Tuesday, January 30, 2007

21st century jousting

A modern Charny might ask, what is more worthy -- or is it "crazier?" -- this, or what was done at St. Inglevert?

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Iranian power in the new Middle East

Students who are reading Anthony Shadid's book for HIST 2805 may be interested in what he has to say in the New York Times about how the Iraq war has led to a surge (gotta watch that word) in Iranian power.

Update: See this Guardian (UK) article by an Iranian expatriate, Ali Ansari, on the weakness of Iran's president. An interesting contrast to Shadid's.

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The US Constitution and the President as Commander-in-Chief

I missed this New York Times op-ed by Gary Wills when it first came out, but it should be read by students of the history of democracy.

Wills is the author of a fabulous study of Jefferson's original draft of the Declaration of Independence.

Political advertising

Today on CBC Radio 1's show The Current, there was a discussion of recent Canadian Conservative attack ads on new federal Liberal leader Stephane Dion. CBC went to the trouble of putting this effort in a long context by referring to the thousands of grafitti carved and painted on the walls of Pompeii. Some of these were ads, positive and negative, for local elections. In this part of Italy in the first century AD (CE), local electoral politics clearly had some vitality.

You can look at translations of and commentary on the graffiti, political and otherwise, here and here.

Monday, January 29, 2007

HIST 2805 will meet tonight at 5

And with luck every Monday and Wednesday afternoon.

Today we will discuss the modernizing process in the 19th century Ottoman empire

VITAL INFO FOR NU HISTORY STUDENTS!

Nipissing University has made major changes to its History program.

Before you pre-register for next year you will want an explanation of those changes and how they affect you

There will be two general information sessions for returning History students

FEB 5th 11:30- in F210
FEB 6th 11:30- in A137

Be sure you attend one of these!

Brendan Murray at NU today

North Bay native and accomplished actor Brendan Murray will give a talk called:

Suit[ing] the action to the word": Acting Shakespeare
Monday January 29, 2007, 5:00
6:20 p.m., Room A118

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Steve Muhlberger on Chivalry -- a podcast on the Chivalry Today website

I was recently interviewed by Scott Farrell of the organization Chivalry Today in connection with my work on chivalry as an ideal and a reality. It is included in the Chivalry Today podcast #8. The interview begins about 1/4 of the way in.

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The Duellists

In the last year or so I, who used to pay little attention to the people who made movies, have discovered that Ridley Scott (who directed Blade Runner, Gladiator, and Kingdom of Heaven, along with a slew of other movies) is my favorite filmmaker. There are plenty of bones to be picked with his work, especially his recent treatment of women as mysterious non-entities, but the sheer beauty of his cinematography gets me every time. Whatever the subject of the next Scott movie (and he seems to be producing several), you will find me money in hand at the theater.

I am working my way through past Scott projects, and I just saw The Duellists, a little-known 1977 film (only 7 copies circulated in North America in its original release, though one was in Toronto). It was Scott's first feature film and it is visually stunning and thematically right up my alley. It's about two French officers who spend most of the Napoleonic wars fighting inconclusive duels yet refusing to let their quarrel go. Actually, one of them, whom the film follows, is trapped in this situation by his concern for honor, while the other, Captain Feraud seems to live for duels and his own image of himself as a dangerous man -- a quite accurate perception. The rules of honor and chivalry (the term is used in the movie at least once) allow him to kill without restraint.

The whole situation reminds me very much of the high-profile jousters I discussed in my book Deeds of Arms, some of whom were as angry and as anxious to promote themselves as Captain Feraud.

Those not so concerned with this theme will probably still be amazed by the incredible vistas and interior shots, many of them reminiscent of great paintings of the period. Those who know something of moviemaking will be astounded that it was made for $900,000. Even given that it was 30 years ago, that hardly seems possible.

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

This is the war in Iraq, January 27, 2007

This story read in conjunction with this other story tell a much bigger story, I think.

Then there is this.

Update: One more report.

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More for HIST 4505, Monday January 29

Why does Charny as this question in this way?

84. Charny asks:
Two men at arms find themselves afoot in the field, and they are enemies. The one is armed entirely as appertains to a man at arms and has his sword and knife. The other is unarmed in his tunic but he has, clearly to be seen on his hood, some precious stones that he was willing to put there, but no weapon nor any other armor. And there they are going to fight to the death. Which of these two would you rather be?

For HIST 4505 on January 29

We will be discussing Charny's Book of Chivalry.

It will be worth your while to consider Charny's War Question #17.

17. Charny asks:

Because I do not know what kind of people are called "preux," I ask what they should necessarily have done before they bear this name so that when they've done this they are able to have such an honorable name. For I believe that he who does more is worth more. But I ask what they should necessarily do at the minimum.


What do you think he was fishing for?

Friday, January 26, 2007

Ancient racism

Blogenspiel referred me to Carnivalesque #23, a collection of links to recent blog entries on ancient and medieval times, and among those was one to A Don's Life, in which Cambridge University Professor Mary Beard discusses, in connection with a British "reality TV" show, the question of whether the Greeks and Romans had racist attitudes similar to ones seen in more modern times. The post and the comments are an interesting introduction to a question that's been kicked around for quite a while.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Political conflict comes to the on-line game "Second Life"

The online game Second Life, which is supposed to be a comprehensive social environment, now has extremist politics and protests against it. And people who have made a million dollars developing virtual property. Thanks to the News Blog for alerting me.

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Death of Hrant Dink and the Armenian genocide

News comes today of the death of Hrant Dink, a Turkish citizen of Armenian background who was gunned down outside the newspaper he edited in Istanbul. The motive for this murder was probably his public support for acknowledgment of the killing of hundreds of thousands of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 as a genocide, as a step toward the reconciliation of Turks and Armenians, and the Republics of Turkey and Armenia. This is a very touchy subject in Turkey, where nationalistic feeling has made it illegal to criticize "Turkishness". This attitude has proved a barrier to Turkey's admission to the E.U., because it has led to a number of prosecutions of people writing about this and other unwelcome events.

For a Turkish comment on the murder, see this.

The picture comes from the Telegraph (UK)., which has more coverage of the incident.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Clarification HIST 2805

There will be a class on Wed, we simply will be skipping the topic originally scheduled for the next one.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Britain-France merger, 1956: a truly astonishing historical find

Again, not exactly early history, but it's too good to pass up.

According to the Guardian, which got the info from the BBC:

Britain and France talked about a "union" in the 1950s, even discussing the possibility of the Queen becoming the French head of state, it was reported today.

On September 10 1956, Guy Mollet, the then French prime minister, came to London to discuss the possibility of a merger between the two countries with his British counterpart, Sir Anthony Eden, according to declassified papers from the National Archives, uncovered by the BBC.

The man pictured above is Guy Mollet, who has to have been one of the strangest Frenchmen to ever live. Or maybe he was just in a mood.


Saturday, January 13, 2007

Mali, my musical home (?)

Not exactly a historical entry, but perhaps relevant to the experience of a teacher of world history.

Sometimes when I work at home I listen to one of the 30 Galaxie "radio" channels that come with my satellite TV package. One of my favorite channels is the World Music channel. A funny thing: 9 times out of 1o, when I hear something that I really like, it is music from the West African country of Mali. Or from neighboring Senegal, where some of the music is quite similar. Or failing that, it might be something by Madagascar Slim, from much more distant Madagascar (though last I heard, he now lives in Toronto).

This magnetic pull of Malian/Senegalese music is rather odd, since it's not all the same by any means (apart from choice of instruments). And I've never been to either place, or anywhere in Africa. But there is some essential quality that pulls me in.

You may not have Galaxie (though if you live in Canada, you may without knowing it!), but there are many Web radio stations available free. The Web can be not just your picture book of the world, but your world jukebox.

Image: US bluesman Markus James and the Wassonrai, Malian musicians.

Friday, January 12, 2007

The age of colonialism

A quotation worth contemplating from a Washington Post Op-Ed column by Zbigniew Brzezinski:

The speech reflects a profound misunderstanding of our era. America is acting like a colonial power in Iraq. But the age of colonialism is over. Waging a colonial war in the post-colonial age is self-defeating. That is the fatal flaw of Bush's policy.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

History Seminar Series at Nipissing, Jan. 19th


An announcement from Dr. James Murton:

The next installment of the History Department Seminar Series ventures outside the hallowed halls of the History Department (though we don't, of course, have our own halls) to take in Dr. David Tabachnick of Political Science. David's talk is entitled, "Is there an American Empire? The Difference Between Hegemonia and Arkhe," and will take place on Friday, Jan 19, at 3:30 pm in A224. See you there!

Our information age

From TomDispatch.com:


And here's a strange footnote to the administration's surge of words. The most secretive White House in our history, ever ready to accuse others of leaking or releasing information that could hurt national security, has over the last week essentially released the full American "surge" plan for the Baghdad area -- as if we weren't in one world, as if those resisting the American military didn't watch CNN and couldn't read our press on-line like anyone else. Whether you belong to a Sunni insurgent group, al-Qaeda in Iraq, or Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, you now know that the American plan involves dividing the Iraqi capital into nine sections; more or less how many American (as well as Iraqi) troops and police will be assigned to live in each of them; that new mini-bases for the surging Americans will be created throughout the city, and so on.

Given administration and military leaks, copious official background briefings for the media, Bush's speech, and the endless comments of key neocon planners and presidential briefers Frederick Kagan and retired General Jack Keane, can there be anyone on our planet who doesn't know a great deal about the American "way forward" and the exact schedule on which it is to be rolled out? Since the President's plan sounds so much like past "surges" into Baghdad, military and economic, just as the speech itself caught so many past presidential speech patterns, planning to avoid, outwait, outfight, or outwit it should be well underway as you read this.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Go find out

I've been reading American news and political commentary extensively since April, 2004. I have come to the conclusion that most Americans, even those with an active interest in current events, have not a clue what the rest of the world is like, how their own country differs from the rest of the world, and what is good and bad about their own culture and system of government. Not a clue.

Here in Canada, we are a bit more open to outside influences -- we have to be -- but many of us are still woefully ignorant. We are bombarded by material from the USA, but often our understanding of what the United States is really like and how it differs from Canada does not go far beyond laughable cliches (they are a melting pot and we aren't, for instance). As for the rest of the world, we often see it through the lens of the American media, a dangerous state of affairs.

This is addressed to my students and any other young Canadians who might be reading. The single most valuable thing you can do at this stage of your life, other circumstances permitting, is to go live somewhere else for a year, a term, a season. I think highly of the education you can get at NU, but the education of living abroad is more important. (We do have an exchange student program -- look into it). It would be a valuable education to go to the United States for a while. It might be even better to go someplace else.

If you can't manage a foreign expedition, here's an easier alternative: go live and work in some dramatically different part of Canada for a while. This is particularly important if you are from Ontario and like many Ontarians haven't really been anywhere else in the country. Your fellow Canadians have been trying to tell you this for nearly a century and a half. Go find out.

Democracy in America, again

I quoted this back in June:

Thomas Paine's Common Sense:

...the plain truth is that it is wholly owing to the constitution of the people, and not to the constitution of the government, that the crown is not as oppressive in England as in Turkey.
This post on an American political blog is now relevant. (Tony Snow is the White House Press Secretary).

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Democracy in America

From the American political blog Eschaton, paired quotes that make a point.

The book Democracy in America was the result of a long trip through the United States about 1830 by the French "liberal" (liberal has changed meanings since then) Alexis de Tocqueville, who was interested in showing the new democratic culture of America to his countrymen. De Tocqueville thought French culture was in the process of being democratized and that the French better get ready for the results, some good some bad.

Besides the book, which is excellent and thought-provoking, de Tocqueville kept a journal, which was eventually published. When I read it, I was struck by how, in 1830, he met some prominent local person in every city he visited who told him that democracy had already gone too far.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Phil Paine on the challenges of democracy in the new millenium

Phil Paine, my sometime collaborator on the history of democracy, sums up his basic ideas here Sunday, January 7, 2007 - Who Will Undertake These Tasks?.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Joust at St. Inglevert

In the spring of 1390, three chamberlains of the king of France, who despite their domestic title were all adventurous and experienced warriors, with royal approval and support challenged the knights of Europe to come to St. Inglevert near Calais in the north of France to joust them. The chamberlains promised to hold the field for a month and take on all challengers, either with blunted or sharp lances.

This challenge resulted in the best-recorded joust of the later Middle Ages, and a week from Monday my Chivalry seminar will be looking at some of the surviving accounts of the event.

I thought, however, that it might be nice to point other readers to the available material. I've put a lot of it on the Web. If you get really interested and want to read my detailed analysis, you can find it in my book Deeds of Arms (see sidebar).

Here are various links:

Froissart's account.

Account from the Life of Boucicaut.

Account from the Chronica Regum Francorum.


Account of Jean Juvenal des Ursins.


And finally, a scorecard derived from Froissart's account, not to be taken literally since Froissart's account seems to be incomplete and altered for dramatic effect.

New Year's weather

Students who were in HIST 2055, Ancient Civilizations, last year will remember that we took a "big history" perspective, using David Christian's Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History and Ronald Wright's A Short History of Progress as the basis for a major assignment.

Right now the "historical perspective part of my brain is having a hard time thinking about anything (Iraq and the American Constitution apart) besides the "above normal" temperatures we are having in almost every part of Canada as a result of El Nino. (See the Globe and Mail for a summary; the G&M also provided the map above.)

Above normal here in the North Bay area means that we've got about the same temperatures and the same snow cover (i.e. tiny scraps in sheltered north-facing areas) as we usually have in late April. Last night the low temp was significantly above freezing (normal low: -16C).

Scientists say this weather is not a direct result of climate change, but whatever the cause, it's pretty freakish.

And to think, just last year, when we got hammered with record snow, I was urging the university to make the most of our winter weather as it has become milder and less snowy in areas just a little further south. Right now you can't even walk on the lakes.

Among my favorite web visiting places are the sites devoted to the snow and ice festivals in frigid Harbin, Manchuria, China, where they make gorgeous sculptures from snow and huge palaces of ice cut out of the frozen river. After the first draft of this post it occurred to me that this annual event might be in danger. It is one of the nice things about the web that I didn't have to wonder in complete ignorance -- I just looked for Harbin weather sites, and found that it's plenty cold there right now, more like North Bay normals than what we've actually had. I'll be looking to see the situation in February.

Those of you who have been away -- have a look at the English Russia site I've put on my sidebar for long-term ready reference.