History According to Lists – New York in 101 Objects

history-of-new-york-in-101-objectsThis week I’m finding all kinds of historical lists, like “Who’s Bigger” and “A History of the World in 100 Objects.” The latest item in my list of historical lists is a neat article about an interesting looking book: “A History of New York in 101 Objects: A Thoughtful Visual Encyclopedia of Collective Memory.” In it, Maria Popova discusses Sam Roberts’ attempt to capture New York’s 5 boroughs and 8.4 million people in a series of artifacts. Like the BBC’s 100 objects, Roberts’ book underscores the power of material objects as repositories of memory. Continue reading

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On Chinua Achebe’s book, The Education of a British-Protected Child: Essays

Chinua Achebe, as is well known, is one of the greatest African writers of the post-colonial era. He was an Igbo, born under British colonial rule, who began his writing career in the years just before Nigeria achieved its independence. Most famous for his groundbreaking novel, Things Fall Apart, Achebe died about a year ago, in March 2013. There are many fine obituaries which pay homage to his life and career, including this one in The Guardian.

Achebe-EducationSome time ago I bought a collection of essays Achebe published under the title The Education of a British-Protected Child, a retrospective work published in the wake of the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Things Fall Apart. In The Education of a British-Protected Child, Achebe tells stories from his upbringing, education, and literary career, all of which touch in one way or another on the subject of African identity. Achebe is so interesting to me because of the way he gently but firmly rejects negative Western language about and images of Africa. Over an over, he demonstrates how such language and imagery enabled the colonization of Africa and still hinders African development. As someone who cares deeply about conditions in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I find Achebe’s writing a helpful education about how (and how not) to think about Africa and Africans. Continue reading

Internet Knickknacks (February 2013)

I frequently come across interesting websites, blog entries, videos, or documents on the Internet, and thought it might be fun to start a semi-regular feature called “Internet Knickknacks,” a combination of history, Christianity, and pop culture. It’s high time for a second installment.

As usual, there’s always new history being made Continue reading

The Joys of Lesslie Newbigin

For the first time in about fifteen years, I’m reading Lesslie Newbigin again (this time with one of my friends!). We’re working our way through one of Newbigin’s two most famous works, Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1986). If you’re not familiar with Newbigin, he was a Newcastle born, Cambridge educated Church of Scotland missionary to India, who later migrated to the Church of South India and then the United Reformed Church. He was also head of the International Missionary Council and one of the top leaders in the World Council of Churches in the early 1960s. Having returned to Great Britain in the 1970s to retire (read “pastor, speak, and write”), he became an important figure in theology and missiology, Continue reading

Internet Knickknacks (December 2012)

I frequently come across interesting websites, blog entries, videos, or documents on the Internet, and thought it might be fun to start a semi-regular feature called “Internet Knickknacks,” a combination of history, Christianity, and pop culture.

Lots continues to be made, and rightly so, of the mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. Continue reading

Neil Postman’s Technopoly … Twenty Years Later

I discovered Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death, etc.) somewhat belatedly, around the year 2000 or so, and it wasn’t until sometime later still that I began to read his work. Recently, I discovered some old notes I had made on Postman’s book Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (New York: Vintage, 1993) and realized that this work is now twenty years old. It seemed like a good moment to reconsider Postman’s ideas and assess the extent to which his cultural critiques stood the test of time. Continue reading

History at the Movies: Valkyrie

The film Valkyrie depicts the ill-fated attempt by the German Resistance to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Nazi Germany’s leader (Fuehrer). Even while Valkyrie was being filmed, it was already beginning to generate some controversial press, for three reasons: 1) because Tom Cruise was caste as the lead character, German Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, which is controversial because Tom Cruise is … well … Tom Cruise (i.e. not to be taken seriously as an actor these days); 2) because there was some question whether the German government would allow Cruise, a Scientologist, to film the movie in Germany, where many people think Scientology is not really a religion but a politically subversive movement which should be banned; and 3) because the German Resistance to Hitler evokes a wide range of emotions in Germany, ranging from pride in the “Good Germany” the resisters represent to discomfort because the resisters committed treason (even if it was in a noble cause) to shame, because the resisters did take action, unlike so many other Germans. Continue reading