Cliopatria: A Group Blog
Aaron Bady (∞); Chris Bray (∞); Brett Holman (∞); Jonathan Jarrett (∞); Robert KC Johnson (∞); Rachel Leow (∞); Ralph E. Luker (∞); Scott McLemee (∞); Claire B. Potter (∞); Jonathan T. Reynolds (∞)
In this show, historian Paul Landau (University of Maryland) discusses his new book Popular Politics in South Africa, 1400-1948 (Cambridge University Press). A rethinking of the broad history of southern Africa, the book re-asserts African agency and sees Africans in motion, coming out of their own past. Based on oral traditions, genealogies, and some of the earliest recorded conversations between European missionaries and African people in the region, as well as other sources, Landau highlights the resilience of African political cultures and their adeptness at incorporating diverse peoples.
Africa Past and Present is hosted by Michigan State University historians Peter
Alegi and Peter Limb. It is produced by Matrix -- the Center for Humane Arts, Letters, and Social Sciences Online (http://www.matrix.msu.edu). You can
subscribe to the podcast on our web site, and via iTunes and other podcatcher
Eric Banks reviews Simon Winchester's Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories for the Barnes & Noble Review, 18 November.
James R. Oestreich,"Celebrating a Man With Many Acolytes," NYT, 29 November, reviews Norman Lebrecht's Why Mahler? How One Man and Ten Symphonies Changed Our World.
Chloe Schama,"The Duchess Tells All," Daily Beast, 25 November, reviews Duchess Deborah Mitford Devonshire's Wait for Me! Memoirs and In Tearing Haste: Letters between Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor.
Michelle Goldberg,"How Palin Flunks Feminism," Daily Beast, 26 November, tracks Sarah Palin's misinterpretation of the history of feminism.
Timothy Garton Ash,"US embassy cables: A banquet of secrets," Guardian, 28 November, argues that the Wikileaks document dump is"a diplomat's nightmare," but"a historian's dream."
I know. Writing about Wikipedia is so 2006. And yes, finding errors in Wikipedia articles is not exactly difficult. But I have a bee in my bonnet which needs releasing.
There is a misconception that the Blitz started on September 7, 1940. Bombs began dropping the night of September 6 and continued for the full day of the 7th and on into the morning of the 8th. Saturday 7th was the first full day and has officially and erroneously become known as the day the Blitz started. Hermann Göring launched bombers and the first bombs caused damage the night of September 6.
Quoted in the The Manchester Guardian is Göring's communiqué:Attacks of our Air Force on objectives of special military and economical value in London, which began during the night of September 6, were continued during the day and night of September 7 with exceptionally strong forces using bombs of the heaviest caliber.
A witness recalled the evening of Friday September 6, 1940:My name is John Davey. I was born on December 27th 1924 in South Moltom [sic - Molton] Road, Custom House, West Ham, and a couple of miles from the Royal Docks. In September 1940, on the Friday evening of the weekend the docks were first blitzed, I was sitting with my friend in his house. At about 7 p.m. there was a series of explosions and the shattering of glass. We ran into the road and saw at the end a flame that shot into the sky, seeming to light up the whole area. My friend and I and lots of others ran towards the fire. —BBC, WW2 People's War
The first damage to property on September 7 was recorded at eight minutes past midnight, a grocer’s shop at 43 Southwark Park Road, SE16.
It has long been the accepted, but erroneous, view that the London Blitz lasted 57 consecutive nights starting on September 7 1940 and ending November 1. In actuality September 6 makes 57 nights and not September 7. The historian AJP Taylor wrote of such an error:… it is the fault of previous legends which have been repeated by historians without examination. These legends have a long life.
This is really quite silly. Yes, it's true that the accepted date of 7 September 1940 as the start of the London Blitz is a bit misleading, since there was a non-trivial amount of bombing before that date (e.g. see here). Judging from contemporary press accounts, 7 September certainly seemed to mark an important change in German bombing strategy, but more one of quantity than quality -- almost more an inflection point than a turning point. In retrospect we tend not to see it that way, which is fine. But we could recognise that -- leaving aside the eventual reification involved in the name 'the Blitz' itself -- the 'start of the Blitz' was less clearly defined then than it seems now.
But this is not what the Wikipedia article is talking about. Instead it chooses an equally precise date for the start of the Blitz, 6 September, and says that this is more accurate than 7 September. Somehow, it seems, every historian since 1940 and every witness who wrote about it at the time or later has somehow forgotten that 'Bombs began dropping the night of September 6 and continued for the full day of the 7th and on into the morning of the 8th'. The citations for this are just two. One is from the Manchester Guardian (9 September 1940, 2), a reprint of a Luftwaffe communiqué vaguely claiming attacks on London beginning on the night of 6 September and 'continued during the day and night of September 7'. This is a source which should be used with caution: did the Guardian quote the communiqué accurately? Did the Luftwaffe communiqué tell the truth? What sort of 'attacks' were carried out on the night of 6 September, lone raiders or formation raids? Then there is an account from a Blitz eyewitness taken from the BBC's WW2 People's War site. He says that the first raids on the Royal Docks took place on the Friday evening of that weekend, that is 6 September. Well, he was living in West Ham at the time, so he would know, wouldn't he? But this is account written down over sixty years later. Whether it was Friday night or Saturday night seems like something which one could be mistaken about after all that time. And doesn't this one account need to be balanced against others?
The only other evidence given is that the first bomb damage recorded in London on 7 September occurred shortly after midnight. This fits in with the narrative here of continue bombing throughout 7 September. But was it continuous? Only on a naive reading. The source given for this is an excellent spreadsheet published by the Guardian. Note that it only gives data for the one day, so we can't compare it to a typical pre-Blitz night, or what happened on the supposed first day of the Blitz, 6 September. But even so it shows that the raid (which is certainly known to historians) in the early hours of 7 September was only moderate at best. Around 50 bombs were recorded up to around 2.30am, with only another 20 or so falling in the next twelve hours (with gaps of up to two hours between them), and about 15 in the two and a half hours after that. That takes us to just before 5pm which is when the bombing really starts to escalate: there are nearly 760 bombs recorded in the 7 hours until midnight (and it didn't stop then, either: that's just when the Guardian's spreadsheet does). So if you are going to start counting individual bombfalls, there was definitely a big quantitative change on the evening of 7 September.
The icing on this cake is the totally pointless quote from A .J. P. Taylor's The Origins of the Second World War. Yes, historians do sometimes repeat 'previous legends [...] without examination'! So what? This is not evidence that it has happened here. And note the artful use of this quote: Taylor has written 'of such an error'. A careless reader might think that Taylor is talking about this 'error', when of course he's not (he's on about pre-war diplomacy).
Isn’t it rather exciting to be in on the correction of a widespread, albeit small, but important corner of recorded history?
I swore I would never again but the Sept 7 inaccuracy was too important to leave uncorrected; it did my ego some good too.
Once again an historical inaccuracy, this time an error in arithmetic, has been perpetuated for decades. ((It seems another 'source' for this insistence on 6 September as the start of the Blitz is a paper by Peter Stansky, author of a book called The First Day of the Blitz. But nowhere does Stansky say the Blitz started on 6 September -- he actually says 'The Germans selected September 7,"Black Saturday," to start the Blitz' -- instead, judging from the Talk page the Wikipedians seem to be counting backwards from Stansky saying the Blitz lasted 57 nights. Or something -- the numbers don't match what Stansky says and at this point I've given up trying to understand where this whole idea came from.))
The thing is, this is not the Wikipedia way. One of the cardinal rules of Wikipedia is No original research:
Wikipedia does not publish original research. The term"original research" refers to material—such as facts, allegations, ideas, and stories—not already published by reliable sources. It also refers to any analysis or synthesis of published material to advance a position not advanced by the sources.
The Blitz article -- at least this section of it, which has been there for nearly three months now -- fails to uphold this principle. The idea that the Blitz began on 6 September seems to have appeared out of thin air: it is not already published by reliable sources (whether they be right or wrong). Nobody says this, and even if they did, it would be wrong in this case to choose them over everybody else who chooses 7 September. There's nothing wrong with original research -- I'm quite fond of it myself -- but it's not what an encyclopedia is for. And if you're going to do it, do it right.
Of course, this being Wikipedia I should just roll up my sleeves and go to work editing the article myself. That's also the Wikipedia way. But I've tried that before and come up against stubborn editors who refuse to let go of their misconceptions. Wikipedia has its own processes for judging original research disputes. If I had much faith in the system I'd use it. And this is only the most egregious example (at least to my mind). So instead I'm going to post this here and hope that the 'Romanian plane' effect will work to my advantage.
Michael O'Donnell reviews Alan Taylor's The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, & Indian Allies for the Barnes & Noble Review, 26 November.
James McPherson,"The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln," NYRB, 25 November, reviews Eric Foner's The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery; and Michael E. Ruane reviews James Swanson's Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln's Corpse for the Washington Post, 28 November.
John Paul Stevens,"On the Death Sentence," NYRB, 23 December, reviews David Garland's Peculiar Institution: America's Death Penalty in an Age of Abolition.
Fred Kaplan,"The emancipation of Honest Abe," Washington Post, 26 November, reviews Eric Foner's The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery.
Judith Shulevitz,"Samuel Clemens' Secret," Slate, 23 November, reviews Harriet E. Smith, ed., Autobiography of Mark Twain; and Geoffrey C. Ward,"A Headlong Life," NYT, 26 November, reviews Edmund Morris's Colonel Roosevelt.
James Woudhuysen,"When Churchill starved India," Spiked Review of Books, 26 November, reviews Madhusree Mukerjee's Churchill's Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India During World War II.
Joshua Rubenstein,"The Devils' Playground," NYT, 26 November, reviews Timothy Snyder's Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin; and Geoffrey Wheatcroft,"Path of Least Resistance," NYT, 26 November, reviews Alan Ridings's And The Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied Paris.
Sheila Fitzpatrick,"A Spy in the Archives," LRB, 2 December, recalls her first experience doing research in Moscow.
George Packer,"Dead Certain," New Yorker, 29 November, reviews George W. Bush's Decision Points.
Edward Rothstein,"Masters of Math: Babylonian Tablets That Survived Millenniums," NYT, 26 November, reviews"Before Pythagoras," an exhibit at NYU's Institute for the Study of the Ancient World in Manhattan.
Richard Thaler,"Thaler's Question," Edge: The Third Culture, 23 November, says:
The flat earth and geocentric world are examples of wrong scientific beliefs that were held for long periods. Can you name your favorite example and for extra credit why it was believed to be true?
So far, 61 experts nominate their choice examples. More at: Maggie Koerth-Baker,"The best scientific theories (that later turned out to be wrong)," boingboing, 24 November. Can you add to the list?
Toby Barnard,"The long, tangled story of Ireland - and England," TLS, 24 November, reviews Thomas Bartlett's Ireland: A History.
David P. Powell,"Early Medieval Detroit: The Motor City as a Mirror for Illuminating 5th and 6th Century Urban Shrinkage in Western Europe," academia.edu, March 2010, takes a broadly comparative historical approach.
Michael Kazin,"Teddy's Lost Years," Daily Beast, 23 November, reviews Edmund Morris's Colonel Roosevelt.
Scott McLemee revisits Stephen Leacock's"In Praise of the Americans," at IHE, 24 November.
Patricia Cohen,"Selling History With '50s Pulp Pow and Punch," NYT, 24 November, looks at the new"Pulp History" series, created by David and Margaret Talbot.
William Deresiewicz,"The Whole Human Mess: On Saul Bellow," Nation, 23 November, reviews Benjamin Taylor, ed., Saul Bellow: Letters.
Denver Nicks,"Wall Street's Most Hated Journalist," Daily Beast, 24 November, interviews the Rolling Stones's Matt Taibbi, the author of Griftopia.
Saul Austerlitz reviews Alex Kershaw's The Envoy: The Epic Rescue of the Last Jews of Europe in the Desperate Closing Months of World War II, a biography of Raoul Wallenberg, for The National, 12 November ; and Adam Kirsch,"Caught on Film," The Book, 23 November, reviews Dan Porat's The Boy: A Holocaust Story.
John Gray,"Tony Judt's Final Words," Daily Beast, 23 November, reviews Judt's The Memory Chalet.
Finally, farewell to Frank Turner, Yale's John Hay Whitney Professor of History and Director of its Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
Andrew Roberts,"The King Who Couldn't Speak," Daily Beast, 20 November, reviews"The King's Speech." A charming film, says Roberts. Very bad history.
Dahlia Lithwick,"Egos on the Bench," Slate, 17 November, reviews Noah Feldman's Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR's Great Supreme Court Justices.
David Greenberg,"Give 'Em Hell, Barry," Slate, 19 November, argues that Truman could teach Obama a thing or two about dealing with Congress.
Graeme Wood,"Good Hope in Bad Trouble," WSJ, 19 November, reviews R. W. Johnson's South Africa's Brave New World: The Beloved Country Since the End of Apartheid.
Niall Ferguson,"In China's Orbit," WSJ, 18 November, argues that"after 500 years of Western predominance, ..., the world is tilting back to the East."
In the Financial Times, 19 November, David Kynaston argues that historians should"Just Say No."
thonyc,"Galileo's great bluff and part of the reason why Kuhn is wrong," The Renaissance Mathematicus, 12 November, prompts a rethinking of both Galileo and Kuhn.
Michael Kenney,"Rebellion in Boston Harbor," Boston Globe, 16 November, reviews Benjamin L. Carp's Defiance of the Patriots: The Boston Tea Party & the Making of America and Jill Lepore's The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle over American History.
A. N. Wilson,"Tolstoy: Russia's thunderous prophet," Financial Times, 19 November, reviews Rosamund Bartlett's Tolstoy: A Russian Life, Cathy Porter, trans., The Diaries of Sofia Tolstoy, R. F. Christian, ed. and trans., Tolstoy's Letters, 2 vols., and Tolstoy's War and Peace, Richard, Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, trans.
Janet Maslin,"Lawrence: Fresh Look at Warrior of Desert," NYT, 21 November, reviews Michael Korda's Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia.
Sheri Parks,"Black women's cries that roused the world," Washington Post, 21 November, reviews Danielle L. McGuire's At the End of a Dark Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance, A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power; and Eric Hoover,"'Diverse in the Heart'," CHE, 21 November, reviews Before Brown: Heman Marion Sweatt, Thurgood Marshall, and the Long Road to Justice.
David Margolick,"Zamparini's War," NYT, 19 November, reviews Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.
Edward Glaeser,"The Urban Miracle," The Book, 20 November, reviews Stephen Puleo's A City So Grand: The Rise of an American Metropolis, Boston 1850-1900.
John Adams,"The Zen of Silence," NYT, 19 November, reviews Kenneth Silverman's Begin Again: A Biography of John Cage; and Leon Wieseltier,"Saul Bellow's Quest for the Vernacular Sublime," NYT, 18 November, reviews Benjamin Taylor, ed., Saul Bellow: Letters.
Francine Prose,"An Affair to Remember," NYT, 19 November, reviews Antonia Fraser's Must You Go? My Life with Harold Pinter.
Finally, Ernest Herndon,"A new chapter: Cotton Gin to dedicate historical marker," McComb, Mississippi's Enterprise-Journal, 14 November, notes that Liberty, Mississippi, will now have a historical marker at the cotton gin where State Representative E. H. Hurst shot and killed civil rights activist Herbert Lee in 1961. The cotton gin is now owned by African Americans who have made it into a popular local restaurant and paid to have the marker in place.
Clive James,"How Broadway Conquered the World," Atlantic, November, reviews Larry Stempel's Showtime: A History Of The Broadway Musical Theater.
Thomas Weber,"New evidence uncovers Hitler's real First World War story," OUPress/BBC History Magazine, December, recalls his experience researching and writing Hitler's First War.
Brad Gooch,"The Last Hero," Daily Beast, 18 November, reviews Michael Korda's Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia.
Benjamin Nathans,"The Wild Desire to Leave: On Soviet Jewry," Nation, 20 November, reviews Gal Beckerman's When They Come for Us We'll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry.
Kim Phillips-Fein,"Right from the Start," bookforum, Dec/Jan, reviews David Courtwright's No Right Turn: Conservative Politics in a Liberal America, J. R. Dunn's Death by Liberalism: The Fatal Outcome of Well-Meaning Liberal Policies , Michael Reagan's The New Reagan Revolution: How Ronald Reagan's Principles Can Restore America's Greatness, and Dominic Sandbrook's Mad as Hell: The Crisis of the 1970s and the Rise of the Populist Right.
Felix Salmon,"Giant Sucking Sound," bookforum, Dec/Jan, reviews Matt Taibbi's Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America.
Finally, farewell to Kathleen Jones, historian of Great Britain's health care system.
John Steele Gordon,"How Economic Brawn Transformed a Nation," NYT, 18 November, reviews H. W. Brands's American Colossus: The Triumph of Capitalism, 1865-1900.
George Scialabba,"The Critic as Radical," American Conservative, December, takes up T. S. Eliot's radical conservatism.
Samuel Moyn reviews Timothy Snyder's Between Hitler and Stalin for the Nation, 17 November.
James T. Crouse reviews Todd Moye's Freedom Flyers: The Tuskegee Airmen of World War II for THE, 18 November.
Louis Menand,"Talk Story," New Yorker, 22 November, reviews Bill Carter's The War for Late Night.
Neil Gussman with Sarah Reisert,"The Model Scientist," Books & Culture, Nov/Dec, reviews Patrick Coffey's Cathedrals of Science: The Personalities and Rivalries That Made Modern Chemistry.
Janet Maslin,"Final Scenes From a Life of Bully Adventure," NYT, 17 November, reviews Edmund Morris's Colonel Roosevelt.
Adam Kirsch,"Divided Soul," Tablet, 16 November, reviews Gabriella Safran's Wandering Soul: The Dybbuk's Creator, S. An-sky, the biography of last century's Russian playwright.
David Gilmour,"Lampedusa in London," TLS, 17 November, reviews Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's Letters from London and Europe, 1925-1930, Gioacchino Lanza Tomasi, ed., J. G. Nichols, trans., and a foreword by Francesco da Mosto.
Laura Marsh,"Tongues Twisted," The Book, 17 November, reviews Nicholas Ostler's The Last Lingua Franca: English Until the Return of Babel.
Finally, congratulations to Patti Smith, whose Just Kids is the National Book Award winner for Nonfiction, 2010.
Patricia Cohen,"Digital Keys for Unlocking the Humanities' Riches," NYT, 16 November, is the first in a series of Times articles"about how digital tools are changing scholarship in history, literature and the arts." See also: Cohen,"Digitally Mapping the Republic of Letters," ArtsBeat, 16 November.
Michelle Goldberg,"Superwoman," The Book, 16 November, reviews Duane W. Roller's Cleopatra: A Biography and Stacy Schiff's Cleopatra: A Life.
Andrew Graham-Dixon,"Bronzino - Artist & Poet at the Court of the Medici," Telegraph, 22 October, and Roderick Conway Morris,"Bronzino Emerges From Limbo," NYT, 15 November, review"Bronzino: Artist and Poet at the Court of the Medici," an exhibit at Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, Italy.
Eleri Lynn,"Well Rounded," Slate, 16 November, is a slide show on the"history of corsetry, from whalebone to Lycra."
Pass around the popcorn, children, in a broadscale attack on a career's production, Jack Rakove's"Founders Lite," The Book, 15 November, reviews Joseph Ellis's First Family: Abigail and John.
Finally, Vivian Gornick,"The Victim," bookforum, Dec/Jan, reviews Benjamin Taylor, ed., Saul Bellow: Letters; and Scott Saul,"Off Minor," Boston Review, Sept/Oct, reviews Robin D. G. Kelly's Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original.
Sarah Bakewell,"What Bloggers Owe Montaigne," Paris Review, 12 November, argues that he is our greatest forerunner.
Michael Kenney reviews Alan Taylor's The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, & Indian Allies for the Boston Globe, 13 November.
David Greenberg,"Sweet land of liberty - and empire," Washington Post, 14 November, reviews Aziz Rana's The Two Faces of American Freedom.
Michael Kazin,"Labor's Lost Love," Washington Post, 14 November, reviews Philip Dray's There is Power in a Union: The Epic Story of Labor in America.
Dominic Shellard,"Hey, gang! Let's put on a show!" THE, 11 November, reviews Larry Stempel's Showtime: A History of the Broadway Musical Theater.
Janet Maslin,"Cancer as Old Foe and Goad to Science," NYT, 10 November, reviews Siddhartha Mukherjee's The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer.
Julian Barnes,"Writer's Writer and Writer's Writer's Writer," LRB, 18 November, reviews Lydia Davis's new translation of Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary: Provincial Ways.
Stephen Mehm and Jeffrey Wasserstrom,"How China Is like 19th Century America," Time, 7 November, suggests similarities.
André Aciman,"The Master of Passionate Excesses," Slate, 11 November, is an abbreviated introduction to a new edition of Stefan Zweig's Journey into the Past.
Ryan Grimm,"George Bush Book 'Decision Points' Lifted Passages From Advisers' Books," Huffington Post, 12 November, finds scenes and passages taken without acknowledgement from earlier accounts. Grimm challenges readers to join the search for sources.