All right! To get things rolling, I’d like to try to write a few words about who I am, why I’m starting this blog, and what I eventually hope to develop this site into.
Your Humble Narrator …
Who am I? I’ve outlined a bit about myself on the about page, but a few more details. I’d describe myself as a historian, but one acutely interested in what recent (mostly 20th century) history has to tell us about policy choices and potential trajectories in the early 20th century. I became acutely interested in history as a discipline in high school, when I was blessed with a wonderful teacher who introduced me to George F. Kennan’s writings on containment. For the impressionable young boy, Kennan served as an example that there was a way to marry intelligent historical analysis with sobriety about current events and statecraft. I’ve tried to follow my own instincts about what’s interesting since then, but there’s been some aping of the world that Kennan and other mid-20th century statesmen-cum-authors found themselves in and, in part, reimagined with new postwar institutions. While an undergraduate at Princeton, I became quite interested in German history, later became more attracted to Russian and Soviet history, and, as of late, seem to find myself more and more attracted to countries and regions with even more obscure languages and questionable human rights records: I carried out some of my recent Master’s dissertation work on Afghanistan (learning the language and hanging out with some Afghan students in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, although I have not been to Afghanistan yet), specifically Soviet development efforts in the country in the 1980s. I’m still figuring out what to do with myself when my time at Oxford University comes to an end this July, but I hope to find a way to hack it between academia, studying bizarre regions of the world, and policymaking.
What Am I Doing?
This is, in part, where this site comes in. Beyond using it as a base for my personal aggrandizement. Most broadly, I want to develop an online space to hold conversations about recent history, good books, and the relevance of the past to present policy and political discussions. Speaking with friends from a variety of academic disciplines at various universities, I sense a dissatisfaction with the armies of, on the one hand, professional pundits writing books one year on Pakistan, the next year on Libya; and on the other hand, the occasional wunderkind authors, often coming out of international relations, appearing on the national news shows and marketing a solution to hard policy problems — but ultimately lacking the depth and insight that only comes with extended exposure to a culture and civilization, an interest governed less by publishers’ timetables than by inherent passion. Some academic programs, like Yale’s Grand Strategy courses, and some television series, like Harry Kreisler’s Conversations with History, have managed to successfully marry an interest in current events with more in-depth insights into history, literature, language, place, and civilization. If I can manage, in a series of postings, analyses, and conversations with others, to do the same, I’ll be satisfied.
To get a bit of content out there for this first post, I’d like to clue in readers to a podcast that I worked out with a friend of mine, John Raimo, a scholar of 20th century modernism in British and German literature. As part of a joint reading project on John’s blog, we together read through Anthony Grafton’s and Daniel Rosenberg’s Cartographies of Time, a lavishly illustrated and highly intelligent history of the timeline and other ways mankind has used to visually depict the passage of time. If you think that timelines in the format we know them today have always existed, think again: there’s a complex, surprising, and visually jaw-dropping history of how we got to this point. Check out Saul Steinberg’s 1970 Calendar, which I think partly reflects American liberals’ attitudes towards the country’s future throughout the post-1932 era:
Neat, no? You can read some of our written commentary over at John’s site, but at the conclusion of the project, we also taped a podcast together — one that I hope can serve as a model for some of the discussions I’d like to arrange in the coming month and a half at Oxford and going ahead into the future.
Download the podcast here.