Quick and Easy – Dan Crosson

For many of us, it would be difficult to imagine life without some of our most common home appliances. Dishwashers, laundry machines, refrigerators, and the college favorite microwave all make our lives easier by minimizing the time and effort required for daily household tasks.  However, such standard and now mundane amenities were once at the cutting edge of household technology, and likely not as long ago as one might think. “Quick and Easy”, a chapter of Susan Strasser’s book Never Done: A History of American Housework, outlines the role home appliances have played in the typical American home.

Throughout the Great Depression and active World War II years, many American households did the majority of their daily tasks in the home and by hand, with the wife of the household handling the majority of this work. Once the economy recovered in the post-war years, home appliances began to emerge. Among the first were laundry machines, both for the home as well as those found in commercial laundromats. Simultaneously, new gas fueled ovens and stoves took the labor out of fueling the cooking process with traditional wood burning.

In the decades that followed the end of the war, new industries emerged to coincide with the rise of new appliances. Freezers were initially slow to catch on with consumers, but as they rose in popularity, the frozen food industry began to take hold. Initially freezers allowed for families to stock up on large amounts of food for extended future use, but with the rise of the frozen food industry, now fully prepared ready to eat foods became available. Similarly, a market for new laundry detergents emerged as more homes purchased their own washers. Essentially, each emerging appliance ushered in various new products to create a rapidly expanding economy of household products.

This trend of “quick and easy” continued to expand into the 1960s through the 1980s. The easy frozen foods now had an easier method of preparing them in the microwave oven.  The majority of households now had dishwashers, modern washing machines, and now driers. As this technological evolution rose, it changed many of the traditional dynamics of the American household, especially as it pertained to women. Positively, new technology allowed women to pursue ambitions outside of the home. As household tasks took less time and effort, women were left increasingly free to pursue their own professional goals. The traditional role of being a housewife became an increasingly outdated notion.  Women could achieve a full day of work, and then return home and use technology to still keep their household in order.

Despite the benefits, there were some aspects of technology that had impacts one could consider somewhat negative, especially to older generations resistant to change. For example, many women valued the social time they spent with their neighbors outdoors hanging laundry to dry, or even at laundromats when household units were still relatively rare. Dish washing was once a task shared throughout the family, especially with children. It provided valuable family interaction as it was relatively time consuming. Modern dishwashers made this once lengthy task a simple matter of loading and unloading, and some missed the family activity this chore once provided.

As Strasser lays out this evolution in household technology, it is easy to see that that the trend of “quick and easy” was more than just a rise in convenience and ease of use. Technology sparked a change in the economy, general society, and even the most intimate aspects of family dynamics. While America was already immensely powerful following WWII, the growth in household technology spurred the population towards the individualistic style society we see today in the most developed countries. This of course has its advantages; after all, a collectivist family structure focused on shared household labor is usually found in states that struggle on many levels, with women bearing the brunt of everyday home tasks.  Still, Strasser’s writing leaves one to wonder what has been lost in the wake of technology. Is technology in the home paving the way to a brighter and stress free lifestyle in the home, or are we losing aspects of the traditional household once held dear? There certainly is no easy answer, leaving us to simply see where the “quick and easy” lifestyle continues to take us.

 

Strasser, Susan. Never Done: A History of American Housework. New York: Pantheon Books, 1982. https://canvas.vt.edu/courses/56760/files/folder/Women%20and%20Technology?preview=4499405.
Word Count: 729

David McNeill’s “Counterspinning Revisionist History” – Daniel Crosson

Members of Japan’s Unit 731, which conducted biological and chemical warfare experiments and committed various atrocities during WWII. McNeill cites that many of his Japanese students were unaware of the unit’s existence as it is generally erased from the nation’s historical narrative.

 

For our discussion on revisionist history, I came across an interesting article by Dr. David McNeill titled “Counterspinning Revisionist History”, recalling experiences he has had teaching courses at universities in Japan and China. Dr. McNeill discusses how he experienced and attempted to counter revisionist historical views among his students that had begun to cross into the realms of negationism and even denialism.

In the article, McNeill explains how both Japan and China have widely adopted revisionist narratives regarding their own history. In Japan, McNeill claims that many young Japanese still struggle to make an understanding of the devastation their country experienced during World War II. A recent rise in neoconservative thinking has led to many Japanese being quite unaware of the true nature of conflict, especially the role Japan took in certain atrocities. In China, the state closely controls all historical content provided to students, focusing on the pitfalls of its old enemies while ignoring its own.

McNeill’s writing places the idea of historical revisionism in a negative light, at least on the surface. As we have discussed in class, there is a difference between challenging the accepted narrative through the use of new evidence, and simply rewriting or ignoring history for other purposes such as political aims. The former can be considered responsible revisionist research in search of historical accuracy, with the latter being historical negationism and denialism.

While he does not specifically mention these differences, McNeill seems to still understand the importance of what true revisionist history can offer. He warns of the dangers presented by viewing history through the prism of nationalism and bypassing darker aspects of the past. While he painted the idea of revisionism too broadly and in a negative connotation, he actually encouraged his students to challenge the accepted state narrative with the very methods true revisionist historians use. He told his students to ask questions, presented them with new (even banned) sources of information, and stressed the importance of formulating their own thoughts instead of simply accepting whatever they were told.

McNeill’s views on revisionist history may have been flawed from a standpoint of definition, but I believe this article sheds light on some very important issues, especially the confusion that seems to surround the idea of revisionism itself. Our interpretation of history is something that must evolve as new sources are found, and past ideas should certainly be revisited to gain deeper understanding or even a new understanding altogether.

 

Source:

McNeill, David. “Counterspinning Revisionist History.” The Chronicle of Higher Education 56, no. 23 (2010). http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu/ps/i.do?p=AONE&u=viva_vpi&id=GALE|A220078196&v=2.1&it=r&sid=summon&authCount=1

Unit 731 Image. https://dirkdeklein.net/category/japanese-war-crimes/page/2/

 

Word count: 464

The Decision to Use the Bomb: A Historiographical Update

James Walker’s article “The Decision to Use the Bomb: A Historiographical Update” revisits the historical event over four decades later. As a historiographical piece, Walker does not outline an argument of his own, but rather traces the evolution of scholarly opinion on the subject by comparing and contrasting the arguments made by some of the top historians in the field.

Walker discusses that debate over the use of the bomb came quickly, and central to this debate was the question of whether this use was truly necessary to end the war in a rapid manner. Early on, many writers were quick to denounce the necessity of the bombs, countering the claims made by policymakers and initially supported by many scholars. The first extensive research of the subject done by Herbet Feis evaluated and supported the notion that the bombs were not absolutely necessary, though he still argued that use of the bombs remained justified for military reasons.

In 1965, Gar Alperovitz’s Atomic Diplomacy reopened the debate by directly challenging Feis’s findings. Alperovitz agreed that while not necessary for victory, the bombings were the product of political motivations, not military. This revisionist approach generated a great deal of backlash from various scholars, yet it had a profound impact on the direction taken while researching the use of the atomic bombs. The central question being asked shifted away from whether or not the bombs were necessary to end the war. Instead, two new questions began to dominate the discussion: What factors drove the decision to use the bomb, and what made this use more appealing to policymakers instead of the available alternatives?

As new, previously unopened sources became available, scholars continued to debate, as well as include new points of research such as the impact the bombs had on U.S.-Soviet relations. Other subjects were revisited, such as the morality of the decision and how many lives were realistically saved, which according to Walker only helped to muddle the overall consensus among scholars. One of the few views to remain static was that of Alperovitz, who changed very little of his original analysis in a 1985 update of Atomic Diplomacy.

In the tail end of his writing, Walker touches on what he believes are areas that merit more attention from scholars. This includes the meaning of the Trinity shot, not in terms of its heavily explored scientific and symbolic implications, but rather what impact it had on policy. Walker also suggests that the moral and political obligations of scientists involved in the Manhattan Project should be further explored, as well as the role the Russian’s own bomb project had in U.S.-Soviet relations.

As discussed in the article, there has been a general consensus among scholars regarding some of the main aspects of the decision to use the atomic bomb, despite disagreements in more specific areas. Nonetheless, as more information has come to the surface, new questions continue to arise.  Given the complex and intriguing nature of the beginning of the atomic age, it is likely to remain a topic of perpetual study and debate.

 

 

 

Sources

 

WALKER, J. SAMUEL. “The Decision to Use the Bomb: A Historiographical Update.” Diplomatic History 14, no. 1 (1990): 97-114. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24912034.
Word count: 527