Wednesday, November 15, 2006

History Carnival XLIII

Welcome to the 43rd installment -- if I recall my Roman numerals correctly -- of the History Carnival. Thanks to Sharon Howard, co-ordinator of this Carnival, for offering me the chance to host this, and thanks to the nearly two dozen people who submitted nominations. Apologies as well for the slight delay in getting this posted. You would think that a state represented by Sen. Ted "Series of Tubes" Stevens would have better internet service than it does, but the past week has brought dozens of interruptions and system crashes, making for a somewhat erratic process of carvival-making. On the plus side, I've blown a lot less time watching YouTube than usual.

Having now perused every single blog in the Cliopatra Blogroll, I feel entitled -- or at least obligated -- to make a few observations.

First, there's a lot of incredibly interesting writing being produced out there by people who research, teach, or otherwise love history. If you haven't spent an hour or two clicking through the list to find new sites to bookmark, you're really missing out on some neat stuff. I probably added six or seven new blogs to my list as I was working on this carnival....

Second, there are a lot of blogs out there that haven't been updated in months. To those slackers, I ask: What are you people doing with yourselves? Get back to work already. It's particularly painful to read posts from, say, July insisting that "I'm going to start blogging more regularly now" -- followed by absolutely nothing. My favorite moment of unfulfilled ambition came from a blogger who observed -- on 5 December 2005 -- that "I should really try write in this more . . ."

That being said, here are some interesting thoughts from people who have not yet been consumed by the void:

Memory and Forgetting

Alterdestiny founder Erik Loomis runs an interesting series every Tuesday called "Forgotten Americans," which examines the lives of people whose contibutions -- for good or ill -- have been needlessly overlooked. Last week's entry revived the memory of Madison Grant, one of the more repugnant contributors to World War I-era xenophobia and white supremacy. A timely post, for all sorts of reasons.

At Millard Fillmore's Bathtub, we learn of a collection of Dorothea Lange photos taken during the Japanese internment; the photos, evidently, did not represent the camps in an especially positive light, and so they remained more or less buried in the National Archives until recently.

Speaking of unseemly histories, Michael Brooks considers the forgotten legacy of the revolutionary-era "political arsonist" John the Painter, a Scottish-born rascal described by at least one historian as "America's first terrorist." A career criminal and delinquent servant, John the Painter was taken by the revolutionary spirit and returned to England in 1775, whereupon he began a series of attacks on British ports.

It's nothing but smiles and sunshine at Damn Interesting, where we read about the lonely life of William Sidis, an early 20th century child prodigy and public sensation who -- after seemingly being destined to join the ranks of the world's great mathematicians -- finished his short life as a destitute recluse who feared anything more complex than an adding machine.

We find a less morose batch of posts at Boston 1775, where a week-long series explores the death and ressurection of "Pope Night" during Revolutionary America. (Why aren't modern holidays this much fun? Drunken brawling? Burning effigies? What's not to love?) J.L. Bell doesn't tell us if John the Painter was involved in any of these festivities, but we can only assume he would have approved.

And finally, two posts from Gracchii and Scott McLemee remind us of the global contexts for thinking about English liberties and the legacy of Ben Franklin.


Although November 11, 1918 brough a conclusion to one of the most stupidly conceived wars in human history (see below) it also marked the birth of Kurt Vonnegut, as Syntax at Scrutiny Hooligans reminds us. If you haven't re-read Slaughterhouse Five recently, now would be a good time. My first Vonnegut book was Breakfast of Champions, which permanently unhinged my brain as a 13-year-old.

If not for the icy hand of death, Warren Harding would have turned 141 on November 2. Offering kinder words than I did on the anniversary of his demise , Dr. History provides some generous birthday spin that makes Harding sound like less than the catastrophic embarrassment he actually was. A real feat, that....

And speaking of counterfactuals, Mark A. Rayner at The Squib wonders what might have happened if the 1605 Gunpowder Plot had actually succeeded. (Hint: It doesn't end well for the Catholics.)

Elsewhere, Matt remembers Annie Oakley on the 80th anniversary of her death, and The Old Foodie commemorates the birth of the Australian whaling industry (and offers a recipe for whale goulash -- a dish that played no more than a minimal role in the decline of the Southern Right Whale and Humpback Whale populations).

War and Peace

Armistice/Remembrance/Veteran's Day was observed across the blogosphere, with some of the more worthwhile thoughts appearing at Conservative History, Project History, and Martini Republic, who reminds us that poetry was only good thing to emerge from that pointless slaughter.

At Respectful Insolence and Airminded, the proprietors engaged in a debate over Richard Dawkins' recent observations on air war and collateral damage. Dawkins argued that the development of "smart bombs" tells us something significant about our diminishing willingness to accept civilian casualties during war; Orac questions Dawkins' understanding of World War II and disagrees with Dawkins' assumption that war planners didn't wish to minimize "collateral" damage. Airminded, in response, takes issue with Orac's critique, pointing out that in fact if we read the words of the war planners correctly, "there was no collateral damage at Dresden."

Down Under, Gill Pollack discovers that "the only enemy action in Australia during World War I was by an ice cream vendor who murdered children in the name of the Turkish Sultan. If the story was told as a movie, audiences would assume that it was pure fiction." As Pollack tells the story, we learn that it's not.

We can't be sure how Donald Rumsfeld might have responded to the predations of a Turkish ice cream vendor, but now that his schedule has been cleared of unnecessary appointments, perhaps we can find out. Meantime, over at Jon Swift's blog, we are asked to entertain the modest proposal that Rumsfeld will be remembered as "the greatest Secretary of Defense since Robert McNamara."

And speaking of errors, Miland Brown discovers a major mistake in the Discovery Channel's series on The Battle for Rome. Brown explains that Julius Caesar did not -- contrary to the show's depiction -- decimate an entire legion for mutiny. Good for him, I say.

Finally, Rob Farley discusses the awful fate of the Yamato, one of the most storied battleships in the Imperial Japanese Navy.


Evidently, some elections took place last week in the US. Turning current events to their own advantage, Charles Swift at Boston History takes a look at the Massachusetts gubernatorial election for 1812, which among other things gave us the term "Gerrymander." Elsewhere, Brian Dirck at the Abe Lincoln Blog wonders why so little attention has been paid to the 1860 election. And David Kaiser -- a few days before the polls opened -- offered some historical comparisons to the 1918 and 1930 elections, as well as some important thoughts on the "political illiteracy of the American people," including the man whose party fared not so well on Nov. 7. Jon Swift suggests that political illiteracy and voter irrationality might be blunted by "self-correcting voting machines" among other innovations.

And over at Red State, Academic Elephant suggests with a straight face that this election might resemble the 1945 ouster of Winston Churchill as British Prime Minister. Um, ok. We'll keep that one in mind. (Next Update: 15 November 2067).


Republican control of Congress and Rumsfeld's tenure at the Pentagon were not the only entities to surrender their mortal form this month. Clifford Geertz' death brought forth numerous tributes, as Ralph Luker reported. Less well-remembered -- but certainly worthy of note -- was Sid Smith, whose short educational films warned American youth of the 1950s and 1960s about the perils of running with scissors, performing dangerous bicycle stunts, smoking marijuana cigarettes, and recruiting adults to buy them alcohol. (You can watch some of Davis' oeuvre here.)

Other recent passings include the wrestler and civil rights activist Sputnik Monroe, whose work is discussed in a remarkable post by Renegade Eye;
and tennis great Hamilton Richardson, who battled diabetes while remaining near the top of the American ranks for years.


For those who still read in the old-fashioned sense, Natalie Bennett recommends the autobiography of Nobel Peace Prize winner and Iranian political activist and feminist Shirin Ebadi; less enthusiastic about her reading list is The Little Professor, who advises against reading the latest biography of Anne Boleyn. We can be certain, meanwhile that while few in the blogosphere will actually read Jimmy Carter's latest book, everyone will have a hack at it.

A few interesting online primary sources were discovered this week. At the Ten Thousand Year Blog, David Mattison gets quite excited about the new Darwin archive. (The creationist archive can supposedly be found here.) And over at the always entertaining Kircher Society, we read about Google's new e-text version of Kirby's Wonderful and Scientific Museum, a massive six-volume, 19th century compendium of the bizarre.

And finally, if you wake up each day -- as I do -- and wonder which pseudo-historical figure you most closely resemble, you might have a go at this quiz, brought to our attention by way of Chris at Historicus, who evidently resembles Myamoto Musashi, the legendary 16th century Japanese swordsman.

The next carnival is scheduled for December 1, to be hosted by the incomparable Barista. You can submit nominations by e-mail (Tiley[at]internode[.]on[.]net].) or via the official submission form here.