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December 2009: 1989 Twenty Years On: The End of Communism and the Fate of Eastern Europe (Theodora Dragostinova)

For those in the former Soviet Bloc, 1989 has been called an annus mirabilis -- a year of miracles. With astonishing speed, communist rule ended in Eastern Europe, the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, and the nature of Europe was changed entirely. In 2009, those countries, from Germany to Bulgaria to Poland, have all mounted celebrations of the twentieth anniversary of this hope-filled year. Yet, two decades after the collapse of communism, many in those countries found themselves unsure of what, precisely, they were celebrating. Did 1989 really mark a moment of out-with-the-old-and-in-with-the-new, and how much had really changed in the intervening years? This month historian Theodora Dragostinova explores the impact of 1989 on the region and the legacy of history in today's Eastern Europe.

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November 2009: Population Bomb? The Debate over Indian Population (Mytheli Sreenivas)

As the population of the globe surges past 6 billion, India is on the verge of surpassing China as the world's most populous nation. For at least two centuries India has struck many Westerners as a place that is over-populated, famine-prone, and, as a result, a threat to global stability. In fact, as historian Mytheli Sreenivas details, the question of 'over-population' is a relative one: is India producing too many people or too few resources? Does a growing population represent an opportunity or a danger? These questions take on a new urgency and relevance as India emerges as a major economic power and consumer society, and as the world confronts an ongoing food crisis. This month, Sreenivas puts these pressing concerns about population in historical perspective.

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October 2009: From Baghdad to Kabul: The Historical Roots of U.S. Counterinsurgency Doctrine (Peter R. Mansoor)

Renewed American efforts to 'win' the war in Afghanistan against a resurgent Taliban, as well as the ongoing war in Iraq, have kept the question of counterinsurgency strategy at the forefront of U.S. military and public life. This month, Peter R. Mansoor--a professor of history at Ohio State and a Colonel, U.S. Army (Retired) who served most recently as the executive officer to General David Petraeus, the Commanding General of Multi-National Force-Iraq--examines the historical patterns of counterinsurgency doctrine. He explores the lessons of the Iraq War for Afghanistan and the radical changes to U.S. strategy of the last few years.

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September 2009: The Long, Long Struggle for Women's Rights in Afghanistan (Scott Levi)

In April of this year, a group of some 300 women protesters demanded that the government in Kabul repeal a repressive new law that went so far as to permit marital rape. They were publicly harassed and labeled 'whores'. Around the world, many observers were outraged. The law seemed to signal a return to the kinds of policies that the Taliban had instituted when it ruled Afghanistan - when the burqa stood as a haunting symbol of the regime's subjugation of women. While visitors to the country commonly report encountering a land somehow 'lost in time' where women are almost completely absent from the public world, this month historian Scott Levi examines the century-long efforts to improve women's lives in Afghanistan.

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August 2009: Becoming 'European': The Diverging Paths of the Czech and Slovak Republics (Donald A. Hempson)

Rising from the ashes of the Second World War, the European Union has been perhaps the most important development in modern European history. Initially, it only included those countries we think of as 'Western Europe.' Since the collapse of the Soviet empire, however, membership in the EU has expanded dramatically and rapidly and now includes some 27 nations. This has created not simply logistical complications, but a debate over what 'European' means. This month, historian Donald Hempson looks at two recent joiners -- The Czech Republic (which recently held the EU's rotating presidency) and Slovakia (which recently adopted the Euro currency) -- and how their histories have defined their approaches to European integration.

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July 2009: Building a New Silk Road? Central Asia in the New World Order (Sebastien Peyrouse)

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 five new nations gained independence in Central Asia: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. When they emerged onto the world stage they were little understood in the West, often confused with one another, and the subject of jokes on late-night TV. Increasingly, however, these nations demand our attention, whether because of the oil and gas resources in the region, because of the environmental crises -- most dramatically the disappearance of the Aral Sea -- and because of the strategic location between Russia, China and Afghanistan.

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June 2009: Pirates of Puntland, Somalia (Andrew J. Carlson)

In the first week of April, Somali pirates raided an American-flagged ship in the Indian Ocean and took the captain hostage. It was only one of several raids along the Somali coast in a 48 hour period. In recent months and years, pirates have made the Horn of Africa the most dangerous place to navigate in the world. This month, historian Andy Carlson examines the very long history of piracy in the region, and explores how the political problems of Somalia as a 'failed state' have contributed to the current wave of maritime brigandage.

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May 2009: Requiem: Detroit and the Fate of Urban America (Kevin Boyle)

No city in America has had its fortunes tied to the rise and fall of the manufacturing economy more than Detroit. Home to the American auto industry, symbol of post-war prosperity, Detroit now stands as a synonym for urban decline. This month historian and Detroit native Kevin Boyle gives us a very personal meditation on the city and puts his own experience of growing up in Detroit in historical perspective.

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April 2009: The Real Marriage Revolution (Stephanie Coontz)

The controversy that still swirls over California's Proposition 8 has kept the issue of same-sex marriage squarely in the national spotlight. For those who oppose gay marriage, allowing same-sex couples the same legal rights as heterosexual couples amounts to nothing less than a revolution in the institution of marriage and the family. This month, historian Stephanie Coontz puts the desire for same-sex marriage into some intriguing historical perspective. She demonstrates that heterosexual couples instigated the real revolution in marriage--the idea that two individuals should be able to choose their partners based on love, sexual attraction, and mutual interests. Gays and lesbians have simply followed suit.

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March 2009: Kosovo's Year Zero: Between a Balkan Past and a European Future (Edin Hajdarpasic and Emil Kerenji)

With its unilateral - and highly controversial - declaration of independence from Serbia on February 17, 2008, the former Yugoslavian territory of Kosovo joined the ranks of the world's sovereign states. Currently recognized by only 53 U.N. member nations, and opposed by Russia, the unsettled fate of Kosovo now sits with the International Court of Justice, which has been asked rule on the legality of its split from Serbia. This month, to mark the one-year anniversary, historians Edin Hajdarpasic and Emil Kerenji explore the roots of the conflicts that led to Kosovo's separation and evaluate the future prospects for this fledgling state.

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February 2009: 'The World's Worst Humanitarian Crisis': Understanding the Darfur Conflict (Ahmad A. Sikainga)

Since 2003, the Darfur region of western Sudan has been the site of terrible violence, death, and displacement; what the United States has labelled 'genocide.' Despite what is currently the world's largest relief operation, efforts to calm the conflict and assist the approximately five million Darfurians suffering ongoing deprivation have produced precious few results. With no end in sight for the turmoil, Ahmad Sikainga, a native of Sudan and Professor of History at the Ohio State University, explores the origins and current status of the Darfur conflict.

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January 2009: With a Little Help from Our Friends?: The Costs of Coalition Warfare (Patricia Weitsman )

It has become a truism of American foreign policy that the United States should undertake military action in coalition with other nations. Under the administrations of both Bushes and Bill Clinton, American diplomats worked hard to broker military cooperation from other nations around the world. The benefits of such coalitions would seem obvious, but in next month's essay political scientist Patty Weitsman explores the costs of fighting in coalition, and comes to some startling conclusions.

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The Discovery of Mankind: Atlantic Encounters in the Ages of Columbus
(New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008)
by David Abulafia
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