The former pope, in the book-long interview with German writer Peter Seewald, says he had to overcome his own doubts on the effect his choice could have on the future of the papacy.
He says that he was "incredulous" when cardinals meeting in a secret conclave chose him to succeed the late Pope John Paul II in and that he was "surprised" when the cardinals chose Francis as his successor in Anger over the dysfunctional state of the Vatican bureaucracy in was one factor in the cardinal electors' decision to choose a non-European pope for the first time in nearly 1, years. In the book, whose lead publisher is Germany's Droemer Knaur, Benedict says he kept a diary throughout his papacy but will destroy it, even though he realizes that for historians it would be a "golden opportunity".
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English bishops praise ruling that mentally disabled woman can give birth Jun 25, Biography had lost its purchase in deconstructionist English departments, where the meaning of the text trumped the intent of the author whose death Roland Barthes had announced. The new social sciences regarded the study of the individual as of limited value in the scheme of understanding institutional forces. The university—certainly the research university—was not the place for a biographer to make a name for himself. Those who did mostly did so in their spare time.
Yet biography still seemed destined to some of us, much sooner than later, to earn envy-tinctured acceptance from the crustiest humanists and social scientists. Nor was there much generosity of spirit in evidence when a credentialed scholar caught the brass ring, as with the Pulitzer and National Book Award that went to T. A run of major biographical studies informed by race, gender, culture, and transformational politics—some by professors, others not—gradually induced a critical reappraisal of prejudices within the academy during the s, when interpretive revelations appeared of Lyndon B.
Johnson, Ulysses S. Today, biography is so securely established in contemporary academe and in popular culture that most of the concerns of the American Historical Review roundtable seem no longer relevant.
Whether within the academy or outside it, biography now has a much better sense of its possibilities and therefore its responsibilities. Could some future J. Still, the amount of recoverable information may be increased by social media, WikiLeaks disclosures, and the omnivorous Orwellian possibilities of the National Security Agency. Which leads us, I think, to ponder the responsibility question confronting biographers as they traverse this expanding new techno-universe formed from unknowns that may become increasingly knowable.
If as the French say, to understand everything does not mean that everything is forgiven, the biographer might reformulate the maxim to read that even when all the questions are answered, the challenge remains to assess their explanatory value. As Martin Luther King Jr.
King knew the temptations of physical pleasure. Biographical discretion has since become less discreet, which is appropriate to the unbuttoned nature of today. A curious deficit in introspection is commonplace among professional historians, a function of the inductive way we do history and the temperamental aversion most of us develop to theorizing about the value of what we do. Permit me then to ruminate on the relationship of the biographer to his own biography—the autobiography of biography. Examining my career, then, I must admit that I would have been surprised, after grad school, if some seer had predicted a modicum of distinction in the field of African-American history and biography.
My nurturing—both familial and academic—was resolutely mainstream, majoritarian, assimilationist.
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As the youngest son in a secure and comfortable home, as a pupil speeding through high school in two years, and as a confident collegian who experimented with a semester of law school before deciding to pursue history in graduate schools in New York and London, I emerged from these experiences minted as a pure member of W.
My earliest memories go back to the cloistered college community in Wilberforce, Ohio, where my father was dean of the theological school and where a long parade of academic, ministerial, civil rights, and other worthies sat at the family dinner table. Among them were Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Channing Tobias and Thurgood Marshall also come to mind. My family and its circle were like characters in a Jessie Fauset novel—committed integrationists whose demeaning existence at the margins of mainstream America we interpreted as worse than a crime; it was a social absurdity, yet an absurdity we passionately believed we could overcome by exemplary feats of professional or intellectual breakthrough.
I came into my teens unaware that most Americans—blacks as well as whites—were ignorant of the main facts of Negro history.
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And so it was the facts of other histories that I found most intriguing. I fell into a U. After Columbia came the London School of Economics and studies in political philosophy and French history. Reading modern French history and politics with the distinguished William Pickles turned out to be graduate school nirvana.
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After two trimesters of lectures, tutorials, and fabulously rewarding hours reading in the old British Museum and its Colindale newspaper archive, I went off to Paris for dissertation research, residing in Versailles with a delightful royalist family hard by the chateau. For my dissertation, I focused on the young founder of a group of liberal Catholic laity: Emmanuel Mounier of the Personalist movement and his seminal monthly review, Esprit.
The experiment failed badly in the left-right ideological vise of the Fourth Republic. The Army in its wisdom sent me right back to Europe as a psychological technician in a special unit based at Landstuhl, Germany. I taught medieval and Renaissance history to some of the brightest students of my career. Assassination attempts against President Kwame Nkrumah seemed to occur just about every other month, most likely assisted by the CIA. Malcolm X passed through Accra on his return from Mecca, leaving Maya Angelou and the sizable African-American expatriate community in a state of exaltation for weeks afterward.
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Ideological differences among faculty members persuaded me to leave the University of Ghana after only a year. In the spring of , after two research summers in Paris, I began to write the book that I hoped would establish my credentials in modern French history. That year, life veered off on an unforeseen course when an editor wrote to propose a biography of Martin Luther King Jr. Furthermore, it struck me as preposterous to write a biography of a dynamic year-old public figure because it would more than likely be out of date before publication.
I was just about to decline when the news broke on the evening of April 4 that King had been shot to death in Memphis. That tragedy offered me the project of a lifetime, an opportunity to write about the promise and the mirage of America as the land of opportunity. During the summer of , I blitzed the South and spent a week in Chicago interviewing the major personalities, digested the primary and secondary sources, and made the first use of the King papers then at Boston University.
Its reception by professional historians was uniformly gratifying. Unfortunately, the editor and I had both overlooked the negative connotation of the word critical in common English usage. King uttered a chilly appraisal. The Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Baltimore ordered parishioners not to read it—thereby making it a best seller in that city.
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Working at a furious pace, I quickly became aware that the past would soon begin to become unrecoverable from its future. I could follow him as he surpassed the civil rights parochialism of peers to combine racial emancipation, economic democracy, and world peace into a transcendent, if still inchoate, philosophy of human rights that inspired many, yet puzzled and offended many more.
And now, a half-century after Memphis, his philosophy speaks to a great many of our citizens as a splendid emendation of the American Creed. Ella Baker, the indispensable multitasking civil rights worker who said she seldom met an NAACP official or preacher she respected, served the cause in spite of its misogyny and everything else she still deplored.
Edgar Hoover cordially declined my interview request and sent along a speech he gave on liberty and vigilance.
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