Thomas Bailey Project: Historical Myths to Beware Of!What People Are Talking About
tags: myths, Thomas Bailey
Thomas Bailey was fascinated with historical myths. He wrote several books about them and in 1968 devoted his presidential address to the Organization of American Historians to the subject. In his address he noted that myths are being debunked by scholars all the time but because the debunking often appears in obscure journals"the overburdened teacher" never hears of them. Thus, the myths remain in circulation.
Bailey's solution? He suggested that the chief historical societies create a" centralized Myth Registry, much as dissertation titles are registered, either by the author or by an appropriate abstracting agency. Then, with the marvelous data recovery processes now being perfected, the requisite information can be made speedily available upon request. Such an agency should be a gold mine for teachers, researchers, and especially textbook writers, who have a heavy obligation to keep abreast of this verbal Niagara."
No one took up Bailey's suggestion, but we think it was a good one and in our own way are going to use this site to fulfill his ambition. Whenever we come across articles in either scholarly journals or the media that purport to debunk myths of history we will post them on the site. Readers who want to suggest new listings can do so at the bottom of this article. Of course, we cannot vouch for the accuracy of any of the statements made in the articles listed here. Often, one person's myth is another person's fact.
Tom Spears, in the Montreal Gazette (July 11, 2004):
No pennants flying. No drawbridges. No tall stone castles. No knights in shining armour.
Fifth-century Britain, the time we give to King Arthur, was a time of small tribes in simple wooden buildings, before proper steel was invented, before the code of chivalry. Legend has built up tales of castles. History says these are castles in the air.
So what would Arthur's court have looked like? Historians of early medieval times suggest it would be something quite different than Jerry Bruckheimer's extravagant King Arthur, which opened in theatres last week....
"Forget the towers," says David Klausner of the University of Toronto's History department.
Camelot - or any Celtic settlement of the time - was probably a village of a very few hundred inhabitants with a defensive wall of earth and wooden stakes, he says. Celts and Saxons alike built with the materials at hand, and in a forested Britain this meant huge trees.
"The 5th-century court would have been a fairly brutal and practical affair - hardly any stone building apart from churches," agrees British historian Angela McShane-Jones of the University of Warwick. "Mainly wooden stockades and earthworks around important villages. The Saxons often avoided places where the Romans had been so they didn't take over their villas or anything."
The weapons: Most of the legends tell of men in head-to-toe armour, including helmets that completely covered their faces so only the emblem on a shield enabled knights to tell which was which. Lancelot carried a red cross on his shield, for instance. (This helps the story along; one knight borrows another's armour and you instantly get all kinds of mixups.)
They all had horses in the legend. They carried heavy lances and charged at each other when jousting. But full armour, jousting and the heavy lance were inventions of the high medieval armourers many centuries later.
Fifth-century Britain had mostly small bands of foot soldiers, nothing like Mordred's fictional army of 100,000 men. They were far more lightly armed than later medieval knights. Some of their armour was leather and it didn't cover the full arms and legs, or faces. They had iron swords but not jousting lances, which made sense because they didn't joust.
Had there been an Arthur, "he probably led a band of 40 to 50 men at the outside," Klausner says. "He needed to move very quickly," given the semi-historical record of battles against the Saxons that ranged over much of western Britain. "He probably was pretty agile, and you don't have agility with several thousand people."
It's not believed they shot flaming arrows (as seen in trailers for the film), and their short bows weren't accurate or powerful, anyway. They probably didn't have heavy engines such as catapults throwing flaming heavy ammunition (also in the trailer).
The Romans knew about these - the burning oily stuff was called "Greek fire"- but it was used against slow moving wooden ships or forts, not soldiers who could run out of the way.
The war for freedom: Arthur in the film issues a stirring call for freedom, offering to release his foreign-born soldiers from the army if they get through their mission.
Doesn't ring true, one expert says.
"No 6th-century Briton would ever have phrased it that way," says University of Toronto historian Bert Hall. "Arthur, if he existed at all, was an exponent of keeping Britain under what remained of Roman culture and Roman rule." He calls this freedom business "the George W. Bush school of script-writing."
Knights and ladies: Historians still argue about when feudalism began, but somewhere around the year 1000 is a popular starting point. French historian Marc Bloch defined it as a society with "subject peasantry; widespread use of the service tenement instead of a salary; the supremacy of the class of specialized warriors; ties of obedience and protection which bind man to man; and in the midst of this the survival of other forms of association, family and state."
It had nothing to do with feuding, incidentally. The word comes from the old French word for faith, not feud. In any case, it wouldn't have applied to the real Arthur, if there was one.
All of which means the refined knights and ladies of traditional Camelot stories are out of place by at least five centuries - longer in the case of legends with jousting, and wearing coloured "favours" from a lady, and the formal description of courtly love from Andreas the Chaplain in the late 12th century. (He was a French courtier who wrote a sort of art of dating book.)
"Interestingly, the character of Arthur is mainly based on Malory's Morte d'Arthur, a poem which suggests that Arthur's court was guided by a chivalric code of honour and love and Christianity such as described in the Chanson de Roland,"McShane-Jones says.
"The thing is that Roland is a couple of centuries after the putative
Arthur and so their honour code was rather less chivalric and less straightforwardly
Christian, too. The church was not unified under Rome until about the 8th century."
Maev Kennedy, in the Guardian (July 13, 2004):
The unexpurgated version of the death of Captain Cook, presenting a more realistic version than the familiar heroic scene, has been rediscovered more than 220 years after the deaths of both the explorer and the artist.
Cook died on a beach in Hawaii on February 14 1779, stabbed in the neck by an islander, in a skirmish which destroyed the previously excellent and profitable relations between the Hawaiians and the British sailors.
A painting of the scene by John Webber, the official voyage artist, and innumerable engravings of it fixed it in legend: it shows Cook with his back to the mob, nobly signalling to his ships to cease firing on men armed only with spears and a few clubs.
However John Clevely's version, based on first-hand accounts and sketches by his brother, a ship's carpenter with the voyage, shows Cook fighting desperately for his life, in the last minute of his life, his shot gone, about to club an islander with the butt of his rifle. Most of the islanders have heavy clubs, and others have picked up rocks. One is about to smash the skull of a fallen sailor and the bodies of several islanders are heaped at the water's edge.
The painting, and three other watercolours also on display, was made in about 1784, but by the time it was engraved and published, only a few years later, the artist was dead and the engraving was altered to match the official version of the story.
"The image of Cook signalling his ships to hold their fire made him a classic humane and heroic figure of the age of enlightenment," said Nicholas Lambourn, an art historian, at Christie's yesterday, where the painting went on public display for the first time.
"Clevely's is less heroic but certainly more accurate."...
Daniel Howden, in the Christian Science Monitor (May 19, 2004):
Most true sports fans know that the Olympics were brought back to life in Athens in 1896 by the enthusiastic young Frenchman Pierre Fredy, better known as the Baron de Coubertin.
In the 110 years since the Parisian baron founded the International Olympic Committee, he has enjoyed the unchallenged title of Olympiad revivalist.
But as the 2004 Games return to their ancient birthplace in Athens this summer, the contributions of two other men - an Albanian-born Greek and a British doctor - have surfaced with the help of revisionist historians keen to explode the myth that the Olympic revival was exclusively the baron's brainchild.
Tuesday the French capital, along with Moscow, Madrid, New York, and London, were selected as finalists to host the 2012 Games. The controversy over the Olympics' origin holds serious implications for the French bid, as their argument leans heavily on the baron's legacy. It also offers a reminder of the powerful current of nationalism that surges beneath the movement's surface values of global peace and fraternity.
As the English writer George Orwell once said: "Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules, and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence; In other words, it is war minus the shooting."
Indeed, says historian Konstantinos Georgiadis, the French baron was actually a "latecomer" to the idea of reviving the ancient Greek spectacle. Long before the Frenchman was born, both Evangelis Zappas in Greece and William Penny Brookes in Britain were producing their own version of the games. "Until recently everything we'd read about the history of the Olympics was written by de Coubertin himself and in most of the 12,000 pages he identified himself as the sole architect," says Mr. Georgiadis.
Messrs Zappas and Brookes didn't know one another but as classicists were brought together by their admiration for the Greek poet Dimitris Soutsos. It was his appeal for a modern Olympics that inspired both men to separately launch their own games.
Georgiadis' account "Olympic Revival" points out that the lavishly wealthy Zappas organized a national Olympics in Greece four decades before the IOC's 1896 revival in Athens. Born in Albania to Greek Orthodox parents, Zappas enjoyed a colorful career as a freedom fighter in the Greek War of Independence in the 1820s before making his fortune in the distillery business in Romania. He used his wealth to fund the first of a series of Olympiads in Athens in 1859.
Meanwhile, Brookes had been producing his own games in the small Shropshire town of Much Wenlock. "I fear that Coubertin's vanity caused him to seek all the credit, and actively cover up the contributions of others, denying that the Zappas Games ever happened at all and omitting Brookes's name from his 'Memoires Olympiques,'" says American historian David Young, whose book "Olympics: The Struggle for Revival" highlights Brookes's contribution.
The local festivals Brookes produced in his hometown evolved, by 1887, into the British Olympic Games. His games were especially noteworthy for exhibiting the first women's Olympic event (even though it was the admittedly less-than-athletic knitting contest). And it was Brookes in 1881 who proposed to the Greek government that the parallel games in Shropshire and Athens be "internationalized," according to an archive from the Greek newspaper 'Klio.' It was also the Shropshire doctor who first planted the Olympic idea in the young de Coubertin's mind.
Seed of an idea
In 1890 the Parisian visited the Much Wenlock Games. At the time, de Coubertin was convinced that France was in a state of decline. French schools were unsatisfactory, and the country had suffered military defeat in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. The baron set about bringing Paris back to preeminence.
In his memoirs, de Coubertin immortalized himself as an idealistic internationalist. But from Mr. Young's claims, it is clear that de Coubertin was focused on his native country. Indeed his main ambition was to stage the first Olympics in Paris, not Athens....
William Burrill, writing in the Toronto Star (Oct. 27, 2003):
Did the infamous Orson Welles The War Of The Worlds broadcast actually cause mass hysteria, or was it the biggest hoax to be found in the fact that we believe so many panicked?
"On October 30, 1938, America panicked. Millions throughout the United States thought that the invasion from Mars had begun and panic gripped the nation." So says a press release that just crossed my desk from Brantford's Sanderson Centre for the Performing Arts, which will be recreating this historic radio play this Wednesday through Friday.
Indeed, when it comes to falling for a story that is truly out of this world, we are constantly reminded of Welles' infamous radio hoax that, we are still told every year, supposedly convinced an entire United States populace that the Martians were invading the United States, or to be precise, New Jersey. Here's a quick recap of how it happened:
It was on the night of Oct. 30, 1938, that a series of short, increasingly ominous news bulletins kept breaking into a live CBS broadcast of the music of Ramon Raquello and his orchestra. In the first bulletin, an Intercontinental Radio News reporter tersely announced that astronomers had detected enormous blue flames shooting from the planet Mars. Next the music was stopped to announce that a meteor had just crashed into the Earth near Grovers Mills, N.J.
Then the radio reporter broke in again to say it was a space ship and not a meteor that had crashed in New Jersey and that a space creatures complete with tentacles had emerged alive from the wreckage. Soon the space monsters were using a giant three-legged armoured mobile vehicle to tromp across New Jersey using their space guns to blast everything in their path with death rays. The now-marauding Martians were also killing the local population with clouds of black gas against which even the most sophisticated gas masks proved useless.
By now radio listeners were starting to panic, hiding in their boarded up basements or packing the wife and kids and a few possessions into the family car to attempt to escape before the spacemen caught them. Those who panicked were people who had tuned in late and had not heard any of the four separate announcements during the series of bulletins that what was being broadcast was a radio play adaptation of H.G. Wells' The War Of The Worlds, performed as one of the weekly broadcasts by Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre.
So the people of the U.S.A. had fallen for a hoax — but the report of the spread of panic is something of a hoax itself.
Prankster lore has it that six million people heard the broadcast and of those, fully one quarter (1.5 million) fled or hid in panic. Alex Boese of the Museum of Hoaxes says that "more recent research suggests that the actual number (of people who actually panicked) is probably far lower. In fact, the idea that the broadcast touched off a huge national scare is probably more of a hoax than the broadcast itself."
The Toronto Star of Oct. 31, 1938 carried front page news of the hoax but the amount of panic described in the Star is hardly the stuff of millions running for their lives.
"Until 1 a.m. (CBS's) switchboards were jammed with indignant listeners, some threatening to sue," the Star reported. The report put the number of panicked listeners as being a few thousand and as for those stories of grievous injury caused by the hoax, about the worst the 1938 Star could come up with was: "One woman said she had collided with furniture in her haste to get into the street, blackening both her eyes." CBS "received many phonecalls about the broadcast but only 10 telegrams, all protesting it, this afternoon," the Star revealed.
Two black eyes and 10 pissy telegrams! Does this sound like mass hysteria to you? Alas, history has preserved in amber the perception that The War Of The Worlds broadcast was the epitome of mass hysteria.
Robert Matthews, writing in the Sunday Telegraph (June 1st, 2003):
LONDON -- It was one of the most famous experiments in science: Generations of schoolchildren have been taught how Benjamin Franklin, the 18th-century American inventor and statesman, risked his life flying a kite in a thunderstorm to prove that lightning was a form of electricity.
Franklin's success brought worldwide fame, but a new study of his work suggests that the inventor actually invented the story.
According to the official version of events, in the summer of 1752 Franklin devised a simple way of testing his theory that lightning was caused by an electrical buildup. He constructed a kite fitted with a metal spike and flew it during a thunderstorm.
Textbook accounts say that electricity ran down the kite's cord to a key tied near the end, creating a spark when Franklin brought his knuckle close to it.
His work led to the invention of the lightning conductor, which has since saved countless lives. He was made a member of the Royal Society in London, the world's most prestigious scientific academy, and received the society's premier award, the Copley Medal, in 1753"on account of his curious experiments and observations on electricity."
According to a new study of the historical evidence, however, the experiment that proved the theory took place only in Franklin's imagination.
Tom Tucker, a lecturer and historian at the Isothermal Technical College in North Carolina, has examined the original documents describing the experiment, and found differing accounts of it by Franklin that were vague about when or where it was performed.
"There was no witness identified in the announcement, no location named -- and nowhere does Franklin say he actually performed the experiment," said Mr. Tucker.
Mr. Tucker's suspicions were confirmed when he tried to recreate Franklin's experiment exactly -- using materials available in the mid-18th century.
"I followed the design of the kite and tried it several times -- and it just wouldn't fly."
According to Mr. Tucker, even if it had got off the ground, there was no way it could have reached the heights needed to draw electricity from thunderclouds. He then tried the experiment using a modern kite, but that did not work, either.
Mr. Tucker sets out his evidence in Bolt of Fate, the first detailed analysis of Franklin's kite-flying claims, to be published June 24.
While he debunks the experiment, Mr. Tucker stressed that Franklin's theory was entirely correct."I think he invented the story to claim some active involvement in the science -- to show that he was not just making a suggestion."
Letter to the editor of the NYT Book Review (April 20, 2003):
In his review of ''River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West'' (March 30), by Rebecca Solnit, Jim Lewis advances a common misconception about early photography. Speaking of Muybridge's attempt to prove photographically that a trotting horse lifts all four limbs simultaneously, he writes, ''Muybridge came back with an answer (they do), obtained by trimming the then-standard, minutes-long exposure down to a fraction of a second.''
Standard exposure times were not minutes long. As early as 1852, 20 years before Muybridge, an archaeologist described the use of photography in his profession, writing, ''I have myself sometimes obtained as perfect a picture in one second as I have at others in one minute.'' Photographic manuals of the day also recommend -- depending on many conditions -- taking portraits at anywhere from 5 to 40 seconds. Though some photographers are on record as exceeding the one-minute mark, it certainly wasn't a standard practice. In fact, in once doing so, Lewis Carroll (a photographer using the same process as Muybridge) mentioned it only as an absurdity. Muybridge, accepting mere silhouettes for this early stage of his motion studies, had solely to devise a quick mechanical shutter and a triggering process -- hence Solnit's subtitle -- not mix a new chemical potion, as the reviewer may have inadvertently suggested.
Salon.com, commenting on two new books that debunk myths about Halloween: David J. Skal's Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween and Nicholas Rogers's, Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night (October 2002):
Of all today's holidays, Halloween seems like the most primeval. Its bats, witches, spooks, skeletons and monsters surely indicate roots reaching back before the dawn of science and Christianity; the whiff of prehistoric campfires clings to its sable robes. Well, guess again.
Halloween has been creeping up on Christmas to become the second biggest annual bonanza for U.S. retailers, a Grim Reaper that harvests $6.8 billion per year in exchange for candy, costumes, cards and party supplies. That success sets it up for the kind of debunking that Christmas has endured recently, as historians have shown that what we think of as time-honored Yuletide traditions are actually only about 100 years old. Likewise, as two new books document, the seemingly ancient customs of Halloween turn out to be recent embellishments to a holiday that used to be a pretty low-key affair. And forget those Transylvanian villagers and superstitious medieval peasants -- Halloween is as American as the Fourth of July.
The basic elements of an American Halloween -- pranks, treat-begging, masquerade and scary images -- aren't new, of course, but gathering them together and using them to celebrate a holiday at the transition from October to November (from late summer to early winter) is. As both Nicholas Rogers'"Halloween" and David J. Skal's"Death Makes a Holiday" point out, those customs can be found scattered here and there among various other holidays throughout history, yet pinpointing the moment when they all came together to define Halloween as we know it is a tricky matter indeed.
It's often said that Halloween originates with the Celtic festival of Samhain (show off your pagan cred by correctly pronouncing it as"sow-an"), but it's hard to recognize the modern world's gleefully ghoulish festivities in what one scholar called"an old pastoral and agricultural festival" that marked the beginning of winter. Rogers, whose book is at its best when digging up the anthropological forerunners of the holiday, says that"there is no hard evidence that Samhain was specifically devoted to the dead or to ancestor worship," although in Ireland it was thought to be a time when mischievous spirits were particularly frisky. (The ancient Celts are rumored to have engaged in human sacrifice in some of their rites -- not Samhain specifically -- but those reports came from the conquering Romans and may have been propaganda.) Samhain was a time of reckoning when livestock were slaughtered for the winter stores and the days became short, cold and gloomy.
For a contrary view:
Maria Karadimos, writing in the Western Herald (Oct. 30, 2003):
For anyone who has ever wondered why black cats are considered bad luck or where the tradition of scraping out pumpkin innards and carving the remaining shell came from, read on.
"Most people are familiar with the outline of Halloween, but few know its history," said Clifford Davidson, medieval studies professor at Western Michigan University.
According to Davidson, Halloween's origin dates back to the ancient Celts, who held the festival of Samhain to celebrate their new year on Nov. 1. This day was said to mark the end of summer and the beginning of winter, a time of year often associated with human death.
"The Celts believed that on the night of October 31 the spirits of the dead returned to earth," Davidson said. "They celebrated with sacred bonfires and animal skin costumes. To them the presence of the ghosts helped the Celtic priests make predictions about the future, which was important going into the winter months."
Davidson said it was after the Celtic tradition became mixed with other influences that the basis of Halloween formed.
"By the eighth century, the Celts had been influenced by the Romans and Christianity and the Celtic festival was replaced with a church celebration called 'All Hallows,' meaning All Saints' Day," Davidson said. "The day before All Saints' Day began to be called All Hallows Eve and eventually became Halloween."
The new holiday was celebrated in a similar fashion to the Celtic Samhain festival, with large bonfires, costumes and parades.
According to Davidson, hundreds of years ago winter was an uncertain and feared time and people were afraid of spirits coming into their homes to cause destruction on Halloween. In order to keep the spirits away, people would place bowls of food outside their homes as an offering to the spirits in hopes that the spirits wouldn't enter their houses. People would also dress in costume when leaving home on Halloween so that the ghosts would mistake them for fellow spirits.
According to Stuart Schneider, author of "Halloween in America" and author of numerous Halloween articles, the symbols and traditions of Halloween have been passed down from generation to generation.
"Halloween was typically viewed as a holiday for adults until the 1920s when trick-or-treating first emerged," Schneider said.
Throughout the 1920s, teenagers committed acts of vandalism on Halloween by removing stairs, tearing down and changing signs and knocking over outhouses, causing Halloween to be a problem in communities.
"The vandalism was stopped when businesses and organizations teamed up with the concept of having young people and children go house-to-house," Schneider said. "Children were given candy and harvest goods. It was viewed as a bribe, a treat for behaving."
Others symbols such as witches, black cats, jack-o-lanterns and devils associated with Halloween also have a history.
"Back into the early ages, groups of people got together and celebrated Halloween in their own ways," Stuart said. "Bonfires were built and dances were done, and eventually the image of witches came from this, especially in the 17th and 18th century."
Schneider said the black cat symbol came from sightings people had of cats searching for food, typically while gathered around bonfires in dark forests. Eventually, cats became associated with Halloween. Black cats in particular were feared because people were afraid of blackness and the night.
"Sacrifices were done on Halloween as a giving for the spirits, and goats were normally what was used as a sacrifice," Schneider said. "The face of a goat and what is termed as the face of the devil are the same illusion."
Schneider said the jack-o-lantern is now an American Halloween symbol that was adapted from the Celtic tradition of using potato lanterns at their harvest parties.
According to Schneider, Halloween is the second most celebrated holiday in America, surpassed only by Christmas.
"In 2002, Americans spent roughly $8 billion on Halloween," Schneider said.
Reuters, reviewing a new book, (September 2002):
A book to be published this week says that Britain's Queen Victoria may have been illegitimate, possibly undermining the whole royal family's legitimacy, the Sunday Times reported. In his book"The Victorians," acclaimed biographer A.N. Wilson alleges that Victoria's mother, Princess Victoire of Leiningen, had a lengthy affair with her Irish-born secretary Sir John Conroy and that he, rather than Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent, was Victoria's real father. Buckingham Palace said it would not comment on the allegation.
W. Joseph Campbell, in a letter to the Washington Post (August 24, 2002):
Charles Krauthammer invoked one of American journalism's most dubious anecdotes -- the purported vow of William Randolph Hearst to"furnish the war" against Spain over Cuba. Hearst's vow, supposedly contained in instructions cabled to the artist Frederic Remington in Cuba in 1897, almost certainly is apocryphal.Editor's Note: In an email to HNN on Nov. 16, 2003 Mr. Campbell wrote:
It's perhaps American journalism's best-known, most-recounted anecdote. In an article published in Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly in summer 2000, I addressed the evidence about the purported Remington-Hearst exchange and concluded that it's almost certainly apocryphal. [This] URL --http://academic2.american.edu/%7Ewjc/wjc3/notlikely.html links to the article, which is posted at my Web site. I subsequently expanded the article into a chapter in my book, Yellow Journalism: Puncturing the Myths, Defining the Legacies (2001, paperback, 2003).
James Loewen, author of Lies My Teacher Told Me, as quoted August 23, 2002 in an article describing an upcoming lecture:
"I’m going to be arguing that we now look at John Brown through a lens that was crafted in 1916," Loewen said about his upcoming lecture.
"I’ll be telling people about how the nadir of race relations in this country was from 1890 to 1930," a time that saw the re-birth of the Ku Klux Klan and the Woodrow Wilson presidency, which, Loewen said, was the nation’s most racist administration.
"In this period, our view was formed of John Brown."
To illustrate his point, he’ll show a photo of Brown taken in 1858 that shows the abolitionist clean shaven,"looking kind of like a business man."
He’ll compare that to a painting made in 1935, well after Brown’s death, in which a raving Brown sports the long beard for which he’s known. Finally, he’ll show a review of a recent book about Brown, the headline of which is,"He took orders only from God."
"It’s bad history," Loewen said.
James W Loewen - 6/3/2006
I don't suppose anyone will read this, so long after the original postings, but I just now chanced upon them and am not happy. It may be that the Brown photo I show is an engraving. I cannot tell, because it is a photocopy of a photocopy. I do know that it is not "idealized." In what way MIGHT it be? It's just a photo. Is it idealized because he does NOT look crazed?
As to whether I am a good, bad, or "no" historian, read my new book, SUNDOWN TOWNS, and come to your own conclusion. Yes, I had to rely on oral sources in many cases, but it's good history. Try it. You'll see.
Jeremy Dupertuis Bangs - 7/28/2005
My e-mail address is:
Jeremy Dupertuis Bangs - 7/28/2005
Dear Mr. Shenkman,
Several months ago I wrote to you about some minor inaccuracies in a couple of HNN items about thanksgiving. Perhaps you recall that after exchanging letters I said I would write a summary of current thanksgiving myths. It has taken longer than I'd expected, but is now ready - more or less on time for next Thanksgiving. The article surveys the purported corrections to received wisdom offered on a couple hundred websites. (Since many parrot each other, I don't discuss such a large numer, but instead sort them out more or less according to derivation.) The article is too long to type into this discussion box space (being 19 pages). That obviously could be too long for HNN to want to place it anywhere. Thanksgiving, however, continues to inspire a great amount of myth-making, no doubt at least partly because the topic forms a point where conflicting views of colonization, victimization, and multiculturalism meet head-on. The myths range from those created by historians unfamiliar with the primary sources, through the filiopietists, religious conservatives, libertarians, and anti-eurocentrists, to a number of different strands asserting Native alternative stories. So the article differs from some that are posted by HNN because it addresses a rather larger number of inter-related problems.
If you would like me to send it as an attachment to an e-mail, please let me know to what e-mail address it should go. And please let me know if you do not want to look at it. Thank you.
Dr. Jeremy Dupertuis Bangs, Director
Leiden American Pilgrim Museum
Leiden, The Netherlands
David R. Hershey - 6/30/2005
A widespread historical myth is that George Washington Carver revolutionized Southern U.S. agriculture by inventing hundreds of new uses for peanuts. None of Carver's peanut products were a commercial success. It is unclear if most of his inventions were actual or just suggestions as he kept no written records.
Carver and many of his biographers greatly exaggerated his achievements. His testimony before a Congressional committee on a peanut tariff was probably his greatest impact on the peanut industry. Carver's testimony was probably partly responsible for the tariff passing.
Another interesting myth arose when it was widely publicized that Carver gave massages to polio patients with peanut oil and got amazing results. Carver attributed the effect to the peanut oil but it was merely the massage. It was not well known that Carver had experience giving massages when he was the trainer for the Iowa State football team.
Hershey, D.R. 2000. The truth behind some great plant stories. American Biology Teacher 62: 408-413.
Macintosh, Barry. 1976. George Washington Carver: The Making of a Myth. Journal of Southern History. 42: 507-528.
Guy Louis Rocha - 4/12/2005
paul roberts - 3/21/2005
The main problem with Ruff’s thesis is it doesn’t go far enough. The idea that the whole black American gospel tradition is primarily rooted in Scots Gaelic Presbyterian psalm singing comes up against this basic problem: Highland Scots Presbyterians were a tiny minority in the settlement of the American south and hence among slave-owners. Most settlers were English. The biggest minorities were Lowland/Ulster Scots and German speakers. Highlanders were a tiny minority and tended to settle in a few small, self contained communities like Cape Fear: moreover many of them were not even Presbyterians but Episcopalians and Catholics. The truth is that the key elements of this “Gaelic” style of religious singing were formerly common to protestant northern Europe, it is simply an archaic style that has survived on the fringe, in the Hebrides. Ruff should be looking beyond the Hebrides of today to the England, Germany, and lowland Scotland of 200-400 years ago. But he has the right spirit: we do need to abandon the idea that any of us has ever lived in a culture that is homogenous, static, unique, impermeable, clearly and absolutely bounded.
michael v liles - 1/3/2005
Is this "harmless" nursery rhyme really a relation to the infamous bubonic plague a.k.a. the black death?
Herbert Barger - 6/15/2004
I suppose the ongoing Jefferson-Hemings controversy could be considered a "myth" and a book has been written on that topic, however in my opinion, it is opininated and biased research and reporting without any factual research to PROVE that the Jefferson-Hemings alleged affair ever occured. It serves a purpose for those foundations, certain academic people, certain individuals selling misleading books and speaking personalities with misleading agendas. This misleading information is finding it's way into our children's textbooks and tarnishes the history of our great founding fathers and this country's history.
I assisted Dr. Eugene Foster with the DNA Study and I can assure the reader that the study was misused at several points to improperly brand Thomas Jefferson a father of Sally Hemings's children. To read these many details I urge all to click on: http://www.angelfire.com/va/TJTruth and http://www.tjheritage.org.
Madison Hemings article written by Samuel Wetmore in the Pike County, Ohio newspaper, an abolitionist,is full of unprovable and misleading statements. Who would believe that Dolly Madison would trek to Monticello from her position as White House Hostess to name Madison Hemings after her husband, James Madison? How did she know that the child would be a male and would she leave to be there on a cold January 19, 1805
date when rivers and streams were frozen over and the temperature low. Madison Hemings and or Samuel Wetmore, reporter, to further debase Dolly Madison, stated that she refused to honor a promise to give his mother, Sally, a gift at his birth. Oh what "myths" we can weave if we have a biased approach. The bias in reporting on this controversy continues to this date by those who stand to profit from it in one form or another.
Another major misunderstanding was that Dr. Foster's study was ONLY to prove or disprove the Carr brothers long held story that they fathered some of Sally's children, however the DNA Study indicated NO Carr/Hemings match. In the absence of information I had furnished to Dr. Foster about other Jefferson suspects, Nature Journal, (not knowing of a possible 8 other suspected Jeffersons), ASSUMED it was Thomas and BRANDED him GUILTY with their false and misleading headline. A second Nature article was published on January 7, 1999 which clarified much that was not in the original article.
*Monticello has since modified some of their misleading and unsubstantiated evaluation on their web page. They had reported that not only had Thomas Jefferson possibly fathered one, BUT ALL of Sally's children. This is an IMPOSSIBLE evaluation to make......ONLY ONE was tested.
*Using the Scholars Report(hard copies due out soon), the Monticello Report and independent research, the Monticello Association (Thomas Jefferson descendants), voted overwhelmingly to disallow any Hemings family applications for membership.
* The Hemings family STILL refuses to permit a test between the Jefferson DNA and the DNA of a Madison Hemings son buried in Kansas and they are HAPPY with the present oral history of their family.
Jefferson Family Historian
Dr. Eric Davin - 6/11/2004
Dave Livingston: The author to whom you refer was Abraham Merritt and he was well-known to have been male.
HNN - 4/8/2004
Newsday (New York)
April 6, 2004 Tuesday
SECTION: PART II; Pg. B02
HEADLINE: Remember the...myths?;
Sketchy history and Hollywood embellishments make it hard to know the real story of the Alamo. A new movie is the latest to try.
BYLINE: BY JOHN HANC. John Hanc is a regular contributor to Newsday
Remember the Alamo? Heck, how could you possibly forget it? The image of that 1836 battle - in which about 200 Texans held off an army of 2,500 Mexican soldiers for 13 days - is practically imprinted on every American's genetic code, not to mention the pages of generations of history texts.
Given the dramatic storyline (brave men fighting to the death against overwhelming odds) and the participation of so many mythic figures (Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie died at the Alamo, and Sam Houston commanded the army that avenged the defeat and secured Texas' independence), it's no surprise that the Alamo has intrigued Hollywood since before there really was a Hollywood. Twelve feature films and at least three made-for-TV movies have been done about the battle itself; the first of which, "The Immortal Alamo," appeared in 1911, only 75 years after the actual battle. In his book, "The Alamo: A Cultural History," historian Frank Thompson notes that when that first film opened, there were people living in San Antonio who actually did remember the Alamo.
The latest version of the story opens Friday and stars Billy Bob Thornton as Crockett and Dennis Quaid as Houston. The director of Touchstone's "The Alamo" is a Texas native, John Lee Hancock. "It's a tough thing, to separate the mythology of the Alamo from the new facts that historians have learned, but I'm trying to embrace them both," says Hancock. "We've made a real effort to show, to the best of our knowledge, what it was really like to be there."
But "there" is hard to pin down when you're talking about the Alamo, a place that exists in the imagination as well as in what is now downtown San Antonio: There's the physical Alamo, or what's left of it. The familiar-looking stone facade with the hump is one of the most instantly recognizable images in America - even if few of its 3 million annual visitors realize what they're looking at is simply one part of what was, in fact, a sprawling complex, and that the hump on the church was added years after the battle. The Alamo is not a museum or a national park - it's a shrine, run by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, and it's treated as such: Men must remove their hats before entering, and loud noise is not permitted.
The other Alamo is a symbol - sometimes crass, often ennobling - that has been appropriated by everyone from the manufacturers of coonskin caps to presidential candidates - and often in unlikely situations.
In 1999, asked by his friend Ben Crenshaw to give a motivational speech to the members of the American team competing in the Ryder Cup of golf, famous Texan George W. Bush gave a stirring rendition of a famous letter written by Alamo commander William Barret Travis. In that letter, Travis called on "the people of Texas and all Americans in the world ... in the name of liberty, patriotism and everything dear to the American character to come to our aid." But he vowed, if help didn't arrive (which it didn't), that he was determined "never to surrender or retreat" and "to die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor and that of his country." Travis signed the letter, "Victory or death."
Inspired by those words, the '99 Ryder Cup team achieved the former without the latter. Travis and his men were not so fortunate. Still, perhaps better than anything else ever written or produced about the battle, the letter speaks to the values posterity associates with the Alamo: Dedication, duty, bravery.
"Even after you strip away all the embellishments, the battle still stands out as an act of heroism," says Raymond Gardner, president of the San Antonio Living History Association. "It was one of the greatest demonstrations of self-sacrifice in our history."
In the past, the Alamo has been simplistically portrayed as a battle of "brown versus white" (but there were Mexicans defending, as well as attacking, the Alamo); or between "right and wrong" (but one of the rights the Alamo defenders were fighting for was the right to bring slaves into Texas). The defenders, in fact, were a study in diversity: young and old, rich and poor, including Europeans from several nations. The new movie purports to tell the "real" story. Briefly stated, that goes like this: The Battle of the Alamo was part of a larger struggle pitting settlers in Texas - then part of Mexico - against the Mexican government, ruled by the dictatorial general Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. The settlers included both Americans and Mexicans known as Tejanos.
When Santa Anna disbanded the democratic Congress that had been formed in 1824, after Mexico freed itself from centuries of Spanish rule, the "Texians," as the white settlers called themselves, organized their own provisional government. As part of the uprising, they seized the Alamo - a mission originally founded in the 18th century - from Mexican troops. Early in 1836, Santa Anna led an expedition to reclaim that fort, and ultimately to destroy the rebel army, which was led by former Tennessee governor Sam Houston. On Feb. 23, Santa Anna's army arrived and besieged the fort, which was under the command of a 26-year-old lawyer from Alabama, Col. William Barret Travis. Although Houston ordered the Alamo abandoned, Travis opted to stay and fight, joined by others, including two men who already were folk heroes in America, knife-fighter Jim Bowie and David Crockett (the name he preferred). In the predawn darkness of March 6, 1836, Santa Anna's forces attacked the fort and, in a 90- minute battle, wiped out the Texian defenders. But six weeks later, at the Battle of San Jacinto (fought near the city now named after the victor), Sam Houston surprised Santa Anna and routed his army in a battle that secured Texas' independence.
To inspire his troops during the battle, Houston used the rallying cry of "Remember the Alamo" - something Americans have been doing ever since.
As to what really happened in the Alamo during the siege, much remains unknown. Historian Todd Hansen, whose 2003 anthology, "The Alamo Reader," contains almost every original source document on the battle, says most accounts - even those written by participants or observers - are "contradictory, fragmentary or unclear."
The most controversial Alamo mystery involves the death of the battle's most famous participant: Crockett, a former U.S. congressman from Tennessee, and a writer and so-called "naturalist," whose exploits on the frontier (many of them clearly fabricated for the sake of entertainment) had already made him a major celebrity in North America. In most film versions of the Alamo, Crockett (played by Fess Parker in the 1955 Walt Disney film "Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier," and by John Wayne in the 1960 movie "The Alamo") goes down fighting. The truth may have been a bit different: In the 1970s, a diary surfaced, supposedly written by one of Santa Anna's officers at the siege, José Enrique de la Pena. In it, de la Pena reported that Crockett and several other Alamo defenders survived the battle and were taken before Santa Anna, who had them executed immediately.
The idea that Crockett survived the fighting, some say, is not revisionist history. "That view of Crockett's death ... that he was captured and executed ... was accepted as doctrine for years after the battle," says Gardner, who portrays Crockett during his organization's annual re-enactment of the battle. He says that later generations - maybe filmmakers looking for a boffo ending - began to tinker with the death scene. "So then you had the death of the hero in action," he says. "Crockett swinging his rifle like a club as he's brought down. But that's not the way it was originally reported."
Others disagree. In fact, the death of Crockett alone has been the subject of two entire books; one, by former Long Islander Bill Groneman, who questions the authenticity of the de la Pena diaries, argues that he died fighting.
That debate over image and reality at the Alamo is nothing new - and is not likely to abate simply because audiences may see Billy Bob Thornton as Crockett on his knees before his Mexican captors, not on his feet swinging his rifle like John Wayne.
"The myth of the Alamo is in an almost constant state of revision," says Thompson. "Everyone remembers the Alamo. But everyone remembers it in different ways."
HNN - 2/25/2004
February 22, 2004
Hit and myth: Was Scotland's last duel a joke?
"LIKE an arrow from the bow, the president’s blade flashed through the air" and gouged his opponent’s cheek, causing the crowd to gasp as fresh blood flowed onto the wood-panelled floor.
Honour had been served in what has long been documented as the last duel in Scotland, fought with swords between two hot-blooded Glasgow University students after a heated argument between them about whether a former prime minister or an eminent scientist should become rector.
According to a university magazine, the bloody duel was fought in March 1899 between Robert Henderson Begg, a supporter of Lord Kelvin - eminent scientist and Tory candidate - and Italian student Carlo La Torre, who was an ardent advocate of the other candidate, Lord Rosebery, the former prime minister.It took place on the ground floor corridor of the then Glasgow University Union building - now known as the John McIntyre Building - in the west end of the city, and ended with the wounding of La Torre.
This dramatic event has gone down in the history books as Scotland’s last duel, and Glasgow University has regarded the fact that it hosted the contest with some pride. Visitors have been regaled with tales of the conflict, references to the event appear on its website and in student diaries of Glasgow University Union, and the university’s fencing club stages an annual Last Duel competition.
But now researchers from the very same university appear to have spoilt the party, for they have revealed - to the horror of many - that the blow-by-blow account of the duel in Glasgow University Magazine was simply a student joke and that no blood was ever actually spilt at all.
The study by Glasgow University Archive Service claims the article was a satirical sketch put into the magazine as a joke, pointing to several made-up articles that appeared in the publication from this period.
It found no other mention of the event in contemporary university records, newspapers or court summaries.
Curiously enough, the magazine chose to recount the fight in the reported speech of one of the participants in the duel.
The journalist wrote: "The fight was furious. Begg began to dictate the words he wished printed in the Magazine and we feel constrained to publish them: ‘Begg, with great agility, rounded his man. Then, like an arrow from the bow, the president’s blade flashed through the air. La Torre’s cheek fell. The blood rushed from his face. He leaped in the air. It caught him full in the eye, and he fell before the might of his conqueror.’"
But before this, the writer told of the drama inside the corridor as if it were a true event: "The house was crowded when the heroes stepped forward into the Union passage. Betting was all in favour of the Tory. Begg was evidently in splendid form. The white of his eye protruded, his arm quivered, his knees shook and his teeth clattered together."
He went on to write in colourful style: "He looked very brave, as indeed he always does, and his appearance inspired the spectators to keen appreciation. We have seldom seen so fine a specimen of humanity."
University archivist Lesley Richmond said the magazine’s account of the event could not be trusted.
"It is very difficult to read it and be able to discriminate between the satirical and what actually happened," she said. "The humour of the day is very difficult to work out. Essentially the magazine aimed to be like Punch, the leading satire magazine of the time, and is totally unreliable as a source.
"There is nothing in the minutes of the time from the university senate and not any record of it anywhere else. The magazine is the sole source of the myth."Any event that drew blood within the university would have been recorded somewhere official. It would have caused great concern."
Richmond cited an article in the same issue of the magazine that mentions the duel, reportedly penned by the principal about the death of a senior colleague, who was actually alive and well at the time of publication.But many with an interest in the university’s history are reluctant to accept the new findings, and remain adamant that blood was shed on campus.
Gerald Warner, historian and Scotland on Sunday columnist, who has written a book on Glasgow University Union that details the duel, said there were many reasons the fight would not have been reported.
"The union was very much a private club in those days. So who was going to complain?" he said.
"If the chap had been seriously injured, then it would have been picked up by the university, but they called time after first blood was drawn, and an episode like that wouldn’t have concerned them."
He conceded that the account of the event was undoubtedly exaggerated, but said the fact that no other reference existed was not sufficient evidence to disprove it.
"I think that the duel was not all that desperately serious, but I’m convinced that there was a scuffle with swords, and the magazine duly recorded it in a slightly pompous way.
"I think that it is perhaps true that it is only recorded in the magazine, but I think there has been an oral tradition that has kept it alive."
David Grant, the current president of Glasgow University Union, said he was "bitterly disappointed" by news that the duel may have been a fake. "If the duel was false, then it’s very disappointing and tragic.
"I’m still to be wholly convinced, but I will be truly gutted if it didn’t take place because it was one of our claims to fame.
"We still show people the spot where it was supposed to have taken place. If it was just a student joke, then it was a genius one."While the drawing of La Torre’s blood appeared to have settled the 1899 duel in the one colourful account that exists, it seems the very authenticity of the drama is now to become the subject of a much longer but perhaps equally bitter argument.
HNN - 2/11/2004
Brian Dooks, in the http://www.yorkshiretoday.co.uk/ViewArticleMore2.aspx?SectionID=55&ArticleID=736487&Page=1&ReturnUrl=NewsFrontMore.aspx">Yorkshire Post (Feb. 7, 2004):
GENERATIONS of children have poked their fingers into the end of a silver-decorated ox horn and listened wide-eyed on being told it was a gift from Alfred the Great in 886AD.
There was no documentary evidence to prove that Ripon's Charter Horn was 1,118 years old but those involved in the city's long history could see no reason why the facts should spoil a good story.
But now – as Ripon prepares to celebrate the 400th anniversary of its second charter granted by James I in 1604 – the city council has decided to have the horn recorded and carbon dated amid fears it may not be as old as previously thought.
It fills former mayor and newly elected freeman John Richmond with horror. He said: "I have never heard anything so stupid in all my life. If it is proved not to be from 886AD then our whole history has gone."
Leading the quest for historical accuracy about the Charter Horn is former head of Hull museums service Michael Stanley, who retired to Ripon and now serves on the city council.
He said: "I am an incomer – I have been here three-and-a-half years. But it would be wrong of me not to use my experience to try to ensure that this historic object survives in good condition well into the future."
But Mayor David Parnaby, whose council plans to ask for an £8,000 Heritage Lottery Fund grant to pay for the work, has his own doubts.
"It has been a wonderful story up to now and it might just blow the myth completely. One hopes that when they do the carbon dating it is proved to be the original thing."
Richard Hall of York Archaeological Trust, which is expected to carry out the examination, recording and dating, said the work would take several months and a gap would have to be found between dates when the horn was required for civic events.
"It is a most important piece of civic regalia and has this amazing story. One of the important things we will be doing is making a detailed record of it with drawings and photographs and getting experts to look at the various bits of it because there could be a variety of dates."
But he is sceptical of the horn dating to 886AD. "If it does, I would eat my hat because I would be very seriously surprised. We know Alfred had other things on his mind in the south of England in 886AD not to be chasing about and giving Ripon ceremonial regalia."
Dr Hall believes it is more likely that the horn dates from between the 12th and 15th centuries. "If it turned out not to be from 886AD that would not be a consideration to me. I am more interested to know its true date. We are not about debunking history – we are about getting an accurate history of a very unusual object."
But former mayor Mr Richmond said: "I and many others have told thousands, no millions, of people that there is 1,000 years of history between the Charter Horn and the Millennium Horn of 1886. If the Charter Horn is not genuine, then the festival we held to celebrate 1,000 years in 1886 was a sham and so was the one in 1986 marking 1,100 years. It would mean our history is a load of nonsense – a lot of lies. The city council tampers with Ripon's history at its peril."
HNN Editor - 2/7/2004
The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, Australia)
February 4, 2004 Wednesday
SECTION: FEATURES-TYPE- FEATURE-COLUMN- HISTORICAL FEATURE-BIOG- LADY GODIVA, LADY GODGIFU; Pg. 51
LENGTH: 982 words
HEADLINE: Naked truth of Godiva's town-saving horse ride
BYLINE: JO ROGERS
The legend says she went bare through Coventry but JO ROGERS reports that the real Lady Godiva was probably rather more modest
Beautiful, naked Lady Godiva rode to fame on horseback down the main street of the English town of Coventry, with only her long hair tumbling down to preserve her modesty.
This legend is so much a part of English folklore that few now question whether it actually occurred or why.
As far as historians are concerned, Lady Godiva did exist and there are records of her ride, though they were written long after 1043, when it was said to have occurred. Whether she was naked is a source of debate.
Coventry, which proudly and colourfully celebrates Lady Godiva's ride with an annual procession, certainly prefers to believe their local celebrity was nude.
However, historian Robert Lacey, who has examined all available evidence for his new book, Great Tales From English History, thinks she was not.
He identifies Lady Godiva as the historical figure of Lady Godgifu, a prominent figure in Edward the Confessor's England. Her Anglo-Saxon name meant "God's gift" and she is remembered as being generous, kind-hearted and respectable.
Godgifu was a rich landowner and also had a powerful husband, Leofric, the Earl of Mercia. Leofric helped put Edward on the throne in 1042 and virtually ruled the mid-section of England.
He was disliked by the Coventry community because he led an army that disciplined its population after they attacked and killed two royal tax collectors. Leofric's revenge was to ravage the town for five days and then set it alight. Chronicler John of Worcester wrote that he left the town with a great booty.
Godgifu, however, was popular. Her sympathy with the people was well known and her naked ride was said be an attempt to get her husband to reduce taxes on the people.
Leofric and Godgifu were both known for their devotion to the church and bestowed much of their wealth on Coventry Abbey, which they founded. When Leofric died in 1057, Godgifu inherited his estate and her vast possessions were listed in the Domesday Book.
Some suggest the fortune Godgifu donated to her abbey came from Leofric's ravaging of Coventry and was Godgifu's means of amends. Though Godgifu was written about by many historians in the years after her death, it was not until about 1220 that anyone mentioned her supposedly naked horseback ride.
Then, chronicler Roger of Wendover wrote the following tale: "Longing to free the town of Coventry from the oppression of a heavy tax, Lady Godiva begged her husband with urgent prayers, for the sake of Jesus and his mother Mary, that he would free the town from the toll, and from all other heavy burdens.
"The earl rebuked her sharply. She was asking for something that would cost him much money, and he forbade her to raise the subject with him again.
"But, with a woman's persistence, she would not stop pestering her husband, until he finally gave her this reply: 'Mount your horse, and ride naked before all the people, through the market of the town, from one end to the other, and on your return you shall have your request."'
"To which Godiva replied: 'But will you give me permission, if I am ready to do it?' Her husband replied: 'I will.' Whereupon the countess, beloved of God, loosed her hair and let down her tresses, which covered the whole of her body like a veil.
"And then, mounting her horse, and attended by two knights, she rode through the marketplace, without being seen, except her fair legs. And having completed the journey, she returned with gladness to her astonished husband, and obtained of him what she had asked. Earl Leofric freed the town of Coventry and its inhabitants from the taxes."
Author Robert Lacey does not believe the risque tale was a necessarily complete fabrication because Roger was a monk at the Benedictine Abbey of St Albans.
This abbey had close links with Leofric and Godgifu's Coventry abbey and the two libraries often exchanged manuscripts, so Roger may have came across written evidence of the horseback ride.
But Lacey argues it is extremely unlikely that Godgifu, a pious lady, would have ridden naked through a town, at a time when social standards among ladies were highly regarded. What does seem possible, he writes, is that Godgifu may have ridden her horse through the town symbolically naked -- that is, stripped of the jewellery and the fine clothes that marked her status.
"Roger's source for the story may have used the Latin word denudata, which means stripped, not necessarily total nudity," writes Lacey. "Maybe the jewels and fine outer clothes that Godiva took off for her ride were the very treasures that she was presenting to the abbey -- and without fancy hairpins, of course, her hair would have come tumbling down voluptuously."
Symbolism was a powerful force in the Middle Ages and by riding unadorned, Lady Godgifu would have made a significant gesture of the sympathy she had for the people of Coventry.
Whatever the truth about the naked ride, the people of Coventry preferred the sensational version. As the area grew into a bustling trade centre, these citizens began to boast about their lady and hold an annual Godiva pageant.
It became a huge hit. A 1678 account describes a Godiva procession that attracted tens of thousands of visitors.
In the 17th century, another detail was added to the story. This was that Coventry's villagers showed their support to Godiva by staying inside and closing their shutters, so their lady could ride past unseen.
Legend has it that only one person was cheeky enough to look out, a tailor called Thomas. He became another famous English folk character -- Peeping Tom.
* Information from Great Tales From English History: Cheddar Man to the Peasants' Revolt by
Robert Lacey, published by Penguin Books Australia, rrp $39.95.
HNN - 2/6/2004
The legend of Capt. Kangaroo -- no, he was not a war hero
By Diane C. Lade
February 5, 2004
Jim Gregory was outraged when he read the obituary for Bob Keeshan, better known as Captain Kangaroo.
A World War II Navy veteran, Gregory, 80, remembered an item in his Palm Beach County Navy League newsletter last year about how Keeshan as a Marine sergeant had won the distinguished Navy Cross for braving fire on the beaches of Iwo Jima. Yet the obituary reported that Keeshan had enlisted but never saw action.
"Why shouldn't they give the man credit for being a hero?" asked Gregory, of Lake Clarke Shores, who wanted to set the record straight.
The reason: The story isn't true.
The Fighting Captain Kangaroo tale is a persistent military legend. Keeshan, who died last month at 76, denied it repeatedly when he was alive.
Captain Kangaroo may have been a hero to millions of American children -- and their mothers, who parked their offspring in front of his beloved television show, which ran almost 30 years.
But Keeshan enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1945, and World War II ended before he saw combat.
Yet the story remains, circulated for years in correspondence and publications.
"It's hard to know what to believe," said Walter Houghton, an aviation history buff and assistant to the aviation director at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. He heard about Fighting Captain Kangaroo in an e-mail from a military buddy.
The story goes that the late actor Lee Marvin, speaking to then-Tonight Show host Johnny Carson, talked about earning the Navy Cross when he was wounded while "securing a hot spot" on Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima.
But then Marvin mentions he served under "the bravest man I ever knew," who won the cross on the same day. "You and the world know him as Captain Kangaroo," Marvin says.
Total fabrication, said Jack Green.
Green, the public affairs officer with the Naval Historical Center in Washington, D.C., frequently gets calls about Fighting Captain Kangaroo.
"I have to tell them it's a nice story, but it didn't happen," said Green, who served as a historical adviser for the movie Pearl Harbor.
He doubts that Marvin, who also never was on Iwo Jima, perpetrated such a fantasy.
"Lots of legends pop up and who knows where they come from," Green said.
Gregory, who tried to contact Keeshan's widow in Vermont so he could offer to clear her husband's name, was surprised to hear he'd been so moved by a myth.
"I guess, although I've been out of the Navy for years, I never really left it," he said. "If it was true, I wanted to honor him."
Diane C. Lade can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 561-243-6618.
Copyright © 2004, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Editor - 1/20/2004
Sistine Chapel legend
By Dorothy Shinn
Beacon Journal art and architecture critic
Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling debunks many legends surrounding Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel in Rome.
Book debunks legends about Sistine Chapel.
Who painted the Sistine Chapel? Michelangelo, of course, all by himself, lying on his back.
If you believe that, you haven't read Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling (Penguin; $15 paperback) by Ross King.
Not since Irving Stone's The Agony and the Ecstasy has a book about Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel ceiling stirred so much interest and changed so many minds.
While most of the information in King's book has been available to art scholars for quite some time, it took a nonart historian to correct the errors of the Sistine Chapel legend while simultaneously appealing to popular culture.
Ross has breathed new life into an incredible event and era that, as he shows, became a Golden Age and Renaissance in spite of the players and the motivations behind it all, delineated against the background of 16th century Rome, church politics and a hugely ambitious pope.
Born and raised in Canada, King has a doctorate in English literature and now lives in England. In addition to Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling and Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture, King has also written the novels Ex Libris and Domino, all published in paperback by Penguin Books. He will speak about Michelangelo Friday at the Cleveland Museum of Art.
In the book, King wonderfully reanimates the central characters of this well-known, but error-riddled legend:
• Michelangelo Buonarotti, the extraordinarily gifted, but deeply suspicious, stubborn, shabby and irascible 33-year-old Florentine sculptor, who painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling from 1508 to 1512.
• Giuliano della Rovere (Pope Julius II), warmongering, demanding and egotistical -- some said half mad.
• Raffaello Santi (Raphael), the prodigiously talented, handsome, sweet-natured and stylishly clad painter from Urbino, creator of the murals in Pope Julius II's Vatican apartments, and Michelangelo's chief rival.
• The demanding medium of fresco itself and the vast differences between the two sites of the unfolding drama: the large walls of Stanza della Segnatura, Pope Julius II's library, and just across the court (but behind doors locked against intrusion and plagiarizing rivals), the curved vault of the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
• The 16th century cities of Florence and Rome, the former a thriving metropolis and cultural center made wealthy through the wool trade, the latter once called caput mundi (capital of the world), but by then far from fitting the title.
The Rome we know today is the product of several centuries' rebuilding. It looked very different in the early 1500s, when Pope Julius II was struggling to make it more than a half-forgotten backwater.
``The city was a vast ruin,'' writes King. ``The Palatine Hill, where the palaces of the Roman emperors had once stood, was a mass of shattered rubble among which peasants tended their vineyards.... Vegetables grew in the Circus Maximus, where 300,000 ancient Romans had once watched chariot races.''
Pope Julius II faced a staggering task when he took power, but he was resolved to revive Rome and thus the papacy, allowing nothing and no one stand in his way.
King writes of Pope Julius II: ``A sturdily built 63-year-old with snow-white hair and a ruddy face, he was known as il papa terrible, the `dreadful' or `terrifying' pope.... A Spanish ambassador noted frankly, `In the hospital in Valencia there are a hundred people chained up who are less mad than His Holiness.' ''
He was to become Michelangelo's patron and nemesis, hounding the artist through his illnesses, injuries, and personal, professional, financial and familial disasters.
All this we remember from The Agony and the Ecstasy. But that book was a fictionalized account of the artist's life and was never really intended to be taken as fact, even though it was reasonably faithful to what was known in the 1960s.
But scholarship has turned a corner since, with new methods and philosophies being brought to bear. New research and conservation have revealed that some of the most cherished stories are untrue:
• Michelangelo didn't fresco the ceiling while lying on his back. In fact there's a bawdy little poem and concordant drawing that the artist wrote to a friend describing how he worked ``with his head tipped back, his body bent like a bow, his beard and paintbrush pointing to heaven and his face splattered with paint.''
• Michelangelo didn't fire his assistants. He hadn't painted a fresco in nearly 20 years and desperately needed their help. There's not only the laying on of the plaster, but the preparation of the surface and the grinding of the pigments, many of which have special needs when applied. It's a work of many hands, especially on a curved surface of some 12,000 square feet.
The well-documented episode of salt efflorescence and mildew in ``Noah's Flood'' may have caused the artist to chastise his assistants, but not to fire them.
King documents these and many other juicy tidbits of Michelangelo's long, and from all accounts, crotchety, life.
For instance, was Michelangelo homosexual? Evidence has been lost or suppressed, King said. Also, homosexuality as we see it today was not a part of the vocabulary in that era. After weighing and measuring several juicy stories, King concludes, somewhat helplessly, that ``on balance it seems highly likely that he practiced the abstinence that he preached.''
If there is any fault to be found with this book, it's in the paucity and poor quality of its illustrations, faults that must be laid at the doorstep of the publisher.
There are only seven color plates in the center section (an eighth glossy page is wasted on a black-and-white drawing of the Sistine ceiling plan), and while the ceiling is shown in color, the quality of the photography is so poor that it fades off into low light exposure at both ends.
The book contains some 50 black-and-white ``illustrations,'' but their small size and generally poor quality makes them fall short of the goal -- to illuminate the text.
That quibble aside, it's a wonderfully written, bright and engaging endeavor that weaves for us a rich tapestry of the period, complete with detailed footnotes and witty asides, so that we come away with an understanding not only of the era, but the astonishing achievement that the Sistine Chapel ceiling was, and thanks to restoration, now is again.
Ross King, author of Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling will speak at the Cleveland Museum of Art, Gartner Auditorium, 11150 Easat Blvd., University Circle, Cleveland, on Friday, January 16, at 7 p.m. Admission is $15 general, $10 members, and $5 for students. For information call 216-421-7340 or visit http://www.clevelandart.org
Dorothy Shinn writes about art and architecture for the Akron Beacon Journal. Send information to her at the Akron Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640 or email@example.com.
Editor - 1/2/2004
National Public Radio (NPR)
SHOW: Weekend Edition Sunday (12:00 Noon PM ET) - NPR
December 28, 2003 Sunday
LENGTH: 2020 words
HEADLINE: Professor David Hackett Fischer recounts General George Washington's attack on Hessians in New Jersey in 1776
ANCHORS: LIANE HANSEN
LIANE HANSEN, host:
On Christmas night in 1776, General George Washington led 2,400 soldiers of the Continental Army across the Delaware River north of Philadelphia. They planned to attack a garrison of Hessian soldiers in the employ of the British Crown encamped in Trenton, New Jersey. The ultimate success of Washington's crossing revitalized the rebellious American cause and dimmed British enthusiasm for quelling the revolution.
Historian David Hackett Fischer of Brandeis University recently completed work on the story of Washington's fabled attack. His book, "Washington's Crossing," will be published in February. David Hackett Fischer joined us at the site where Washington assembled his troops for our own crossing of the Delaware. Standing in a heavy rain, Professor Fischer described the military circumstances that brought Washington and his men to eastern Pennsylvania.
Professor DAVID HACKETT FISCHER (Author, "Washington's Crossing"): It was a desperate moment for Washington and the Army, the Revolution; they suffered heavy defeats in a long campaign around New York. For six months they'd been fighting the largest army that had been brought to America, more than 30,000 British and German troops and the Americans had lost one battle after another. And George Washington was forced to retreat across the Hudson River and as he went, his army shrank. And as they were marching through Newark, a young officer, who was Lieutenant James Monroe, stood by the side of the road and counted the troops and their numbers had shrunk from about 30,000 as well down to 3,000 men. Ninety percent of the American Army had been lost. And as they retreated across New Jersey there was a sense of real desperation about the--what they called 'the cause.' They thought the cause was lost. And George Washington himself wrote a letter home to Mt. Vernon urging his family to prepare to move into the mountains.
HANSEN: The British had been quick to exploit the Continental Army's troubles. In New Jersey, British officials offered amnesty to any citizen who pledged allegiance to the empire. In the fall of 1776, more than 3,000 people in New Jersey gave their oath to the Crown. Even Richard Stockton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, allied himself with King George III. In tightening their grip on New Jersey, the British had help from thousands of Hessian professional soldiers.
Prof. FISCHER: They were rented to Britain by their prince, the Longraff of Hessi(ph), but they weren't--they were fighting for a sense of honor in service. They had a cause which they cast in those terms which was as urgent to them as was the cause of liberty to the Americans. There's a myth that attaches to this event that they were incompetent, mercenary, drunk on Christmas Day. None of that is true. What makes Washington's achievement here all the more remarkable is that he was up against the first team. He was--and these were very skillful and able opponents.
HANSEN: The Hessians and the British foraged in the New Jersey countryside. Foraging led to plundering which soon turned into pillaging. Soldiers invaded homes and stripped residents of their possessions. There were many reports of rape by British troops.
Prof. FISCHER: The people of New Jersey began to turn against their conquerors and they began to rise. There was a spontaneous rising up and down the river here, small groups of men and women in New Jersey, taking up arms, fighting, keeping the Hessians and the British away from their farms, and as they did so, they drew the garrisons that had been placed along the river farther and farther apart so they were unable to support each other. And Washington thought he saw an opportunity there. And he was quick to make the most of it.
HANSEN: A garrison of 1,500 Hessians was based in Trenton.
Prof. FISCHER: It--a very elaborate plan was made to concentrate this very small American Army against that one garrison at Trenton. It was a scene with many parts. Once they thought to do this, they thought to throw all of their resources across the river and it was a big plan. It had four parts. There were to be columns that were to cross the river at the same time. And to swoop down on the Hessians in a synchronized attack. Then things began to go wrong.
HANSEN: The weather was awful. Winter temperatures came early to the Delaware Valley that December. It warmed though as Christmas neared, breaking up the surface of the frozen Delaware into fast-moving ice floes. Then conditions got worse.
Prof. FISCHER: A nor'easter came sweeping into the Delaware Valley and as they were preparing to cross a storm struck with great violence. And it was a combination of snow. We have one account that speaks of snow and hail and rain, and he forgot to mention sleet which was driving into the faces of these men with a northeastern wind as they were preparing to cross the river.
HANSEN: Many of Washington's troops crowded into flat-bottomed Durham boats typically used to carry cargo along the river. Horses and artillery crossed on ferries. They had no choice but to put up with the weather. In preparation for our crossing, we took refuge from the rain in a boat house at Pennsylvania's Washington Crossing Historic Park. For Washington's men, the swift ice-choked river posed a great risk.
Prof. FISCHER: Most of the men in Washington's army could not swim. Most people in the 18th century could not swim, much to the fury of Benjamin Franklin who was a great swimmer and tried in vain to persuade Americans to take to the water. And as they were crossing, some of the men went overboard. One of them was Colonel John Haslett(ph) from Delaware who went into this icy river and was hauled out just in the nick of time. His legs were severely swollen and yet he marched and fought and never complained.
HANSEN: Washington and his soldiers needed more than four hours to cross the Delaware aboard their Durham boats and ferries. We covered the distance in about 40 seconds in a Toyota.
(Soundbite of motor)
HANSEN: Ice jams at the Trenton Falls and along the banks of the Delaware prevented three of the four planned crossings, but Washington didn't know that. At New Jersey's Washington Crossing State Park, as the rain subsided and temperatures warmed, Professor Fischer took us to where Washington and his troops gathered after the crossing.
Prof. FISCHER: He came ashore and sat down on an old beehive, a wooden box, which had been a beehive, and gathered his cloak around him and wondered if he should call the whole thing off. As his men came ashore they were desperately cold and wet. They'd been moving into the face of a nor'easter. The first thing they did was to find the fence rails and build themselves a fire and gathered 'round. And as they did, Washington sat reflecting on the ruins of his plan, as they had taken so much longer to get across the river, they would be still getting themselves together here till 4:00 in the morning, which meant that by the time they reached Trenton, it would be daylight and surprise would be lost. But Washington decided that it would be even more dangerous to call it off and try to get back across the river than to go forward. And the extraordinary thing was to also see how each of these problems that rose in his path increased their determination to push ahead. And that's what they did.
HANSEN: Washington and his men in a column of wagons, horses and artillery marched inland to the Bear Tavern Road, and then turned south toward Trenton. But a deep ravine cut by Jacob's Creek slowed the army.
Prof. FISCHER: And they had to go down into that ravine and then back up again the other side and then repeat it once more for a tributary of the creek. And it meant they had to unharness the horses from the guns, work them down and back up again, using their long drag ropes and it was extremely difficult and very time-consuming. Washington himself almost lost control of his animal, his horse, as he was crossing the creek and we have one account by a soldier who watched him as the horse's hind legs went out from under the horse and Washington suddenly reached down and hooked his hands into the mane of the horse and with his brute strength pulled up the neck of his horse, threw his balance back on his hind legs, and the horse was able to get his footing again. And the soldiers who watched this were in awe of this extraordinary rider as well as general. He was described as one of the best horsemen of the age.
HANSEN: Once across the creek, Washington and his men were surprised to meet up with friendly forces. A regiment of Continentals had preceded them to New Jersey on a revenge mission led by Washington's rival and fellow Virginian Adam Steven.
Prof. FISCHER: He had lost a man in a boat on the river killed by the Hessians. And he came from the southern backcountry and he had a sense of the lex talionis, the law of retaliation, so he sent his men across to kill a Hessian because they had done that to him. And these men attacked the garrison at Trenton on Christmas night, then were driven off and were moving back up the road and ran into Washington. Washington was shocked. He thought they had ruined the--his plan, that they had alerted the garrison. But decided yet again that he would push on and the irony of it was that the Hessians, who had known that Washington was coming, thought that that first attack was the attack. And so they let down their guard just a little bit.
HANSEN: But enough. The Continental Army marched on toward Trenton. The Hessians saw the first flashes of American muskets from across open fields.
Prof. FISCHER: The Americans on the other side saw the Hessians come pouring out of their outposts. And they could hear the Hessian kettledrums beating the alarm. And to Washington's complete surprise, they had in fact surprised the Hessians. They'd gotten tactical surprise. Because the storm, because the attack before, because of a series of contingencies that nobody had planned or quite anticipated.
HANSEN: The Hessian commander, Colonel Johan Raul(ph), organized three counterattacks against the Americans. But the Continental's artillery held the heights outside Trenton. And American infantrymen took cover inside houses in the town as they fired on the Hessians. Losses in the two-hour battle were lopsided. The Americans captured almost 900 Hessians, more than half of the total force at Trenton. Washington had seized the initiative, but his problems weren't over.
Prof. FISCHER: His men in Trenton found a very large supply of rum and consumed a good part of it before Washington could intervene and it was decided for a number of reasons, not least was the condition of the Army, that it might be well if they retreated back across the river again, which they did. They took their prisoners with them and the crossing was more difficult going back again than it had been coming out.
HANSEN: Rum may have warmed Washington's troops for the moment but they faced almost five more years of fighting before the British finally conceded defeat and left the colonies to their independence. That independence, Professor Fischer says, was defined by the performance of the soldiers who fought under George Washington and by their successors.
Prof. FISCHER: Every generation in America goes to war. We've had a major war in just about every generation since 1630. And how we go about that says much about who we are and what we do. And what these men did was to set an example.
HANSEN: David Hackett Fischer is a professor of history at Brandeis University. He's the author of "Washington's Crossing," published by Oxford University Press.
Professor Fischer, thank you very much.
Prof. FISCHER: Thank you for having me.
HANSEN: Our feature on Washington's crossing was recorded by Chris Sockus(ph) and produced by Neal Carruth. To learn more about the event, please visit our Web site at npr.org.
You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.
editor - 12/30/2003
Squalid truth of Stalin's little martyr killed for informing on his father
Pavlik Morozov, a boy who once loved communism, was hailed as the ultimate patriot, but now the myth is unravelling. Julius Strauss reports
Even by the high-octane standards of Stalinist-era propaganda, the storyline was a powerful one.
Pavlik Morozov was a handsome 14-year-old schoolboy who lived in a tiny Siberian village, never played truant, always did his homework and was polite to his teachers. He loved communism so much that when his own father broke the law he informed on him to the authorities.
When Pavlik's vengeful relatives found out, they sneaked up on him as he was picking berries in the woods with his little brother and stabbed him to death.
For generations the story of Pavlik the boy martyr was taught to tens of millions of schoolchildren throughout the Soviet Union.
The embodiment of fierce Soviet patriotism, he was pronounced Pioneer-Hero No 1 and elevated to the rank of communism's untouchables.
But now, 70 years later and more than a decade after communism fell, a quiet debate is raging over Pavlik Morozov that runs right to the heart of Russia's post-Soviet identity.
It has pitted a handful of human rights advocates scattered in the regions against the monolithic power of the Russian state: the country's supreme court and the FSB, formerly the KGB.
Anna Pastukhova, who works with the Russian human rights group Memorial in the regional capital, Yekaterinburg, said: "Pavlik is one of the cornerstones of the entire Soviet foundation. If Pavlik was faked it means the whole myth of the Soviet Union was faked."
For the Stalinist propaganda machine of the 1930s the story of Pavlik was too good to miss.
From the day he was killed, Sept 3, 1932, he was built up as a paragon of virtue and a model for the Soviet youth.
Four relatives of Pavlik - his grandfather, grandmother, cousin and uncle - were rounded up for his murder, hauled in front of a hastily convened regional court and charged with terrorism.
As hundreds of telegrams flooded in from around the country demanding that they be shown no mercy, they were convicted and shot. After the trial, the propaganda offensive began. The communist regime dubbed him Pioneer-Hero No 1 and erected statues in his memory. A collective farm was named after him, songs were composed in his memory and an opera was written about him.
Pavlik's village, the dirt-poor, one-street settlement of Gerasimovka, a day's drive east of Yekaterinburg, became a shrine to his memory and his virtue.
For more than 50 years, hundreds of thousands of Soviet children from all over the country were taken to the tiny schoolroom where Pavlik studied and instructed to emulate him. They were taken to the spot where he apparently died, now marked with a plaque surrounded by a metal fence.
In winter there was even a three-day ski contest in the village and the winner would be awarded the Pavlik Morozov prize. Today the heroism of Pavlik has been quietly dropped from the school curriculum, the buses no longer line up and Gerasimovka is once again dirt-poor.
The road to the settlement is deserted and the huge concrete letters erected to mark the Pavlik Morozov Collective Farm are crumbling.
Irina Yevdokimova, the director of the region's museums, said: "We used to have Pioneers coming here from all over the Soviet Union. For the past 10 years there has been almost nobody, only a few academics." For decades anyone who questioned the official version of the Pavlik story would receive a knock on the door or a phone call from the KGB warning them off.
But during the past decade a few solitary individuals have set out to probe the myth. The sketchy picture that has emerged is very different from the official version.
They have concluded that far from being a model schoolboy, Pavlik was a poor student and a troublemaker.
Some people say he could barely read. The one surviving photograph of him shows a malnourished, almost feral, child, a far cry from the strapping lad of the statues and portraits. The explanation for his heroic deed has also been discredited. His father had walked out on his mother when the children were still young, leaving her to bring them up as best she could.
In revenge, Pavlik's mother urged her son to inform on his father for allegedly selling sought-after documents granting permission to travel.
As for the boy's murder, no proper investigation was carried out. A secret police officer simply arrived in the village and arrested those he decided were the culprits, claiming to have found a bloody knife in the home of one of them.
In 1932, Stalin's infamous forced collectivisation, which resulted in the death of millions of farmers, was just getting under way. In the terror and uncertainty of the time, legal process, even when it was applied, was pared back to a bare minimum.
When the truth began to emerge, Inokenty Khlebnikov, a local man, wrote to the courts and asked that Pavlik's alleged killers be rehabilitated like hundreds of thousands of other victims of Stalin's purges. But in 1999 the supreme court ruled that the conviction was safe. The FSB refused to release the files on the case.
In Gerasimovka many local people, who spent decades believing in the Pavlik myth, are confused and defiant.
Dmitry Prokupyanko, an 86-year-old war veteran, who went to school with Pavlik, said: "He was a hero, very brave, very clever. He was perfect. We used to pick mushrooms and catch fish together. Now everybody just wants to spit on his memory."
Tatyana Kuznetsova, who runs the Pavlik Morozov Museum - a sad collection of brown desks with portraits of Stalin and Lenin on the wall - was more sanguine. "Maybe he wasn't a hero, just a small child. But at the time we needed heroes," she said.
But for the human rights activists seeking to establish the truth after so many decades of falsehoods, Pavlik Morozov is more than just a local concern. Anna Pastukhova of Memorial said: "Our leaders are trying to rehabilitate the old system. Their treatment of the Pavlik case is a litmus test for the future of this country."
editor - 12/17/2003
The Old West was not really so wild
By FOSS FARRAR
Traveler Staff Writer
The Wild West depicted in countless movies and novels wasn't really that wild at all, Jay Price, assistant professor of history at the University of Wichita professor told history buffs at the Cherokee Strip Land Rush Museum, Wednesday.
"Statistically, you were much more likely to get shot in New York City than in a cattle town," Price, also director of the university's public history program, told the "brown bag" lunch audience of 15 people.
By the mid-1800s, dueling was illegal and feuds were settled that way quietly, at night and out of town, he said.
But the popular history of the West was written largely by "neo-natives" who didn't live there long but who were captivated by the idea of the West. Price said.
For example, Zane Grey, writer of western stories, was a dentist from Ohio. Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th U.S. president, was born in New York City, but later ranched in the Dakota Territory and organized the Rough Riders cavalry unit in the Spanish-American War.
Hollywood filmmakers, such as John Ford, also were captivated by the West, and western landscapes, Price added, showing a slide of a sunset in the country.
"Notice how filmmakers tend to focus on the rural nature of the West," he said. "A western town has a single main street with wooden buildings, even though there is nothing uniquely western about these buildings."
Western movies downplay the urban development of the West. "Typically, you see just one church and one sheriff's office in a town in a western movie," he said. "But Wichita (during the western period) had a marshal's office located in the city hall building. And there was a police force in the 1880s."
Some of the historical facts that get overlooked or underplayed in movies include: the government's role in western settlement -- providing grants for settlers, for example; the fancy-dress style of many citizens in western towns who ordered clothing from the East by mail order catalogs; and the generally civilized lifestyle of people in western towns.
"Instead of seeing leading men sitting down to coffee to discuss their differences with opponents, you see macho, rough-and-tumble types like John Wayne -- loners who end up leaving the town at end to go off into the sunset," he said.
Native Americans also are stereotyped in western movies, as aggressors who attack wagon trains. Rarely are they depicted as civilized pacifists who are the victims in the story.
Women in westerns rarely are the main character, Price said. "How often do you see a woman mayor with men sidekicks? And yet, it's interesting that the first state to give women the right to vote was Wyoming, a western state."
editor - 12/9/2003
The Last Samurai: Movie Myth or History?
Stefan Lovgren in Los Angeles
for National Geographic News
December 2, 2003
Mythology colors all history. Sometimes, legend and lore merely embellish the past. Other times, mythology may actually devour history. Such is the case with the samurai, the military aristocracy of feudal Japan.
The samurai are known as strong and courageous warriors, schooled with swords. In reality, they were an elitist and (for two centuries) idle class that spent more time drinking and gambling than cutting down enemies on the battlefield.
But it's the ideals to which they aspired—discipline, loyalty, and benevolence—that endured and shaped the romantic image of the samurai that is now ingrained in the Japanese cultural psyche.
That's in large part thanks to the movies. From Akira Kurosawa's masterpiece The Seven Samurai to the new Hollywood epic, The Last Samurai, starring Tom Cruise, the movie samurai are usually noble and heroic characters.
Ed Zwick, the cerebral director and co-writer of The Last Samurai, makes no apologies for embracing idealism over reality for his movie. He says each version has its uses in storytelling.
"It's as important to celebrate what's poetic and idealized as it is to understand the reality," Zwick said in a telephone interview. "We're inspired by the mythologizing of the samurai as heroes."
A Time of Transition
The Last Samurai is the fictional tale of a broken United States Civil War veteran (Cruise) who travels as a mercenary to Japan soon after the overthrow of the old Shogunate and the restoration of imperial rule in 1868. He ultimately rediscovers his honor by joining a samurai rebellion against the encroaching world of the West.
The dawn of what's known as the Meiji era was a time of change as Japan emerged from 200 years of self-imposed isolation and began to shed some of its traditions. The samurai had served as a standing army with no one to fight for the last 200 years. Now they represented the past.
"It's a country that tries to modernize itself in a hurry," said Harold Bolitho, a professor of Japanese history at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "It wants to get rid of a non-productive class of samurai to replace it with an effective fighting force. It wants to stand up as an independent nation and not be pushed around by Britain or the United States."
The movie rebellion is led by a samurai named Katsumoto, who is loosely based on the real-life samurai Takamori Saigo. Known for his obstinate conservatism, Saigo supported the Emperor in the Meiji coup, but then led an 1877 revolt against the government in which his followers were defeated by imperial troops drawn from the peasantry and equipped with modern arms. Saigo committed suicide.
Today, Saigo is a folk hero, a symbol of devotion to principle. In real life, he was also a pampered aristocrat bent on retaining his elitist standing.
"The samurai were very much backward-looking and no more courageous or loyal or wise than anybody else," said Bolitho. "They were just more privileged. In the end they fight for those privileges, and they are defeated by the new Japan. It's the new Japan overcoming the old Japan."
Mythologizing the Hero
But it's the idealized image of the samurai as brave and noble warriors that has survived. Zwick attributes it to the Kurosawa movies he watched as a 17-year-old student.
"I was as influenced by movie culture as I was by academic history," said Zwick. "When you're 17, you look for inspiration in different places. The idea that had most importance to me was how the samurai embraced the imminence of death and how antithetical that was to the culture in which I was living. The samurai code corresponded to an appreciation of life, the beauty of things transitory, and an absorption of the moment."
Zwick points out that Kurosawa himself was perhaps more interested in iconography than literal history, and that Kurosawa was heavily influenced by John Ford, the American director of classic Westerns, and the image of the lone frontiersman seeking justice with a gun.
"It's a kind of fusion of Western and Eastern culture that's bouncing back and forth," said Zwick. "It's important to realize this is a movie and not a historical document. That's why I chose to name the character Katsumoto, not Takamori."
But Zwick also wants his movie to depict Japan's first significant encounters with the West and to capture the rise of imperialism.
"There's a temptation to depict Japan's imperial impulse as having existed in a vacuum, when in fact they were certainly influenced by the circumstances of the world," said Zwick. "Our relationship with Japan did not begin 60 years ago with Pearl Harbor, but 150 years ago."
With the coming of the modern, explains Zwick, there are winners and losers; things are gained and lost on both sides.
"It's easy to appreciate the technological marvel and the world competitor that Japan has become," said Zwick. "But to be there in Japan and see the absolute disappearance of anything of the natural world, the aesthetic that was so celebrated and is still celebrated in the culture, feels also tragic."
Crafting the Image
The samurai may have been defeated in the late 19th century, but their virtuous and noble image has been carefully molded ever since.
"It's an idealized image that's been pushed onto the entire Japanese people," said Bolitho. "It's built into the education system and the armed forces, so that everyone who goes to war sees himself in some sense as a Samurai. It's a tremendous public relations job. Samurai images are brought out again and again, even to people whose grandparents where pushed around by the Samurai."
Still, Bolitho says he thoroughly enjoyed the new movie.
"We're dealing with a fantasy, and fantasy always tops reality," he said. "The samurai is a great movie theme. Like all ideals, it's going to be around forever."
editor - 12/9/2003
By Tom Leonard, Media Editor
The BBC is to expose some of the myths surrounding the evacuation of Dunkirk in a new drama documentary.
Dunkirk, a three-part BBC2 series which has cost £2.5 million, will "contain some truths that will be uncomfortable for people", said Alex Holmes, its director.
Chief among these will be the popular perception of the selfless courage of the "little boats" that went across the Channel to pick up survivors.
The series, based on interviews with survivors, will make clear that some who sailed the boats agreed to go because they were paid.
It will also highlight the British duplicitousness towards the French, the poor organisation of the British forces and the fact that "not all people in war behave with simple heroics".
"Dunkirk was the first example of spin," Holmes said. "The government took a near catastrophe and turned it into the rock on which the war effort was built."
His series was "not revisionist but accurate. The notion that everyone leapt into boats at the drop of a hat to save their fellow man isn't the whole story. There is great heroism but it is complex heroism."
Filmed in a documentary style as if a television crew is actually at the scene, the series mixes dramatic reconstruction with mock interviews with combatants and fly-on-the-wall footage of the War Cabinet.
The technique was last used in a 1961 BBC film about the battle of Culloden. The new series stars Simon Russell Beale as Winston Churchill and will be shown in the New Year.
The Second World War continues to be popular for television on both sides of the Atlantic, but Dunkirk had to be entirely financed by the BBC as Americans were not interested in the series.
Previous story: Oxbridge is told to modernise before public funding is increased
Stephen Thomas - 11/3/2003
The I-IV-V chordal structure and the melodic structure that it creates did not come from African music... that should be obvious to anybody who understands music.
Hard to believe that the myth that gospel and blues are entirely of black origin continues to exist. Gospel and blues represent a synergy of black and European culture.
The belief that such music is "black" arises from two strange phenomena. Intellectual whites have always wanted to distance themselves from the "primitive." So, the "primitive" was always ascribed to blacks. And, in the 1960s, as liberals searched for an area of achievement that was certifiably totally black, gospel and blues seemed the correct target. White gospel and blues musicians were routinely labelled as cultural thieves.
In the PC era, the synergy of gospel and blues became even more taboo. Both gospel and blues, if listened to closely, tell us that whites and blacks have been playing, mating, dancing and having a good time together since at least the Civil War and probably before. The race is everything crowd doesn't want us to know that.
In retrospect, these theories have to be seen as condescension toward both blacks and whites.
Dave Livingston - 10/30/2003
Dr. Davin (or anyone), a query...
wasn't the writer whose SiFi novels first sold in the early twenties under the name A. Merit, a woman?
Gus Moner - 10/29/2003
All indications point to the gradual development of this feast from the 3rd century on, culminating in the 6th century’s (13/05/0609) declaration by Boniface IV during the conversion of the Panthenon into the Church of Santa Maria Rotonda to have that date become a celebration for all the saints. Christians were prone to see saints everywhere in those days. One might recall that the number of saints had by then increased to overwhelm the calendar. Finally, it was Gregory (III?) that declared 1 November as the date to honour the lot.
In some Christian lands it is traditional for people to visit the graves of their dead on this date and it is a holiday in some European nations. Hallowe’en the vigil of All Saints Day gets its spooks from the association of the dead and the creatures of the night, supposedly ‘awakening’ (the fears of) ghosts of the dead. With so little information available to most in those dark ages, many legends arose with little difficulty.
editor - 9/23/2003
From the CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER
Bountiful research casts off the myth of cruel Capt. Bligh
"Know then my own Dear Betsy, I have lost the Bounty," wrote Capt. William Bligh to his wife in 1789 from the Dutch East Indies, where he and loyal crew members from the Bounty had landed after being set adrift by mutineers. They endured a 43-day, 4,000-mile journey in a small open launch with few rations.
The story of the Bounty has become near-legendary: the voyage to Tahiti to gather breadfruit trees for the British Caribbean colonies, the seductive South Pacific island with its sexually uninhibited women, the rising tensions between Bligh and his crew and the fateful action taken on an April morning when Master's Mate Fletcher Christian and his colleagues removed Bligh from command of his ship.
Caroline Alexander, who did such justice to the saga of the Endurance in the book of the same name, has written an exhaustively researched history of the Bounty, which strives to debunk much of what we've come to believe about the causes of the mutiny and its aftermath.
Contrary to popular belief, claims Alexander, Bligh was not a cruel man and, in fact, avoided corporal punishment. Several letters he wrote during the voyage to Tahiti remarked on his amiable crew and the fact that no punishments had been warranted or administered. Known for keeping a clean ship and feeding his crew well, Bligh seemed to feel that these practices were far more effective in maintaining control than lashes with a cat-o'-nine-tails.
Relations between Bligh and the crew began to deteriorate months before the mutiny. The men balked at Bligh's requirement of daily dancing on deck, one of his methods for keeping them healthy. The crew began to perform their duties sloppily, perhaps influenced by the islanders' comparatively languorous lifestyle. Floggings broke out, and resentments grew. Members of the crew became unapologetically negligent. As Bligh lost more control and the ship fell into chaos, his actions became harsher often bordering on the irrational.
It wasn't until several weeks after the ship left Tahiti on its return voyage that Christian snapped, for a reason that remains unknown. He and three others hauled Bligh out of his bed and cast him off the ship along with those who remained loyal to him. Ill-prepared for any kind of voyage, Bligh nevertheless guided his men to Timor in the Dutch East Indies, from which they eventually were able to return to England.
Alexander contends that Bligh never set out to be ruthless but was driven to his actions by his men. Furthermore, while most similar ships of the era carried marines to give the captain backup if necessary, the Bounty did not, forcing Bligh into a desperate, nearly single-handed struggle to maintain the upper hand. Instead of being reviled as a tyrant, Alexander contends, he should be revered as a hero who led his castoff crew to safety.
editor - 9/3/2003
From The PRESS & JOURNAL
AMERICAN ACADEMIC BELIEVES GOSPEL SINGING OWES ORIGIN TO SCOTS
16:28 - 01 September 2003
An American professor of music believes his country's gospel tradition owes its existence to the solemn psalm-singing of the Scottish Hebridean churches.
The passion of black church music - a discipline that nurtured such superstars as Whitney Houston, Tina Turner and Aretha Franklin - was always assumed to come from the days of American slavery.
But Professor Willie Ruff, of Yale University, has put forward the theory that the style of leading the congregation on each line of the lyrics owes more to the Free Church of Scotland's style of psalm singing.
Prof Ruff, 71, said that modern-day Afro-Americans had always assumed that their gospel style had been brought from Africa when their ancestors were sold into slavery in the US.
But he claims his research has shown this is a misconception, and the musical traditions came from Scottish slave owners who brought their religious practices and psalms with them across the Atlantic.
Prof Ruff said: "We as black Americans have lived under a misconception. Our cultural roots are more Afro-Gaelic than Afro-American. We got our names from the slave masters, we got our religion from the slave masters and we got our blood from the slave masters."
The professor, who has played with Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie, found his curiosity was aroused when he heard a Presbyterian congregation in Alabama singing in the same style as his own Baptist church, and wondered if it had come from the white Presbyterians. Research on the history of North Carolina showed Highlanders had settled there in the 1700s, and anecdotal evidence of African slaves speaking Gaelic convinced Prof Ruff he had to visit Scotland.
He found himself in Stornoway, listening to the precentor lead a congregation by singing each line and having them repeat the haunting psalm melodies.
The idea of rhythmic black gospel music having its roots in solemn Presbyterian Scotland is proving hard to swallow - Glasgow University sources said it was "plausible" and "intriguing", but one American gospel leader simply said: "Gospel music is black music."
Prof Ruff added: "There will be Scots who are uncomfortable with the relationship and the involvement in the slave trade. But the Scots are like anyone, and there were many who were abolitionists and who set up schools for black children after emancipation."
editor - 7/21/2003
Toronto Star July 20, 2003
Black Death theories ... All fall down
In his 2001 book, In The Wake Of The Plague, Norman Cantor repeats the common claim that "Ring Around The Rosie" refers to the Black Death of the mid 1300s: "The origin of the rhyme is the flu-like symptoms, skin discolouring and mortality caused by bubonic plague."
This is one well-accepted claim that's worth a closer look.
The idea seems absurd at first glance. A four-line verse sung by children is actually about an epidemic that killed 25 million people centuries ago?
It is strange, but when you analyze "Ring Around The Rosie" word by word, line by line, details of the Black Death eerily emerge.
The details of the rhyme differ from place to place and time to time, but the version I learned goes like this:
Ring around the rosie,
A pocketful of posie,
We all fall down.
The "ring" of "Ring Around The Rosie" calls attention to the spots that broke out on people who had caught the plague, innumerable reddish or bluish black ones ("inky black tattoos") that were produced when blood vessels burst.
Graham Twigg, in his book The Black Death: A Biological Reappraisal argues that "Ring Around The Rosie" is a reference to these spots circling the waist of the victim.
"A pocketful of posie" is straightforward.
No one in the 1300s had any idea of what caused the Black Death, or how that unknown infectious agent moved from person to person, but in a desperate attempt to protect themselves, frightened people burnt everything in their rooms, from incense to oak leaves to sulphur.
They rubbed down their houses with essences of a variety of herbs and even soaked handkerchiefs in them so they could venture out of the house.
"Husha, husha" might simply be the quiet that settled on medieval towns that had lost as much as three-quarters of their population to death or desertion.
An alternative version of the rhyme substitutes, "Tishoo, tishoo," which has been argued to mimic the sound of sneezing, but the vast majority of plague descriptions do not mention sneezing at all.
Another suggestion is that the ashes refer to the colour of victims' skin.
And finally, "We all fall down" is an obvious allusion to the depopulation of Europe.
Altogether, it's a good story, with one small problem: It is wrong.
Turns out that it's one thing to simply take at face value the claim that the rhyme represents the Black Death, and another to actually investigate it.
For instance, a rhyme that supposedly dates back to a 14th-century event would have its own lengthy history, but the earliest version of "Ring Around The Rosie" ever found appeared in print in 1881, in a version of Mother Goose.
There have been claims that there were versions of the rhyme as early as 1790 in Massachusetts, but no supporting evidence has ever surfaced.
It has been argued that just because a rhyme didn't appear in print doesn't mean it didn't exist. But given that folklorists have been collecting rhymes for more than 300 years, it seems unlikely that one of this significance would somehow have slipped under their radar.
If the Black Death wasn't the basis for "Ring Around The Rosie," then what was?
Folklorist Philip Hiscock of Newfoundland's Memorial University has suggested it had to do with the prohibition of dance among Protestants in the 19th century.
He claims that adolescents found a way around such bans by organizing what were called "play-parties." A major feature of those parties were ring games, like square dancing but without the music.
"Ring Around The Rosie" is, in Hiscock's opinion, likely one of those games, with the "ring" simply referring to the ring of children. "Husha, husha" is then the command to be silent and "All fall down" is, well, simply that: all fall down.
Or, if you remain unconvinced by this skeptical approach, as Ian Munro at the University of Alberta pointed out, you're welcome to think that, 500 years after the Black Death "a group of Americans thought it would be neat to invent a rhyming game that was filled with references to disgusting aspects of an ancient epidemic in a foreign country."
Jay Ingram hosts the Daily Planet show on the Discovery Channel.
Rebecca Solnit - 6/11/2003
Nice to have a chance to correct this letter to the NYTBR about my book River of Shadows:
Muybridge, accepting mere silhouettes
for this early stage of his motion studies, had solely to devise a quick
mechanical shutter and a triggering process -- hence Solnit's subtitle --
not mix a new chemical potion, as the reviewer may have inadvertently
In fact, Muybridge did devise a new chemical formula, probably a variation on existing formulas. He never published it, perhaps in part because the new dry-plate chemistry made innovations in wet-plate chemistry obsolete and irrelevant.
Bob Sampson - 4/3/2003
Having seen one of Dr. Loewen's presentations that included the John Brown comparison, I agree with Steven White. The "good" Brown image that Lowewen used on that occasion was actually an engraving that was apparently an idealized version of a daguerreotype. It bears little resemblance to the actual photographic image that most U.S. antebellum historians are familiar with. The "wild" Brown portrait is from a Thomas Hart Benton mural, as I recall. To make his point, Loewen had to use the idealized Brown image rather than the real image. White is correct, there is some validity to what Loewen says about U.S. history but one also needs to examine his claims carefully, in my opinon.
Editor - 1/29/2003
Sydney Morning Herald
January 25, 2003 Saturday
SECTION: Spectrum; Pg. 8
HEADLINE: Our Very Rum Rebellion
BYLINE: Michael Duffy
On this weekend, almost two centuries ago, William Bligh faced his second humiliating mutiny. What provoked it? Not the trade in spirits, writes Michael Duffy, but conflict over an unwritten code of honour.
At dusk on January 26, 1808, the NSW Corps, urged on by most of the wealthy inhabitants of Sydney, marched up Bridge Street to Government House and deposed Governor William Bligh.
They searched for almost two hours in the dark before they found him, hiding under a bed in a back room upstairs.
The Rum Rebellion, as it came to be known, was a bizarre event that has never been successfully assimilated into our history. There are two common impressions of it today: that it was caused by conflict over the trade in spirits, and that the whole thing a rebellion in which no one died was a joke. Neither impression is true. Historians long ago discredited Bligh's claim that the rebellion was caused by spirits. The name Rum Rebellion was not coined until the 1850s, by a Bligh supporter, and stuck only because of the attractions of alliteration and simple explanations. As for the idea that it was a joke or farce, no one thought so at the time.
I propose a new explanation of the rebellion: it occurred because of the code of honour, the largely unwritten British conventions about how gentlemen should act towards each other, particularly when in conflict. The code was older than the rule of law, which was gradually suffocating it, but was still powerful, particularly among military officers. Its most extreme manifestation was the duel, and I believe the Bligh rebellion was a sort of displaced duel between William Bligh and his chief opponents, the officers of the corps and their former colleague, John Macarthur. Like most duels, it was a piece of theatre in which, despite the prominence of weapons, no one was injured. And, like many duels, it was concerned with status and what it meant to be a gentleman.
Macarthur was a draper's son, who, through great energy, ambition and luck, had become the wealthiest man in the colony. He considered himself a member of the gentry and was prickly about all matters reflecting on a gentleman's greatest asset, his honour. Bligh came from the minor gentry and regarded his would-be equals in NSW with contempt. "You can have no idea," he wrote to the Honourable Charles Greville in London, "of the class of persons here who consider themselves gentlemen."
By 1808, Macarthur had fought two duels and had almost fought several more. The first took place in Plymouth in 1789, as the Second Fleet was about to leave, when he argued with the ship's captain.
This man shoved Lieutenant Macarthur (as he then was) during an argument over the on-board accommodation provided for Macarthur's family.
Without telling his wife, Elizabeth, Macarthur went ashore. Ten steps were paced out and the two men exchanged shots. As in most duels, pistols were inaccurate and the participants would have been scared, so no one was hit. But honour was satisfied and the men could live together again. That was the point of the code of honour. It was what we might call a mechanism for dispute resolution.
While we think of duelling as barbaric, historically it replaced the vendetta, in which a personal dispute spread to friends and family. A few forward-thinkers, such as Jean Jacques Rousseau and William Wilberforce, opposed duelling, but it did not die out until the mid-19th century. In Macarthur's lifetime, it was supported by most thinkers, including Samuel Johnson, Joseph Addison and Adam Smith.
The rule of law would come to supplant it, but only much later, once with the help of efficient parliamentary democracy it had established its superiority as a means of settling disputes between powerful men. Although the duel was illegal in Macarthur's time, few juries would convict if a man died, provided the seconds who attended the fight could assure the court it had occurred according to the unwritten, but widely known and respected, procedures.
After arriving in Sydney, Macarthur declined two challenges to duels one from surgeon William Balmain, the other from a visiting naval lieutenant, James Marshall.
To reject a challenge was a delicate matter. On the one hand, a gentleman could not demean himself by accepting a challenge from a social inferior. On the other, rejection risked the accusation of cowardice. To complicate matters, there were no comprehensive written definitions of what it meant to be a gentleman and to be honourable. In the great British tradition, the code of honour was not codified.
So there was extensive discussion among the gentlemen of Sydney as to whether Macarthur had acted properly. Outraged by Macarthur's insulting behaviour, Marshall tried to attack him with a stick and was charged with assault. In court, he sneered: "I cannot avoid expressing my astonishment at the effrontery of Captain Macarthur in my presence, in the presence of any man of honour, attempting to justify his late conduct. He would fain[sic] persuade you that I am the coward; but you know perfectly well which of the two [of us] shrunk from his engagement I will say from his claim, if a man so acting has any claim to honour."
The court, which was pretty much run by the military in those days, found in Macarthur's favour, mainly because he was more powerful than his opponent.
Macarthur's next duel occurred at Parramatta in 1801, when he tried to enmesh his commanding officer, William Paterson, in a dispute with Governor Philip Gidley King. He disclosed the contents of private communications from Paterson, including a letter that put Paterson's wife in a bad light.
Even though the Articles of War banned duels, Paterson felt his honour required him to send an "invitation" to Macarthur. This time a coin was thrown and Macarthur won the right to shoot first. Paterson would have stood with his arm down, side-on to his opponent to minimise the chance of being hit. But hit he was, in the right shoulder.
Once again, honour had been satisfied (the institution of the duel had nothing to do with justice), but Governor King was not. He sent Macarthur back to Britain to be court-martialled. It was on this voyage that he fortuitously made the contacts that enabled him to obtain an enormous grant of land at what was later known, in honour of the lord who gave the grant, as Camden.
While in London, Macarthur offended Sir Joseph Banks, the government's adviser on NSW, expert on the wool industry and patron of William Bligh. So, when Bligh arrived in Sydney to replace King in 1806, he was already suspicious of Macarthur. As their acquaintance developed, enmity blossomed.
It has been suggested Bligh and Macarthur were similar in temperament both aggressive, proud and determined. But they were very different types of men. Macarthur looked to the past, to the aristocratic code of honour and an idea of government as representing the interests of the propertied class against the dangers of absolute monarchy. These ideas were rooted in the writing of John Locke, based on the "Glorious Revolution" of 1688. They were still widespread in Britain, particularly (as one might expect) among men of property.
In contrast, Bligh, although still concerned about his own status as a gentleman, was more modern. He saw the function of governor in progressive terms as being a professional and objective administrator with a duty to rule well for all classes of people.
The other early governors were similar in this. Like Bligh, they were all naval officers, and there were important differences between the army and navy. Georgian army officers had a lot to do with money and trade and the society around them, and appreciated their comforts. Naval men tended to be more self-sufficient and puritanical, and had an expectation that their orders would be obeyed, which was unrealistic on dry land. These cultural differences caused conflict between the army and the governors from the beginning. The Bligh rebellion was to be their culmination.
Bligh frustrated the more ambitious inhabitants of NSW by making almost no land grants. He told Macarthur he disapproved of the size of his grant at Camden. He launched an attack on town leases made by his predecessors, ordering people to move their houses.
From a town-planning point of view, his actions were rational and modern. But, to Britons obsessed with the idea that property was the basis of freedom, they were the actions of a dangerous autocrat. This impression was enhanced when he overrode a court decision.
The officers and wealthy men of NSW came to feel that Bligh did not understand the role of the governor, which was to be the first among equals. He abused them verbally on occasions and was impossible to negotiate with. Gradually, it dawned on them, as it had on some of the gentlemen aboard the Bounty in 1789, that William Bligh was not a gentleman. And that meant it was wrong for him to be in a position of power over them.
In the language of the documents of the period some of them reporting court cases involving Macarthur this unease is often expressed in talk of honour, and the responsibilities of men of honour.
On January 25, Macarthur appeared before a court consisting of six officers and the judge advocate. The details need not concern us, but the officers refused to proceed, which was a direct insult to Bligh. He responded on January 26 by throwing Macarthur into jail, possibly the first time a gentleman had been so treated in NSW.
Bligh informed the officers of the court that they were to appear before him the next day to account for their "treasonable" behaviour. He advised Major George Johnston of this. Johnston, believing the officers might be jailed by a governor who could not be reasoned with because he was not a man of honour, proceeded to liberate Macarthur from prison and depose Bligh by force.
Bligh said later that he merely intended to reprimand the officers, and I believe him. Yet there is no doubt they and Johnston took his words far more seriously, and had every right to do so.
The problem was that Bligh had the equivalent of a tin ear where words involving status were concerned. His career involves several incidents where he managed to deeply offend other men, not simply because he used abuse, which was common in the navy, but because he abused gentlemen. He never realised he had to use different words to different people.
This insensitivity was also shown when he hid under the bed when the corps came for him on January 26, 1808. He almost certainly hid simply to escape his pursuers and rally support later. The risk he took in being found and thought a coward probably never occurred to him.
It is interesting that Bligh had managed to avoid any duels in his own career. However, duels were rare between commanding officers and subordinates, where the death of the former would endanger the command of His Majesty's forces. This meant that duels between naval officers on the same ship were infrequent. Possibly, Bligh would like to have challenged Macarthur but for this. Certainly, his predecessor, King, said he wished he could have called out Macarthur, whom he described as a perturbator.
At Johnston's trial in 1811, the rebels did not say they had acted because Bligh was no gentleman. This would not have helped, as the Articles of War had nothing to say on the matter. But the subtext of the trial was Johnston's effort to prove that Bligh was an unworthy ruler and (particularly damaging for a gentleman) a coward. And, even though Johnston was found guilty of mutiny and cashiered, the court said that he had not been punished more severely because of problems with Bligh's governorship.
To me this is telling. Although not one action of Bligh's was proved to be wrong, the gentlemen on the bench assumed he must have been a bad ruler, because he had lost the trust of the gentlemen of NSW.
Some historians say the rebels acted out of material self-interest. H.V.Evatt, for example, blamed it all on the scheming and acquisitiveness of Macarthur. But the rebels had no reason to hope that Bligh's successor would be any better than Bligh himself in this regard, and, by rebelling, they were risking punishment and even death.
In the event, the NSW Corps was withdrawn from what had been one of the most cushy postings in the empire, and Macarthur was effectively exiled for eight years. And it could have ended even more badly Macarthur and others could have been charged and jailed, and Governor Lachlan Macquarie initially believed that Johnston would be executed for his role in the rebellion.
So, self-interest explains nothing. What really happened was that Johnston panicked, and the reason he did so was that notions of honour had blurred his vision of Bligh and made it impossible to deal with him.
As for Macarthur, who had brought matters to a head, he found Bligh so offensive, so much of a threat to his idea of himself as a man of honour, that life with the governor was no longer psychically bearable. Bligh had to go, whatever the consequences.
Hence the strange affair of honour, the very rum rebellion, that occurred on the 20th anniversary of the founding of Australia.
HNN Staff - 9/19/2002
JAPAN INVASION MYTH
Japan never intended to invade Australia in World War II, according to the principal historian at the Australian War Memorial.
Dr. Eric Davin - 9/11/2002
It is commonly believed that science fiction was a hostile literary genre in which few or no women authors participated before the 1960s & those who did could only do so by concealing their gender under male pseudonyms or initlals. This is complete myth, & is exhaustively debunked in "Presumption of Prejudice: Women Writers in the Early Science Fiction Magazines, 1926-49," by Eric Leif Davin & Norman Metcalf, published in Fantasy Commentator, 2002 issue, $10, 48 Highland Circle, Bronxville, NY 10708.
Steven White - 8/29/2002
I have heard Mr. Loewen speak. For a sociologist who does not know very much about history he does well.
He has, however, a very superficial understanding of history. He totally ignores any evidence which discredits
Brown, accepting the saint-like image which compared Brown to Christ before the Civil War.Entertaining but
in a flashy, surface level way. Read and listen to everything Mr. Loewen says with a large grain of salt. We should look at history to discover as close as we can the truth, and persons like Mr. Loewen
who begin with a pre-conceived agenda should be scrutinized with great care. His parlor trick, in which he
flashes a photo of a clean-shaven Brown -- for less than a second- might fool non-historians but few real
historians are taken in by this slight of hand. I have read his book on lies twice and even the title is
misleading. Some of what Loewen says is true, there is bad history. But there is also bad sociology. I do
not know what kind of sociologist he is, but I do know that he is not a bad historian, he is no historian at all.
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