Monday, June 25, 2007

Carnival of Bad History #15

Welcome to my favorite carnival, the collector of bad analogies, the dishonor roll of cultural amnesia, where old bunk comes to die and where bad historians have their day in the court of blogospheric opinion.

First, some good news. As the history blogosphere has gotten larger, new and improved organizational tools have emerged. Somehow, I always seem to end up involved. Last week, Ralph Luker and I reorganized the New Improved History Blogroll with category bookmarks. Also, if you haven't checked it out on the sidebar, here's a word of advice: the only way to keep up with the proliferation of history-related carnivals is the New improved History Carnival Aggregator.

Freaky Stuff!

My favorite news story of the last week, aside from the CIA paper release, is the tale of a 130+ year-old bowhead whale, and we know that date because of the harpoon found embedded in its flesh. The lesson I take from that? If you're impaled with something easily dated, for the sake of history, don't pull it out.

Anyone asked you lately for a tattoo idea? Consider an outdated map of a city on another continent! There are some great maps of Edo on the web, and lots of tattoo artists around here....

Speaking of Japan, for reasons passing understanding, Time Magazine reported on a fairly bizarre local legend from a small town. I can't even begin to summarize it: I'll just quote

"The legend has it that Jesus — or as they call him in Shingo, Daitenku Taro Jurai — came to Japan at the age of 21, during the lost years when he was supposedly carpentering in Nazareth. Like many an eager gaijin student, Jesus became entranced with his adopted land's noble culture, learning the Japanese language and Shinto religion at the feet of a sage. At age 33, he went back home, where he preached about his experiences in Japan, which so annoyed the local authorities that he was promptly sentenced to death. From there, the story gets really weird. Instead of Christ being crucified, somehow his younger brother Isukiri ends up dying on the cross, while Jesus fled to Japan via Vladivostok and Alaska. (Such details as how Jesus had a younger brother and how the Romans got the wrong guy are not addressed in the legend.) Eventually he came to this tiny village, where he took up rice farming, married a local girl named Miyuko and produced three daughters before dying peacefully at the age of 106. In Shingo, Jesus kept a low profile — he didn't multiply any loaves or fish, although when the villagers were dying of starvation he did travel far to find them food."
For the record, the vast majority of Japanese don't even know about this, much less would they consider it reasonable or likely. But there's an anthropology Ph.D. out there for anyone who can figure out how this became local legend.

In the "historical dead-end" category, those oddities which have died away to obscurity, I offer Alex's explanation of Keelhauling and other diverse punishments no longer in general use. Another dead-end can be found in Orac's 1930s X-ray boosterism. Sometimes we forget our history more deliberately, it seems. Rob MacDougal went digging into the history of wargames and simulations and found the first dungeon master (I don't have to explain that to this audience, do I?) and some other unpleasant things.

No carnival of bad history would really be complete without Mark Rayner's Lost powerpoint slides: Waterloo v. 2.0.

Hitler, and friends

First, a report from Chris Bray on the teaching front line:

My longstanding suspicion was confirmed last week: Twenty percent of all known undergraduates complete their written coursework by typing up a summary of whatever text you give them, taking it all as equally weighted fact and never noticing especially much what it says.

I never thought they'd actually do it with Mein Kampf.

Well, Chris could have taken a more creative approach:

"deputy head of a Hungarian church school who appeared in photographs wearing a Nazi SS uniform has been suspended from his duties, the head of the Hungarian Church's school authority said Thursday.

History teacher Akos Peter Kosaras, 36, posted pictures of himself dressed in the uniform on the internet, although the pictures have now been removed.

The teacher at a school in the small settlement of Budakeszi just outside Budapest was supposedly playing the role of a "kind-hearted" SS officer during a historical game, the daily Nepszava said.
However, the school's headmistress said that Kosaras was a "well- known preserver of traditions" and that there was nothing objectionable about his hobby.."

Orac may have invented the Hitler Zombie to combat unjustified comparisons, but not all invocations of Hitler are unjustified. He takes a budding rhetorical referee to task for overdoing it.

Maybe you prefer Stalin? So does Russian President Putin

"In a warning that will send a chill through Russia's dwindling ranks of liberal academics, the president indicated that publishing houses that did not print more patriotic textbooks would face state censorship..."

Bad for Historians

Kevin Levin attacks the bias against Civil War Military history at JAH. I'd love to get an update from him, if anything new has come to light, or action been taken. Military history is a hot topic these days, though Mark Grimsley, for one, thinks conservatives are using it as a wedge issue, or misunderstanding the field.

National tests show very, very modest gains in historical understanding by students? Maybe, maybe not.

Last time I highlighted a website which was satire. This time I want to highlight a website which has made a mark talking in the most detailed fashion about structural problems in the History profession: Are historians sexist? Are they nuts for going into this profession? Whoever it is behind the blog PhDinHistory, they've got answers for you.

Historian on Progressive Historian Action!

Two battle royales were waged at Progressive Historians this month. The first was host Nonpartisan's rearguard actions in defense of Woodrow Wilson, against the very senior David Kennedy's tendency to damn Wilson, this time with faint praise and against the up-and-coming Daniel Larison's frontal assault on liberal internationalism as a concept. Nonpartisan also took a break from Wilson-defending to review David Horowitz's Indoctrination U., in which David Horowitz tries to pretend that he's been nice all along, but academics are just mean.

The other target of opportunity at PH was the neo-conservative Kagan brothers (mostly Frederick). Navy Vet Terp was content to attend and deconstruct a talk by Frederick Kagan, but Bastoche went full-bore, releasing a six-part series in which the Kagan argument about Munich, Vietnam and the "ongoing war against totalitarianism" are carefully examined and found.... bad history: part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI. Rumor has it (read Part VI) that he's not actually done, just moving on to a new series title.

Myths, Misquotations, Misapprehensions

I suppose this could have gone in the above category, since it features lame pick-up lines, but I put it here to highlight the ongoing errors of periodization non-specialists often inflict on people who actually study something.

In the "partisan" category, several PH bloggers have been talking about a PBS special on Church/State separation as historically flawed and manipulative. In the military mythology category, I have two entries, the Myth of the Longbow and a nicely detailed photographic analysis titled "I Do Not Bite My Thumb At You, Sir, But I Bite My Thumb, Sir!".

Finally, from a very recent Washington Post, evidence that attention to bad history and sheer snark can get a historian into the very heights of punditry. Andrew Ferguson takes this "Lincoln" quote out of Al Gore's recent book

"I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed."
And he tracks it back (emphasis added)
Writing in 1999 in the Abraham Lincoln Association's newsletter, the great Lincoln historian Thomas F. Schwartz traced the bogus passage to the 1880s, about 20 years after Lincoln's death. One theory is that it first appeared in a pamphlet advertising patent medicines. Opponents of Gilded Age capitalism -- Gore's forerunners -- found the quote so useful that Lincoln's former White House secretaries felt compelled to launch a campaign "denouncing the forgery," Schwartz said. Robert Todd Lincoln, who was the president's only surviving son and himself a wealthy railroad lawyer, called it "an impudent invention" that ascribed to his father views that the former president would never have held.
"I discovered what I think is the true and only source of this supposed quotation," Robert wrote in an unpublished letter, probably tongue-in-cheek. "It originated, I think, at what is called a Spiritualist Séance in a country town in Iowa, a number of years ago, as being a communication by President Lincoln through what is called a Medium." Even bloggers might think twice about trusting such a source.

On that cautionary note -- it's true, you should think twice before footnoting messages passed through Séances, but if you're going to use them, please footnote them properly -- I close this edition of the Carnival of Bad History. As always, I invite anyone who's enjoyed it, or who has hated it and thinks they can do better, to volunteer for hosting duties in a future month (has to be future, I'm pretty sure).


Anonymous said...

Kevin Levin should be held as a primary example of why CW history has been constrained at JAH. His subjective and biased anti-southern material is pure misinformation that is not worth paper print. He consistently misunderstands the war and its reasons and fails to address slavery on a national basis. For this, his type of CW history should remain only in personal blogs, if that.

Anonymous said...

Hey Jim aka Anonymous, quit libelling Kevin wherever you can find an unattended history blog to spam. You are starting to become a creepy stalker.