Welcome, friends, to the 72nd edition of History Carnival. In the following, I sum up blog-entries on historical matters posted in December 2008.
I must apologise first for the fact that this Carnival is late. It was, of course, supposed to be posted on New Year’s Day. I had the best of intentions – really I did. But the torpor of a summer’s morning in this coastal town where I’m staying a few hours north of Sydney got in the way. So did the lack of an internet connection. I write now in a stuffy internet café, the sun glinting savagely off broken beer bottles in the street outside (leftovers of New Year’s Eve’s hectic revelry). Perhaps you will forgive me if I thus keep this shortish, even if none too sweet.
So this is the Deal
Most of the columnists in the Sydney papers felt it their duty to cheer the passing of 2008. Out with the Old, in with the New – that sort of thing. If there’s anything that history tells us, however, it’s that the Old doesn’t give way all that easily. On the contrary: you feel the crunch or gash of it underfoot every step you take. Ralph Brauer’s excellent series of posts at Progressive Historians reminds us this is the case. In Did Racism Help the Mortgage Crisis?, he shows that America’s market for sub-prime mortgages came largely from coloured citizens refused housing loans by the Federal Housing Administration. This FHA was established as part of America’s New Deal, he tells us. Nonetheless, it re-hashed an old American story, discriminating on the basis of race with its loans. According to Brauer, this history helps explain why the sub-prime crisis now bears especially heavily on black Americans. (Here are instalments II, III and IV to Brauer’s initial post).
With all the talk currently afoot of the soon-to-be Obama government’s new New Deal, it’s not surprising that a reconsideration of the old New Deal was on the agenda at other blogs this month. Unlike Ralph Brauer, Eric talks up the old New Deal in his post on The Edge of the American West. He argues the public works programs begun in the 1930s produced crucial infrastructure still used in America today. So out with the bad conservative rap they’ve received in the past, ok?
March on Washington, 1963
American race relations were the subject of other posts beside Brauer’s this December. Check out DC Traveler for a review of an exhibition of civil rights-movement photography at the the Smithsonian International Gallery. Also a harrowing post on Executed Today. It tells us about 13 black soldiers secretly hanged by a military tribunal in 1917 for their part in a Houston race riot.
As we all know, military tribunals are not renowned for their justice and transparency (another old-new story). At Quaker Pagan Reflections, one can read a review of a book on American Quakers’ ‘war tax resistance’. The book reviewed here contains records of conscientious objectors who refused to fund military tribunals (or indeed anything military), and who registered their protest through the non-payment of tax.
After hearing about conscientious Quakers in America, Providentia tells us of an equally conscientious fella from colonial Australia. Thomas Berkeley was a missionary who returned to London from Australia in 1836 as sole inheritor of his sister Theresa Berkeley’s considerable estate. When he got there, a nasty surprise was waiting for him. Learning the secret of how his domineering sister made her pile led Thomas to renounce his inheritance. Read about why if you will.
While still on the topic of early-nineteenth century London, I must make mention of Judith Weingarten’s blog, Zenobia: Empress of the East. She tells us about the South African Khoikoi woman, Saartjie Baartman, who was exhibited in a London freak show as ‘the Hottentot Venus’ in 1810. For months, Baartman’s huge buttocks and prominent vulva were shouted over and prodded at by half of London. Her rotundity and exaggerated genitalia was taken as proof of her primitiveness and savagery – to be civilised, it seems, was to possess a more elegant physique. This retelling of her story forms the second part of a two-part post on Venus figures going as far back as the last Ice Age (see Uppity Venus I for the first instalment). And it also reads as a complement to Sarah Zielinski’s post on Ota Benga, one of several pygmies from the Congo taken to America for exhibition at the beginning of the brave new twentieth century.
A new-wave impression of the Venus Hottentot: Lyle Aston Harris & Renee Cox, Venus Hottentot 2000, 1995.
Beauty, and other Immoral Virtues
Londoners’ cruel fascination with the Hottentot Venus brings me now to a fascinating post on George Bernard Shaw’s views of cinema. This post appears at The Bioscope, my favourite blog-discovery this month. Amongst other things, Shaw claimed that cinema would teach its patrons the ‘immoral virtues’ of ‘elegance, grace, [and] beauty… which are so much more important than the moral ones’. His celebration of elegant form was very much part of the eugenic idealism in the air in early twentieth-century Western society.
Eugenic idealism was also in the air breathed by the Mitford sisters, the subject of a long and gushing post by Elizabeth Kerri Mahan on Scandalous Women. Mahan tells us all about these aristocratic friends of Hitler (well, some of the Mitford sisters were his friends, at least). They were ‘marvellous’ women, she tells us, ‘who continue to fascinate the public even today’. Check out her post if you like reading about Nazi admirers described in unctuous prose.
Sticking to the same era, travel to Respectful Insolence for Orac’s post on Nazi science, much of which of course was informed by eugenic ideas and involved experimentation on racial others in an even more invasive way than the treatment received by Saartjie Baartman. Orac addresses the challenging question: was there anything about scientific research under the Nazi regime that could be classified as good science?
Deck the Halls
Given that Christmas was a rather hard-to-miss event this December, it is only fitting that a number of blog-offerings riffed on a Yuletide theme. At the Virtual Dime Museum, one can read about the Brooklyn Christmas Tree Society begun in the 1890s by Lena Sittig, early feminist and inventor of women’s bicycling trousers-skirts. At Edwardian Promenade, Queen Victoria’s Christmases on the Isle of Wight are recounted in characteristically evocative prose. At The History Bluff, one finds a frivolous list of the Top 10 Christmas Moments of the 18th Century. And at LUPEC Boston, catch an Elizabethan recipe for Ancient Wassail Bowl, described by one historical cookbook writer as ‘notable for its exceeding mildness’.
Back to Dickensian London now for a dollop of synchronicity. I took away Oliver Twist to read this Christmas break, never actually having read the thing. Ever since, I have been wincing as I sup on sugary things, thinking of the scarcity which Oliver and all those real-life orphans endured. What should I now read now but Kristin Tetens’ post at Victorian Peeper, called ‘The Workhouse Diet: A New ‘Twist’? Tetens suggests that workhouse inmates in nineteenth-century England might not have been as spectacularly underfed as the old Twist after all. They weren’t given festive meals, certainly, but something more than the gruel and raw onion which forms Oliver’s fictive fare.
A Passing Miscellany
By way of wrapping up, I offer you now a few miscellaneous entries. At A History Buff’s Blog, you are invited to participate in a nifty visual history trivia quiz. At History Undressed, Eliza Knight entreats us: ‘tell me, what does Robin Hood mean to you?’ before providing a few thoughts of her own. Larry Ferlazzo offers a collection of resources about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with those intending to teach on the topic in mind. At the very appropriately-named blog, Old is the New New, Rob McDougall tells us about the scientific dispute which once surrounded the question: are whales fish? And at Three Hundred Words, Christopher Yurkanin gives us a speculative piece about the night before the first immigrants landed on Ellis Island.
Fittingly, that night was New Year’s Eve 1891, a fact which perhaps struck the real immigrants forcibly, as they prepared to embark on new lives in the New World. But did they really think that one might cast aside everything that came before and begin as if for the first time? Or did they avoid that old newspaper-columnist’s fiction, aware that nothing is ever as quite as New as it seems?
Once again, I just want to thank Sharon Howard for the all the behind-the-scenes work she puts into the History Carnival, making nominations of posts and appointing future hosts. If you want to nominate your own post or somebody else’s for inclusion in future carnivals, visit the History Carnival site for more information. And thanks to the rest of you who also took part!