by John Wilson

History, History, and More History

A report on the 2008 conference of The Historical Society.

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For sheer elegance of style, the finest paper I heard was George Huppert's "Seaborne Migration and Renaissance Culture," which Huppert describes as "nothing less than an attempt to explain why Europeans took over the world." He emphasizes the role of municipal schools—especially in France, his focus, but elsewhere too—in fostering the kind of thinking that gave rise to European dominance. I found the paper exhilarating if not entirely persuasive. To buy Huppert's argument whole hog, you have to accept his largely implicit assumption of a priest–ridden Europe from which the Renaissance broke decisively. Ah, those Dark Ages.

Finally, on the compelling subject of immigration, there was a session on the Dillingham Commission, moderated by Robert Zeidel of the University of Wisconsin, Stout, who has published a book on the commission. You can find the four papers online at the conference website, Session IV B: interesting reading in light of current immigration debates.

All of this suggests, I hope, why a number of more or less sensible people bothered to travel to Baltimore in June—and why The Historical Society exists.

John Wilson is the editor of Books & Culture.

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