In his President column in Perspectives on History (61:7 2023), Edward Muir, American Historical Association, describes an oath-taking incident from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1949. It was the Year of the Oath. The Board of Regents required all university employees to pledge their loyalty to the Constitutions of the United States and the state of California. Each individual was to deny membership in or belief in any organization that advocated overthrowing the U.S. government. The intention was to uncover communist associations.
Not stated but implied is whether a MAGA President, member of Congress, or state legislator should have to do the same. Oh, wait. They already do which is a lesson in the effectiveness of oath—taking.
In the column, Muir reports on the incident of a German medievalist historian there. According to an eyewitness, “Perhaps none made a more profound impression upon those who experienced it than the speech of a once German scholar…. He told of the impositions of oaths in the early days of Hitler’s power. His theme was always, ‘This is the way it begins. The first oath is so gentle that one can scarcely notice anything at which to take an exception. The next oath is stronger! The time to resist, he declared, was at the beginning: the oath to refuse to take was the first oath.”
The scholar subsequently was fired by Berkeley for his refusal to take the oath. Later in the column, the President of this history organization notes that many teachers today even if they are not required to take such oaths, may still be subject to efforts at mind control by the government.
The column concludes with the scholar’s oath to the academic discipline of history. The credo is more to the practice of history than to the end results. In so doing, Muir takes exception in the previous paragraph to the efforts of the American Birthright Coalition that advocates for memorization over rational inquiry in k-12 with the Coalition presumably determining what the data is to be memorized.
We all are used to the idea of pledging allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. Students in elementary school may take the pledge daily. Somewhere along the line, the Pledge is dropped except perhaps for special occasions. Various meetings may begin with the taking of the Pledge such as in my village and town at trustee meetings.
What is unclear is the effect of taking these pledges. What is the impact of these pledges on the thinking and/or behavior of the people taking them? Consider, for example, Iran. People there take a far more intense “pledge of allegiance” daily in their prayers. And such prayers are not limited to young impressionable children but carry forward into adulthood and all the years of their lives. Evidently, and the evidence is quite strong, such “pledges of allegiance” have not had the desired effect. Instead, the Iranian rulers know they are sitting on a churning inferno that could erupt at any moment like the volcanoes that make the news. Still, on it goes, an embattled ruling class doubling down on mind control and guns to quell the disturbances.
WHAT IS A STATEMENT OF DIVERSITY, AND WHY IS IT NEEDED?
Since I began this blog with one national history organization, let me turn now to another: the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic (I am a member of both AHA and SHEAR). It is the source of this subtitle. The call for papers for the conference this summer in Philadelphia includes the following:
The SHEAR 2024 Program Committee is eager to build a conference that reflects and fosters the diversity of the field and that upholds SHEAR’s Statement of Values. Your proposal should engage with this goal by including a brief diversity statement that explains how your panel will, in its composition and/or content, reinforce SHEAR’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.
Panels should strive for representation across gendered, racial, institutional, interpretative, and career categories. This policy will not be interpreted to exclude panels comprised entirely of graduate students, women, and/or scholars of color, as the Program Committee is committed to featuring early career scholars as well as members of groups who have been historically underrepresented at SHEAR. Graduate students may find it useful to enlist more senior scholars as commenters, and are welcome to contact the Program Committee for suggestions and assistance.
Address key historiographical questions and/or pressing contemporary issues.
Reflect the diversity of the past and expand narratives of the early American republic to highlight Indigenous, Black, queer, and global histories.
SHEAR is committed to inclusion and diversity and encourages panels that feature members of groups who have been historically underrepresented within the organization. Potential panelists should seek gendered, racial, institutional, interpretive, and career diversity, and each panel proposal should include a statement about how the panel furthers SHEAR’s commitment to diversity.
Since the conference is in Philadelphia, the conference guidelines express awareness of the semiquincentential:
This year marks the 250th anniversary of the meeting of the First Continental Congress at Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia. The Program Committee would like to mark this moment—before the semiquincentennial—as an opportunity to analyze the contingency of 1774 and other turning points in early American history.
It will be interesting to see, how many panels reflect this awareness.
These statements by the prospective speakers serve as a form of oath-taking to the stated precepts and values of the organization. If you want to speak at the conference you must adhere to the stated values of the organization. Fair enough. It is a volunteer organization free to make up its own rules for membership and presentation. And if you don’t like it, then create your own organization and present the papers and ideas you want to present.
While it is highly questionable that loyalty oaths produce the desired outcome. However one should note the ongoing program in Florida to ensure the faculty subscribes the appropriately designated values. One response has been people vote with their feet and leave the university for better pastures elsewhere more conducive to their own value system.
Popular Jewish author and thinker who lives in Israel to skip Arkansas over pro-Israel boycott law By Austin Bailey, Arkansas Times October 30, 2023
Conservative cancel culture canceled an opportunity for enlightenment in Arkansas Monday, thwarting a visit from a leading writer and scholar on the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Jerusalem-based journalist and author Nathan Thrall shared his experience bumping up against Arkansas’s 2017 law requiring individuals or companies to pledge not to boycott Israel or its settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories if they want to do business with the state. That includes speaking at the University of Arkansas, evidently.
Thrall took umbrage at this action.
“I was just told that I cannot speak at @UArkansas unless I sign a pledge that I will not boycott Israel or its occupation,” Thrall said on X yesterday revealing that he had refused the demand. “A 2017 state law requires @UArkansas to impose this McCarthyist requirement. A reminder that the current effort to quash free speech is not new.”
(Middle East Monitor, October 31, 2023).
The reason for the restriction sometimes gets lost in the fuss over the censorship issue.
State Sen. Bart Hester (R-Cave Springs) sponsored the bill requiring a pro-Israel pledge back in 2017. He later explained his thinking this way to a documentary filmmaker:
“There is going to be certain things that happen in Israel before Christ returns. There will be famines and disease and war. And the Jewish people are going to go back to their homeland. At that point Jesus Christ will come back to the Earth … Anybody, Jewish or not Jewish, that doesn’t accept Christ, in my opinion, will end up going to hell” (Arkansas Times October 30, 2023).
In this blog, it has only been possible to touch upon the issue of oaths and DEI. The latter topic certainly is worthy of more consideration. But given the date, it is necessary to turn to the anniversary of when people who did recite the pledge of allegiance and waved both the American and Confederate flags sought to overthrow the Constitutional order the President had sworn to uphold while he actively worked to undermine it.