Barbara Tuchman, The Proud Tower: a Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914. xiv.

We have been misled by people of the time [1890-1914] themselves who, in looking back across the gulf of the War, see the earlier half of their lives misted over by a lovely sunset haze of peace and security. It did not seem so golden when they were in the midst of it. Their memories and their nostalgia have conditioned our view of the pre-war era but I can offer the reader a rule based on adequate research: all statements of how lovely it was in that era made by persons contemporary with it will be found to have been made after 1914. A phenomenon of such extended malignance as the Great War does not come out of a Golden Age.


Alfred Rosenberg’s diary recovered

This is an interesting enough article at National Geographic about Rosenberg, but it doesn’t really tell us much about the diary.

The diary of Nazi leader Alfred Rosenberg disappeared without a trace after his trial in Nuremberg. Sixty-four years later it’s been recovered in upstate New York.

Where in upstate New York? Is this one of those things that resurfaced when a member of the so-called Greatest Generation died and his safety deposit box was opened? Not quite – here’s the story at the Huffington Post.

The Coldest Place on Earth

In this very cold European winter there is a centennial exhibition of someplace even colder — photographs from Scott’s final Antarctic expedition, the one made it to the Pole, only to find that the Norwegians had gotten there first. They really are something — six photos are up at this link. The sharpness of the photos is in part a matter of technique — they’re carbon prints rather than silver.

Whatever happened to all those articles about historians ranking presidents?

It seemed to me that there was a boom during the W administration of Historians of the Presidency Roundtable articles ranking presidents, with the then incumbent jockeying with Millard Fillmore and James Buchanan for least impressive.
Maybe I’m just not reading the right websites, but have those events stopped happening? Have the Americanists suddenly realized that history is not the same as current events? Or are they just a tad disappointed?
These experts (many of whom are as obviously partisan as the American historians were) aren’t afraid: Experts Grade Obama ‘C-Minus’ on the Economy. That’s an end of semester, summative grade though.

The Assassination of James Garfield

I like narrative history a lot — much of what I listen to from falls into that category. Simon Winchester is certainly my favorite there (he records all of his own books). Erik Larson is good, too. I don’t spend much time reading that kind of book, because I have too much piled up on my desk, coffee table, kitchen table, and guest bed that I really ought to be reading for professional reasons, but I do enjoy listening to them.
A couple of weeks ago a publicist sent me a copy of a new example of the genre (the unpaid joys of blogging — an occasional free book!) and in a moment of resistance against the tidal wave of grading I started it. Pretty soon I moved it up in priority and finished it, while the back wash of grading sucked the sand out from under my feet. The Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President is really pretty good.
Candice Millard certainly succeeded at the first task of the narrative history genre — she got me interested in an historical episode (the assassination of President James Garfield) that I hadn’t thought about before. The pace is good (or I wouldn’t have finished the book off in one afternoon and a few evenings), the characters mainly well-illuminated.
The assassin, Charles Guiteau, was an interesting mad-man — half prophet of God and half spoils-system politician. One amusing thing for me was his connection to the original Oneida Community (the pre-silver company version). A man who couldn’t find sexual partners in the Mansion House must have been — umm — interesting. Or disturbing? A little Upstate New York weirdness always helps.
The worst actors in the book are certainly the doctors, and Millard makes the malpractice evident. However, she underplays at least once the rivalries of 19th Century medicine. Though there are some passing references to allopathy and homeopathy, she doesn’t make as much of that as she might. For instance (and I’m reading an un-indexed bound galley, so this might be a mistake), Dr. Susan Edson, Mrs. Garfield’s personal physician, was a homeopath.
Millard does a good job, though, on the resistance of American doctors to antisepsis, which was the only thing that might have saved Garfield in the world before antibiotics. All those nasty fingers probing his wounds are what killed him, as the doctors realized themselves after the autopsy.
A good explanation for why this episode works for a narrative history is that when we speed past this assassination in high school history I doubt anyone not from Garfield’s NE Ohio homeland realizes that he lived for 80 days after the shooting. Guiteau’s defense that he shot the president but the doctors killed him has some standing. The 80 day ordeal provides a good frame for the story.
So – would I recommend it? Yes. I’m going to look for a copy of Millard’s previous book, one that seems to come more directly out of her past at the National Geographic: The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey. After the disastrous Bull Moose election of 1912 (knocking Taft out of the way and letting the execrable Woodrow Wilson win), Roosevelt went exploring in the Amazon basin. Sounds pretty interesting!

Roman Route Planning — online!

This is supremely weird and fun — well, for people like me. A René Voorburg has made up an online reconstruction of the Peutinger Table (Tabula Peutingeriana), a c. AD 300 Roman road map. It was something like a AAA Triptych rather than a fold-out map. More than 2000 of the 2760 spots on the Tabula have been given geolocations.
You can put in your AB (from) and AD (to) locations and see the route on the map — and on the left, the figures for how long it will take! For example:

Ab ‘ROMA’ ad ‘Mediolavm’
Summa CCCLXXI Milia Passum / Leuga Gallica.
Fere XXV dies.

25 days! The Freccia Rossa fast train does it in about 3 hours now.
The Tabula
Some explanations.
I’m teaching my 300-level Roman course next semester — guess what we’ll be playing with!
via The Shekel – Coins, Law and Commentary, a blog I had never visited before I wandered there this morning, Lord only knows from where.

Danteblogging Paradiso Canto VI

Paradiso Canto VI
Beatrice may go on and on, but Canto VI is delivered in one voice. Justinian, representing those who paid too much attention to worldly duty, describes the career of the Roman eagle from Troy to Dante’s present for 142 lines. By putting this speech in the mouth of Justinian, Dante reinforces the importance of the civil law and the primacy of Rome.
Dante uses the speech, of course, to beat up on the Ghibbelines and Guelphs and to execrate the French. Charlemagne comes in for praise, though, for protecting the papacy from the Lombards (not that Dante has shown himself to have any use for modern Lombards, either).
Click here for all the Danteblogging and none of my other ramblings.

Hitler and Germany

More than 65 years after Hitler’s death and the collapse of the Third Reich, the German Historical Museum is seeking answers to a question that each generation asks anew: How did Germany, known as a nation of poets and thinkers, fall under Hitler’s spell and let him commit some of the worst crimes in history?

Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because Germany was also the nation of the Thirty Years War and the Prussians? Not that anyone else in Europe or the world is particularly less guilty. But still – can we stop asking stupid questions like this? Great artists do not inoculate against evil. In fact, plenty of interesting artists are pretty bad themselves.
Or maybe the average Westerner doesn’t expect anything better than Stalin or Mao of the Russians and Chinese, and so Hitler is a shock in comparison? That might explain why Hitlerism is frequntly held up as worse than regimes that killed so many more people (for what looks like an interesting corrective, though utterly neglecting Mao as a bad man, look here).
Why does human evil surprise? That’s what bewilders me.