A Student of History

June 29, 2006

Has Noah’s Ark Been Found?

Filed under: What is History? — John Maass @ 6:15 pm

That is the question posed by an ABC News article, here.  A group of “Christian” archaeologists believe they may have located the remains of Noah’s Ark in Iran’s Elburz mountain range.  The Texas team is the Bible Archaeology Search and Exploration (B.A.S.E) Institute, a Christian archeology organization dedicated to looking for biblical artifacts.  (Does this mean they are predisposed to finding what they are looking/hoping for? 


Unfort., the article does not show photos (the one above is, sadly, an artist’s conception) so their claim is still not to be properly accredited, but then again not to be completely discounted either.  These claims have beem made in the past, but usually the ark is suppossed to be in th ehigh mountains of Turkey.  This is the first I have seen a claim that “the Boat” is in Iran, at 13,000 feet. 

“The Bible places the Ark in the mountains of Ararat, a mountain range theologians believe spans hundreds of miles, which the team says is consistent with their find in Iran,” reports ABC.

More on The Wind That Shakes the Barley

Filed under: Ireland,Wars — John Maass @ 2:18 pm

There seems to be a lot of interest in the new movie from Ken Loach, The Wind That Shakes the Barley.  I have previously posted on this, and get many inquiries.  The film is not in the US yet, but will be by the Fall 06. 

At this site, there is a lot more background on the movie and the song, written by Robert Dwyer Joyce.  Here’s a bit of the review:

The Wind that Shakes the Barley is not an easy film to watch. It is, as one expects from director Ken Loach, superbly made, and it won the Palm D’Or at Cannes. Set in the beautiful surroundings of County Cork, with sets and costumes in appropriately muted colours, it is extremely atmospheric. Barry Ackroyd’s cinematography and George Fenton’s score (along with some traditional Irish songs) create exactly the right feel. The difficulty is entirely with the subject matter. It is more than a little uncomfortable to have the brutality of British rule portrayed so starkly, and it is both moving and distressing to see the desperation of the Irish and the poverty to which they were subject. Loach is always a very political director, and his realist approach to film-making (historical accuracy as far as possible in sets, costumes and dialogue as well as in the historical context itself; natural lighting;  shooting the story in sequence; and long takes) helps to bring out the seriousness and the complexities of the situation. This is a film which makes clear the ugliness of occupation by foreign powers and of armed conflict. But while it is frank and graphic in its portrayal of the violence, there is no lingering over it or celebration of it.

And the reviewer, who it must be said has some keen insight to the film and the history of the era, goes on:

Regardless of the details of the historical and political situation, The Wind that Shakes the Barley is a film which honestly explores these tensions which are very real and probably part of every struggle against injustice. The reality, as Loach makes clear, is that human beings always bring their own agendas to a conflict, and that the roots of such conflicts are firmly in the soil of fallen human nature – greed, grasping after power, prejudice, resentment, arrogance, exploitation and rivalry. The church is a key part of the backdrop to this story, but the deepest tragedy of all is that the good news of Jesus Christ – and its message of peace, reconciliation and justice – seems not to have been taken to heart by the major players in the conflict.  It had never brought about the complete transformation of hearts and minds which was so needed – and which has been the testimony of a number of former paramilitaries from both sides in Northern Ireland in our own generation.

What can the world do to help end the fighting that continues to disrupt the North of Ireland?  Although a lot of the violence has toned down since April 1998 when the so-called “Good Friday Agreement” was reached, sectarianism is not over there.  It is not likely to disappear there any time soon, either.  It seems like the structure of society there in the counties of Ulster perpetuate “the Troubles.”  When one motors about the countryside, one sees Irish Republic flags flying from the homes of Catholics, but the UK flag from the places of Protestants.  Roadsigns pointing to Londonderry have the word “London” spray-painted over.  I just read that 95% of schoolchildren in the North go to schools segregated by religion.  How are the next generations supposed to get along with each other if they grow up having so little contact with each other?

Image of the British and Irish flags

One way to do this is to support the Children’s Friendship Project/Northern Ireland, which my family is doing this summer.  This is a program in which Catholic and Protestant teens are paired with each other (they are 15-17 yeras old), get to know each other a little bit in Ulster, and then come to the US for a month to live with an American family. This gives them time to develop a bond of friendship with a person of the “other side” of the sectarianism, and to become (hopefully) friends for life.  This is a great way of getting young people to make a bond at such an early age.  Host families are not paid, but the teens pay their way over to the US, and they pay for their own health insurance. Hosts do not act as tour guides–the kids live with American familes in thir day-to-day routines, which is a way for them to relax outside of the problems in their home counties, and get to know their new friend.  We will be hosting 2 girls (age 16) from Co. Tyrone.

Political map of Ireland.

For additional information about the Children’s Friendship Project, here is the contact info: Christine Robidoux, 133 Howard Hill Rd., Temple, NH 03084. Ph. # is 603-878-6196.

The Irish at the Somme

Filed under: Ireland,Wars — John Maass @ 12:46 pm


This year is the 90th Anniv. of the Somme, on July 1 the battle began in 1916.  At the BBC website is a piece on the Irish involvement there. “The Irish troops were committed into the Battle of the Somme haphazardly alongside the English, Australian, Welsh, South African and Scots and other Imperial forces – not to mention the French, and French-African troops who fought alongside them.”  The BBC has more on WWI here.

Intended to be a decisive breakthrough, the Battle of the Somme instead became a byword for futile and indiscriminate slaughter, with General Haig’s tactics remaining controversial even today.

The British planned to attack on a 24km (15 mile) front between Serre, north of the Ancre, and Curlu, north of the Somme. Five French divisions would attack an 13km (eight mile) front south of the Somme, between Curlu and Peronne. To ensure a rapid advance, Allied artillery pounded German lines for a week before the attack, firing 1.6 million shells. British commanders were so confident they ordered their troops to walk slowly towards the German lines. Once they had been seized, cavalry units would pour through to pursue the fleeing Germans.

However, unconcealed preparations for the assault and the week-long bombardment gave the Germans clear warning. Happy to remain on French soil, German trenches were heavily fortified and, furthermore, many of the British shells failed to explode. When the bombardment began, the Germans simply moved underground and waited. Around 7.30am on 1 July, whistles blew to signal the start of the attack. With the shelling over, the Germans left their bunkers and set up their positions.

As the 11 British divisions walked towards the German lines, the machine guns started and the slaughter began. Although a few units managed to reach German trenches, they could not exploit their gains and were driven back. By the end of the day, the British had suffered 60,000 casualties, of whom 20,000 were dead: their largest single loss. Sixty per cent of all officers involved on the first day were killed.

It was a baptism of fire for Britain’s new volunteer armies. Many ‘Pals’ Battalions, comprising men from the same town, had enlisted together to serve together. They suffered catastrophic losses: whole units died together and for weeks after the initial assault, local newspapers would be filled with lists of dead, wounded and missing.

The French advance was considerably more successful. They had more guns and faced weaker defences, yet were unable to exploit their gains without British backup and had to fall back to earlier positions.

With the ‘decisive breakthrough’ now a decisive failure, Haig accepted that advances would be more limited and concentrated on the southern sector. The British took the German positions there on 14 July, but once more could not follow through. The next two months saw bloody stalemate, with the Allies gaining little ground. On 15 September Haig renewed the offensive, using tanks for the first time. However, lightly armed, small in number and often subject to mechanical failure, they made little impact.

Torrential rains in October turned the battlegrounds into a muddy quagmire and in mid-November the battle ended, with the Allies having advanced only 8km (five miles). The British suffered around 420,000 casualties, the French 195,000 and the Germans around 650,000. Only in the sense of relieving the French at Verdun can the British have claimed any measure of success.

Disillusioned with the Temple of Reason

Filed under: The Academy — John Maass @ 3:55 am

One of HNN’s bloggers is Thomas C. Reeves, who I think is one of the most interesting out there, even if I don’t quite make all the leaps he does when making an argument.  Nevertheless, he’s a counterweight to the opressive lack of diversity within the academy when it comes to opinions and positions. (Yes the irony here is of the greatest magnitude, but that will have to be for another day…) 

Reeves has a nicely done piece here, “Academia and Original Sin,” in which he notes that “The herd mentality of the leftist faculty, especially the unwillingness to permit dissent, was sad to behold” as he began his early career as an academic.  He goes on to say that “I was also turned off by the faculty’s sloth, grant grubbing, contempt for teaching, and the narcissism that seemed to be the guiding light of the entire enterprise. Campus administrators seemed to be less interested in leadership and scholarship than in avoiding controversy and in advancing their own careers. I had seen better actors in silent movies and professional wrestling.”  He laments “the anti-intellectualism of the students,” and that “being a professor seemed more like a job than a calling, and over time I grew dissatisfied to the point of despair.”

His turnaround was Christianity.  Not surprisingly this was based in large part on C.S. Lewis, as is the case with so many it seems.  Hopefully, Reeves will add to this piece, which seems to have ended rather abruptly.

Professor Reeves is the author of A Question of Character: A Life of John F. Kennedy. He has just finished a biography of Wisconsin Governor Walter J. Kohler, Jr. Mr. Reeves is a Senior Fellow of the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.


Among the Dead Cities

Filed under: New books,Wars — John Maass @ 2:58 am

From Mark Grinmsley’s blog I learned of a new book, Among the Dead Cities : The History and Moral Legacy of the WWII Bombing of Civilians in Germany and Japan, by A.C. Grayling. [Walker & Company, 2006].  Mark is reading it as I write, and I will have to do so soon.

The History and Moral Legacy of the WWII Bombing of Civilians in Germany and Japan 

Publisher’s Weekly reviewed this book about the “Allied bombing of Axis cities, which killed hundreds of thousands of civilians and made smoking ruins of Dresden, Tokyo and Hiroshima,” remaining one of the great controversies of WWII.  Philosophy professor Grayling (The Meaning of Things) focuses on Britain’s “area bombing” of entire German cities, a strategy adopted initially because bombers couldn’t hit smaller sites and then, as attitudes hardened, continued as a deliberate attack on civilian morale.”  

What were some of the reasons for the bombing? Grayling mentions several:

  • that it would shorten the conflict by destroying
    Germany’s economy and will to resist

  • that civilian workers were also combatants

  • that it was simply the rough justice of war 

However, Grayling finds these inadequate. Rather, he argues that British bombing “did little damage to the German war effort at an unconscionable price in innocent lives, in contrast to American pinpoint bombing of industrial and military targets, which succeeded in paralyzing the German economy with few civilian casualties.” 

Here is the Washington Post’s review, which concludes:

The simple fact is that it [this type of bombing] is disproportionately cruel, destructive and wanton. The ends sought — defeat of Germany and Japan — were in sight before the bombings of 1944 and 1945, and even the bombing of Hamburg in 1943 was out of proportion to the gains it allegedly brought to the Allied cause, if in fact there were any. The “horrific firestorm” it produced may have been small compared to the atrocities of Auschwitz, but it was horrific all the same. Grayling is right to insist that by acknowledging that we do not “have clean hands ourselves,” we would be in a far stronger position to condemn “the people who plunged the world into war and carried out gross crimes under its cover.” As matters stand now, we are at the very least open to the charge of hypocrisy.

Readers may well disagree with the Post’s contention that the war was in sight by the time the bombings started in 1944. That seems to be a bit too much of a stretch of hindsight.

June 28, 2006

History de-emphasized

Filed under: The Academy — John Maass @ 2:14 am


History, science, and the arts are being de-emphasized by most schools in order to make room for teaching basic reading and math skills.  Who’s to blame for this?

That is in part the question asked by Michael J. Petrilli in a National Review On-line article of June 27.  In part, he blames NCLB (No Child Left Behind) which “mandates that schools boost achievement in reading and math—only reading and math—or face tough consequences.”  He recommends that “Congress should add history testing to the law’s requirements, and make the history and science results count.”

Patrilli also cites E. D. Hirsch, who argues that

an obvious solution to the challenge schools face: Teach reading through history, science, literature, and the arts. He argues persuasively that most of the students who have been “left behind” have successfully learned to decode words and sentences, but can’t comprehend much because of their limited vocabulary and knowledge base. Especially in the upper elementary grades and middle school—where we see student achievement plateau and then begin its long, precipitous decline—the best way to teach reading is to teach content. Instead of “doubling up” on rote, mechanical reading instruction, schools can engage students with compelling historical accounts, fanciful stories, fascinating science, and riveting poetry.

For the rest of the article, click here.

June 27, 2006

History Paved Over, in Wales

Filed under: Historic Places — John Maass @ 12:33 pm

Well, not exactly “paved” but at least lost as far as not being able to buy a key piece of ground in Wales. In a BBC article, preservationists have lost a fight to save an ancient battlefield in Wales.  The Battle of Pilleth in June 1402 was a landmark victory in Owain Glyndwr‘s fight for Welsh independence from England. The battlefield itself, known as Bryn Glas, is part of a 168-acre lot worth £445,000. 

In June 1402 Owain Glyn Dwr led a force into Radnorshire. He was intercepted by “almost all the militia of Herefordshire” under the command of Edmund Mortimer, which would have been largely made up of tenants from the Mortimer estates. The two armies met near the village of Pilleth, a few miles from Presteigne. The chronicles imply that the battle took place on the hill above Pilleth church, Bryn Glas (“Green Hill”). As with all accounts of battles in the middle ages it is impossible to be sure of the numbers involved, but Mortimer’s army could not have consisted of more than 4,000 men.

The battlefield site at Pilleth (picture: The Friends of Pilleth) [The battlefield]

It seems probable that Owain’s forces took up a position on the hillside, and that Mortimer’s army advanced up the hill to meet them. At the crucial moment, however, their own archers turned on them and they were utterly defeated. The slaughter was said to be horrendous, and accounts put the numbers killed at between 200 and 1,100. This was one of the most significant moments of the rebellion: an English county levy had been utterly overwhelmed by the Welsh. Reports also quickly circulated that the Welsh women accompanying Owain’s army had “obscenely mutilated” many of the bodies of the fallen.

Royal banner of Owain Glyndwr

Mortimer was captured, and when the English government procrastinated over his ransom he threw his lot in with the Welsh, marrying Owain’s daughter on 30 November 1402. As his claim to the throne was arguably better than that of the king, Henry IV, this was a serious development.

Local tradition indicates that the bodies were buried in mass graves on the hillside and six Wellingtonia trees were planted to indicate one of the sites; although no records exist to substantiate this claim, it is quite possibly true.

What Would the Founders Do? yet again…

Filed under: New books — John Maass @ 5:08 am

The National Review has a 6/19/06 review of What Would the Founders Do? by R. Brookshiser.  Maybe this is somewhat incestuous given Brookshiser’s relationship with NR, but if one wants to read the review, its here. Richard Brookhiser An excerpt:

What Would the Founders Do? is the first of Brookhiser’s books on the early republic in which he writes, not about a particular lawgiver, but about the group as a whole. An interesting feature of this exercise is a certain softening in the author’s attitude toward Thomas Jefferson. In his earlier books Brookhiser was always scrupulously fair to Tom, but there was an underlying unease. In Founding Father and Alexander Hamilton, Brookhiser exploded the myth that Federalism was the creed of Washington’s senility, the counterrevolutionary philosophy of a rebel in his dotage; TJ inevitably played the part of foil. In the new book, Jefferson emerges as one of the revolutionary worthies, and although Brookhiser has by no means dispensed with his doubts, he gives the man his due.

He wrote the biographies Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington (1996) and Alexander Hamilton, American (1999). His most recent book is The First Dynasty: The Adamses 1735-1918 (2002).  My previous post on the book is here.  For a blog @ this book, see here.

Civil War $100 bill is sold for $2.1m

Filed under: The strange place called the South — John Maass @ 4:51 am

A $100 NOTE issued in 1863 during the American Civil War has fetched $2.1 million (£1.16 million) at auction. It set a joint record for the most expensive piece of paper currency ever sold, tied with a $1,000 bill dating to 1891, which went under the hammer for the same price at the same sale in Dallas, Texas. The only other two $100 bills known to remain from the era are held in the Smithsonian museum in Washington DC.  The two notes sold last week each made twice the previous record for a note. The vendor, a Florida philanthropist, is to donate the proceeds to charity.

This article: http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/international.cfm?id=930282006

Not as much as was shelled out for Revolutionary War battle flags, but what’s with so much money going for historical stuff?

June 26, 2006

Article on Simon Schama

Filed under: New books,The Academy — John Maass @ 7:06 pm

The Washington Post has an article today about Simon Schama and his new book, Rough Crossings

Professor Simon Schama

I have always liked Schama, though I have read very few of his books.  I did read Dead Certainties, which is a bit of a quirky book but was written “underscores the abyss between experiential knowledge of an event and historical interpretations of it.”  I have enjoyed his history of Britian videos done for the BBC and readily available in the US.  His three-volume set of books designed to accompany the videos are excellent, and very accessible for those not steeped in British history, which I am not.  Schama’s “style” on the videos is very engaging, for which he is to be commended. The style says “I don’t care if other academics shun TV, I like it, I am good at it, and I won’t apologize for the money!”

According to Columbia Univ., where he is a professor,

he is author of Patriots and Liberators: Revolution in the Netherlands 1780-1813 (1977) which won the Wolfson Prize for History; Two Rothschilds and the Land of Israel (1979); The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age (1987); Citizens. A Chronicle of the French Revolution (1989) for which he received the major non-fiction prize in the UK, the NCR Prize; the historical novel Dead Certainties (1991) now the subject of a PBS film for The American Experience (broadcast in the summer of 2003); Landscape and Memory (1995) the winner of the W.H. Smith Literary Award; and the student-voted Lionel Trilling Prize at Columbia; Rembrandt’s Eyes (1999); and the trilogy, A History of Britain vol I The Edge of the World (2000); volume 2 The British Wars ,( 2001) and volume 3 The Fate of Empire, (2002).

June 25, 2006

Britain and Spain in America 1492-1830

Filed under: New books — John Maass @ 1:29 pm


In the WP today, there is a review of a new book by J. H. Elliott, EMPIRES OF THE ATLANTIC WORLD. (Reviewed by Ilan Stavans)

Our current debate about immigration isn't only about clamping down on the U.S.- Mexican border. It's also about what it means to be an American after 9/11 and about how the nation is revamping the concept of citizenship. And it's an opportunity to reassess, yet again, the relationship between the United States and its neighbors to the south, a chance to reflect on the role of Hispanic culture in the English-speaking world. For those eager to understand the historical context behind these issues, I know of no more comprehensive, readable source than J.H. Elliott's Empires of the Atlantic World . While its focus might appear remote and its contemporary implications tenuous, the patient reader will be rewarded with a feast of insights.

The book was published by Yale, at 546 pp., for $35. The review is not totally complimemtary, but overall sounds like this might be a good read.  Here are some better blurbs from Yale U.'s Press site for this book:

“The two stories have almost always been told in isolation: here, each affords fascinating new perspectives on the other. … [A] scholarly achievement and an exciting new departure.” –  Michael Kerrigan, The Scotsman

"[A] magisterial comparative history of empire."—Niall Ferguson, Wall Street Journal “[A] richly textured comparative history. . . . [A] meticulously  researched and elegantly executed synthesis. . . . Mr. Elliott’s achievement is to identify with brilliant clarity the similarities and differences between British and Spanish America while embroidering his analysis with memorable details.”—Niall Ferguson, Wall Street Journal

"[A] monumental analysis of two New World empires… Elliott…uses the story of each colonisation to illuminate the other. He challenges our prejudices about the Spanish conquest and the patriotic myths that have grown up around the English one. There is nothing black and white about this book. … Elliott's writing…moves with a gentle rhythm of a sea swell to carry the reader along." – Christian Tyler, Financial Times Magazine

“Others have offered comparisons between the English- and Spanish-speaking worlds, but none have been as fully nuanced or fully realized as this. A masterpiece by one of the English-speaking world’s most accomplished historians.”—David Weber, author of Bárbaros: Spaniards and Their Savages in the Age of Enlightenment

“Elliott’s close study of the empire the English founded in North America and the one that the Spanish built to the south has given him remarkable insights and perspectives. The result is to give new dimensions to the usable past of both Americas.”—Edmund S. Morgan, author of Benjamin Franklin

"Elliott…has long been universally acknowledged as the world's foremost expert on the early modern Spanish monarchy… He has shown his mastery of the techniques of comparative history… Elliott's searching and open-minded scrutiny of the facts overturns most conventional thinking. … 'Empires of the Atlantic World' has long been a subject in search of an author, and Elliott has long been the author destined to fulfil the role." – Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Literary Review

“In a masterful account, Oxford don Elliott explores the simultaneous development of Spanish and English colonies in the so-called New World. . . . Elliott’s synthesis represents some of the finest fruits of the study of the Atlantic World.”—Publishers Weekly

June 24, 2006

$10,000,000 for Historic Preservation

Filed under: Historic Places — John Maass @ 5:40 pm

Two Preservation Groups Selected to Receive Gift Over Five Year Period: National Trust for Historic Preservation and World Monuments Fund

    NEW YORK, June 14 /PRNewswire/ — American Express today announced a $10 million, five-year commitment to historic preservation and the launch of the American Express(R) Partners in Preservation program, expanding the
Company’s focus on securing the use of cultural assets for the future. The American Express Partners in Preservation program builds upon the Company’s decade-long relationship with the World Monuments Fund (WMF) and establishes a partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The program is dedicated to preserving sites both in the U.S.
and around the world.
    “Both the World Monument Fund and the National Trust are valued experts in historic preservation and, like American Express, each recognizes the vital importance of preserving historic sites for future generations,” said Kenneth I. Chenault, chairman and chief executive, American Express.
“American Express is pleased to acknowledge two such worthy organizations as partners in our continued effort to preserve the world’s cultural assets.”
    American Express’ partnership with the National Trust seeks to increase public awareness of the importance of historic and environmental conservation in the United States, preserve American historic and cultural landmarks, and strengthen local communities through preservation efforts.
The National Trust is a U.S. nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting and restoring America’s historic landmarks and communities.
    American Express continues to extend its decade-long relationship with the WMF through a renewed commitment to preservation. Based in New York, WMF is the foremost private nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the world’s cultural and architectural heritage. American Express is the
founding sponsor of WMF’s World Monuments Watch program, established in 1995 to call international attention to and ensure the preservation of cultural heritage sites around the world threatened by neglect, vandalism, armed conflict, or natural disaster, and has contributed more than $10 million over the past ten years to help preserve 119 historic sites in 59 countries placed on the World Monuments Watch list of 100 Most Endangered Sites.
    “It is hard to imagine a company that has demonstrated a stronger, more generous commitment to historic preservation than American Express,” saidRichard Moe, president of the National Trust. “We’ve been proud to work with the Company on several occasions in the past, and we’re honored to be
a partner in this new exciting initiative. I believe it can make a real difference in preserving the irreplaceable places that tell America’s story.”
    American Express has also supported National Trust for Historic Preservation initiatives, including the Save America’s Treasures and Heritage Tourism programs. Last year, the Company assisted WMF and the National Trust with a $200,000 grant for their joint efforts to help save the devastated Gulf Coast in the wake of the 2005 hurricanes.
    “The World Monuments Fund is very pleased to continue our partnership with American Express, which has been such a committed supporter for more than ten years,” said Bonnie Burnham, president of the World Monuments Fund. “Heritage preservation is a critical issue, now more than ever before, as significant sites around the world are exposed to ever-increasing threats, both manmade and environmental. We are grateful to American Express for its strong support for and its championship of our projects, and we look forward to many more years of working together to save our shared cultural heritage across the globe.”
    Through the American Express Partners in Preservation program, American Express will provide $5 million for each partner dedicated to preservation projects. The initial distribution of funds for the National Trust and WMF will be announced in the coming months. “We are committed to preserving the world’s most precious and significant landmarks and the history that accompanies them,” said Chenault of American Express. “By making a significant pledge to both the National Trust and the World Monuments Fund over the next five years, American Express can help ensure future generations will have opportunities to experience the history and beauty of our past.” American Express Honored for Preservation Efforts
    On June 13, at its fourth annual Restore America Gala held in Washington D.C., the National Trust for Historic Preservation honored American Express Company for its commitment and dedication to preservation efforts to cultural assets and historic landmarks. Alfred F. Kelly, Jr., Group President, accepted the award on behalf of American Express.

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