Tag Archives: history

Medieval Women Were Not Waifs

A new exhibit at the Getty offers a revealing look at women from the Middle Ages.

With an understandable weariness, the exhibition’s creators acknowledge, both on the introductory museum label and catalogue book jacket, that most people imagine medieval women as damsels in distress, being rescued perhaps by a dragon-­hunting St. George. One has to meet the popular mind, fattened by dismissals of the Middle Ages (“a world lit only by fire”), where it unfortunately lags. But to slay this myth as surely as St. George speared his dragon, the curators unfurled manu­scripts of a different, lesser known legend, that of St. Margaret. Consumed by a dragon, Margaret ripped her way out of his stomach herself with a crucifix. Like Jesus, it seems, Margaret could be born (from a dragon at least) without the help of a man.

The International Support for American Independence

“Americans today,” Ferreiro says, “celebrate the July Fourth holiday under somewhat false pretences.” Yes, the colonial-wide support of Boston in the wake of the Coercive Acts (1774) was a factor in pushing British Americans toward independence. So was the publication of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. So were the ideas of the founding fathers and the activism of ordinary colonists who destroyed the homes of tax collectors, tarred and feathered loyalists, and burned tea. Yet, as Ferreiro shows us, the men sitting at the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia during the Second Continental Congress also realized that a declaration of independence was their only real chance of securing the foreign aid necessary to defeat the mighty British army and navy. As Virginian Richard Henry Lee put it in June 1776, “It’s not by choice then, but necessity that calls for independence, as the only means by which foreign alliance can be obtained.”

John Fea draws these ideas from Larrie D. Ferreiro’s Brothers at Arms: American Independence and the Men of France and Spain Who Saved It. He says French and Spanish diplomats wanted to push back Great Britain’s power (particularly the French after their defeat in the French and Indian War) and exploited ways to encourage our War for Independence. (via Prufrock News)

Would Southerners Have Killed Spurgeon?

On March 22, a “Vigilance Committee” in Montgomery . . . burned Spurgeon’s sermons in the public square. A week later Mr. B. B. Davis, a bookstore owner, prepared “a good ore of pine sticks” before reducing about 60 volumes of Spurgeon’s sermons “to smoke and ashes.” . . .

Anti-Spurgeon bonfires illuminated jail yards, plantations, bookstores, and courthouses throughout the Southern states. In Virginia, Mr. Humphrey H. Kuber, a Baptist preacher and “highly respectable citizen” of Matthews County, burned seven calf-skinned volumes of Spurgeon’s sermons “on the head of a flour barrel.”

British newspapers quipped that America had given Spurgeon a warm welcome, “a literally brilliant reception.”

Christian George, head of the C. H. Spurgeon Library, has produced the first volume of lost sermons by the great London preacher. The dark history above comes from the preface of this volume.

Roots of Black History Month

Dr. Carter G. Woodson, founder of what has become Black History Month, wanted to spotlight the many social and academic achievements of African Americans.

“For serious, solution-oriented black conservatives today,” Chidike Okeem writes, “Woodson provided a model of how one can be enthusiastically pro-market, doggedly anti-Marxist economics, and do so while being unapologetically African. He demonstrated that endorsement of free market economics does not have to coincide with self-hatred and anti-blackness.”

“Black Americans have African ancestors who were marvelously accomplished, built civilizations, and were intrepid innovators. African Americans, despite a history of oppression, have demonstrated that same entrepreneurial spirit throughout American history.”

Roots in the Mali Empire

One of the things I appreciate about the history books we’ve used with our children is their scope. They are world history books and cover more than Western civilization. As a result, we’ve learned about African kingdoms, the ebb and flow of Japanese and Chinese empires, and a bit about missionary efforts along the way. I wouldn’t be surprised if my children knew something about Sundiata Keita and the Mali Empire, one of the greatest kingdoms of ancient Africa.

Philip Perry has a piece on how a Magna Carta-like document may predate the Magna Carta in the oral history of  the Mali Empire of 1200-1600 AD, thus making the concept of human rights initially an African idea. Not that the “Manden Charter” was the inspiration for the Magna Carta, but it’s interesting that a similar idea emerged in this other context, showing perhaps the innate longing of the human heart.

I bring this up today because Alex Haley’s Roots points back to the people who lived in this part of the world, as Perry notes. The original mini-series based on that book aired today in 1977. Haley called his book a mixture of facts and fiction, but he may have claimed more facts than he should have.

Suicide by Praise Song

Many Khmers resisted, to the degree they were able, by shutting down. Do your job; don’t complain; keep your head down; and most important, trust no one. Over time, people’s souls shriveled. In one sense, even the Khmer Rouge themselves were dying on their feet. They were soldiers of socialism for whom murder was not a crime but the prelude to a new society.

Surrounding Radha as he lay on the termite hill were endless stretches of shallow water broken up by dikes and stands of trees. He saw no way out. Lord, he prayed, I really want my rest. Take me home. He waited, and the rain kept falling. If you aren’t going to take me home, I’m going to help you.

So he began to sing in English. With water dripping off the bushes around him, he lifted up his voice and sang, perhaps not as loudly as he could but quite clearly, about how this world was not his home. “I’m just a-passing through / My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.” It’s a bouncy, country gospel tune called “This World Is Not My Home” that he had learned at Maranatha Church in Phnom Penh. He learned it soon after he became a Christian in 1973. He hummed it to himself in the fields while plodding behind the water buffalo, along with “Call for the Reapers” and “Bringing in the Sheaves.” “Power in the Blood” was one of his favorites.

World Magazine shares the opening of the remarkable story of how a Cambodian Christian survived an evil communist regime.

A Basketful of Thyme

AP: “A new study published Friday by the Anne Frank House museum in Amsterdam says despite decades of research there is no conclusive evidence the Jewish diarist and her family were betrayed to the Netherlands’ German occupiers during the second world war, leading to their arrest and deportation.” While it’s still possible they were betrayed, it’s also possible the Nazis were investigating “illegal labor or falsified ration coupons” when the Franks were discovered.

University of Stavanger: “The works of J.R.R. Tolkien are an excellent introduction to Old English and other historic languages, according to researcher.”

TGC:  Robert Barron has produced a documentary on G. K. Chesterton. Treven Wax says, “It dives headlong into two of Chesterton’s greatest works: Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man, the latter of which C. S. Lewis called the greatest apologetic for Christianity in English.”

The ‘Backbone’ for Terror Is Broken

Armando Valladares spent twenty-two years in Cuban prisons. Last year, Marvin Olasky interviewed him on his thoughts of Castro in the beginning and how he survived imprisonment.

What do you say to those who say, “The United States has had an embargo regarding Cuba for more than 50 years and it hasn’t worked?”The embargo was never intended to remove the government in Cuba. The embargo has worked because it has prevented the Cuban government from receiving millions of dollars from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and other banking institutions.

Now that the U.S. government and the pope embrace Raúl Castro, what do you think will happen?The only person who really inspires terror in Cuba is Fidel Castro, even if he’s agonizing in a bed. That’s how it was with Josef Stalin. Raúl Castro is alive because his backbone, Fidel, is alive. The day Fidel Castro dies will probably end the entire process.

A Basket Full of Links

Can novels spread awareness of mental health issues? Author C.K. Meena said, “Fiction has no purpose, if you want to spread awareness, use non-fiction.” But author Amandeep Sandhu countered with the idea that nothing we write is truly non-fiction, because we focus on or exaggerate some facts and ignore others.

Eighty-one Anglo-Saxon coffins made from the hollowed-out oak oak trees have been discovered at a site called Great Ryburgh in Norfolk, England. “‘This find is a dramatic example of how new evidence is helping to refine our knowledge of this fascinating period when Christianity and the Church were still developing on the ground,’ said Tim Pestell, curator at Norwich Castle Museum in Norfolk, where the finds from the dig will be kept.” Here are some photos.

“Exactly a century after Saki’s death on 14th November 1916, it seems remarkable that his work has survived so well. In a line-up of the wits of 20th-century English literature, Saki is usually tucked somewhere between PG Wodehouse and Evelyn Waugh.” (via Prufrock News)

Appalachian culture is often misunderstood and misrepresented, a problem the people behind Foxfire magazine hope to correct. Mountain people are “very resourceful, self-reliant, hardworking, intelligent and with an amazing sense of humor.”

A new coffee vendor in Redlands, California, And Coffee, operates a “a remodeled utility truck” next to city hall and runs on donations.

The Struggling Farmer

“This story is important to me because people in America aren’t aware that black farmers are still around,” Mr. Santiago said. “People don’t know what their struggles are and that they are still being discriminated against. For the most part, whether they are black or white, the farmers get pushed down and end up having to sell their properties because they can’t get loans. Small farms are denied because they don’t usually have any collateral to get a loan. Through my research I’ve learned if you’re looking for stolen black land, all you have to do is follow the lynching trail. That’s how it started to happen. Black farmers were killed for their land.”

The Anchor as a Christian Symbol

Anchored“In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.”

What is the origin of the anchor as a Christian symbol, and why do we no longer use it? Apparently, it relied on a play on Greek words, so as Greek lost its hold as a language among Christians, so did the symbol.

Also,  a few questions answered by Jonathan Edwards’s A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, a highly recommended book.

How the Normans Ruined the British Isles for a Thousand Years

Battle of Hastings reenactment 2006

October 14 was the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings. Peter Konieczy of the University of Toronto offers three reasons why this was not a typical medieval battle. One reason was that the Normans and the English were evenly matched.

We can read some of the battle’s details in this post on a French poetic account, Estoire des Engleis History of the English, by Geoffrey Gaimar. It includes a part about a Norman juggler who demonstrated his spear skills before the English army.

Konieczy also touches on how the Normans meddled with the Irish several decades later, never fully conquering them, and by 1180, “would leave the island unstable and divided.”

The Real Nat Turner

Justin Taylor explores many details in the true story behind the new movie The Birth of a Nation, which one history professor called “a deeply flawed, historically inaccurate movie that exploits and distorts Nat Turner’s story and the history of slavery in America.”

According to his own testimony, Nat Turner appears to have been a strong, intelligent man who could not be subdued by a slave economy. He was gifted and believed he was called by God to lead a righteous war against slave owners. Reading his spiritual account, you could say he was powerfully deceived, but you might also say a brilliant and spiritually sensitive man can be twisted and perverted when shackled by oppression. Not that any motive or character study would justify the murder he and his allies committed, but the slavery in which they lived cannot be justified either. Four times as many slaves were murdered in retribution to Nat Turner’s revolt as whites were murdered by the revolt, which speaks to the war-like nature of the whole affair. This wasn’t a just war nor was it followed by a just condemnation.

Recommended reading ends the post.

History professor Vanessa M. Holden, in the past linked from Taylor’s, says, “Parker’s movie is important. Its independent roots and blockbuster distribution deal are significant in an industry that still grapples with racism. It also draws the public’s attention to a history that has no white saviors or triumphant endings. The character Turner is not long suffering; he springs into violent action as soon as he becomes aware of slavery’s brutality and validates his claim to humanity and freedom, just as the historical Turner did, through a radicalized Christianity. But the license that Parker took in an effort to craft his heroic version of Turner ultimately strips away too much valuable context.”

 

Distorting History

Justin Taylor interviews Sir Richard J. Evans, a historian and expert witness in David Irving v. Penguin Books and Deborah Lipstadt, which is the subject of a new movie called Denial. The trial dealt with a lawsuit by the British Hitler apologist David Irving against American historian Deborah Lipstadt and her UK publisher. In her book and public speaking, Lipstadt said Irving had manipulated evidence and misrepresented facts in favor of the Third Reich. She believed he was the most dangerous Holocaust denier in the world, because he had some level of respect among historians at that time.

Evans has written on European history, and perhaps more to the point, he has written on the concept of historical knowledge. The trial could easily have been framed as an issue of freedom of speech. Could anyone say or claim anything? Is it actually possible to establish historical facts?

Even though it was Irving who sued Lipstadt, some people defended Irving’s right for free speech as if he were the victim or the one on trial. How could the public have been so confused about the nature of this well-publicized case?

This is because the defence’s tactic was to focus on Irving, repeat Lipstadt’s accusations at much greater length, and back them up with overwhelming evidence.

Had he won, the freedom of speech would have been seriously damaged in the UK. Even though he lost, I still had major problems publishing my book on the case because publishers were afraid he would sue them. The movie makes it clear what was at stake.

A similarly skewed perspective of history appears to be on display today at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, where you can learn that Anita Hill was a major figure in the twentieth century and Justice Clarence Thomas was an also ran.  But maybe, looking on the bright side, the museum plans a major exhibit on Thomas next year.