History Carnival XXIII

The Public are respectfully informed that
The Much Anticipated
HISTORY CARNIVAL
has Returned!
with an Exhibition of
EXTRAORDINARY AND SURPASSING
Demonstrations of the Art of
HISTORICKAL WEBLOGGIFYING

Welcome back to the History Carnival. Our ringleader Sharon Howard gave the carnies New Year’s off, so this plus-size edition does double duty, covering an entire month of historical blogging. Many thanks to all those who sent in suggestions–and only slightly less enthusiastic thanks to those who sent in big heaps of suggestions in the last few hours before the deadline. There’s lots here, and even so, I’m leaving plenty out. I apologize to anyone and everyone I missed or didn’t use. The history blogiverse is growing so fast, and there’s so much good stuff out there. I can’t claim to have seen more than a fraction of it all.

Jonathan Dresner hosted the last History Carnival, and strove to keep it “reasonably clear and straightforward.” We will have none of that here! This is the 23rd edition of the History Carnival, and in honor of that number’s Discordian significance, this carnival skews a little to the strange. Not that there’s not good history here. But what is a carnival, I ask you, without a few freaks?

INFINITE ARCHIVE, or
A WEB of LIES?
Turkel’s Celebrated SPIDERS,
Cohen & Kornblith’s
Astounding Clio-lating ROBOT,
the CALLOWNESS of YOUTH Rebuk’d,
and other Novel Features of
the Historical Vocation in
TODAY’S ELECTRONIFIED AGE


My colleague Bill Turkel has started a great looking blog called Digital History Hacks, devoted to exploring and teaching “methodology for the infinite archive” of the internet. An early post urges teaching young historians to search, spider, and scrape. (This is not the same thing as bowing and scraping–for that, see discussion of the AHA, below.) The Center for History and New Media launched a flotilla of staff blogs this month, on a variety of topics digital and historical. Tom Scheinfeldt’s Found History is poised to become one of my favorites, turning up “unintentional, unconventional, and amateur history” in such unlikely places as VH1, the Weather Channel, and the supermarket checkout aisle. The CHNM is also home to H-Bot, a robot (ok, a “software agent,” but you know how I feel about robots) that answers simple history questions. Sheila Brennan’s Relaxing on the Bayou introduced me to H-Bot with a post called “Web of Lies.” As that title suggests, H-Bot is only as good as the information it finds on the internet, but Daniel Cohen (H-Bot’s creator) and Roy Rosensweig say that’s pretty good. The robot got an 82% score on the fourth-grade National Assessment exam in American history, trouncing the average human fourth-grader and making no friends on the playground. But before you trade in your organic kids for shiny robot models, read Sam Wineburg’s terrific inaugural post at Cliopatria and the comments that followed. Prof. Wineburg reminds us that lamentations about how little history the next generation knows are hardly something new. Not that he councils complacency. As Wineburg has argued elsewhere, getting beyond the sound and fury of the history standards debate demands reckoning with a serious question: what good is history, and just what do we want to teach it for? Crooked Timber took a stab at that question this month in the British and American contexts, as did Ed Podesta, with an excellent post on the “grand tradition” of British school history, where all foreigners were “either sensibly allies or rightly defeated.” These questions are just as salient, if not more so, outside the West. Nouri Lumendifi, at The Moor Next Door, had strong words on the subject of historical maturity: “Only the historically mature historian is suited for the noble practice of history.” At Frog in a Well: Japan, Konrad Lawson reported on a junior high school in Fukuoka, Japan, where a teaching exercise involving mock draft cards cut to the crux of the relationship between nationalism and the history classroom.

The Carnival
will exhibit at all hours
a diverting variety of
HISTORICKAL PARALLELS,
INDISPUTATABLE LISTS,
plus
THE ANNUAL GATHERING of HISTORIANS
in All their Finery and Plumage

At Cliopatria, KC Johnson tells us that Lyndon Johnson thought in historical analogies: LBJ must have been a history blogger at heart, for we in the blogosphere love chewing on past parallels to current events. KC’s post measured some scandals of the past to see which shoe fit Jack Abramoff best. As the War on Terror continued to do collateral damage to the Tree of Liberty in the U.S.A., Caleb McDaniel pondered analogies between Abraham Lincoln’s bending of the law in wartime and George Bush’s willingness to do the same. Eric Muller at Is That Legal? saw another parallel in the domestic spying scandal, and laid out the criteria by which the U.S. government deemed Japanese Americans loyal or disloyal during World War II. That post ties in nicely with Gallup poll data at Frog In A Well on American views of Japan in 1946 and China in 1950, and, at James Rummel’s Hell in a Handbasket, a remarkable collection of wartime pamphlets written for the U.S. Army by, of all people, the American Historical Assocation. I’m stunned by the range of topics upon which Uncle Sam and G.I. Joe turned to the AHA for wisdom: “What shall be done about Japan?” “Shall I take up farming?” “Will there be a plane in every garage?” “Do you want your wife to work after the war?” and 38 more. I don’t think today’s U.S. Army is soliciting many opinions from the AHA, but at Cliopatria, soldier-historian Chris Bray has begun his own informed analysis of the war in Iraq.

Probably the only thing history bloggers like better than historical parallels are historical lists. Histomat offered the Top Ten Works of Marxist History, Ralph Luker named his Ten Worst Americans, and Nathanael Robinson listed Ten Events to Understand Modern France.

Speaking of the AHA, many denizens of Blogtown’s history district were in Philadelphia last week for the profession’s annual hoedown. City Girl confessed to having a bit of a historian’s crush. (“What will he look like? And will he speak as well as he writes?”) Jason Tebbe and Timothy Burke had downbeat reflections on the bristling security around Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell. And Prithvi Shobhi blogged the history blogging panel, then tried to find a smiling historian, with no more luck than Diogenes in finding an honest man. At least Sharon Howard ate well (and enjoyed The Ben Franklin Code).

CANADIAN CONTENT, or
Intermission

Canadians go to the polls on January 23rd (there’s that magic number again) for a federal election. At How To Save The World, Dave Pollard served up a some recent history that might help you to follow the players and the stakes. I often wish my fellow Canadians could express left-liberal sentiments without having to invoke the American bogeyman, but maybe I’m being naive about our neighbor to the South: Eb at No Great Matter and Matthew Yglesias at TPM Cafe both posted this month on the history of American plans for an invasion of Canada dating back to the 1930s and before.

A FATAL DUEL,
Death-Defying
AERIAL THRILLS,
and Divers Startling Effects
will all be described in an evocative series of
DESCRIPTIVE LECTURES

Miscellaneous is always the largest category: Language Log answered a question that just came up in one of my classes: Did the Civil War really change the United States from an “are” into an “is”? And Hiram Hover’s Forty Acres (No Mule) considered the complex ramifications of one of history’s most famous broken promises. On the other side of the pond, Brett Holman’s wonderfully single-minded (in the best sense of the word) blog Air-minded is always about air power and British society in the early 20th century. A recent post described the high-flying 21st century imagined by Rudyard Kipling. Meanwhile, 19th century “blogger” Frances Williams Wynn outlined the state of the art in diving bells and aerial ballooning, while Frances’ go-between to the 21st century, Natalie Bennett, recounted the tale (but not the outcome) of the last fatal duel in Scotland. Finally, Jack McGowan contemplated the H word–historiography–at Smashing the Window, and offered this sobering thought: “Reading is the enemy of writing.” Ignore that, and read on…

The Fearsome GIANT Og,
Dr. Diacu’s HOLLOW Millenium,
MIRACLES of FAITH and DECEIT
plus The Celebrated Mr. HITE
and Other INCONGRUITIES
hitherto thought Incompatible
with Man’s Capacity for REASON

Smiles at the AHA weren’t the only rare game for which history bloggers went hunting. Andrew Ross of Air Pollution is writing on the history of the “dandy”. I’d point him to Nathanael Robinson’s post on men in corsets for some leads, but I see he’s already found it. Nathanael gets extra points for namechecking Bravo’s Project Runway, then promptly loses them by rooting for the odious Santino. Mortimer Randolph is searching for Scottish bison. Jim Davila of PaleoJudaica went digging for the story of Og, a biblical giant who rode unicorns, wrestled dragons, and survived the Flood. But Phil Harland trumps even that with a multi-part series on the history of Satan.

Bloggers also dig historical cover-ups. No Great Matter was the place to be for discussion of the Los Angeles Times’ revelation (if that’s what it was) that Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were guilty and Upton Sinclair probably knew it all along (follow-ups here and here, critique of the historical profession’s “leftist lies” here). While Sinclair bit his tongue about the Italian anarchists, the economist John Maynard Keynes kept the personal papers of Isaac Newton under wraps. Newton biographer Gail Christianson described three centuries’ efforts to ignore, if not quite suppress, Newton’s obsessions with alchemy and the occult. Meanwhile, Marc Comtois at Spinning Clio was skeptical of arguments that the famously coincidental deaths of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, fifty years to the day from the sigining of the Declaration of Independence, were no coincidence at all.

At Positive Liberty, Jason Kuznicki took on the historicity of Jesus and his miracles. At Frog in a Well: China, Remco Breuker told a tale of insecticide by ritual. The two posts raise similar questions about different eras and corners of the world. And great comment threads on both those posts engage the historical problem of how to approach and understand the actions of societies with beliefs and practices foreign to our own.

Not that our era is immune from odd beliefs. A handful of blogs and indeed the mainstream Canadian press discussed The Lost Millenium: History’s Timetables Under Siege. This new book by mathematician Florin Diacu contends the Middle Ages didn’t happen, the Peloponnesian Wars are fifteen centuries more recent than we think, and today’s date is January 15th, 964 A.D. If that sort of kookiness appeals to you, you must sample Kenneth Hite’s Eliptony Core Sample. I’ve talked about Ken’s free-wheeling alternate histories before; all this month he’s delving into his immense personal library of the pseudoscientific and the pseudohistorical, returning with droll reviews of dozens of books you must devoutly hope your students never read.

And while we’re talking about strange beliefs: It’s not a blog posting, but did you really think I wasn’t going to mention Stalin’s plan to breed half-man, half-ape super-troops?

Hoaxers HOAX’D
Quacks BILLED
and All Manner of
CANARDS Reveal’d!

After letting all this iffy history in to the Carnival, I’d better air out the big tent with some skeptics and debunkers. Orac considered analogies between medical quackery and historical quackery, specifically Holocaust denial, at Respectful Insolence. Another skepti-blogger at Photon in the Darkness embarked on a field guide to quackery and pseudoscience modeled on the great scientific texts of the 18th century. And there’s no better blog to bring down the curtain than the beautiful and mysterious Giornale Nuovo. A rich post there introduced me to Thomas Browne, 17th century scientist, author, alchemist and debunker. I’ll close the show with Browne’s words: “We carry with us the wonders we seek without us. There is all Africa and her prodigies in us; we are that bold and adventurous piece of nature, which he that studies, wisely learns in a compendium, what others labour at in a divided piece and endless volume.”

NO extra charge for Admission
will be made,
the HISTORY CARNIVAL being
Wholly Dependent upon Voluntary Contributions
for Remuneration.

Whew. That’s it for me. Teaching Carnival #5 should also be up today, hosted by a fellow historian, at Ancarett’s Abode. The Elfin Ethicist will host the next History Carnival on February 1. Send suggestions to JonathanWilson [at] letu [dot] edu. The History Carnival can also be found at The Truth Laid Bear‘s UberCarnival.

13 Comments

  1. This looks great, but I should note as the author of No Great Matter, that Evan Roberts blogs at the excellent Coffee Grounds. You’ve listed him as the author of my blog under the section “Intermission.”

  2. eb: Eep – sorry about that! As you can probably guess, I had a lot of windows open on my desktop last night. Correction made, and since he egregiously got left out, here’s an extra link to the real Evan Roberts talking about the war on Boxing Day.

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