Somehow I don’t think that “fostering community” will halt the decline of the history major. Every group on campus does things like this; structural problems like the immense cost of tuition and politicization of the subject matter remain much more important.
From the always-interesting Slate Star Codex (direct quotations):
• A Swedish news team went to Gotland to film a segment on the problem of amateur treasure-hunters disturbing archaeological sites. To collect footage, one of them borrowed a metal detector and went around an archaeological site in what they figured was a treasure-hunter-like way. Just after filming finished, the metal detector started beeping – and thus was made the largest discovery of Viking treasure in history, 148 lbs of silver worth millions of dollars.
• Early 18th-century London looked a lot like the setting of the average superhero comic – plagued by crime, weak on policing, crying out for a charismatic figure to take matters into his own hands. Enter Jonathan Wild, the “Thief-Taker General”, who won public adoration by catching all the worst criminals and bringing them to justice. Spoiler: he was secretly a mob boss who arranged all the crimes, then arranged to “solve” whichever ones benefitted his reputation.
• Former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke once held the world record for beer drinking, and “suggested that this single feat may have contributed to his political success more than any other, by endearing him to an electorate with a strong beer culture”.
• Did you know: the Punic Wars officially ended in 1985.
• Jeanne Calment, who died in 1997 at the age of 122, is widely believed to be the oldest person ever. Scientists were puzzled by her health and long life, which was an extreme outlier even among record-holding supercentanarians. Now a Russian gerontologist presents evidence that Calment was a fraud – she died at a normal age, and her daughter assumed her identity for financial reasons.
Some sobering news from IHE:
History has seen the steepest decline in majors of all disciplines since the 2008 recession, according to a new analysis published in the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History.
“The drop in history’s share of undergraduate majors in the last decade has put us below the discipline’s previous low point in the 1980s,” reads the analysis, written by Benjamin M. Schmidt, an assistant professor of history at Northeastern University.
Some numbers: there were 34,642 history degrees conferred in 2008, according to federal data. In 2017, the most recent year for which data are available, there were 24,266. Between 2016 and 2017 alone, there was a 1,500 major drop-off. And even as overall university enrollments have grown, “history has seen its raw numbers erode heavily,” Schmidt wrote, especially since 2011-12.
“Of all the fields I’ve looked at, history has fallen more than any other in the last six years,” he says. The 2012 time frame is significant, according to the analysis, because it’s the first period in which students who experienced the financial crisis could easily change their majors.
The data represent a “new low” for the history major, Schmidt wrote. While a 66 percent drop in history’s share of majors from 1969 to 1985 remains the “most bruising” period in the discipline’s history, that drop followed a period of rapid enrollment expansion. The more recent drop is worse than history’s previous low point, in the 1980s.
I think that one of the main reasons for the decline in the history major is on account of university tuition fees continually rising far beyond the rate of inflation, so that students, of necessity, must see university as a financial investment that needs to start paying off immediately, rather than an incubator of cultural literacy, informed citizenship, and a personal life philosophy, as it may once have been. I am not saying that history majors can’t perform well in a wide variety of jobs, precisely because they can conduct research and present it coherently, it’s just that they have to overcome certain hurdles before they can convince people to hire them. I would not discount the politicization of the discipline, although this is not nearly as bad as some commentators would like to suggest (the profession as a whole might lean to the left, but you can always find professors who keep their politics to themselves, or who are even conservative). But I take consolation in the fact that our appeal really is selective: to do history properly you need intelligence and motivation, literacy and hard work. These qualities are less common that you might imagine.
The latest issue of Medieval Warfare features a piece by Reinhardt’s Dr. Jonathan Good, in which he popularizes his scholarship on St. George and explains the importance of warrior saints to soldiers and the broader population. Soldiers frequently offered prayers of thanks or supplication to warrior saints. Sometimes warrior saints appeared to soldiers on the battlefield, raising morale or even helping to defeat the enemy.
To read more, subscribe to Medieval Warfare or read Good’s book, The Cult of St George in Medieval England, published by Boydell, for a more in-depth treatment.
From the OUP Blog (via Paul Halsall):
Recent years have witnessed a proliferation of disputes over how the past should be used, with alt-right demonstrations over the planned removal of Confederate monuments in Charlottesville/VA, the Hindu nationalist rewritingof Indian history, or the refashioning of the rural past in post-coup Thailand among those most widely reported. In all these instances, academic historians have either been sidelined, or have become the victims of politically motivated onslaughts. Still, the disputes per se are not a late modern phenomenon. Similar debates occur in any society that records its past. They form part of historical culture. But why is this so, and is there really nothing distinctive about the contemporary experience?…
The rejection of views, not because they are mistaken or flawed, but because those who voice them possess expert knowledge, is a distinctly late modern phenomenon. All the more reason why professional historians should not stand by! For if we fail to speak up, we abrogate our responsibility towards the very societies we study. If we allow their experiences, lives, and thoughts to become mere playthings to mendacious moderns, to be plundered and pillaged at will, we dehumanise both the past and the present.
Of course I agree with this, although I’d agree a lot more if professional historians didn’t have their own agendas…
After the Turkish flag, the most common icon of Turkishness is the image of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, victor of the Battle of Gallipoli, hero of the Turkish War of Independence, and founder of the Republic of Turkey in 1923. You would expect, perhaps, to see his portrait in certain government buildings or on the currency, but like the flag, he’s everywhere. Every town, it seems, has a statue or a bust of him on display. I was not invited into any private homes, but I was astounded to discover his portrait up in at least half of the businesses I went into. This must have been something like the place Lenin enjoyed in the old Soviet Union. However, there seems to be a greater variety of Atatürk portraits than there were portraits for Lenin, and many of them humanize their subject to a greater degree.
One might think that such a personality cult is unworthy of a modern state but at least Turkey does not demand that portraits of the current leader appear everywhere. And it’s true that Atatürk had some genuinely impressive achievements, and that he really does enjoy the admiration of a broad swath of the Turkish populace.
His mausoleum in Ankara, designated Anıtkabir (“memorial tomb”), is a marvel to behold. Here is a view of a model of the whole complex (which itself occupies just one part of a large park).
You enter from the right, between the gate houses, and walk down a 262m-pathway designed the Road of Lions. It is lined with recumbent lion statues, meant to evoke Hittite sculptures. I wondered why the road seemed to be paved so oddly; according to Wikipedia: “A five centimeter gap separates the paving stones on the Road of Lions to ensure that visitors take their time and observe respectful behavior on their way to Atatürk’s tomb.”
At the end of the Road of Lions you come to the Ceremonial Plaza, meant to accommodate up to 15,000 people.
Surrounding the plaza is a colonnade, punctuated by short towers containing things like Atatürk’s car and the gun carriage that carried his coffin, but the main attraction is the large building to the northeast, the Hall of Honor.
If you ascend the steps you enter a hall containing Ataturk’s symbolic sarcophagus, a large granite block on a dais. This is where ceremonial wreath-laying occurs – I was pleased to witness an instance of this, although it was too dark to take good photographs. A soldier marched in, followed by two more carrying a wreath, followed by the group sponsoring this particular wreath-laying. The soldiers passed the wreath to the group’s leader, who placed it in a circular depression on the dais.
Atatürk’s actual tomb is in a room directly beneath the sarcophagus, and you can’t go into it. They do, however, show a large photo of it – the grave is surrounded by urns containing earth from various places in Turkey. But far more interesting on this level is the museum detailing Atatürk’s life and times. I liked his clothing and accessories in particular – he prescribed western dress for the Turks, and he seems to have had pretty good taste in this department himself. There were dioramas portraying the Battle of Gallipoli, and the Turkish War of Independence was given much attention. You are probably aware that the British and French helped themselves to the Arab Ottoman provinces (Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Transjordan, and Iraq) – what I did not know is that the Treaty of Sèvres (1920) divided Turkey itself among several occupying powers. The Armenians and Kurds were to get a great swaths of eastern Turkey, and Greece the area around Smyrna and most of European Turkey. The rest of the country was to be divided into British, French and even Italian zones of influence. Only about a third of what is now Turkey, centered around Ankara, was to be directly controlled by the Ottoman Empire. This was a more punitive settlement than even the Treaty of Versailles, and nationalists, led by Atatürk, set up a provisional government in Ankara and recruited an army to fight against it. They had home-field advantage, and a great deal of motivation; the Powers did not really put many resources into defending their zones, and the Greeks and Armenians proved to be hapless fighters. The nationalist assembly, now called the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, was recognized by the UK, France, and Italy as the legitimate government of Turkey at the Lausanne Conference, called in order to renegotiate the Treaty of Sèvres (this effectively abolished the Ottoman Sultanate). The resulting Treaty of Lausanne (1923) recognized complete Turkish independence under the rule of the GNAT, at the small price of guaranteeing international freedom of navigation through the Bosphorus and Hellespont. (It also set the stage, unfortunately, for population exchanges between Turkey and Greece, with all the misery that those entail.)
But you can’t help but admire Atatürk’s role in defending his homeland and securing Turkish independence. As if that weren’t enough, as first president of the Republic of Turkey he proceeded to reform it, sometimes quite forcefully. He prescribed western dress, going so far as to ban the Ottoman fez. He substituted the Roman alphabet for the Arabic one (something which I certainly appreciate). He required Turks to adopt a surname (the Assembly granted him the name Atatürk – “father of the Turks” – and technically it’s anachronistic to refer to him by this name for any period prior to 1934). He established state-run primary schools throughout the land. And most famously he imposed the principle of laïcité – that is, the state was to be secular, even forbidden to express any religious sentiments at all. Again, impressive achievements, although when you’re visiting his museum you’re left wondering if he had any flaws or made any mistakes. Certainly the photos of the “Turkish peasants killed cruelly by Greek soldiers” or “Women and children killed by the Armenians in the Subatan village on April 25, 1918” don’t really tell the whole story there! Of course, like your average Presidential Library and Museum in the United States, it’s really not going to present a “balanced” view of its subject, although the Turkish law against “insulting the legacy of Atatürk” does seem just a trifle bit oversensitive.
One more photo from Anıtkabir, of a sign on the way in. Atatürk died in 1938, but if you tip the 8 over onto its side, it becomes an infinity sign, as though to suggest that Atatürk lives forever!
But what if you are happy to be Turkish, but don’t agree entirely with Atatürk’s program (usually designated “Kemalism”) – particularly the “compulsory secularism” aspect of it? No one was willing to defame Atatürk to me, and thereby break the law and a powerful social taboo. Instead, I heard things like “Ataturk never said anything against Islam; it was the people who came after him who really ran it down” (and indeed, I was surprised to discover that Atatürk’s body was “shrouded according to Islamic traditions” and that he was buried “with his face towards Kiblah [Mecca]”). Or: “Atatürk was great, but so were some of the modernizing sultans in the nineteenth century, why can’t we honor them as well?” So far no one has readopted the fez (although plenty of women now wear the Islamic headscarf, even in Istanbul), and no one has started rendering Turkish in Arabic script, as a way of disavowing Kemalism. No one has put up portraits of Ottoman sultans – or of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, for that matter. Instead, it seems that we have the phenomenon of “dueling signatures.” As you can see in a couple of the photos above, it’s not only Atatürk’s face that people love to see, but his signature as well. You can get a decal of it for your car.
But if you admire the Ottomans, if you think that Turkish history did not begin in the 1920s, if you see no reason why Islam cannot play a greater role in Turkish national life, perhaps you can get a decal of a tughra.
A tughra is the stylized Arabic-script signature of an Ottoman sultan that appeared on the state seal during his reign. Unfortunately, they all look more or less the same and I could not discern exactly which sultans were being referenced. The bottom one, I believe, is that of Mahmud II (1808-39); I do not know who the top one belongs to.
Une bonne fête nationale à tous mes amis français. Vive la France!
As regular readers know, I am a great fan of heraldry, flags, and identifying emblems in general. On a recent road trip from Georgia to Texas and back again, I was pleased to note a lot of historic flags in use.
1. As we passed into Texas on I-10, we saw six flags flying at the Welcome Center, representing the six sovereign entities that have ruled Texas in the past.
These are, from left to right: the United States, Texas, the Confederacy, Mexico, France, and Spain. Some notes:
• Texas, of course, acted as its own country from 1836 to 1845, between its secession from Mexico and its joining the USA. It retains this former national flag as its state flag. The design is wonderfully simple, even striking, and consequently flown quite a lot by Texans (including massive ones at car dealerships). This positively reinforces civic pride, as Roman Mars notes.
• The Confederate Flag flown is the first national flag with seven stars, which is appropriate as Texas was one of the original seven signatories to the CSA in early 1861. Displaying the Stars and Bars helps to avoid the appearance of the ever-controversial Confederate Battle Flag, which appears on the canton of the second and third national flags.
• The Mexican Flag (Texas was a Mexican state between 1821 and 1836) is actually the version flown in the 1820s, i.e. this:
And not this:
I appreciate such attention to detail!
• Bourbon France is represented by Argent semé de lys Or, i.e. a white field strewn with gold fleur de lys, one of the flags that the regime used:
The “Six Flags” display is popular in Texas; other royal French flags employed elsewhere include Argent three fleur de lys Or (i.e. a white field with only three gold fleur de lys on it) and Azure three fleur de lys Or (i.e. a blue field with three gold fleur de lys). This last one makes for the best flag in my opinion – you want a dark color to contrast with the sky, and with the fleur de lys, even though this one is technically a banner of arms, and not a flag. Here it is at the Alamo:
• Finally, there are several options for the flag of royal Spain. The flag displayed, according to Wikipedia, is Spain’s “navy and coastal fortifications flag 1785-1843, and national flag 1843-73 and 1874-1931.”
Elsewhere, Texans fly a quartered flag of Castile and Leon:
An elaborate war ensign:
Or, best of all in my opinion, the Cross of Burgundy Flag. It’s simple, distinctive, and historically accurate.
2. The Louisiana Welcome Center on I-10 flies two flags, the current Louisiana flag, and the Bonnie Blue Flag (apparently upside down!).
The Bonnie Blue Flag was used by some Confederates as an unofficial emblem; it is immortalized in a song. What people tend not to realize, however, is that this flag had been used earlier by Fulwar Skipwith’s breakaway Republic of West Florida for a few months in 1810, and the I-10 welcome center is in one of these so-called Florida Parishes.
Interestingly, in the Louisiana State Capitol, the Bonnie Blue Flag is shown as light blue. Apparently this was the actual shade of the flag of the Republic of West Florida. Thus, it appears that the RWF and Somalia have something in common.
3. To the immediate left of the Bonnie Blue Flag in the photo above is a flag the reader has probably not seen before.
This is the flag flown by Louisiana between its secession from the Union, and its joining of the Confederacy, in 1861. Not a bad design – I wish they had kept it as their state flag, in the mode of Texas.
(You’ll also note the flag of Republican France on the right in the photo above – Napoleon reacquired Louisiana from Spain in 1800, but then sold it to the United States in 1803.)
(You’ll also note the third national flag of the CSA. It would not surprise me if this gets changed sometime soon.)
4. A similar situation prevails in Mississippi. We drove most of the way from Mobile, Ala. to New Orleans, La. along a coastal scenic route. We thus passed Beauvoir, President Jefferson Davis’s retirement home and now Presidential Library. I did not get any pictures, but Beauvoir doesn’t mess around: flying out front are large versions of the Bonnie Blue Flag, the three national flags of the CSA, the Confederate Battle Flag, the current Mississippi flag, and the Magnolia Flag:
According to Wikipedia, this flag was Mississippi’s official flag from 1861 until 1865; it remained in unofficial use until 1894, when the current state flag was adopted. And we all know the problem with the current flag.
The Confederate Battle Flag on the canton survived a referendum in 2001, but I would have no problem with the governor changing it by fiat anyway, because Confederate symbols have no place connected to current symbols of sovereignty. Furthermore, the Confederacy lasted all of four years, was in defense of a horrible cause, and went down in flames. (Why not a canton of the Union Jack, or the Cross of Burgundy? Those were also episodes in Mississippi’s history – and probably happier ones.) The Magnolia Flag is a nice design and especially appropriate to the state: eleven states were in the Confederacy, but there’s only one Magnolia State.
In the meantime, when displays of all the state flags are needed, the Mississippi flag should probably be placed a little more discreetly than it was at the Superbowl this year:
Or at this citizenship ceremony:
6. In 1965, Thomas J. Arseneaux designed the flag of Acadiana, that is, a flag for those of Cajun ancestry:
I was pleased to learn about this one, because there is a similar flag in Canada: the flag of Acadia is a French tricolor, defaced with a gold star.
7. We spent the night in Gonzales, Texas, and thereby discovered the existence of the Gonzales Flag.
In 1831, the Mexican government had given the residents of Gonzales a cannon for defense. At the outbreak of the Texan Revolution in 1835, however, the Mexicans sent a force to take it back, and the Gonzalans replied with a suitable Laconic phrase, embroidered on an improvised flag. The Battle of Gonzales was the first military engagement in the Revolution, and inspiring for the Texans, as the Mexicans were forced to retreat without their cannon.
I’m surprised that this flag is not more popular among right-leaning Americans (cf. “Don’t Tread On Me“). Current residents of Gonzales certainly cherish it:
8. Finally, the Louisiana state history museum exhibits an unofficial flag celebrating Louisiana’s admission as the eighteenth state of the Union in 1810.
You’ll notice that this flag has eighteen stars – and eighteen stripes! Actually the official flag of the United States stopped with fifteen stars and fifteen stripes when Kentucky was admitted in 1792, but people kept adding both stars and stripes anyway out of pride. Only in 1818 did official word come down that the number of stripes should revert to thirteen, and the number of stars increase to twenty, for the number of states by that time.
The History Program is pleased to announce that nine new members of the Reinhardt chapter of Phi Alpha Theta were inducted yesterday in the Glass House. They are in the photograph below, wearing their new honor cords, blood red and sky blue, the colors of PAT.
A highlight of the ceremony was guest speaker David Parker of Kennesaw State University, who spoke about “Rearing Rebels: Confederate Textbooks and Confederate Nationalism.”
Prof. Parker has researched school textbooks published and used in the Confederate States of America, and furnished us with some amusing examples of math problems (such as “if one Confederate soldier can kill seven Yankees, how many Yankees can nine Confederate soldiers kill?”) along with other embarrassing moral lessons about the benefits of slavery. But he warned us about arrogance: what things do we believe that might look ridiculous to our posterity?
• From my grad school colleague Ellen Arnold, in the Atlantic: “Hunting Among the Saints: What Justice Antonin Scalia’s association with a shadowy medieval sect reveals about governing natural resources.” I assume that Ellen did not write this headline, because the International Order of St. Hubertus is not “medieval,” but a seventeenth century Habsburg creation, and it’s hardly a “sect.” It is secretive, though, and dedicated to hunting, like its namesake. The article is most interesting, although I’d like to point out that Scalia was a dissenter in the Kelo decision, which was certainly about governing resources.
• Guardian: “‘What the hell have they done?’ Matrera castle in Cádiz, southern Spain, joins list of Spanish artwork and building repairs causing hilarity and outrage.” Click to see a short video of the restored castle; the “list” of course includes Ecce Homo, “the worst art restoration ever.”
• Via my friend Rafe Heydel-Mankoo, also in the Guardian: “Psychogeographers’ landmark London Stone goes on show at last: Roman milestone, druidic altar, Excalibur’s resting place? Mysterious stone surrounded by stories is to be restored and rehoused.” I had not heard of this object; it seems a worthy substitute for the Stone of Scone.
• Wikipedia: the “International World War Peace Tree is a linden tree on the southwestern edge of Darmstadt, Indiana, serving as a reminder of Germany’s armistice with the United States in 1918…. The tree was brought from Germany to the United States in 1912 as a seedling by Joseph Freudenburg, prior to World War I. When the armistice with Germany was signed in 1918, a picnic was held on the property of his sister-in-law Mrs. Wortman, and during the picnic, Freudenburg’s tree was transplanted to its current location at the intersection of St. Joseph and Orchard in celebration of the end the war. The planting and dedication of this tree by German American immigrants served as a sign of their loyalty to America and also to build local community harmony.”
Remarkably, the tree survived the Second World War! But the oppression of German-Americans and the attempted eradication of their culture from 1916 to 1918 is a forgotten episode in American history. See the Erik Kirschbaum’s book Burning Beethoven for more.
• Conrad Black in the National Post: “WLU’s decision to remove the statue of John A. Macdonald is cowardly and disgraceful.” This is not because the Conservative Macdonald was deemed to have no place on a campus named after the Liberal Wilfrid Laurier (the university was planning a series of statues of all the Canadian Prime Ministers, in preparation for the sesquicentennial of Confederation in 2017). No, a group of faculty claims that it is offensive to put up statues of prime ministers on traditional Indian land! The profession I’m in…