What We Are Reading Today: Eurovision! by Chris West

Updated 10 May 2018

What We Are Reading Today: Eurovision! by Chris West

  • Eurovision started in 1956 with just seven competitors performing before 200 people in Switzerland
  • Today the contest is watched by an audience of billions

For those who think the Eurovision Song Contest is just an evening of questionable tunes, dubious dancing and general over-the-top cheesiness, think again.

From its beginnings in 1956 with just seven competitors performing before 200 polite, but not terribly enthusiastic, people in Switzerland, the contest has been a mirror for cultural, social and political developments in Europe.

For the countries once imprisoned behind the Iron Curtain, it has been a voice of rebellion.

For regional minorities it has been a voice of liberation. It even triggered a national revolution.

And the notorious bloc voting by regional neighbors is so blatant that nobody is surprised any more.

Nowadays the contest is watched by an audience of billions. People throw Eurovision-themed parties.

The singers have not always come from the country they represent. Canadian Celine Dion competed for Switzerland in 1988, while Greek singer Nana Mouskouri sang for Luxembourg in 1963.

Even the “Euro” element of the contest is now very loosely interpreted, with Israel and Australia competing.

Eurovision! charts both the history of Europe and the history of the song contest over the past six decades and shows how seamlessly they interlink. Something to ponder while watching this Saturday’s cheese-fest from Lisbon.


What We Are Reading Today: Gentlemen Revolutionaries by Tom Cutterham

Updated 20 October 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Gentlemen Revolutionaries by Tom Cutterham

In the years between the Revolutionary War and the drafting of the Constitution, American gentlemen—the merchants, lawyers, planters, and landowners who comprised the independent republic’s elite—worked hard to maintain their positions of power. Gentlemen Revolutionaries shows how their struggles over status, hierarchy, property, and control shaped the ideologies and institutions of the fledgling nation.

Tom Cutterham examines how, facing pressure from populist movements as well as the threat of foreign empires, these gentlemen argued among themselves to find new ways of justifying economic and political inequality in a republican society. At the heart of their ideology was a regime of property and contract rights derived from the norms of international commerce and 18th-century jurisprudence. But these gentlemen were not concerned with property alone. They also sought personal prestige and cultural preeminence. Cutterham describes how, painting the egalitarian freedom of the republic’s “lower sort” as dangerous licentiousness, they constructed a vision of proper social order around their own fantasies of power and justice.

 In pamphlets, speeches, letters, and poetry, they argued that the survival of the republican experiment in the US depended on the leadership of worthy gentlemen and the obedience of everyone else.

Lively and elegantly written, Gentlemen Revolutionaries demonstrates how these elites, far from giving up their attachment to gentility and privilege, recast the new republic in their own image.