Brief Review of Kathryn Olmsted, Real Enemies: Conspiracy Theories and American Democracy, World War I to 9/11

Kathryn Olmsted's Real Enemies is an excellent survey of conspiracy theories in the 20th-century United States. A history professor at UC-Davis, Olmsted makes three arguments. First, the U.S. government perpetrated conspiracies against American citizens in response to alleged anti-government conspiracies. In response, Americans constructed alternative conspiracy theories to explain the conspiracy theories that the government …

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Brief Review of David Aaronovitch, Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History

There are a number of overviews of modern conspiracy thinking. David Aaronovitch's Voodoo Histories offers the perspective of a British journalist and writer. He looks at many of the traditional conspiracy theories prevalent in U.S. society, including the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Communism, and JFK. The value of Aaronovitch's work, I think, is …

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What Does a History Course on Conspiracy Theories Look Like?

As far as I know, I am one of only four history professors in the U.S. to offer a course on conspiracy theories. Kathy Olmsted, Robert Goldberg, and Jeff Pasley are the other three I know of. Pasley even has a website devoted to his course. (Update: Sara Morris alerted me to Jonathan Earle's course on the history of …

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Holiday Readings, 2011 Edition: Conspiracy and Politics

I've presented myself with quite the hefty reading list for the holiday break. Most of these books are either ones I've assigned for Spring 2012 courses or ones that are helping me prepare historical background for those courses. The exception is Kentucky Rising: Democracy, Slavery, and Culture from the Early Republic to the Civil War, by James …

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The Antichrist in U.S. Politics

In a recent New York Times op-ed piece, Matthew A. Sutton observed that the Antichrist is relevant to evangelical voters, who tend to vote Republican. Specifically, he wrote: The global economic meltdown, numerous natural disasters and the threat of radical Islam have fueled a conviction among some evangelicals that these are the last days. While …

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Conspiracy Theories and Fiction

I'm hoping some of my readers can help me out. I am teaching a course on conspiracy theories in United States history next spring, and I'm looking for suggestions for an assignment. I am going to require students to read a novel centered on a conspiracy theory. Examples include conspiracy theories involving end times theology, the New World …

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Beware of Augustus C. Buell: He’s A Fraud

We hear far too often today about historians who plagiarize from their peers or who fabricate data. I've written here about Michael Bellesiles, but there are certainly plenty of others who have disgraced the profession. One example from the past is Augustus C. Buell. While not an historian, Buell (1847-1904) continues to mislead biographers of Andrew Jackson. Buell was a journalist …

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Conspiracy Thinking in the Early Republic

Many of you know that I have an abiding interest in conspiracy theories. Not that I believe them, mind you, but I am fascinated with their prevalence in American and Western history. My own interest stems from my fundamentalist Baptist background. I grew up reading books and hearing stories that were permeated with conspiracy theories about the …

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