Monday, 30 April 2012

NY in 870,000 Images

The Department of Records in New York have released over 870,000 images of the city on the Internet, some dating from the mid nineteenth century. The variety of photographs are outstanding - from crime scenes and gang murders to the every day, municipal tasks like building bridges or ports. The Department spent four years collecting and digitising the photographs, in order to make them "accessible to everyone." (a great public history quote if ever there was one...!) The number of photos are endless, and if the project is a success, more will be digitised over the next few years.

See some of them here...

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Gallipoli, Anzacs and Twitter...

Historians in Australia and Turkey are using Twitter to raise awareness of the Gallipoli campaign (WW1, 1915). @Gallipoli_Live tweets events and soldier's memories at the same time they occurred or were written down, nearly 100 years ago. Bill Sellers, an Australian historian and Sahin Aldogan, a retired Turkish soldier have collected a wealth of information about the campaign, and will be tweeting events as they happened every day until January. Sellers explained that they "use diaries and letters, official histories, often unpublished documents as well as those that are very much in the public domain."

Twitter is an incredible resource, and this is a great way to generate interest in something that is not in public consciousness, outside of Australia and New Zealand of course. It brings history home to us, we can read soldier's memories and understand what they were a part of. Twitter can help democratise history, something that is sorely needed.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Martin Luther King and a KKK Bounty?

According to a new book by historians Stuart Wexler and Larry Hancock, Martin Luther King was assassinated as a part of a plot by the KKK. The racist group raised over £62,000 for the bounty, collected by a network of organisations who wished to see King dead. Conspiracy theories have surrounded the assassination since 1968, but the FBI have rigorously denied the KKK's involvement. However, Wexler and Hancock want to reopen the case, particularly in light of some FBI reports that have previously been unpublished. The historians state that James Earl Ray was in prison for arson in Missouri when he heard about the bounty, and plotted to kill MLK. This came to pass on 4 April 1968, and Ray was arrested at Heathrow a few months later. An interesting read perhaps...

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Argentine dictator admits to crimes

Ex-Argentine dictator Jorge Rafael Videla has finally acknowledged the crimes of his regime. In the 1970's, over 30,000 men, women and children were abducted and murdered by the military junta. Thousands were tortured, raped and executed for opposing the dictatorship; babies were kidnapped from political opponents, and given to supporters of the regime who raised them as their own. All became known as the "disappeared". Human rights groups like the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo are still searching for their loved ones, as many of the bodies were never recovered. 

Videla was imprisoned for life in 2010 for torture and kidnapping, but has always maintained his policies were necessary to rid the country of communists and socialists, a defence that stems from the height of the regime. However, this is the first time Videla has admitted to the murder of 8,000 people. He has never admitted to the policy of stealing children, although he claims there were a "few cases" when that happened.

How can a nation move on from such a tragedy? I remember reading a story about a couple who had been kidnapped and brutally tortured by the regime. They survived to see the onset of democracy to the country, but the political change in government did not provide a "stable" solution. One day the couple were heading home on a bus, and at one stop, a man climbed into the seat in front of them. He was the man who had tortured them. There are hundreds of people like him, walking the streets, never punished for their crimes. They are unlikely to be punished now. Argentina may have organised trials, amnesties and other attempts at "healing" the country, but can a wound this deep ever be healed? Will it take the death of the perpetrators and those directly affected by the regime for society to move on? Should society move on? Whether Argentina tries to forget or not, the uncomfortable truth is that the future discoveries of mass graves and torture centres are inevitable, sporadic interruptions to a society that may prefer silence. 

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Titanic Commemorations

Last night, one hundred years ago, the Titanic hit an iceberg at 11.40pm. Over two and a half hours later, at 2.20am, she sank four hundred miles off the coast of Newfoundland. Over 1,500 people died, and just over 700 were saved. Over five hundred of the dead came from Southampton.

The Balmoral sailed from Southampton on the 10th to commemorate the fatal voyage, and held a remembrance service in the early hours:

Researching the Titanic has been truly heartbreaking, there are so many stories of men asking their wives and children to be brave and get into the lifeboats, others who chose to remain on the ship with their loved ones, dying together. Though, the news coverage always seems to divide people into classes of "heroism" and "cowardice"- of course there were acts of extraordinary bravery, but to label others as 'cowards' is a little harsh. When confronted by death, survival instinct is bound to kick in, and I don't think people should be blamed for that. Besides, they have probably dealt with survivors guilt their entire lives, let's not add to it.

What is interesting however, is that the Titanic is remembered on such a scale - why are people so fascinated by it? Was it the discovery of the wreck in 1985? Was it James Cameron's film in 1997? That the last survivors were slowly disappearing? Or is it the stories of the people? There is no definitive answer, just as long as Titanic is kept in our memory, especially in Southampton.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Slave resistance

 When I studied African American slave resistance at Uni, I thought it was incredibly interesting how men and women fought actively and passively against their masters to prove their independence. Some men, like Nat Turner, attempted to start a slave revolt in 1831, but this was suppressed by government of Virginia, who had Turner executed. Judging by the 'success' rate of such revolts, it seems fair to say that daily resistance was far more effective. Silent sabotage could be used to threaten the master’s hold over his slaves, using any means necessary to assert their individuality. Slaves would break agricultural tools, claiming they didn’t know how to use spades or hoes; others took all day to kill livestock, and one slave pretended to be blind for 40 years to get a smaller workload. Self-inflicted violence was also common, from suicide to infanticide.

Slaves would also use religion as effective resistance. Combining traditional African practices with Christianity, religious meetings were held in slave quarters, and language, dancing and storytelling was passed down through the generations.
Thousands of slaves ran away from their plantations, sometimes creating ‘maroon’ communities in parts of the South. Some joined the Seminole Indian tribes in Florida, although this led to a war in the early 1820’s and again in the 1830’s. Abolitionists helped slaves escape in the ‘Underground Railroad’, with anti-slavery supporters lining the routes, former slaves would lay low across America before escaping to the North or Canada. Frederick Douglass admitted that “as a means of destroying slavery, it was like an attempt to bail out the ocean with a teaspoon”, yet he believed that one less slave made his life more bearable.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

New evidence raises Civil War death toll

For over a hundred years, the total number of men killed in the Civil War was thought to be just under 620,000 but new research claims the figure is closer to 750,000. This is a 20% increase on the previous number. Dr David Hacker, a demographic historian, has spent several years trawling through enlistment records trying to calculate an accurate figure to explain past discrepancies. The results of his findings are to be published in a forthcoming book. This is incredibly interesting research, something that will have a massive impact on Civil War studies in the future.