Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Violence in America

There seems to be nothing to add, in this space, to yesterday's tragic news, still unfolding, from Blacksburg, Virginia. But one issue raised in some blog comments elsewhere and commentary, although not put this way, is whether events like this are a version of American exceptionalism -- whether there is something "American" about this kind of campus violence. This, of course, calls for both historical and comparative reflection.

A couple of links on violence in American history are below, and then some resources on campus violence. Readers are encouraged to add more links in the comments.

Historian Ira Leonard had this to say about violence in America in 2003:

[T]here seems little genuine understanding about the centrality of violence in American life and history.

The overwhelming majority of American historians have not studied, written about, or discussed America's "high violence" environment, not because of a lack of hard information or knowledge about the frequent and widespread use of violence, but because of an unwillingness to confront the reality that violence and American culture are inextricably intertwined.

Many prominent historians recognized this years ago.

In the introduction to his 1970 collection of primary documents, "American Violence: A Documentary History," two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Richard Hofstadter wrote: "What is impressive to one who begins to learn about American violence is its extraordinary frequency, its sheer commonplaceness in our history, its persistence into very recent and contemporary times, and its rather abrupt contrast with our pretensions to singular national virtue." Indeed, Hofstadter wrote the "legacy" of the violent 1960s would be a commitment by historians systematically to study American violence.

But most American historians have studiously avoided the topic or somehow clouded the issue. In 1993, in his magisterial study, "The History of Crime and Punishment in America," for example, Stanford University Historian Lawrence Friedman devoted a chapter to the many forms of American violence. Then, in a very revealing chapter conclusion, Friedman wrote: "American violence must come from somewhere deep in the American personality ... [it] cannot be accidental; nor can it be genetic. The specific facts of American life made it what it is ... crime has been perhaps a part of the price of liberty ... [but] American violence is still a historical puzzle." Precisely what is it that historians are unwilling to discuss? Basically, there are three forms of American violence: mob violence, interpersonal violence, and war.

For the rest, click here.

Violence and the American Landscape: The Challenge of Public History, Edward T. Linenthal (essay).

On campus violence:

Report on "Campus Violence White Paper," by the American College Health Association in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence by National Research Council

Rampage: The Social Roots Of School Shootings by Katherine S. Newman

Campus Violence: Kinds, Causes, and Cures by Leighton C. Whitaker and Jeffrey W. Pollard, eds.

Creating and Maintaining Safe College Campuses: A Sourcebook for Enhancing and Evaluating Safety Programs by Melvin Cleveland Terrell, Jerlando F. L. Jackson

Violence Goes to College: The Authoritative Guide to Prevention and Intervention by John Nicoletti, Sally Spencer-Thomas, Christopher Bollinger