Why Study History?


‘The answer is because we virtually must, to gain access to the laboratory of human experience. When we study it reasonably well, and so acquire some usable habits of mind, as well as some basic data about the forces that affect our own lives, we emerge with relevant skills and an enhanced capacity for informed citizenship, critical thinking, and simple awareness. The uses of history are varied. Studying history can help us develop some literally “salable” skills, but its study must not be pinned down to the narrowest utilitarianism. Some history—that confined to personal recollections about changes and continuities in the immediate environment—is essential to function beyond childhood. Some history depends on personal taste, where one finds beauty, the joy of discovery, or intellectual challenge. Between the inescapable minimum and the pleasure of deep commitment comes the history that, through cumulative skill in interpreting the unfolding human record, provides a real grasp of how the world works.’

– Peter N. Stearns (1998) Why Study History? American Historical Association Continue reading

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Caesar’s Proto-fascism


Caesar: And in Rome, Marc Antony is to speak for Caesar. His authority is not to be questioned.

Canidius: His word will be yours. As always, Caesar’s word is law.

Caesar: Of course. But remind him to keep his legions intact. They make the law legal.

– Wanger. W. (Producer), Mankiewicz. J.L. (Director). (1963). Cleopatra [Motion Picture]. United States: 20th Century-Fox

Freedom of Speech Anecdote


When Dr Samuel Johnson had finished his great lexicography, the first real English dictionary, he was visited by various delegations of people to congratulate him including a delegation of London’s respectable womanhood who came to his parlour in Fleet Street and said ‘Doctor, we congratulate you on your decision to exclude all indecent words from your dictionary.’ Whereupon he said ‘Ladies, I congratulate you on your persistence in  looking them up.’

Operation Bernhard


Operation Bernhard was the name of a secret German plan devised during World War II to destabilise the British economy by flooding the country with forged Bank of England £5, £10, £20, and £50 notes.

The plan was directed by, and named after, SS Major (Sturmbannführer) Bernhard Krüger, who set up a team of 142 counterfeiters from among inmates at Sachsenhausen concentration camp at first, and then from others, especially Auschwitz.

Beginning in 1942, the work of engraving the complex printing plates, developing the appropriate rag-based paper with the correct watermarks, and breaking the code to generate valid serial numbers was extremely difficult, but by the time Sachsenhausen was evacuated in April 1945, the printing press there had produced 8,965,080 banknotes with a total value of £134,610,810. The notes are considered among the most perfect counterfeits ever produced, being extremely difficult although not impossible to distinguish from the real thing.

Although the initial plan was to destabilise the British economy by dropping the notes from aircraft, on the assumption that while some honest people would hand them in most people would keep the notes, in practice this plan was not put into effect.

Mussolini’s Rituals


‘Mussolini thought the Italians needed to be hardened, and he launched what he called an anti-bourgeois campaign. And among the things he banned, or tried to ban, anyway, was people shouldn’t shake hands, they should give the Roman salute, you know, raising their arm and their hand up in the air. […]

[A] man named Achille Starace, was kind of his circus master, who kept coming up with these ideas of rituals, mass rituals and other kinds of rites that he thought would make the Italians ever more devoted to their duce, which is the kind of Latiny term of leader that the Italians used to refer to Mussolini.

In fact, Mussolini required being referred to as DUCE, D-U-C-E,[1] it’s spelled, and it had to be written in capitals in the newspapers by the 1930s. It couldn’t just be written in the normal way.’

– Kertzer, D. (April 24, 2015) ‘Pope And Mussolini’ Tells The ‘Secret History’ Of Fascism And The Church. NPR.


[1] duce; ‘leader’ from Latin duco, meaning ‘I lead’. E.g. Il DUCE ha sempre ragione; ‘the leader is always right’.

Kapparot


In some brands of Judaism it is customary to perform the kapparot rite in preparation for Yom Kippur.

The rite consists of taking a chicken and gently passing it over one’s head three times while reciting an appropriate text from the Torah.

Usually a rooster is used for a man, and a hen is used for a woman. For a pregnant woman, kapparot is usually performed with three chickens—two hens and a rooster. One hen for herself, and the other hen and rooster for the unborn child (of undetermined gender).

If a chicken is unavailable, it is possible to substitute another kosher fowl (besides for doves and pigeons, as they were offered as sacrifices in the Holy Temple). Some use a kosher live fish; others perform the entire rite with money, and then giving the money—at least the value of a chicken—to charity.

After the ritual, the fowl is slaughtered in accordance with halachic procedure and its monetary worth given to the poor, or, as is more popular today, the chicken itself is donated to a charitable cause.

Kansas Classrooms


I can’t teach you about safe sex because it might encourage you to become promiscuous.

I can’t tell you what airbags do. That information will make you think it’s okay to start crashing into things.

I’m sorry class. We can no longer study Mexico. As you’d all run away to Tijuana if I told you what was there.

If I teach you girls how to rescue a burnt casserole, how can I trust you to follow the teachings of Héloise?

I’m afraid I can’t tell you how Hannibal crossed the Alps. If I did, you crazy kids are likely to conquer the prom with elephants. Oops.

Trigonometry will no longer be taught. You could use that knowledge to calculate the trajectory of eggs thrown at my Geo Metro.

We won’t be using safety glasses this year in shop class. I believe anyone who gets a word chip in their eye have it coming.

Science has been cancelled because your parents prefer to believe in magic.

Big Fat Whale, Brian McFadden 2006