Barbara Tuchman: Inspirational Historian

Barbara Tuchman: Inspirational Historian

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Barbara Tuchman: Inspirational Historian

Barbara Tuchman was known for being one of the best American writers and historians of her time. Born in to a very wealthy and prestige family, her interest in history was adopted through her lifestyle. Her father was not only a banker, philanthropist, and publisher but was also the president of the American Jewish Committee from 1941 to 1943. Her uncle, Henry Morgenthau Jr., served as the Secretary of Treasury under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. While growing up she attended private schools in New York and received a B.A. degree from Radcliffe College. After graduating she went on to work for her father's magazine, The Nation. She was interested in history at this time and began researching historical subjects to place in the magazine. At this time she met her husband, Dr. Lester Reginald Tuchman, and went on to have three daughters through the years (Brody).
While raising a family Barbara Tuchman produced a total of eleven books. Two of her books, The Guns of August and Stillwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-1945, both received the high honor of the Pulitzer Prize. In order to familiarize herself with the history, she frequently traveled to sites of the event in her books. According to Brody, before writing The Guns of August, "she visited Europe for an on-the-spot survey of the areas where the early land battles of World War I had taken place. She followed the routes that the German armies had taken through Luxemburg, Belgium, and northern France in their attempt to reach Paris." Her final book was The First Salute. In the story she presents the American Revolution being viewed through an international perspective. Her writing then forever stopped due to complications of a stroke on February 6, 1989. Though she has passed away, her books leave behind a better understanding of the past and lessons learned. She not only enlightened readers with facts about history, but also provided her opinion of war through her work (Brody). She is quoted as saying, "War is the unfolding of miscalculations" ("Quotes").
Barbara Tuchman is well known for her books on war history. The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam, gives a great example of Barbara Tuchman's ability to connect historical events with one another. In the book, she summarizes events in time that meet a criteria she calls "Folly." The criteria has three

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specific points that must be met: First, "it must have been perceived as counter productive in its own time, not merely by hindsight" (5), Secondly, "a feasible alternative course of action must and been available" (5), and thirdly, "the policy in question should be that a group, not an individual ruler, should persist beyond any one political lifetime" (5). By using the criteria, she pinpoints events in history that reflect on her idea. Patrick Conway, a reviewer on the book, thought Tuchman thoroughly demonstrated how folly has affected the human race since the beginning of time. He wrote that, "Overall, The March of Folly makes for a worthwhile reading" (Conway).
Being an historian, Barbara Tuchman writes about many different events in history. In a chapter titled, "This Is the End of the World: The Black Death" taken from A Distant Mirror, she presents facts and information about Europe during the time of the Bubonic Plague. She starts the story by going in to detail on how the disease arrived in Europe. This sets the ground floor for information in to the society living and suffering from the disease. She begins by focusing on one civilization in Europe at a time, and proceeds to go in to detail about how each component of that society was affected. She does this by working her way down through each level of authority in the community. Through doing research, she was able to give specific names for each noble and statistics about the plague. I think by providing name references it helped to bring more meaning to the history and writing. She then turns her focus on to the peasants and how the plague affected their way of life. I think she gave a great overall perspective of the bubonic plague. It was a tough subject to write about, but she made the information very interesting for the reader (92).
Barbara Tuchman not only spent time writing books, but would also write for magazines expressing her opinion on many different subjects. One article, taken from American Scholar entitled "An Authors Mail", presented her thoughts on readers writing to the authors. She writes, "Although authors too receive their portion of hate mail, the receipt of letters is encouraging evidence that what they have written has reached into the reader's mind and caused it to take notice and consider the matter at hand or simply enjoy the unfolding of a tale – in short, evidence that the writer's business is performing its function and the product is not left to wither in sterility on a dead page" (313). The overall feeling she expresses through the article reflects her great love to keep the reader interested. By using different techniques in her writing, she is able to connect with the reader.
The passage introduced is taken from a book of collected essays by Barbara Tuchman entitled, Practicing History. In the book, she gives references to history and includes her personal opinion on many subjects. The presented material is from a commencement address at William College in June 1972:
Contrary to the general impression, nuclear firepower, because it is too lethal to use, has reduced, not enlarged, the scope of war, with the secondary and rather sinister result that while unlimited war is out, limited war is in, not as a last resort in the old-fashioned way, but as the regular, on-going support of policy.
This development means that the military arm will be used more for political and ideological ends than in the past, and that because of chronic commitment and the self-multiplying business of deterrence and a global strategy of preparedness for two and half wars - or whatever is this weeks figure – the technological, industrial, and governmental foundations for this enterprise have become so gigantic, extended, and pervasive that they affect every act of government and consequently all of our lives.
The title of her speech was "the citizen versus the military." Her overall feeling throughout the speech is the ongoing battle between the government and the common man.
In this paragraph, she presents her opinion of nuclear weapons and how they relate to the past and the influence they may have on the future. Barbara Tuchman explains that nuclear weapons are too lethal to use which has reduced the chance of war. Though in the past it was used as a last resort, it is now used by countries as a strong fist of power. I think her opinion makes a lot of sense and explains why nations with nuclear capability are the super powers of the world.
With her past education, creating opinions through a scholarly and scientific tone becomes natural. I chose this passage because it demonstrates how she uses vocabulary, rhythm, and comparison of ideas to get her opinion across to the reader. Though the vocabulary isn't too difficult as a whole, such words as "deterrence" and "ideological" generate some difficulty for the reader. Through using both vocabulary and diction, she is able to create a flow and rhythm to her writing. This can be seen throughout the second paragraph where she establishes meaning through the use of many words, for example, the passage: "…the technological, industrial, and governmental foundations for the enterprise have become so gigantic, extended, and pervasive…" demonstrates a consecutive use of three word phrases. This helps to create the rhythm but also exhibits her need to be thorough in her writing. She not only becomes thorough but also establishes a personal reaction to the subject. The small phrase, "…or whatever is this week's figure…" provides her personal insight on the subject, creating tone in her writing. I also found while reading the paragraph that a small rhythm is created through the use of comparing and contrasting her ideas. On three separate occasions in the paragraph, she presents one idea and in the following statement contradicts the last phrase, for example: "…has reduced, not enlarged…" and "…while limited war is out, limited war is in…." I find this interesting and at sometimes hard to understand what she is referring to. At times, I would find myself having to constantly reread certain passages due to the comparing and contrasting. Though it is hard a times, I think that by rereading the material I am able to get a better understanding and meaning from the writing.
I think the overall motivation of Barbara Tuchman was to keep the reader interested. She once said, "The writer's object should be to hold the reader's attention. I want the reader to turn the page and keep on turning until the end. This is accomplished only when the narrative moves steadily ahead, not when it comes to weary standstill, overloaded with every item uncovered in the research"(Brody). Through her writing she expressed many feelings. Her striving need to keep readers interested made her work standout more than others. Even though she was very educated, her opinion was comparable to the common person. Her opinion on war and governmental control during the sixties and seventies was a great contribution and inspiration to many. She made history an enjoyable experience for each reader.
Growing up, I enjoyed reading non-fiction war history. Though a sour subject, I am amazed by the sacrifices that were made by individuals. It had always been hard to find a writer that captivated my attention and at the same time was interesting. Barbara Tuchman does a great job of achieving both of these qualities in her writing. I have begun to read other works by Barbara Tuchman and found the same to be true. Though her opinion on subjects can be dated, I agree with what she has to say. She once said,"the unrecorded past is none other than our old friend, the tree in the primeval forest which fell without being heard" ("Quotes"). Though some past may go unrecorded, her contributions to readers and historians alike will shine through her writing forever.

Works Cited
Brody, Seymour. Barbara Wertheim Tuchman. 2005. 16 Mar. 2005
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Conway, Patrick. "The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam by Barbara W. Tuchman."
Rev. of The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam, by Barbara W. Tuchman.
1984. 16 Mar. 2005 .
Tuchman, Barbara. A Distant Mirror. New York: Ballantine Books, 1978
Tuchman, Barbara. Barbara Tuchman Quotes. 2005. 16 Mar. 2005

Tuchman, Barbara. Practicing History. New York: Ballantine Books, 1982.
Tuchman, Barbara. The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam. New York:
Alfred A. Knopf, 1984.
Tuchman, Barbara. "An Author's Mail." American Scholar. 54.3 (1985): 313-326.

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