There’s a reasonable response to this complaint

Year 13 students are worried they might fail their history exam because they didn’t know what the word “trivial” meant.

The senior students have launched a petition asking for the essay to be marked based on students’ own definition of the “unfamiliar” word. It has so far received more than 1300 signatures.

Students sitting the NZQA Level 3 History causes and consequences paper on Wednesday were confronted with the word in a quote from Julius Caesar: “Events of importance are the result of trivial causes.”

Students were asked to analyse the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with Caesar, with reference to the causes and consequences of a historical event.

“You’re too ignorant to pass this exam” being a reasonable response perhaps?

Via Matthew in standingonheadland


The rehabilitation of Neanderthals has taken another step forward after scientists discovered they were no more violent than modern humans and could probably hunt just as well.

I’ve always assumed they were less violent. Partly because it’s difficult to think of an ape more violent that we are – hunter gatherer murder rates are something like 40% of all males die of murder. And secondly because, well, we won, right?

Hmm, well, yes

Ministers have thrown their support behind a campaign to put World War II hero Noor Inayat Khan on the new £50 note.

After the Bank of England announced there would be an open submissions process for the new note, which will be reissued in plastic in 2020, ministers and historians said it was the perfect opportunity to raise awareness about the brave Muslim spy.

There were other women who went through the same process. Not hugely sure that this particular one is more deserving. Being the unkind person I am though….

Transport Minister Nusrat Ghani…Foreign Office Minister of State Lord Ahmad….The campaign has begun to pick up momentum after being spearheaded by activist Zehra Zaidi, Tom Tugendhat MP and Baroness Warsi,


Subs! Subs!

Wilde’s uncle was John Kingsbury Elgee, who emigrated to New Orleans in the early 19th century and owned a sugar plantation with 515 slaves. Elgee was the brother of Wilde’s sister, Speranza, and “an Elgee family trait was a fondness for white supremacy”, Mendelssohn writes.


Also, the idea that someone in the 19th century might have been racist by modern standards. How much of a surprise is this? It’s like asking whether they had bad teeth by our standards, isn’t it?

Looking at the GCSE syllabus they’re already doing this aren’t they?

School children should be taught about the “grave injustices” of the British Empire, Jeremy Corbyn will say on Thursday, prompting a furious response from Tory politicians.

The Labour leader will announce plans to improve the teaching of black British history and the history of the British Empire, colonialism and slavery “to help ensure their legacy is more widely understood across the country”.

Mr Corbyn will outline Labour’s plans to support a new Emancipation Educational Trust, aimed at educating future generations about slavery and the struggle for emancipation.

How much fish did the Royal Navy eat?

I’m reading some Hornblower – on the basis of why the hell not – and there’s a scene in which they blow up an underwater wreck, an effect of which is to bring dead fish to the surface. Which they don’t collect. A slight oddity, as a major subtheme of this part of the story is how they’re negotiating for supplies from the coastal area they’re off- lamb, kids, lettuce etc.

Yes, I know about salt beef, hard tack and so on, the ritual menus of the day for the seamen. And in the Jack Aubrey books there’s some mention of fish being taken (I seem to recall a turbot at some point?) for the officer’s mess. Or even the Captain’s table.

But a thought occurs, of no importance at all but of interest to me at least. How much did the sailing Royal Navy supplement diets with fish? It obviously cannot be counted upon as anything central to the diet as large parts of the oceans are deserts. But how much supplementing went on? Did they routinely carry small nets? Lines and hooks? I cannot believe that anyone sailing the Grand Banks didn’t take a few cod but then that’s my imagination, not reality.

And to extend this out from the RN to merchantmen. Plenty of people must have ploughed though froths of herring or mackerel – did they take them? Routinely that is? Or out in deep, have lines out for tuna?

Armies often enough did try to live off the land – and as often get soundly beaten by those with good logistics trains. The RN did stock and carry its food, supplementing with bullocks and so on and especially anti-scorbutics when making landfall. But how much did the sea traffic of the time also try to pluck fish to add to the diet?

It couldn’t be that no one on board knew how to fish – the press gangs operated in coastal towns and villages. Similarly, it couldn’t be that fish wasn’t part of the land diet of the crew at the time for the same reason.

Any good sources on this? I can imagine it being anything from no, fishing was a most odd thing, through to a hopeful line dropped out of a gunport now and again right up to official but blind eye perhaps escapades with a jolly boat launched with a few good hands and a net to get some herring.

But does anyone know?

The Goldsmith’s students have been reading Der Stürmer

The equivalent of at least:

Students at a leading London university have been condemned as blind to reality after defending the system of Soviet Gulag labour camps where thousands perished as “compassionate” places of rehabilitation.

Trans rights campaigners at Goldsmiths University described the Gulags as benign places where inmates received education, training and enjoyed the opportunity to take part in clubs, sports and theatre groups.

Yes, OK, they’re idiots and they’re still being educated because we and they agree that they’re still ignorant to boot.

However, there are undoubtedly some out there who describe the Gulag in such terms. There are apologists for every human evil after all.

But here’s the error being made. It’s as if they’re gaining their knowledge of Auschwitz from Der Stürmer. Not exactly the manner by which one becomes enlightened.

But here’s the difference. We abhor those who use Theresienstadt as archetypal. Hound them out of public life. Those who gloss the Gulag likely gain professorships at the more radical Polys.

And wouldn’t it be interesting to have some sleuthing done? Where, in the material these students have likely come across – history books, lecture notes, tankie publications maybe – are those descriptions o that Gulag. Who wrote them? And o we get to go snarl at them as we would those who gloss Chelmno?

If not why not?

How can Imran Khan have 524 servants?

Khan plans to have only two servants instead of 524 reserved for a sitting premier.

A little history. Grandpops went off to Pakistan (then West Pakistan) to build their Air Force engineering college after independence. Ended up with 33 servants.

So, cook, housemaid, gardener. The gardener needs a boy, the cook a scullery maid, the housemaid an assistant. So there needs to be a laundress, soon we get to the point that we need a cook for the servants. Who needs an assistant, meaning a laundress for the servants, who then needs an assistant and……that’s how two people need 33 servants.

Civilisations die without trade

The last Viking settlements may have vanished after walruses moved to safer shores to avoid being hunted for their ivory, a new study suggests.

Norse communities founded by Erik the Red flourished in Greenland for 500 years but then disappeared suddenly in the late 15th century leaving towns and villages abandoned.

Now scientists at Cambridge University think they have solved the mystery. The Norse economy relied so heavily on the ivory trade that when supply and demand slumped they had no other way to make a living and were forced to leave.

Useful news from history, no? The importance of trade?

Well, yes?

Here’s a typical Dinesh D’Souza argument. In Death of a Nation – the far-right commentator, film-maker and recently pardoned ex-con’s fourth political documentary – he tries to make the case that Hitler was a lefty. That’s a tall order, and here’s the best D’Souza can muster: he says Adolf wasn’t a homophobe.

Dunno, I think the socialism part of Nazi might be a small clue.

A reading of Goetz Ali could be useful here.

These aren’t exclusive

China in Africa: win-win development, or a new colonialism?

It’s entirely possible for it to be both you know.

After all, British in India was, made India very much richer.

Oh yes, it did. GDP per capita didn’t rise much between Clive and Mountbatten, true, but it rose a bit. The number of per capitas tripled and more. That’s Malthusian growth, to be sure, but it is still economic growth.

Local churches for local people

Since the 16th century the Leigh family, Austen’s relatives, had owned Adlestrop Park, the great house which is thought to have inspired Sotherton Court, the estate in her novel Mansfield Park.

But the house has been restored and is now owned by the Collins family who are also generous donors to projects including the refurbishment of the church’s five bells.

Now the rector and churchwardens have asked a consistory court to let Dominic Collins install a hatchment, a coat of arms display, in the church in memory of his late wife.

But the idea was opposed by local historian and Austen expert Victoria Huxley, who said it was inappropriate to install a memorial to a family who were not the Leighs.

She wrote: “I was very surprised that someone with a relatively short link to the village (compared to the age of the church) should seek to place their coat of arms in the church, and I do not think that most people in the village have been alerted to this request,” adding: “I feel that only a family which has strong ties over several generations should have such a display.”

Moron. Such hatchments act – to use a modern terminology – as a blockchain recording who were the major landowners in the area. Absolutely every one of them was new at some time, marking the social climbing of some arriviste. Still become that historical record though.

Race in the UK

Even Winston Churchill, who historians have found believed in racial hierarchies and eugenics, escapes scrutiny beyond his war hero reputation.

As did just about everyone before, say, 1960?

Our classrooms are diverse and students want to learn what is most relevant to their lives. If they are to demand change and equality, they need to understand that the playing field isn’t level for everyone. They deserve a safe place to talk about why that isn’t the case and ask difficult questions – for example, about the meaning of structural racism. How has British history negatively affected countries around the world that the ancestors of many British citizens once called home?

That march through the institutions thing……

Instead, the curriculum supports an ideology that doesn’t acknowledge many of the flaws in UK history. In whitewashing the discrimination and bloodshed in our past, is it any such a wonder that parts of our society are racist, misogynistic and prejudiced? It’s not enough to discuss these issues in Black History Month in October and ignore the reality of racism that minorities have to endure all year round. Students need to be taught to critically analyse these events and empathise with people across cultures in a diverse but interconnected world.

Ah, critical studies.

How about teaching kids what happened and then adults the implications of it all?

Not quite how I would put it myself

On this day in AD 395: The Roman Empire is forever cloven in two – and the classical world dies

I’d perhaps argue that 1204 is the date, the Crusaders sack Byzantium. Other dates can also be chosen. But thinking that the Western Empire going down – or starting its fall – is the end of the classical world is to be more than a little euro-centric, no?

Idiot sodding stupidity

Stoll offers the ideal complement. He has set out to tell the story of how the people of a sprawling region of our country—one of its most physically captivating and ecologically bountiful—went from enjoying a modest but self-sufficient existence as small-scale agrarians for much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to a dreary dependency on the indulgence of coal barons or the alms of the government.

Stoll refuses to accept that there is something intrinsically lacking in Appalachians—people who, after all, managed to carve out a life on such challenging, mountainous terrain. Something was done to them, and he is going to figure out who did it. He links their fate to other threatened agrarian communities, from rice growers in the Philippines to English peasants at the time of the Enclosure Acts. “Whenever we see hunger and deprivation among rural people, we need to ask a simple question: What went on just before the crisis that might have caused it?” he writes. “Seeing the world without the past would be like visiting a city after a devastating hurricane and declaring that the people there have always lived in ruins.”

The missing history is above all a story about land and dispossession. For roughly a century, starting before the country’s founding, the settlers of central Appalachia—defined by Stoll as the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania and most of West Virginia—managed a makeshift life as smallholders. The terms of that “holding” were murky, to say the least: property claims in the region were a tangled patchwork of grants awarded to French and Indian or Revolutionary War generals and other notables, which were commonly diced and sliced among speculators, and the de facto claims made by those actually inhabiting the land. In some cases, those settlers managed to get official deeds by the legal doctrine of “adverse possession”; in many others, they were simply allowed to keep working the land by distant landlords who had never laid eyes on it.

That modest but self-sufficient existence is what the people in Appalachia are returning to. It’s just that now we think of that modesty as being abject poverty.

Yer 18th century farmer up there might have been gaining $5 in modern money a day from his efforts. That’s less than food stamps these days.

If you don’t understand how fucking poor the past was you’re never going to get anything right, are you?

Strange capitalism

Land-use laws changed dramatically. The poor in England were no longer able to freely draw use values from public or wild areas. They became dependent on the market economy to obtain all of the necessities of life.

This dependency on the market put downward pressure on wages because it produced a massive reservoir of surplus labor.

Well, you’re going to have to show that wages did fall. Which I don’t think you can……

This doesn’t sound right really, does it?

As a historical theologian, I researched the role that pious Christians played in developing and producing alcohol. What I discovered was an astonishing history.
Religious orders and wine-making
Wine was invented 6,000 years before the birth of Christ, but it was monks who largely preserved viniculture in Europe. Religious orders such as the Benedictines and Jesuits became expert winemakers. They stopped only because their lands were confiscated in the 18th and 19th centuries by anti-Catholic governments such as the French Revolution’s Constituent Assembly and Germany’s Second Reich.

Deeply, deeply, uncertain that the Jesuits were ever major land holders (in Europe) or vintners.

Yet this is from an academic.

Michael Foley, Associate Professor of Patristics, Baylor University


Well, turns out Ian Smith was right then

In the early 1980s I interviewed the undoubtedly racist Ian Smith, who led Rhodesia with white minority rule from 1965 to its reincarnation as Zimbabwe in 1979. How would Mugabe do, as leader, I asked him? “He will be there for at least 30 years, murder or imprison all of his opponents and bankrupt the country”, was the terse reply. Not a terribly bad call, really.

Smith’s solution wouldn’t have worked either but still…..