Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Earth is Flat and We are Not Talking About the Thomas Friedman Variety: A Review of Flat Earth

Historians often find it difficult to write books that are scholarly yet narratively engaging and that fill the public demand to speak to the issues of the day. This later issue is particularly difficult because, strictly speaking, it is outside of the historian’s field and usually works against it. Any attempt to do so risks sliding into polemic. In studying history one quickly learns that the past is a different country and it is not connected to the present. Flat Earth: The History of an Infamous Idea by Christine Garwood, though, handles this issue magnificently. On the surface Flat Earth is a book about Flat Earth theory, focusing on the history of the movement in England and America from the nineteenth century through the late twentieth century. While this may not seem to be the sort of issue of interest or of relevancy to many people, Garwood has crafted a powerful story that is very relevant.

The underlying and understated issue at hand in this book is Creationism both in its crude form and its more sophisticated, Intelligent Design, variety. Make no mistake about it Flat Earth is a polemic against Creationism. As a polemic, this book is remarkably effective. The flat earthers that populate the book’s narrative sound exactly like Creationists (Most of them, in fact, were Creationists as well.) I recommend this book to all those who accept evolution and are stuck trying to get well-meaning acquaintances of theirs to come on board as well as to those well-meaning acquaintances. The argument is never explicitly made in the book but it essentially amounts to there is no argument that can be used to challenge evolution that cannot also be used to challenge the spherical nature of the earth. The only reason that most people balk at rejecting the spherical view of the earth but not evolution is because in our society the rejection of the earth’s spherical nature is, for all intents and purposes, a one-way ticket to a padded cell, a straight jacket and a lifetime supply of happy pills. Say that you believe the world is flat and see how long it takes for people to not want you anywhere near their kids or in any position of authority and influence. Hopefully, it will one day be that people who reject evolution will be seen in a similar light. Until we reach that point those who are willing to put up with anti-evolutionists and take them seriously as scientists have some difficult questions to face.

The great irony of Flat Earth is that it achieves its aim not by mocking flat earthers but by taking them very seriously. One almost gets the sense that Garwood admires Parallax (Samuel Rowbotham (1816-85), the modern founder of flat Earth theory. Rather than view Parallax and his followers as aberrations of the modern world or as part of some long-running church-based anti-reason tradition in a continual war against science Garwood puts them within the context of nineteenth-century science. Parallax was not simply some sort of anti-science person. On the contrary, she sees him as someone who, for all of his anti-scientific establishment rhetoric, was, in a strange way, a “scientist.” His rejection of modern science was couched in the language and ideals of science and he was able to be successful precisely because he could appeal to scientific principles. He sold himself to the English public as an open-minded seeker of the truth challenging a scientific establishment with their hidebound sense of tradition.

In this sense, Garwood plays to the best ideals of the historical profession. She does not look down at flat earthers in order to congratulate herself and her audience for their modern thinking. On the contrary, they become a challenge to modern ways of thinking. She does not support or condemn either side of the flat earth debate but sees them as part of the modern narrative. In this vein, it is interesting to note that while Flat Earth is an attack against Creationism it is also an attack on the Whig narrative. If nothing else this book is worth every cent for its opening chapter where Garwood demolishes the notion that people in during the Middle Ages believed that the earth was flat and shows how this myth was manufactured during the nineteenth century. Garwood seems to take a certain pleasure in pointing out the irony that, while people like Washington Irving were in the middle of concocting the myth of the medieval belief in a flat earth to congratulate themselves on their growing sophistication and clear superiority over the Middle Ages, it was this same nineteenth century that spawned a real-life flat earth movement. Flat earth theory is something so incredible that only modern people could ever accept it.

Interestingly enough evolution does, after a fashion, come into this story in the form of Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913), the co-founder of evolution. Wallace is a fascinating figure, particularly since he defies the usual stereotype of an evolutionist and a scientist. For one thing, he was most definitely not an atheist. While Charles Darwin is a bit of an enigma (He most probably became an agnostic after losing his daughter Anne.) and Thomas Huxley described himself as an agnostic but was most probably what we would call an atheist, Wallace was a fairly traditional believing Christian. He also dabbled in the occult, which he wished to subject to scientific analysis. This attempt to create a “scientific” occult was actually not so uncommon during the nineteenth century. Wallace took it upon himself to come to the defense of science and of the spherical earth and participated in a number of well-publicized confrontations with flat earthers. Wallace was successful but still comes across with mud on his face for even allowing himself to be dragged into this business.

Flat Earth is more than just a good book. It is one of those books that I would want to hand out to as many people as possible and say read this book. This is a book that will help people gain a greater appreciation of what science is and may even work to shame people who should know better to not apologize for anti-evolutionists or attempt to grant them credibility. Of particular importance for me, though, this is a well written smart work of history, the product of a writer with the consciousness of a true historian and the willingness to present that consciousness to others.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Dennis Prager on Communism

As a continuation of my previous post on the evils of Communism and my hope that one day Communism will be viewed, by people across the political spectrum, as something on par with Nazism I recommend a pair of articles by Dennis Prager on Communism, “California College Student: Terror is the New Communism” and “Why Doesn’t Communism Have as Bad a Name as Nazism?” The issue at hand for these two articles is not Communism itself per se but the moral failure of the modern left to come to terms with the evils of Communism.

For those wishing for a more in depth scholarly discussion of Communism as a series of mass murdering regimes I would suggest the Black Book of Communism by Stephane Courtois.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Call for Buddhist Jihad

Apparently, South Africa has decided not to grant the Dalai Lama a visa for the upcoming peace conference this week. As reported by CNN, the South African government is concerned that allowing the Dalai Lama would shift the focus away from the upcoming World Cup and to China, which South Africa has no interest in offending.

To move away from inanity of all this; obviously, a peace conference where a game of soccer is more important than the suffering of millions of people at the hands of an authoritarian regime is not much of a peace conference. This is the same South Africa that hosted the Durban conference on racism and we know how much that had to do with racism. Are we seeing a pattern here? I would actually like to focus my criticism here on the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama is one of the truly great spiritual leaders of the world (everything that the Haredi gedolim are not). That being said, this incident is just one further example of something that I have often said, that the Dalai Lama is a rather pathetic creature. His continued decision to put his pacifist scrupulous over pragmatic reality has made him completely irrelevant and has cost his people a country.

In the lead up to last summer’s Olympics in Beijing (which I wanted America to boycott) many Tibetans rose up in revolt against the Chinese. The Dalai Lama not only denounced the violence and threatened to resign he even refused to call for a boycott of the Olympics. I am reminded of a different group, the Palestinians, which took a different attitude toward the Olympics. During the 1972 Olympics in Munich, members of the Palestinian terrorist organization Black September kidnapped and murdered Israeli Athletes. This did not harm the Palestinian cause on the contrary within several decades Yasser Arafat was on the White House front lawn being handed a Palestinian state. Arafat even received a Noble Peace Prize for his efforts. Where would the Tibetan cause be if only the Dalai Lama was willing to put aside his moral scruples and become a terrorist like Arafat? What if this past summer the world had witnessed Buddhist suicide bombers crashing China’s glorious opening ceremony? What if images of China’s adorable “under sixteen” women’s gymnastics team having being beheaded were seen across the internet? I am sure the world would have expressed its moral indignation, but soon there would be a call by modern liberals to understand the root causes of these acts of terrorism and the frustrations of Tibetans and those of the Buddhist faith as China continued its cultural hegemony over them. To help this along, Buddhist “militants” could extend their reach beyond China. Why attack China and ignore countries like the United States whose love for cheap manufactured goods supports Chinese rule over Tibet? It would take just a few embassy bombings and some attacks on American soil before the United States would begin to rethink its trade deals with China.

Under such circumstances, the Dalai Lama would not be lacking a visa to come to any peace conference in South Africa. I suspect he would be made the opening speaker. He could harangue the Chinese for their oppression and call for the end of the cycle of violence as the nations of the world would rush to pledge money and support for his Tibetan state. Those who proved to be the most compliant would be able to count on being spared the wrath of the Buddhist Jihad.
I wished we lived in a world where terrorism was not rewarded; where any cause that was tainted by adherents who turned to terrorism would be forced to the back of the line particularly if this was terrorism targeted against civilians. In such a world, Palestinian terrorism would have gotten the Palestinians nothing and we might actually have peace in the Middle East with the states of Israel and Palestine living together side by side. In such a world a man of true moral courage such as the Dalai Lama would be rewarded for his decision not to turn to violence with a peace conference where peace actually did come before soccer and where he could arouse the world’s moral indignation against China causing countries such as the United States to decide that the freedom of the people of Tibet was more important than Chinese manufactured products.

Until we live in this world my advice to those with a cause, whatever the cause might be, is to turn to terrorism. Blow up some buildings, kill some people, the more grisly the deed the better. Until we live in a world where modern liberals no longer fall over themselves to make excuses for those who turn to violence, taking attention away from those who do not use violence, than terrorism must be the choice of every reasonable and rational person.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I Do Not Like Autism Speaks Any Better in Spanish than I Do in English

I enjoy occasionally watching Spanish television on Univision. While I have trouble with spoken Spanish I can follow along with closed captioning. I was watching Univision today and to my surprise they had a commercial for Autism Speaks. According to the commercial your child stands a 1 in 600,000 chance of being hit by lightening but a 1 in 150 chance of having autism (grasp of horror).

Autism Speaks is an advocacy organization that operates on the autism as an illness model. While there may be legitimate reasons for this when dealing with low functioning autism this becomes a problem for people like me who have Asperger syndrome. I do not view myself as being, in any way, mentally challenged. If anything it is people who do not have Asperger syndrome who are mentally challenged. (Not to worry I know many fine neuro-typicals. Being a neuro-typical is something that can be overcome with the right amount of dedication) I have chronicled my problems with Autism Speaks in the past. More recently Autism Speaks has started a group on campus. This information was passed on to me by a friend who put me in contact with the faculty member sponsoring them in the hope that I might offer some balance. No one told me that I was actually supposed to be nice to this person. So I explained to this faculty person that I viewed joining Autism Speaks in the hopes of changing it as the equivalent of a gay person joining a conservative Christian group in the hope of changing it. No one told me that this faculty person was coming into this situation completely unfamiliar with the lead with the helmet style of speaking that is a trademark of Asperger syndrome either.

Because Autism Speaks in now on campus, my friend Melanie is starting an alternative group to correct some of the imbalances perpetrated by Autism Speaks and has recruited me as her second officer. (Official groups at Ohio State require at least two officers in addition to a faculty sponsor.) We are working in tandem with the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN).

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Syllabus for History 112 Spring 2009

This coming quarter I am going to be doing History 112 again, though this time I am going to be teaching as an SSL. This will be completely my class with a curriculum completely under my discretion. Here is my proposed syllabus. I decided to go with Norman Davies' Europe: a History as my textbook though I have included two chapters from Jacques Barzun's From Dawn to Decadence. I would like to thank Dr. Breyfogle for allowing me to plagiarize off of his syllabus. This is still something I am tinkering around with. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Ohio State has a system known as Carmen where teachers can photocopy material and place it online where students in the class can read it. This is a great way to get around copyright issues. The university also puts out a publication known as Exploring the European Past (ETEP). It has various modules, collections of primary and secondary source materials on specific topics. Teachers can select modules of interest, which will then be collected into customized booklets for the class. ETEP is expensive, I admit, but it is a great way to introduce students to source material and the scholarly process.

History 112
European History:
The Sixteenth Century to the Present

Spring 2009

Lectures: MW 5:30 – 7:18 Mendenhall Laboratory (ML) 0191

SSL: Benzion N. Chinn
Office hours: M 3-5, and by appointment
Office: 009 Dulles Hall. Phone: 240 994 184

General Information

Welcome to the wonderful world of Modern European history!

In this course, we will study fundamental events and processes in European politics, war, economics, intellectual thought, culture, and society from the sixteenth century to the present. We will attempt to explain the origins of the contemporary world; the rise of modern secularism in its various manifestations and the rise of the modern liberal state. As we shall see there is more to this story than man all of a sudden becoming rational. We will strive to understand how Europeans lived and gave meaning to their lives in the “early modern” and “modern” eras.

The course is both topically and chronologically organized and emphasizes the common characteristics of European civilization as a whole rather than specific national histories. It traces threads of continuity while also examining the vast changes experienced by European society in these 400 years. In a course that spans several centuries and covers a large geographical area, the majority of peoples and events cannot be studied in detail. We will focus on particular cases that illustrate important patterns of change and conflict that have shaped the European world as we know it now. Hopefully this course will serve as a gateway for further explorations.

Throughout the course, students will learn skills that will be necessary for them both as history students and in most of life’s endeavors: critical and analytical thinking, writing, reading, listening, note taking, working in groups, and public speaking.

Objectives/Learning Outcomes

By completing the requirements for this Historical survey, students will:

1. Acquire a perspective on history and an understanding of the factors that shape human activity. This knowledge will furnish students insights into the origins and nature of contemporary issues and a foundation for future comparative understanding of civilizations.
2. Develop critical thinking through the study of diverse interpretations of historical events.
3. Apply critical thinking through historical analysis of primary and secondary sources.
4. Develop communications skills in exams, papers, discussions.
5. Develop an understanding of the patterns of European history, and how they inform present-day European society, politics, and relations with the rest of the world.

Important Information

Students are very welcome to come and talk with me about any aspect of the course and the wonders of history. My office hours and location are listed above. I can also be reached by e-mail (

In accordance with departmental policy, all students must be officially enrolled in the course by the end of the second full week of the quarter. No requests to add the course will be approved by the department chair after that time. Enrolling officially and on time is solely the responsibility of each student.

Disability Services: Students with disabilities that have been certified by the Office for Disability Services will be appropriately accommodated, and should inform the instructor as soon as possible of their needs. The Office for Disability Services is located in 150 Pomerene Hall, 1760 Neil Ave; Tel: 292-3307, TDD 292-0901;

This is a GEC course. This course fulfills the second half of the GEC Category 5. Arts and Humanities A. Historical Survey. It also fulfills the GEC category “International issues western (non-United States) course.”

I am not grading for attendance. My philosophy is that the real work of this class goes on outside of my classroom. My lectures serve to help you understand the material you are reading and to equip you with the tools to get the most out of what you read. In theory one should be able to simply do the readings, not come to class, do all the assignments (one would have to come to class for the in class assignments) and do fine. Of course any student who could do that would have no need for my class to begin with. While one does not have to come to class one still has to participate. All students most e-mail me at least one question or serious comment about the reading by noon on class days. I use these questions as the basis for the class. My lectures are, in essence, my response to your questions.


All books have been put on two-hour reserve at Sullivant library.

All books are available for purchase at SBX and other area bookstores
**[Be sure to bring a copy of the readings to each discussion section as you will refer to the readings regularly during discussion]**
Required Books:
Norman Davies – Europe: a History
Deborah Lipstadt – History on Trial
ETEP Reader (Make sure to get the one assigned to this specific class. It will have my name on it.)

Grades will be computed on the following standard scale:

A: 92.6% and above B+: 87.6% to 89.5% C+: 77.6% to 79.5% D+: 67.6% to 69.5%
A-: 89.6% to 92.5% B: 82.6% to 87.5% C: 72.6% to 77.5% D: 62% to 67.5%
B-: 79.6% to 82.5% C-: 69.6% to 72.5% E: below 62%

Two special comments:
1) Since the University does not record D- grades, a student earning a course average below 62 will receive an E in this course.
2) In order to pass the course, you must pass the Final Exam with at least a 62.

Breakdown of Assignments
Class Participation – 15%
Maps and Quizzes – 15%
Paper #1 - 20%
Paper #2 - 20%
Final – 30%

Map Assignments and Quizzes

The “quizzes” component of your discussion section grade (15% of your total grade) includes two map exercises (one take-home and one in-class) and three in-class quizzes.

· Quizzes: Each quiz will comprise 3-4 short questions based on the materials in the reading assignments and lectures.
Map assignments:
Map assignment #1: European towns and physical geography (take home)
Map assignment #2: Contemporary Europe, political (in-class).
On take-home map assignment, students will be able to use published atlases (the best option) and/or good web maps (I recommend maps from National Geographic, the CIA, and the UN).
In-class map assignment (#2): Students will be required to know the locations of the countries of Europe today. In class, they will be given a map of today’s Europe with the borders marked and asked to fill in the names of the countries from a list provided. (usually approximately 30 countries)
Grading Your Exams and Papers:
I furnish below brief descriptions of how you will earn your essay grades:
· "C” essays will include: an introductory paragraph that contains your thesis; a body of several paragraphs in which you offer evidence from the readings, lectures, and discussions to support your thesis; and a conclusion that reiterates your basic argument. That being said this paper will have serious methodological problems.
· "B” essays will include: all of the above requirements for a “C” essay. It will demonstrate basic competence and understanding of the required assignment.
· "A” essays will include: all of the above requirements for a “B” essay plus more data and some indication of independent or extended thought. To get an “A” you are going to have to impress me by doing something that exceeds my expectations of 112 students.
· As for “D” and “E” essays: usually, these essays do not include a viable thesis and/or they do not include very much information from the course.

Late Paper Assignments and Make-Up Exams

Students must take the final exam at the scheduled times. Students will be allowed to take a make-up exam only for urgent reasons, such as medical or legal emergency. In such instances, students should, if possible, contact the instructor at least one day in advance. The student will be expected to present written proof of the emergency, such as an official statement from the University Medical Center. Without a valid excuse, students may be permitted (at the discretion of the instructor) to take a make-up exam. However, their grade will be reduced by a full letter (e.g., an A will be dropped to a B) for each week that passes after the scheduled exam time.
Extensions for the paper are granted at the discretion of the instructor to those students presenting valid and verifiable excuses (again you will be expected to provide written documentation). Students who are unable to fulfill assignments as scheduled for family, religious, or medical reasons must contact the instructor before the due date of the assignment. Papers that are received late without just cause or without a previously approved excuse will be graded down by a full letter per day late.

The pressures of other course work, employment, and extra-curricular activities do not constitute valid excuses for late assignments. Note due dates on the syllabus and plan ahead. If the instructor is not available to approve excuses, leave a message on his/her e-mail or office voice mail (failing that, you may leave a message for the instructor on his e-mail or voice mail). There is no provision in this course for additional papers for extra credit or to substitute for requirements.

Submission of Assignments
All assignments are mandatory. If you do not submit one assignment, your final grade will be reduced by one full letter grade in addition to giving you zero for that assignment. If you do not submit two or more assignments, you will automatically fail the course.

Grade Reconsideration
A student who wishes reconsideration of his/her grade on an examination or paper should resubmit the assignment in its entirety to the instructor. The exam/paper should be accompanied by a written exposition explaining why the grade is not an accurate appraisal of the work. Appeals must be initiated within ten days after the paper/exams were returned to the class. In reviewing a paper or exam on appeal, the instructor reserves the right to raise, confirm, or lower the grade.

Plagiarism, Cheating, and Academic Misconduct
Plagiarism, cheating, or other academic misconduct will not be tolerated and will be reported to the Committee on Academic Misconduct. It is the responsibility of the Committee on Academic Misconduct to investigate or establish procedures for the investigation of all reported cases of student academic misconduct. Faculty Rules (3335-5-487) require that instructors report all instances of academic misconduct to the committee. Be forewarned that I will pursue cases of academic misconduct to the appropriate University committee. For additional information, see the Code of Student Conduct at .
Plagiarism is theft. Please read the attached definition of plagiarism (Appendix B from University Survey: A Guidebook and Readings for New Students), see the websites: and If you do not understand what plagiarism entails as it is described in this excerpt from the student handbook and/or websites, you should see the instructor before beginning any of these assignments.

Paper Assignments:
Over the course of this quarter you will be assigned two papers to write. While you have to do both of these assignments, you can choose the order that you do them in.

Paper Assignment #1: You will write a 3-5 page paper reviewing a work of historical fiction (either from the list below or approved by the teacher). In particular you will analyze the work in question from a historical perspective. How does the author view the period being dealt with? How accurate is the book; what sort of liberties does the author take?
Paper Assignment #2: You will write a 3-5 page paper reviewing a scholarly work of non-fiction (either from the list below or approved by the teacher). What argument does the author make about his subject matter? Is the author’s argument convincing? How does the work contribute to our understanding of the period?
Both of these assignment will require that you formulate a thesis and that you devote body of your essay to defending that thesis.

Works of Historical Fiction
Libba Bray: A Great and Terrible Beauty (Victorianism, Women)
Tracy Chevalier: Girl with a Pearl Earring (Early Modern Society, Women)
Bernard Cornwell: Richard Sharpe series (Napoleonic Wars)
Charles Dickens: Tale of Two Cities (French Revolution)
Umberto Eco: Eternal Flame of Queen Loana (Fascism, Historical Method)
Emile Guillaumin: The Life of a Simple Man (Nineteenth century French peasantry)
Thomas Keneally: Schindler’s List (Holocaust)
Katharine Mcmahon: The Alchemist’s Daughter (Scientific Revolution, Early Enlightenment, Women)
James A. Michener: The Drifters (Cultural Revolution)
Patrick O’Brian: Aubrey/Maturin series (Napoleonic Wars)
Erich Maria Remarque: All Quite on the Western Front (World War I)
Conrad Richter - The Light in the Forest (Enlightenment, Rousseau)
Baroness Emma Orczy: The Scarlet Pimpernel (French Revolution)
Arturo Perez-Reverte: Captain Alatriste series (Early Seventeenth Century Spain)
Elizabeth Peters: Amelia Peabody series (Victorianism, Egypt, Women)
Alexander Solzhenitsyn: August 1914 (World War I)
Art Spiegelman: Maus (Holocaust)
For more suggestions see

Gene Brucker - Giovanni and Lusanna: Love and Marriage in Renaissance Florence (Renaissance, Women)
B.S Capp - The Fifth Monarchy Men: A Study of Seventeenth-century English Millenarianism (English Civil War, Apocalypticism)
Elisheva Carlebach - Divided Souls (Jews, Early Modern Identity)
Natalie Zemon Davis - The Return of Martin Guerre (Women, Early Modern Society)
Elizabeth Eisenstein - The Printing Revolution in Modern Europe (Renaissance, Scientific Revolution)
Leon Festinger - When Prophecy Fails (Apocalypticism)
Jeffery Friedman - The Poisoned Chalice (Enlightenment)
Christine Garwood - Flat Earth: The History of an Infamous Idea (Victorianism)
Carlo Ginzburg - The Cheese and the Worm (Early Modern Society)
Night Battles (Witch Trials, Early Modern Society)
Ecstasies (Witch Witch Trials)
Matt Goldish - Sabbatean Prophets (Jews, Early Modern Society)
Christopher Hill - Antichrist in Seventeenth-Century England (Apocalypticism, English Civil War)
Susannah Heschel - The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany (Nazism)
Richard Kagan - Lucrecia’s Dreams (Inquisition, Women)
Thomas Laqueur - Making Sex
Solitary Sex[1]
Phyllis Mack - Visionary Women: Ecstatic Prophecy in Seventeenth-Century England (Women, English Civil War)
Richard Popkin - Messianic Revolution: Radical Religious Politics to the End of the Second Millennium (Apocalypticism)
Dava Sobel - Galileo’s Daughter (Scientific Revolution)
Pieter Spierenburg - The Spectacle of Suffering: Executions and the Evolution of Repression: From a Preindustrial Metropolis to the European Experience (Early Modern Society)
Barbara Tuchman - Guns of August (World War I)
D. P. Walker - The Decline of Hell: Seventeenth-Century Discussions of Eternal Torment (Early Modern Religion)
Frances Yates - Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (Renaissance, Scientific Revolution)
Perez Zagorin - How the Idea of Religious Toleration Came to the West (Wars of Religion)

Movies: At several points during the quarter I will be showing films related to the material. While I think these films are useful and will be worth your while to watch, I am not about to invest an entire class period in showing them. I will though introduce the film and start it during the last half hour of class. Students are free to stay and watch or leave at their leisure. I have penciled in two tentative films, but I am open to alternatives.
Class Schedule and Assignments

1. March 30. Introduction: The Historical Method
Highly recommended: Herbert Butterfield – The Whig Interpretation of History

2. April 1. Renaissance and Reformation
Davies 469-507.
Luther’s 95 Theses (
Papal Condemnation of Luther (

3. April 6. Religion Wars and European Society
Davies 526-39, 563-69.
Carmen: Magdalena and Balthasar, Edmund Williamson
Move: The Return of Martin Guerre

4. April 8. Scientific Revolution
Carmen: Barzun - “the Invisible College”
Video – Galileo’s “Dialogue” ([2]
Quiz #1

5. April 13. Rise of Absolutism
Davies 615-28.
Carmen: Barzun – “The Monarch’s Revolution”
James I, Charles I, Thomas Hobbes, Louis XIV

6. April 15. The English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution (Passover No Class. You are still responsible for your reading and for the material I post.)
Davies pg. 545-53, 628-38.
ETEP – The English Revolution
Carmen: John Locke (From the Second Treatise on Government)

7. April 20. Enlightenment I
Davies 577-614.
Carmen: John Locke (Justification for the Glorious Revolution), Voltaire, Rousseau, Wollstonecraft.
Map # 1 Due

8. April 22. Enlightenment II
Kant – “What is Enlightenment?” (
Quiz #2

9. April 27. French Revolution I
Davies 675-757

10. April 29. French Revolution II
Carmen: French Revolution
ETEP – The Napoleonic Empire in Europe: Liberation or Exploitation?

11. May 4. Industrial Revolution
Carmen: Industrial Revolution I & II.
Paper #1 Due

12. May 6. Marxism
Davies pg. 835-41.
Communist Manifesto (

13. May 11. Imperialism and the European City
Davies pg. 848-54.
Carmen: Orwell, Belgian Congo, Vienna and Paris I & II

14. May 13. World War I and its Aftermath.
Davies 875-96, 901-38.
Carmen: Palmer, Kern

15. May 18. The Russian Revolution and Stalinism
Davies pg. 959-65.
Reading: ETEP – The Russian Revolution
Carmen: Behind the Urals

16. May 20. Nazi Germany
Davies pg. 965-98.
Quiz #3

17. May 25. Memorial Day. (No Class)

18. May 27. World War II
Davies pg. 998-1055.
Movie: Downfall

19. June 1. Cold War
Davies pg. 1058-1136.
Map Assignment #2 (In Class)

20. June 3. Cultural Revolutions
Reading: ETEP – The End of Consensus: The Student Revolts of the 1960s.
In class presentations on European countries.

21. Conclusion
Lipstadt - History on Trial
Paper #2 Due

22. June 8. Final Exam

[1] For those who might be put off (or attracted) by Laqueur’s racy titles, these are serious works of scholarship dealing with changes in notions of sexuality during pre modern times. Once you get past the book title one is going hard pressed to find much to titillate or take offense at. One way or another I do strongly recommend them.
[2] This documentary is part of your reading assignment. You are to have watched it before coming to class.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

You Can Write Anti-Israel Screeds Based on What You Read on Wikipedia and the Columbus Dispatch Will Print it as if it Were an Op-Ed (Part II)

A while back I sent a letter to the Columbus Dispatch concerning their decision to print an anti Israel op-ed style letter to the editor that quoted Wikipedia as a source. The Dispatch printed my letter. A few days later a letter criticizing me was also printed:

Writer's criticism was incomplete
Columbus Dispatch, The (OH) - Sunday, February 22, 2009
In Benzion N. Chinn 's Feb. 14 letter, "Using Wikipedia as a source undermines credibility," he disparaged Wikipedia. He questioned a Wikipedia entry on Israeli/Zionist actions that have led to the appropriation of Palestinian lands. The actions of Israeli/Zionists have been well-documented by many other sources. Sacred Landscape: The Buried History of the Holy Land Since 1948, a book by former deputy mayor of Jerusalem Meron Benvenisti, would be a good starting point. Chinn also failed to mention that any entry in Wikipedia is available for editing by anyone with additional or contradictory information. Perhaps Chinn needs to join in the Wikipedia process. Chinn questioned letter writer Aghlaba Peerzada's understanding of critical writing and extended an invitation to him to attend a class he ( Chinn ) is teaching. Perhaps Chinn should seek out a class for himself. STEVEN BORNSTEIN Columbus

I would like to point out that Mr. Bornstein never actually deals with the issue at hand. I never said that Israel was above criticism or that legitimate scholarly criticism could not be put forth against Israel. I have not read the book mentioned so I will not say anything for or against it. I acknowledge that Wikipedia can be edited by anyone. That is precisely the problem. I have edited Wikipedia articles in the past. This may make them better articles but it does not give them authority. There is still no one putting their name and reputation behind the article. So I stand with my previous statement. I have no problem with people criticizing Israel they need to do better than Wikipedia.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Blue Jackets versus Penguins: a Fan’s Dilemma

Last night the Pittsburgh Penguins came to Columbus to play the Blue Jackets. As I have mentioned previously I have been a lifelong Penguin fan, though, since coming to Columbus I have become an active Jackets fan as well. This year the Penguins have been playing horribly and the Jackets, despite numerous injuries, have been playing very well. Now this statement needs to be placed into the context of the two teams. Both teams are in sixth place in their respective conferences and the Penguins, in fact, have a slightly better record. The Penguins, though, have Sidney Crosby and Evengi Malkin and went to the Stanly Cup last year. The Blue Jackets have Rick Nash and have never even been to the playoffs.

I have been to numerous Blue Jackets games, but have never seen the Penguins play live. Considering that I do not live in Pittsburgh and even if I did Penguin tickets, so I hear, for all intents and purposes start at around $100 this was an opportunity I did not want to miss. So right after class I went downtown to stand in line to get the Huntington green seats (nose bleeds) for $10. These go on sale two hours before the game. Unfortunately these tickets sold out just before my turn. This actually turned out to be a good thing since I then got on line for the Student Rush tickets which go on sale an hour before the game. I ended up getting a lower bowl seat for $25. (Just so you should know I was reading Miriam Bodian’s Dying in the Law of Moses while standing on line so I was not completely wasting my time.)I feel particularly fortunate to have gotten such a seat as this game set a franchise attendance record of 19,167. It seems that there were a lot of Penguin fans from Ohio and even Pittsburgh who had the same idea as I did.

So who to cheer for? Since I like both teams I wanted the game to go into overtime so both teams would at least get a point. I have been a Penguin fan a lot longer than I have been a Blue Jackets fan and I had come specifically to watch the Penguins. What decided it for me was the sight of all these Penguin fans; they must have made up at least forty percent of the crowd. Even the announcers were acknowledging the strong Penguin presence. For all intents and purposes the Penguins were not playing an away game. Pittsburgh fans are of course well known for their willingness to travel and as a fan of Pittsburgh teams I am really proud of that. That being said it got to me, as a Columbus person, that we were getting overrun in our own city. I never thought this would happen, but I ended up cheering against the Penguins.

The game was a classic, worthy of the more than nineteen thousand in attendance and worth every penny that they spent. By the early third period the Jackets had managed to build a 3 – 0 lead thanks to Steve Mason’s superb goaltending (By the end of the game he had faced forty one shots) and all round solid play by the rest of the team. Than in a span of less than four minutes the Penguins put up three goals. The Penguins are that good offensively. The Jackets though held on and managed to put the game into overtime and then into a shootout where Kristian Huselius won the game for them.

So I got my wish. The Blue Jackets won, but the Penguins still got a point.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Movie for Purim

One Night with the King is a film based on the biblical book of Esther. Just to be clear form this beginning, this is not a good film by any stretch of the imagination. An excellent cast and some fine performances is not enough to compensate for a miserable screenplay. This is a pity because Esther is a great story and there is no reason why it should not make a good film. It has a beautiful heroine, Esther, caught in a dangerous exotic situation; she is a Jew, the niece of the sage Mordachai, forced to marry the Persian King, Achasveros (Xerxes). In order to survive she must hide her true identity. There is a villain, Haman, worthy of a James Bond film, with an unstoppable plot to kill lots of people, mainly all the Jews in the world. There is plenty of violence and intrigue to go around; people get hauled off and executed on a regular basis. In the end the Jews are saved so we can now eat, drink and celebrate. (This is story type narrative in all of its glory, which is why it is almost certainly not a historical event.)

Despite all of the film’s flaws it still managed to prove enjoyable. For one thing I am very fond of the book of Esther so seeing it as a film was worth beholding. Also the film, while fairly faithful to the source material, makes a number of interesting interpretive choices. My take on King Achasveros has tended to swing between the story of Esther itself, which portrays him as an easily manipulated fool, who seems to make most of the important decisions in the story while drunk, and the Talmud, which portrays him as being quite intelligent and very much in charge of the situation. I like to think of Achasveros as the sort of person who may be a clown but is a very smart clown; someone somewhere between Henry VIII and Herman Goering. People underestimate him and think they can manipulate him. Really he has everyone where he wants them and controls everything. The Xerxes of the film, played by Luke Goss (The villain in Hellboy II), is a total hunk. He is the sort of man that, regardless of his crown, girls would fall in love with. And the film plays on the idea that Esther is, at least to some extent, in love with him. Hegai is a very minor character in the story, he is simply the chamberlain in charge of the king’s harem, so I never thought much of him. The film turns him into a major character, who is a friend and confidant of Esther. He is also a giant black man, whose situation as the castrated slave of the king is clearly meant to draw parallels to African slavery in America. James Callis (Gaius Baltar in the television show Battlestar Galactica) steals the show as Haman. He actually manages to make Haman scary and intimidating. Admittedly the film goes way over the top with him, having him wear a swastika necklace and having him yell about the connections between the Greeks and their Democracy and the Jews with their one God and their hoped for savior. (The film was made by Christians so I guess they had to stick a christological reference in somewhere.) The climax of the story has Esther reveal her true identity to Achasveros, while both he and Haman are present at a private banquet that she is hosting. Esther does this in order to forestall the decree to kill the Jews, which Haman had Achasveros sign. Achasveros storms out of the room and Haman falls upon Esther and pleads for mercy. Achasveros comes back and thinks that Haman was attacking Esther. He therefore immediately has Haman executed. The film plays this scene out as Haman thinking he has won and that Esther’s gambit has failed. He starts to mock plead with her before turning and assaulting her.

Honorable mention should be made of John Rhys-Davies (Gimli in Lord of the Rings) who plays Mordachai. He is effective as a sage and caring father figure for Esther. Also honorable mention should be made of John Noble (Denethor in Lord of the Rings) as Prince Admatha. In the story Admatha is simply the name of Haman’s father. The film turns him into an early villain who helps bring Haman into power and whom Haman knocks off before too long.

So in the end this is not a good film, but those who are familiar with the story of Esther should at least get a good laugh out of it.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

History 112: Maus and the Use of Holocaust Survivor Testimony

I worked for two summers for the MALACH program at the University of Maryland. This program worked on the creation of a computer system to do word searches through audio databases. We are all familiar with programs, such as Google, which can search through text. MALACH was attempting to do something much more difficult; it was trying to get a computer system to accurately translate sound waves into text in order to be searched. As a test subject, the MALACH program was using the Shoah Foundation’s database of Holocaust survivor testimony. This was a computer science project in which we historians were brought in to test the program for accuracy. Over the course of these two summers I gained an intimate acquaintance with Holocaust survivor testimony; its strengths and weaknesses. Once, one of the computer science people asked me if the widespread accessibility to these survivor testimonies would be useful to historians. I answered her no.

The problem with Holocaust survivor testimony, as with any form of personal recollection, is that it offers no context. Mr. Schwartz you tell us that you were shipped by train to Auschwitz. On what day did you arrive? How many people were on the train with you? How do you know that those in the other line were sent to their deaths? How do you know that there were gas chambers or that the smokestacks you saw were from cremated bodies? What can you tell us about the survival rates for camp inmates? It is unlikely that our hypothetical Holocaust survivor would be able to offer satisfactory answers based on his personal experience. Holocaust survivor testimony comes up particularly short when compared with hard documents. I have the German documents to tell me on almost any given day how many trains arrived in Auschwitz and how many people were on board. These documents tell me all I need to know about the operation of the gas chambers and the crematoria. The documents tell me what the survival rates were from camp inmates. As a historian, therefore, I do not need Mr. Schwartz. (What I did not mention in class, for obvious reasons, was that there are also serious accuracy problems with survivor testimonies. It was a running joke for those of us working on the MALACH program that every high ranking German officer in these testimonies was either Heinrich Himmler or Adolf Eichmann and that every doctor was Josef Mangele. It is for this reason, as well as what I said previously, that Deborah Lipstadt made a specific point of not using survivor testimony during her trial with David Irving. Instead she lined up professional historians armed with documents to take the witness stand and call Irving a fraud and a liar.)

Holocaust survivor testimony does serve a useful purpose, though, in that it can put a human face on material. The assigned reading, Maus by Art Spiegelman, is an excellent example of this. Maus is a graphic novel based on the experiances of his father, Vladek Spiegelman, during the war. There is a certain irony in this in that the people in this story are all portrayed as animals along racial lines. The Jews are mice, the Germans are cats, the Poles pigs and the French frogs. This is Art Spiegelman turning Nazi ideology on its head by deliberately playing according to its stereotypes. The lines between races is very clear cut in Maus yet the personalities portrayed goes flat against that. There are decent Poles and really rotten Jews, The Jews may be mice but they are most certainly not vermin.

At various points in the novel the characters wear masks. For example Vladek wears a pig mask when walking the streets a Pole. Art portrays himself at one point as a human wearing a mouse mask. The species that we are faced with are revealed to be nothing more than masks. Everyone is human though circumstances have forced them to wear animals masks and assume a given identity.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

History 112: Putting in a Good Word for Comrade Stalin

As readers of this blog and those who know me in person are aware, I am politically fairly conservative, at least by college campus standards. I view Communism, at least the variety that believes in the use of force to achieve its aims, in only slightly more favorable terms than Nazism. Even that is largely due to the fact that, as the grandson of Holocaust survivors, Nazism is something personal. In truth, expropriating the wealth of all those with something worthwhile to steal before sending them off to their deaths is hardly an improvement over expropriating the wealth of your least favorite racial group before shipping them off to their deaths. The later makes you a mass murdering racist. The former makes you a mass murdering hostis humani generis (enemy of the human race).

With this in mind, I found myself bending over backwards, in class, to defend Joseph Stalin’s five year program to industrialize the Soviet Union during the 1930s. To be clear, this move by Stalin was a humanitarian catastrophe to rival anything down by Nazi Germany. While there was a full scale famine engulfing the Soviet Union, caused by lousy economic theory and even worse science, the Soviet Union was shipping wheat to the West. In essence the Soviet government allowed upwards of seven million people to starve to death in the Ukraine in order to buy machinery. In addition to this tens of millions of people were shipped off to Siberian gulags as class enemies. As a historian, though, it is my job to get past the polemics and even, in some sense, to redeem those being studied. I want my students to learn something more from me than just “Stalin and Communism were evil and that western intellectuals such as George Bernard Shaw, who traveled to the Soviet Union during the 1930s, were dupes for praising it.” To say that Stalin and Communism were evil, while true, is of little interest. The historical method, though, forces us to make things interesting by asking questions such as why, if Stalinist Russia was as bad as it was, did people support it. Why would a sane rational person support Stalin?

During a period in which the entire western world was gripped by the Great Depression, the Soviet Union was experiencing a rise in production. While mass unemployment was the norm across the western world, the Soviet Union had full employment. The Soviet government was bringing roads, machines and electricity to people who never had them. Thanks to Communism, millions of people who never had the opportunity to learn to read or get an education were now being given the chance to go to school. This is not to deny the very real dark side to Stalinist Russia, but this side is also real.

The assigned reading for this class, selections from John Scott’s Behind the Urals, proved to be remarkably useful for this person. Scott was an American steel worker who traveled to the Soviet Union in 1931 and worked at Magnitogorsk, one of the major Soviet industrial centers built during this period. While Scott came to the Soviet Union as an idealistic believer, his first hand experience soon soured him. As such Scott is perfectly willing to criticize the Soviet government and is quite frank about the human cost of Stalin’s actions. That being said Scott’s main purpose is not to attack Stalin or the Soviet Union, but to recount his experience and to give a sense of the people he worked with, most of whom he treats quite positively.

I will take it as a mark of honor if one of my students were to complain that I am a Communist, using my position to ensnare innocent young minds into my political ideology.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Birthday Presents

Today is my twenty-sixth birthday. Here are some of the things on my birthday wish list, ranging from the personal to the “in terra pax homínibus bonæ voluntátis.” I would like Patrick Rothfuss to finally finish Wise Man’s Fear and for Amazon to stop filling me with false hope about its release. For those of you who do not understand what I am talking about I strongly suggest that they pick up a copy of Name of the Wind and read what is looking to join Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever as one of the greatest works of fantasy ever written. While we are on the topic of Thomas Covenant, I would not say no to having book three of the Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Against All Things Ending, come out a little sooner. It is slated for 2010. It would be nice if Stephenie Meyer would reconsider her decision not to complete Midnight Sun, her parallel novel to Twilight. Can Fox cancel Joss Whedon’s miserable new television series, Dollhouse, and then allow him to bring Firefly back?

For Israel I would ask that they may form a stable coalition of parties that will actually manage to stay together for a full four years; a coalition made up of conservative parties that will actually defend Israel. May they be able to do this without the help of a single Haredi party to hold the government hostage. Benjamin Netanyahu is one of a rare breed of non-American politicians who supports limited government; he grew up here in the United States and received much of his political training here. So his leadership may have an economic side bonus for Israel. For America, I would ask that they be given a Democratic party that will, now that they are in power, take the threat of Islamic terrorism seriously and a Republican party that will, now that they have been rightly tossed out of power, support limited government. I think having at least one small government party, even if it the one in the minority, is worth wishing for.

For those of you who are unable to come through with any of these gift suggestions, but still wish to get me something here is my Amazon wish list.