Category Archives: History

How Mass Persuasion Works

The UC San Diego Library presents a fascinating talk by Dr. Joel Dimsdale, distinguished professor emeritus in the UC San Diego Department of Psychiatry.

Dimsdale discusses his latest book “Dark Persuasion: A History of Brainwashing from Pavlov to Social Media,” which traces the evolution of brainwashing from its beginnings in torture and religious conversion into the age of neuroscience and social media.

When Pavlov introduced scientific approaches, his research was enthusiastically supported by Lenin and Stalin, setting the stage for major breakthroughs in tools for social, political and religious control. Tracing these developments through many of the past century’s major conflagrations, Dimsdale explores the history of different methods of interrogation and how Nobel laureates, university academics, intelligence operatives, criminals and clerics all populate this shattering and dark story—one that hasn’t yet ended.

Joel E. Dimsdale is distinguished professor emeritus in the Department of Psychiatry at UC San Diego. He consults widely to government agencies and is the author of numerous other works, including “Anatomy of Malice: The Enigma of the Nazi War Criminals.”

Watch Dark Persuasion – The History of Brainwashing from Pavlov to Social Media with Joel Dimsdale .

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Daughter of the Holocaust

In the summer of 1942, 22-year-old Franci Rabinek began a three-year journey that would take her from Terezin, the Nazis’ “model ghetto,” to the Czech family camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau, to slave labor camps in Hamburg and finally to Bergen Belsen. Trained as a dress designer, Franci survived the war and would go on to establish a fashion salon in New York.

“Franci’s War” is her memoir of life in Nazi-occupied Europe. Rabinek’s daughter, Helen Epstein, a prolific journalist and author, introduces and discusses the memoir and explores her childhood and her relationship with her mother.

Besides contributing to major dailies such as the New York Times and the Washington Post, Epstein has published several books, including her highly acclaimed Holocaust trilogy that begins with the volume “Children of the Holocaust.” Her work has been published in numerous languages.

Watch Franci’s War – with Helen Epstein – Holocaust Living History Workshop.

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Rebels with a Cause

As Dr. Henry Powell notes in “Irish Women of Resilience,” until the late 20th century the history of Ireland is a sad one. The Emerald Isle had the great misfortune of proximity to an aggressively expansionist, colonialist power that went on to dominate ad exploit the Irish people for nearly 700 years. That period was further scarred by famine, failed rebellions, civil war, and religious repression.

In response to the Irish people’s yearning for solace and preservation of cultural identity, the aisling (ASH-ling) was developed in the late 17th and 18th centuries as a uniquely Irish poetic genre. Aisling means “dream” or “vision,” and in the verses Ireland appears to the poet as a woman, frequently young and beautiful but occasionally old and haggard, who laments the current state of affairs in Éireann and predicts a revival, a resurgence of the Gaelic nation. Often this revival is linked to the return of the House of Stuart to the British and Irish thrones. Powell explains that women have long held a special place in Gaelic culture and literature, especially poetry, and the aisling is emblematic of that revered status.

“She is a girl and would not be afraid to walk the whole world with herself.”
– Lady August Gregory, poet

After establishing the importance of women in the collective Irish consciousness Powell turns his attention to women who have had a profound impact on Irish society in more recent times, including Hazel Martin (Lady Lavery) , an early Irish nationalist; the renowned ”Rebel Countess” Constance Markievicz, who advised women preparing for insurrection to “Dress suitably in short skirts and sitting boots, leave your jewels and gold wands in the bank, and buy a revolver;” popular novelist Elizabeth Bowen, who cast a sharp eye on social mores; Mainie Jellett and Evie Hone, artists and lifelong companions who rocked the art establishment by introducing cubism to Ireland; the first female President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, and her immediate successor Mary MacAleese; crusading journalist Nell McCafferty, who pursued the most powerful judicial figures in the country; and Mary Raftery, who exposed and documented decades of systemic abuse of children in State-funded, Church-run institutions.

This list is, of course, only a sampling of women who have influenced Irish society in virtually all respects. Powell notes that while each of these women has a unique story, their commonality is a fierce devotion to justice and a disdain for societal conventions meant to control, hinder, and demean women. Ireland is ending its first century of independence with increased prosperity and a forward-thinking, modern outlook, and that is due in no small part to resilient – some might say stubborn, but admiringly – Irish women.

Watch Irish Women of Resilience with Henry Powell – Osher Online Lecture Series.

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Gifts of Stories

The biannual Faculty Research Lecture at UCLA has presented the work of the university’s most distinguished scholars since 1925. Its purpose is to recognize their superb achievements, and give the campus and the greater community an opportunity to gain a new perspective on scholarly achievements and the viewpoints of the faculty honored. UCLA History Professor Brenda Stevenson delivered the 127th lecture, a talk titled “The Gifts of the Storyteller.”

She talks about growing up in Virginia listening to her mother’s stories of their enslaved ancestors. As a scholar of slavery and the Antebellum South, some of our country’s most painful moments and eras, she found little documentary evidence of women’s lives. She had to become an investigator, following leads and bits of information to get to the stories told through the ages.

In this lecture she shares the stories of three women from different classes. Her careful listening over the years has unearthed fascinating stories about the women and the time in which they lived.

Watch — Gifts of the Storyteller with Brenda Stevenson – UCLA Faculty Research Lecture

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Between Cultures


“Despite the current attempts to whitewash U.S. history, ethnic, racial, and cultural diversity is the predominant feature of the U.S. experience.” – Charles Musser

Almost from their inception, motion pictures have dealt with the question of cultural assimilation. This was certainly true in America where many of the country’s film industry founders were themselves either immigrants or the children of immigrants, in particular Eastern European (Ashkenazi) Jews.

In “Racism in German and American Cinema of the Twenties” Yale University’s renowned film historian and documentarian Charles Musser examines this issue by comparing and contrasting two related films: “The Ancient Law” (1923, Germany) and “The Jazz Singer” (1927, USA). While “The Ancient Law” is largely forgotten by today’s audiences, “The Jazz Singer” achieved lasting fame for being the first (partially) talking picture and lasting notoriety for star Al Jolson’s performance in blackface, deemed racist by modern sensibilities.

In E. A. Dupont’s “The Ancient Law,” the Orthodox Jew Baruch Mayer leaves a shtetl in Galicia for Vienna. Mayer pursues a career as a stage actor, much to the consternation of his conservative parents. Released four years later, Alan Crosland’s “The Jazz Singer” was based in part on a hit play but was also a loose adaptation of the earlier film. Baruch Mayer becomes Al Jolson’s Jakie Rabinowitz, who runs away from his strict cantor father to pursue a career as a cabaret singer after changing his name to Jack Robin. “The Jazz Singer” was an immediate hit and made Jolson a star overnight. Musser’s research refutes the commonly-held notion that Jolson was himself a racist, citing his and the film’s popularity with African American audiences at the time. Jolson was considered a friend by the African American community who advocated hiring black actors for stage roles, and his blackface performances were seen as positive portrayals by the very people we assume were offended.

Further, Musser argues that the depictions of the assimilation process in both films were essentially optimistic. In each case the protagonist is able to maintain or reclaim their cultural identity in spite of prevailing attitudes, and to cross the line between two uneasily co-existing cultures without the necessity of fully assimilating into either. Both films are also idealistic in the sense that they downplay the toxicity of racism, antisemitism, and xenophobia. Nevertheless, they (sadly) retain their relevance in the modern world.

Watch — Racism in German and American Cinema of the Twenties: From The Ancient Law to The Jazz Singer with Charles Musser – Holocaust Living History Workshop

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