

"History is philosophy teaching by example and also by warning." --Lord Bolingbroke

"History, by appraising. ..[the students] of the past, will enable them to judge of the future."
--Thomas Jefferson

"In history, a great volume is unrolled for our instruction, drawing the materials of future wisdom from the past errors and infirmities of mankind." --Edmund Burke

"Life must be lived forward, but it can only be understood backward." --Søren Kierkegaard

"[History] may be called, more generally still, the Message, verbal or written, which all Mankind delivers to everyman." --Thomas Carlyle

"We can be almost certain of being wrong about the future, if we are wrong about the past." --G. K. Chesterton

"History is that which has happened and that which goes on happening in time. But also it is the stratified record upon which we set our feet, the ground beneath us; and the deeper the roots of our being go down into the layers that lie below and beyond the ... confines of our ego, yet at the same time feed and condition it, ... the heavier is our life with thought and the weightier is the soul of our flesh." --Thomas Mann

"A country without a memory is a country of madmen." --George Santayana

"History is, in its essentials, the science of change. It knows and it teaches that it is impossible to find two events that are ever exactly alike, because the conditions from which they spring are never identical." --Marc Bloch

"History cannot give us a program for the future, but it can give us a fuller understanding of ourselves, and of our common humanity, so that we can better face the future." --Robert Penn Warren

"What else can history teach us? Only the vanity of believing we can impose our theories on history. Any philosophy which asserts that human experience repeats itself is ineffectual."
--Jacques Ellul

A New Study of Problems in Colleges and Universities

A new book called "Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses," by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, identifies some important problems in America's colleges and universities, as you can see in this column by Kathleen Parker.  The main problem is not that there are too few climbing walls or flat screen TVs or even the high cost.  It has to do with what is being taught and the quality of the teaching.  One finding is that gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills are either "exceedingly small or nonexistent for a larger proportion of students." And interestingly for us, the report notes disaprovingly that less than 20 percent of colleges have a core curriculum in which U.S. government or history are required, an omission that contributes to students being unprepared for the job market.  Arum thinks that dumbed down curricula are such a big problem that he co-authored a letter to the nation's 10,000 college and university trustees saying that institutions not demanding a rigorous curriculum "are actively contributing to the degradation of teaching and learning. They are putting these students and our country's future at risk."  For more, see the Parker article or even read the book.

Friday, September 30, 2011

What is This Cross?

I’ll wager that not many of you know why this cross, which happens to be located in Ohio, is so interesting. A clue: it comes from a chapel in the town from which departed a certain explorer who is important in American history.  Another clue: four hundred years after that departure (actually, 401 years), a World Exhibition was held in America to celebrate the explorer.  The first student to tell me who the explorer is and the name of the town wins a cool history or political science t-shirt. Please send your answers to me at  

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Why Study History?

Here is John Locke's answer: History "is the great mistress of prudence and civil knowledge and ought to be the proper study of a gentleman or man of business in the world." He adds that civil law "and history are studies which a gentleman should not barely touch at, but constantly dwell upon and never have done with."  Someone who constantly studies civil law and history (and understands Latin and can write a "good hand"), can be "turned loose into the world with great assurance that he will find employment and esteem everywhere." (Some Thoughts Concerning Education, #182 and 186). Ok, you say, that might have worked in 1690, but it isn't true today.  Well, check out this op-ed in the Wall Street Journal (9/21/2011; sorry subscription required) on how historical illiteracy hurts our politics and our businesses.

Students, why don't you send me ( your favorite reasons for studying history or your favorite quotes on that.  I'll post them here.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Internship at the Ohio DHS

Dantan Wernecke (History and Political Science, 2012) had a very interesting internship this summer at the Administrative Office of the Director of the Ohio Department of Homeland Security (a mouthful, I know; but hey, this involves two government agencies). This is an Ohio State agency that facilitates federal DHS programs in Ohio (See Here). Dantan read "Hazard Analysis Reports" and did research on threats to anything important to our way of life - a wide range of things, including roads, bridges, commercial facilities, OSU football games, even cell phone networks, powerlines, and computers. He says that his education in history and political science was great preparation for this work.

Why Study Classics - or History and Political Science?

The Department of History and Political Science is proposing a Classics Major at AU.  It would involve taking our current Classical Civilization Minor, a sequence of three Latin classes at AU (these are also being proposed), and then finishing the major with a semester of study abroad at the American University in Rome, where you would study more Latin and take advantage of the wonderful resources found in Rome! How cool would that be?  We'll keep you posted on the progress of this proposal.

Need more reasons to study Classics?  Check out what the Princeton Review says:  

Who designed the water faucet? How did a Caesarean section get its name? Was Homer really blind? Why should you beware of Greeks bearing gifts? The answers to these and many other questions are yours for the knowing if you major in Classics - the study of the languages, literatures, and cultures of ancient Greece and Rome. A Classics major offers the opportunity to explore the beliefs and achievements of antiquity, and to learn just how profoundly they still affect contemporary civilization.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Summer Study in South Korea

This Summer, Lindsey Richey (majoring in Political Science and History) travelled to Daegu, South Korea to participate in the Daegu Health College Student Leadership Program.  She participated in the program with students from 9 other countries, whose cultures were largely foreign to her. "It was an opportunity I am so glad to have had," she says. "From visiting sites that have large significance to Korean culture, to meeting others, to lectures, to watching a city largely unknown to the world prepare itself for the coming world championships which will determine the qualifiers for the Olympics, this trip is something I will never forget, and has changed me for the better."  

Spotlight on Alumni: Rebeccah Heinrichs

After graduating from AU in 2004 (Political Science), Rebeccah Heinrichs has pursued her passion for defense policy.  She began as Military Legislative Assistant for House Armed Services Committee Member, Trent Franks (AZ-02), and also managed the House of Representatives Missile Defense Caucus.  More recently, she graduated with Highest Distinction from the College of Naval Command and Staff at the U.S. Naval War College where she received the Director’s Award for academic excellence, and is nearing the end of a Masters program in national security strategic studies at the Naval War College.  Rebeccah is now an adjunct scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C.  She writes op-ed columns and appears on television news shows.  Her latest column, explaining why "Defense spending isn’t the place to skimp", can be read here at the Daily Caller.  You can also see her being interviewed on Fox News about defense spending, as well as about developments in Syria.  For more of her work see her page on the FDD website.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Excerpts from "The Mindset List"

Welcome back to Ashland University! Here's wishing everyone a happy and productive semester.

Every year Beloit College publishes "The Mindset List," a list of the "cultural touchstones" that have shaped the development of that year's entering freshman class. Here are a few taken from that list.

For those entering college this year (i.e., the Class of 2015):

Ferris Bueller and Sloane Peterson could be their parents.
Their school's "blackboards" have always been getting smarter.
Amazon has never been just a river in South America.
Refer to LBJ, and they might assume you're talking about LeBron James.
O.J. Simpson has always been looking for the killers of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
There has never been an official Communist party in Russia.
Jimmy Carter has always been a smiling elderly man who shows up on TV to promote fair elections and disaster relief.
Music has always been available via free downloads.
Sears has never sold anything out of a Big Book that could also serve as a doorstop.
Russian courts have always had juries.
No state has ever failed to observe Martin Luther King Day.
They've broken up with their significant others via texting, Facebook, or MySpace.
Major League Baseball has never had fewer than three divisions....
Folks in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City have always been able to energize with Pepsi Cola.
Andy Warhol is a museum in Pittsburgh.

Monday, August 22, 2011

FORUM: An Undergraduate Book Review - Churchill's Bunker by Richard Holmes. Reviewed by Rebekah Sherman.

Churchill's Bunker: The Cabinet War Rooms and the Culture of Secrecy in Wartime London. By Richard Holmes, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.

Reviewed by Rebekah Sherman
Ashland University

The Second World War is one of the most documented and researched periods in all of human history. Every facet of the conflict, from the technological marvels developed during the war to the titanic figures of the heads of state, has sparked interest from some quarter. In Churchill’s Bunker: The Cabinet War Rooms and the Culture of Secrecy in Wartime London, Richard Holmes focuses upon the origins and efforts of the British wartime government operating within the New Public Offices at Whitehall. Drawing upon the impressive record left behind by many of the residents of this London building, the author examines how Winston Churchill’s unique premiership was shaped by the necessities of ingenuity and secrecy imposed upon it by the war.

FORUM: An Undergraduate Book Review - The Matter of the Gods, by Clifford Ando. Reviewed by Nicholas Granitz

Ando, Clifford. The Matter of the Gods. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 2008. 978-0-520-25986-7

Reviewed by Nicholas Granitz
Ashland University

Roman religious philosophy has been the object of classical and contemporary scrutiny since its very founding. How did the Romans discover these gods? How can we tell the origin of Roman history if the history starts before Rome itself? These questions are examined from the philosophical point of view in Dr. Clifford Ando’s recent book, The Matter of the Gods. Dr. Ando examines the philosophical underpinnings of the Roman religion through the eyes of both philosophy and historiography. He asks about the basis of the extremely versatile Roman religion, a system that claims Cicero, Varro, Augustus, Julius Caesar, and Romulus as adherents despite their many differences. Dr. Ando’s book seeks to evaluate how the Romans saw themselves in reference to the divine, how they view the divine as such, and how their complex views originated.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Travels Abroad

My recent travels to Germany brought me to the city of Braunschweig. If the name sounds vaguely familiar to you this would be due to the town of Brunswick, OH sharing its anglicized name. You've probably passed it many times traveling on I-71. Braunschweig is also home to one of the most remarkable medieval statues, the Brunswick Lion. It it most closely associated with Henry the Lion, Duke of Bavaria and Saxony, who fought with his nephew, the German Emperor Barbarossa, over predominance in the Empire during the 12th century. Here you see me in front of the statue while two children are attempting to scale it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Spotlight on Alumni: Emily Pettigrew

Emily Pettigrew (Political Science, 2005) is Senior Policy Advisor for Congressman Bob Gibbs (Ohio’s 18th District).  After graduating from AU, she moved to Columbus without a job because she wanted to work in government and that is where the action is.  She got her start working as an aide in the Ohio Legislature, eventually working for Bob Gibbs in the Ohio Senate. She says that the most interesting thing she’s done so far is to manage and direct Mr. Gibbs’ successful 2010 campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives, a campaign against an incumbent in a district of 16 counties, an area the size of New Jersey.   Her current job involves talking to constituents and lobbyists and determining whether policy ideas will be good for the Congressman’s district and whether they can make it through the House.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Living History in the Ashland Cemetery

Do you wonder what your professors do in the Summer? On May 22, the Ashland County Historical Society hosted the first Ashland Living History Cemetery Walk, a.k.a. "Dead Men Talking." Thirteen people, among them our own Professor John Moser, portrayed men and women who were important to Ashland's past, and stood by those people's graves at the Ashland Cemetery to tell their stories to passersby.

Professor Moser portrayed local lawyer, politician, physician, newspaper publisher, historian and archaeologist George W. Hill.  He also helped to organize the event, which attracted some 400 people. Other Ashland University faculty involved include Deleasa Randall-Griffith (Communications Studies), David Kowalka (Education), and Howard Walters (Education).

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Announcing FORUM: An Undergraduate Book Review

We are pleased to post the first two reviews in FORUM: An Undergraduate Book Review.   See the right hand column for reviews of books on Churchill's war room and the Roman Gods.   As new reviews come in, we will publish them here.  Do you have a book you'd like to review?  Or are you interested in becoming a reviewer?  See the guidelines below and the contact information for the editors at the end. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Dr. Christopher Burkett Receives Teaching Award

To kick off our new departmental blog "History and Politics @ AU" we are reproducing here Dr. Christopher Burkett's speech accepting the Edward and Louaine Taylor Excellence in Teaching Award, one of the greatest honors an Ashland University faculty member can receive. Dr. Burkett will say most beautifully what we in the Department of History and Political Science @ AU aspire to in our teaching. Now here in his own words:

"I’m extremely honored to receive the Edward and Louaine Taylor Excellence in Teaching Award. 
Dr. Christopher Burkett
Sadly, Mr. and Mrs. Taylor are no longer with us. Mrs. Taylor passed away nine years ago, and Mr. Taylor last year at the well-seasoned age of 100.  And so we inherit task of honoring their memories and keeping alive their love of this university, today and in the future.  I did not have the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Taylor, but I did meet Mr. Taylor.  Those who knew Mr. Taylor describe him as a man of amazing character, with a mind forever young and lively, and a heart that was noble and beautiful.   His life was dedicated to excellence in all things.  He expected it of himself and he helped to cultivate it in others.  And Mrs. Taylor, I am told, majored in art in college, a reflection of her love of beauty in all things, especially as it manifested itself in perfection.  I want to say just a few things about these two virtues of Mr. and Mrs. Taylor – their love of excellence and love of beauty, of how, in many ways, the two things are inseparable, and how the pursuit of those things can be the very essence of the pursuit of happiness.
But first let me say that in addition to being honored by the award I am extremely humbled by the fact that we have so many outstanding teachers among our faculty at Ashland University.  This sets us apart from so many other colleges and universities.  This is one of the reasons – the main reason – that I am standing here today.  As an undergraduate student at Ashland College, I knew or took classes from many of the fine faculty here today.  And this is also why I titled my talk “Education and the Pursuit of Happiness,” because it is partly autobiographical.  I tried my hand at college after graduating from high school, and it was awful!  I lasted about five weeks and dropped out.  I found it to be a dreadfully boring, cold and sterile experience.   In my classes there was a lot of professing, but not a lot of teaching, as we understand that term here at Ashland University.