“I Am No Man!” Women Rulers in History

Women’s History Month is almost over and I remiss in just now posting on it. In my defense, we were on spring break, and then I came down with bronchitis. In any event, according to “Big Think,” the 15 most powerful women in history were:

15. Zenobia

14. Cleopatra [VII]

13. Lakshmibai

12. Joan of Arc

11. Borte Ujin

10. Indira Gandhi

9. Margaret Thatcher

8. Theodora

7.Victoria

6. Cixi

5. Maria Theresa

4. Hatshepsut

3. Catherine the Great

2. We Zetian

1.  Elizabeth I.

Many of these were warrior queens who, if they didn’t engage in battle themselves, led their states into warfare. Which tracks with historical data, at least for early modern and modern Europe, that female rulers are more likely than the men to let slip the dogs of war. Even if they are less likely to cry havoc.

This post’s title derives from the battle cry of Tolkien’s perhaps most famous female warrior.

 

 

Is Ukraine History?

Last week Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an invasion of neighboring Ukraine. It’s the most serious conflict in Europe since the 1990s Bosnian War (not, as some commentators have claimed, since World War II). So far the death toll is in the hundreds, and has a way to go to reach the 80,000+ killed in the aftermath of the breakup of Yugoslavia. But if Russia continues pouring in troops, and begins attacking civilian population centers, the casualties will mount quickly.

St. Michael’s Cathedral and Monastery, Kyiv, Ukraine. (Public Domain, Wiki.)

Why is Putin doing this? No one knows for sure. Among proffered reasons: he considers Ukraine part of Russia; he wants to re-create the USSR and/or Tsarist Russia; the Russians fear NATO extension into Ukraine; Putin’s a “madman.”  Short of a Vulcan mind-meld of the Russian leader, it’s impossible to ascertain. But Russian tanks, troops and warplanes are in Ukraine, that’s for certain. Here’s the military situation as of March 1, 2022.

Unlike many on social media (particularly Twitter), some of us are prudent enough to refrain from claiming expert knowledge of this horrible conflict. However, it doesn’t hurt to garner background information. In that regard, take a look at these articles:

The latter also has this very useful “Ethno-linguistic map of Ukraine.” (Blues shades are majority Russian speaking areas; orange/tan are Ukrainian speakers.)

Let us inform ourselves about the situation, support our leaders in their policies (and try to guide them if we think those amiss)–and pray, for the people and the leaders of both Ukraine and Russia that this war would end soon, and that, God forbid, it not widen either geographically or bring nuclear weapons into play.

Hail to the Chiefs

Today is Presidents’ Day, 2022. Previously this holiday, which now commemorates all of America’s Chief Executives, marked the birthday of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, or both. It remains a national holiday, with banks and federal offices closed–although many schools (and universities, like this one) no longer take the day off.

Presidents’ Day is the perfect time to take stock of our POTUS ranks. Perhaps the best ranking thereof was the one done by political scientists Brandon Rottinghaus (University of Houston) and Justin S. Vaughn (Boise State University). They asked 320 fellow political scientists to rate all the Presidents from worst to best, and 170 responded. (Here’s the actual study; here’s an article about it, with a handy graph part of which is reproduced below.)

The top top:

There are differences between how Democrat and Republican respondents ranked many of them. And the data is a bit skewed because 57.2% of professors that responded were Democrats, 27.1% Independents, and only 12.7% Republicans. (According to the latest Gallup data, as of the first week of January 2022 the party identifications for Americans overall were 46% Independent, 28% Democrat and 24% Republican.)

Still, it’s nice to know that both sides of the aisle can agree that Abraham Lincoln, the man who freed the slaves, and George Washington, the man who led the Revolutionary War, are our greatest Chief Executives. Personally, I think Ulysses S. Grant (#21) should be a lot higher; ditto for Grover Cleveland (#24)–the only man with the chutzpah to win the office twice, non-consecutively!

Addendum: Right after I first posted this, “Newsweek” ran a brief story about which Presidents since World War II have had the highest and lowest approval ratings while in office. George W. Bush can claim both. He hit 92% approval a few weeks after 9/11. But he also cratered at 19% his final year in office.

 

 

 

Ain’t Gonna Study War No More…?

I teach two separate military history courses here at Reinhardt University. In them, the first thing we look at is the state of the field within academia. This term I assigned for initial discussion an article by the British military historian/journalist Max Hastings, entitled “American Universities Declare War on Military History.” He points out that history majors now account for only 2% of male undergrad degrees, and 1% of those for females. And that within that small universe, students who take any military history classes are miniscule. Most American colleges and universities teach no courses on the the topic at all. (Hastings did not provide precise data on this. But I did look up, at the Society for Military History site, a list of US and Canadian universities that offer the MA/PhD in military history. There are 19 in this country, and three in our northern neighbor. This is out of 3,982 universities in America, and 97 in Canada.)

Why? Military history is popular with the public, with students, and with alumni. Hastings, based on his own experience and a number of conversations with prominent military historians, says it’s because (too) many academics detest the subject as “warnography.” That studying war somehow equates to approving it. And that it’s also racist. He quotes Tami Davis Biddle (PhD, Yale), former U.S. Army War College professor, that “many in the academic community assume that military history is simply about powerful men–mainly white men–fighting each other and/or oppressing vulnerable groups.” That would, of course, be news to the Chinese, Ottoman, Persian, Egyptian, Aztec and Arab armies of the past.

Mamluk Egyptian Warrior, c. 1500 AD. No doubt amused at the idea that only Europeans fight wars.

Hastings also points out that “our respective presidents and prime ministers might less readily adopt kinetic solutions–start shooting–if they possessed a better understanding of the implications.” Did no one in the Bush Administration bother to remember Vietnam before invading Iraq? (Or learn anything about Arab v. Persian and Sunni v. Shi`i, I might add?) Ditto for Britain leading the charge against Muammar al-Qadhafi. Yes, NATO bombing help overthrow him. But now Libya is a failed state, with several regional governments and an entrenched ISIS presence. “David Cameron….might have made less of a mess…had he accepted the advice of some people who understood both war and the Muslim world better than his ill-informed Downing Street clique.”

Hastings does admit that “it would be absurd to pretend that the study of the past is a guarantee against repeating its mistakes.” But we should be glad that JFK had read Barbara Tuchman’s WWI book The Guns of August not long before the Cuban Missile Crisis flared up. Kennedy was thus well aware that “a local flare-up…could precipitate a global catastrophe.”

Hastings opens and closes his article by invoking the coronavirus pandemic. No one thinks studying the effects of diseases on human history is “pro-disease.” Studying war should be just as important–and just as unobjectionable.

[The  title of this blogpost comes from one of the lyrics in the great African-American spiritual “Down by the Riverside,” which dates back to the Civil War.]

 

Admit Me, Chorus, to This History…Blog

Finally, First Floor Tarpley is active again. Dr. Jonathan Good passed the site baton to me–and after a litany of log-in misadventures, I finally have access. I will be making some changes to the site’s appearance in the coming weeks, but for now it will suffice to provide a quick update.

The department currently has 40 majors, and two full-time faculty: Theresa Ast and Kenneth Wheeler. Dr. Ast got her doctorate from Emory, and is a renowned specialist on the Holocaust and the Nazi death camps. Dr. Wheeler is a Buckeye PhD (like me), getting his PhD from Ohio State, and a leader in the American history field in the South. Currently, Reinhardt’s two history faculty adjunct professors are Timothy Lumley and myself. Mr. Lumley has a MA from University of West Georgia. Yours truly (Timothy Furnish) obtained his doctorate from Ohio State, specializing in Islamic eschatology (end of world beliefs) and Mahdism (messianism).

The upper-division courses being offered by history faculty this term are:

HIS 498, Ancient & Medieval Military: Furnish

H336, History of the Holocaust, Ast

H356, American from 1900-1945: Lumley

H354, Civil War & Reconstruction: Wheeler

Several non-history, full-time faculty also teach in this department. Graham Johnson is an English PhD from Saint Louis University and teaches IDS (Interdisciplinary Studies)/History 314, a class on the Vikings. William Jeff Bishop, director of the Funk Heritage Center, is teaching IDS 332, Exhibits & Programs Design, in Museum Studies. And acclaimed author and writing professor William Walsh is covering Irish Literature and Culture in IDS 498. As a huge U2 fan, I hope he covers them!

Finally, I leave you with this fascinating article–which we discussed in my H120 World History classes, on how DNA evidence shows that wooly mammoths survived into the Bronze Age. Much later than formerly thought!

Ancient DNA Suggests Woolly Mammoths Roamed the Earth More Recently Than Thought

Timothy R. Furnish

P.S. Any student of mine who can identify the source of the title of this blog and tell me will receive extra credit!

 

 

 

 

FINIS

An announcement: I am no longer a professor of history at Reinhardt University, and am in fact teaching at a charter school in Minneapolis. Accordingly, I believe it would be unseemly of me to continue posting here. Since Reinhardt has yanked my email account, if you would like to contact me, please do so at jdagood -at- hotmail -dot- com, with the appropriate substitutions. 

Thank you for your readership.

Pagan Holdover

Today is the feast of Demetrius of Thessaloniki, one of the more significant warrior saints (and a myroblytic one to boot). 

What I find interesting is that “Demetrius” is in fact a pagan-derived name, meaning “devoted to Demeter.” It’s parallel to “Isidore,” meaning “gift of Isis,” or “Diodorus,” meaning “gift of Zeus.” All three of these names are borne by Christian saints! Apparently, like the names of the days of the week or the months of the year, early Christians were prepared to tolerate this vestige of paganism. I suppose by the late Roman empire names were simply “names,” as they are for us, and fewer people were in the habit of inventing literal names expressing qualities they hoped to see in their children. 

“Marckalada”

An article published in the July issue of Terrae Incognitae, the journal of the Society of the History of Discoveries (of which former Reinhardt faculty member Anne Good is about to become president), has been getting a certain amount of attention. The full text may be read at the publisher’s website. Paolo Chiesa of the University of Milan has discovered, in the (currently unpublished) Cronica universalis of Galvaneus Flamma (1283-c. 1345), a reference to “Marckalada,” which Chiesa interprets as the “Markland” mentioned in several Viking sagas. The relevant passage:

Sailors who frequent the seas of Denmark and Norway say that northwards, beyond Norway, there is Iceland; further ahead there is an island named Grolandia, where the Polar Star remains behind you, toward the south. The governor of this island is a bishop. In this land, there is neither wheat nor wine nor fruit; people live on milk, meat, and fish. They dwell in subterranean houses and do not venture to speak loudly or to make any noise, for fear that wild animals hear and devour them. There live huge white bears, which swim in the sea and bring shipwrecked sailors to the shore…. Further westwards there is another land, named Marckalada, where giants live; in this land, there are buildings with such huge slabs of stone that nobody could build with them, except huge giants. There are also green trees, animals and a great quantity of birds. However, no sailor was ever able to know anything for sure about this land or about its features.

Unfortunately, the Cronica universalis does not also mention Helluland or Vinland, two other New World locations mentioned in the sagas, but the appearance of “Marckalada” does suggest that in fourteenth-century Milan some people knew about other places “beyond Greenland,” likely through information exchanged in the nearby maritime entrepôt of Genoa. 

It is always tempting to believe that this is where Columbus got his ideas about sailing westward to Asia, but keep in mind that there is a difference between information and knowledge. That is, “Marckalada” in this context is no more real than Prester John or the Cynocephaloi. Furthermore, note that Columbus did not sail to Greenland in order to recreate Leif Erikson’s journey (indeed, for his first voyage he sailed south to the Canary Islands before turning west). The only thing that can really be said about this piece of information is that, if Columbus actually knew of it, it was only one of many suggesting to him that Asia was just over the horizon. 

Vikings in Newfoundland

Announced today in various places: the Vikings founded L’Anse aux Meadows exactly one thousand years ago. The abstract from Nature, where the discovery was published:

Transatlantic exploration took place centuries before the crossing of Columbus. Physical evidence for early European presence in the Americas can be found in Newfoundland, Canada. However, it has thus far not been possible to determine when this activity took place. Here we provide evidence that the Vikings were present in Newfoundland in AD 1021. We overcome the imprecision of previous age estimates by making use of the cosmic-ray-induced upsurge in atmospheric radiocarbon concentrations in AD 993. Our new date lays down a marker for European cognisance of the Americas, and represents the first known point at which humans encircled the globe. It also provides a definitive tie point for future research into the initial consequences of transatlantic activity, such as the transference of knowledge, and the potential exchange of genetic information, biota and pathologies.

Emphasis added. Read the whole thing

It occurs to me, though, that there’s no indisputable proof that the Vikings ever set foot on the North American mainland. (But if we’re considering geographical North America, we don’t need L’Anse aux Meadows, since Greenland, where the Vikings had settlements for almost 500 years, is part of North America.)

The Other Yorktown

From Gregory Urwin at Journal of the American Revolution (hat tip: Dan Franke), notice of an event that is not what most Americans would like to remember about the Revolutionary War:

On October 19, 1781, Gen. George Washington attained his apex as a soldier. Straddling a spirited charger at the head of a formidable Franco-American army, Washington watched impassively as 6,000 humiliated British, German, and Loyalist soldiers under the command of Lt. Gen. Charles, Second Earl Cornwallis, emerged from their fortifications to lay down their arms in surrender outside Yorktown, Virginia. The following day, Washington voiced the elation filling his heart in a general order congratulating his subordinates “upon the Glorious events of yesterday.” Ordinarily a stickler for discipline, Washington authorized the release of every American soldier under arrest “In order to Diffuse the general Joy through every breast.

Five days later, October 25, the Continental Army’s commander-in-chief issued quite a different order. Thousands of Virginia slaves—“Negroes or Molattoes” as Washington called them—had fled to the British in hopes of escaping a lifetime of bondage. Washington directed that these runaways be rounded up and entrusted to guards at two fortified positions on either side of the York River. There they would be held until arrangements could be made to return them to their enslavers. Thus, with the stroke of a pen, Washington converted his faithful Continentals—the men credited with winning American independence—into an army of slave catchers.

This is not the way that Americans choose to remember Yorktown. When President Ronald Reagan attended the festivities marking the battle’s bicentennial in October 1981, a crowd of 60,000 nodded in approval as he described Washington’s crowning triumph as “a victory for the right of self-determination. It was and is the affirmation that freedom will eventually triumph over tyranny.” For the African Americans who constituted one fifth of the young United States’ population in 1781, however, Yorktown did not mark the culmination of a long and grueling struggle for freedom. Rather, it guaranteed the perpetuation of slavery for eight additional decades.

Read the whole thing. I think that the New York Times‘s 1619 Project goes too far when it claims that the American Revolution was fought to “preserve slavery,” but that certainly was one of its practical effects. That the British offered freedom to slaves for taking their side is a fact that UELAC members glory in;* that Mel Gibson’s movie The Patriot (2000) claimed the precise opposite (as well as attributing to the British war crimes committed by the Nazis in occupied France) was rather offensive. 

* Of course, it does not mean that white Loyalists believed in racial equality, as Nova Scotia’s Black Loyalists would attest.