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History Guides - Lafayette

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Selected Books - Reviews

  • Labels are very much a part of our national consciousness in the United States. Edith Sheffer points out in her 2018 book Asperger's Children: The Origins of Autism in Nazi Vienna that other societies have also felt drawn to labels. While it seems strange to think of something so accepted as autism through the lens of Nazism, she does a good job of pointing out the importance of recognizing where diagnoses originate. Historical context can explain a great deal about vocabulary and methods, which we might otherwise never consider. For example, Hans Asperger was very intent that his concept about of high functioning individuals be considered a separate idea. However, as time has passed, his original wording has been adjusted, and his connection to period concepts such as Gemüt has been removed. (Gemüt was a concept which, "within Nazi child psychiatry, came to signify the metaphysical capacity for social bonds" [19].) The book itself is not incredibly lengthy, but there are quotes from those who survived the child euthanasia centers, like Spiegelgrund. Children were sent to these centers for a variety of reasons, and a lack of Gemüt could be one of them. Overall, this is a book which would interest anyone who has a wish to study the nature of autism or its history as a diagnosis, as well as those who are studying the way the Nazi regime affected the medical profession in the areas it controlled. At the beginning her book, she writes "it is a cautionary tale in service of neurodiversity -- revealing the extent to which diagnoses can be shaped by social and political forces, how difficult those may be to perceive, and how hard they may be to combat" (16). She then reiterates this idea at the end by stating: "The history of Asperger and autism should underscore the ethics of respecting every child's mind, and treating those minds with care -- showing how a society can shape a diagnosis" (248).
  • The Battle of Midway by Craig Symonds invites the reader to view the famous World War II battle from various perspectives, including not only the Japanese, but also the various groups within the United States Armed Forces who played a part in it. Written in 2011, the book draws information from manuscript sources, interviews, official records, primary sources, and other academic material. It also includes images and easy to read maps throughout, which makes understanding the battle layout much easier. The book is broken into chapters which serve different purposes. At the beginning, they each help explain various players and aspects of the situation which led up to the battle itself. Once the battle begins, however, the chapters are given time increments to cover, which allows for a more point by point interpretation of what was happening, where. This book would be a great read for anyone interested in the way the American and Japanese navies faced off against one another during World War II, although a basic understanding of the war overall would be beneficial before jumping directly into this focused title. The writing is easy to read, and the author includes footnotes at the bottom of the page when he wants to include an interesting aside.
  • A History of the Baltic States (Andres Kasekamp), published in 2010, gives a basic, broad overview of the three nations which make up the Baltic States: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. While none of these nations are very large, in comparison to some of their neighbors, including Russia, they are remarkedly different from one another. Each has a distinct language and set of dialects, which were preserved until quite recently as part of society. However, these three states have known overthrow and foreign rule a number of times, each with their own level of societal destruction and economic trouble. This title breaks the history of these states into time periods, focusing on eras which had a marked importance to the Baltic peoples. This includes a medieval period, the time under Tsarist rule, Nazi occupation, and, most recently, the time of Soviet control. Due to the fact that so much information is being shared in just under 200 pages, this is obviously not an all-encompassing history of the Baltic area. However, it does a fairly good job of explaining some of the points of historical interest, which helped to shape the people who live there. This would be a good book for anyone who is looking for an introduction to the area, or who is looking into the different time periods of Northern Europe. Something else to keep in mind is that these three nations have had extensive interaction with outside nations over the centuries. Their national identities are very important, and, now that they are independent of Soviet control, are becoming more visible. This work, written in 2010, clearly doesn't have the most up to date information when considering their current situation. But, so much of what happens in our day is influenced by past interactions.

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Classics: World War II

Along with the nonfiction titles and resources included above, here are classic pieces of literature which took place during the period in question:

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