Keep your eyes open for the September issue of The Blue & White, coming soon to campus. Until then, Bwog will honor our heritage/amorous affair with our mother magazine by posting highlights of the upcoming issue online. Among the treats to look forward to: a litany of bizarre and outdated freshman hazing rituals, a conversation with a luminary on DIY education, and a (half-fictional) account of romance in the John Jay dining hall. This month senior mag editor and sometime Bwog chief Claire Sabel explores the frustrating generalizations of Simon Schama.
Illustration by Adela Yawitz
I first read Simon Schama in high school, where he was held up as the high priest of the historical chronicle on account of Citizens, his telling of the French Revolution. Although this was his area of specialization, he went on to write two very well received books about the Golden Age of the Dutch Republic and a study of Zionism. All this should be giving you some indication that he is an academic superstar, effortlessly shifting from one topic to another. Despite a move to more popular writing in recent years (several television series and popular history of art books) he still managed to put out a highly regarded historical work, Rough Crossings, which argues that the need to protect slavery motivated the American Revolution.
So to open a collection and read your academic hero, much less a high-powered historian, proclaim that “the American hunger for ice cream has always been an ache for a prelapsarian way of life that never was,” in a vignette on ice cream for Vogue that also features a recipe for “carrot, apricot, cardamom and saffron kulfi” is bemusing, to say the least.
Schama is a very famous historian. He is also, I learn through reading Scribble, Scribble, Scribble, a contributor to Vogue, The New Yorker, and Harper’s among others. He is a foodie. He’s travelled widely (his author picture was taken in the North Korean demilitarized zone). He has a sophisticated and at times exasperating vocabulary, and he’s very fond of making sweeping proclamations about the American character. Prelapsarian means before the fall from Eden. Kulfi is a milk-based frozen dessert from the Indian subcontinent.