Category Archives: h for history

A late Memorial Day offering

We do not now have in this country a National Army Museum, but there is one in development, and they now have a promotional video on their website. The video is called “I have a story to tell” and is worth watching, I think. The museum won’t be open until 2013, which would be sad except by then I hope to have enough experience to hope to be hired, if and when they happen to need archivists. In the meantime, the Army runs quite a network of museums; one that isn’t on that list is the very-worthwhile First Division Museum (Big Red One!) at Cantigny, in Wheaton, IL. That one is actually flashier than the UK’s NAM, and it’s on the grounds of a large estate that includes a historical house and parklands for members of the family not entertained by replica trenches.


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Why I am a History major, and not studying English Lit

Want to read something utterly fascinating? Let me recommend to you Bab: A Sub-Deb, a title described by James Lileks as “sound[ing] like a novel written entirely in the voice of someone with a head cold”. The premise is that Barbara (“Bab”), a 17-year-old itching for her debut, has written essays and diary entries about her various comic mishaps.

I thought the stories themselves were entertaining enough — in the same genre as the Jeeves stories, except that the clever-linguistics angle is supplied by Bab’s poor spelling and overdramatic sensibilities. But the book becomes absolutely absorbing when you keep in mind as you go that this girl is seventeen, and that the backdrop is 1917 America and all that goes along. It’s not that you get little glimpses of the past; you find yourself transplanted by the author’s assumptions about her audience into someone else’s world. Well, I do, anyway.

Can you imagine this sort of thing?

I spent the morning with mother at the dressmakers and she chose two perfectly spiffing things, one of white chiffon over silk, made modafied Empire, with little bunches of roses here and there on it, and when she and the dressmaker were hagling over the roses, I took the scizzors and cut the neck of the lining two inches lower in front. The effect was posatively impressive. The other was blue over orkid, a perfectly passionate combination.

I just had this conversation with my mom today (I wish):

“Work!” mother said. “Career! What next? Why can’t you be like Leila, and settle down to haveing a good time?”

The male equivalent of “coming out”:

Eddie Perkins saw me there and came over. He had but recently been put in long trowsers, and those not his best ones but only white flannels. He was never sure of his garters, and was always looking to see if his socks were coming down.

The war peeks in:

So here I sit, Dear Dairy, while there are sounds of revelery below, and Sis jumps at her chance, which is the Honorable Page Beresford, who is an Englishman visiting here because he has a weak heart and can’t fight.

And this classic:

Mother rose and made a sweeping gesture with her right arm.

“I wash my hands of you!” she said. “You are impertanent and indelacate. At your age I was an inocent child, not troubleing with things that did not concern me. As for Love, I had never heard of it until I came out.”

“Life must have burst on you like an explosion,” I observed. “I suppose you thought that babies—-”

“Silense!” mother shreiked.

It’s just too cool. And it’s completely irrelevant to my final papers/exams.

ETA: Ye gods! Socialism! This book just keeps getting better!

So I told him that Adrian was a mill worker, and the villain makes him lose his position, by means of forjery. And Adrian goes to jail, and comes out, and no one will give him work. So he prepares to blow up a Milionaire’s house, and his sweetheart is in it. He has been to the Milionaire for work and been refused and thrown out, saying, just before the butler and three footmen push him through a window, in dramatic tones, “The world owes me a living and I will have it.”

“Socialism!” said Carter. “Hard stuff to handle for the two dollar seats. The world owes him a living. Humph! Still, that’s a good line to work on.”

ETA2: It. Does. Not. Stop.

I meant to ask father tonight, but he has just heard of Beresford and is in a terrable temper. He says Sis can’t marry him, because he is sure there are plenty of things he could be doing in England, if not actualy fighting.

“He could probably run a bus, and releace some one who can fight,” he shouted. “Or he could at least do an honest day’s work with his hands. Don’t let me see him, that’s all.”

“Do I understand that you forbid him the house?” Leila asked, in a cold furey.

“Just keep him out of my sight,” father snaped. “I supose I can’t keep him from swilling tea while I am away doing my part to help the Allies”

ETA3: I spared you the reference to nurses at the Front, but I cannot keep this from you:

“Knit! If that’s the scarf you were on at Christmas, and it looks like it, because there’s the crooked place you wouldn’t fix, let me tell you that since then I have made three socks, heals and all, and they are probably now on the feet of the Allies.”

“Three!” she said. “Why THREE?”

“I had no more wool, and there are plenty of one-leged men anyhow.”

One last addition: The last chapter is effing MIND-BLOWING.

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Filed under b for books, h for history, s for sightings

Doomed to repeat it

There’s a very interesting article on the Daily Mail’s website by a Major Judith Webb, retired British Army, about women in combat (she’s against). At the end, she notes:

I worked in intelligence for seven years and think women have more patience and can be better at analysing fine details.

They can be incredibly useful working as nurses with a support unit, delivering supplies, and in other logistics roles – much as the Wrens did during World War II.

Curious that she singles out the Wrens, I thought first of all. As an Army vet, her predecessors were the ATS. On closer reading I see that she is citing precedent in the realm of support and logistics, not in the intelligence work she suggests just above. This is very curious.

Bletchley Park was teeming with women, and if I owned a book that would tell me what percentage of those women were ATS, WRNS, WAAF, and civilian, it’s certainly not to hand (whether such statistics exist or would be possible to compile is another thing). But the Navy was very active at BP, so it’s possible that WRNS were the majority, in which case, she may have cited the WRNS as an extension of the earlier thought in spite of the awkward paragraphing. A quick flip through Collett Wadge turns up at least two ATS trades involved in secret communications work, including ciphers, under the Signals Corps. “Operators Special” just reeks of secrecy (c.f. the WAAF “Clerks, Special Duties”) and I wouldn’t be surprised if these gals were at BP too. So although the ATS weren’t very well integrated into the British Army, they were, as women working for and with the Army, predecessors to female officers like Major Webb.

And all of this certainly does not negate the fact that the phrasing very much suggests that she sees the WWII precedent as logistical support, and the intelligence work as a future specialty. It’s hard to say though; even as I type that, the similarities of the first sentence above to contemporary comments about the unique suitability of women to, say, radar work are just too striking.

I’ve wondered several times over the last year or two, to what extent do modern female soldiers and officers learn about the history of women in their service? That, of course, is framed in how much does anyone learn about their service, male or female, and I tend to think everyone ought to learn the same things, including the women’s history. But this article just makes me more curious.

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Filed under h for history, n for news, t for thesis

Oh, this little ol’ cloud? Why, it’s nothing, darling

Looking over the most recent posts, I’m seeing a trend, and it’s not a happy trend. I think I’ve hit a little bit of a lull this week.

  • My thesis topic is turned in; the advisor has been dealing out curt, ego-undermining emails on a weekly basis; and a niggling feeling that now is not when I should be working on this topic has blossomed into a profound exhaustion.
  • I still haven’t heard about my summer internship; it’s been something like two weeks since they were supposedly going to make the decision; I have an application in for school funding for an unpaid internship; I won’t hear about that until next month or so and I can’t stand to worry about any of this anymore.

A couple of other big effects:

  • I’ve learned that love is not all you need. Yes, another hippie bites the dust. [*rolling eyes, kids; that’s called sarcasm*] I always thought I could just manage myself academically, and it didn’t matter if I had “the background.” I now have an acute understanding of the usefulness of prereqs, and why the rules do indeed apply to me.
  • I have no ability whatsoever to predict grades or chances of success. My brain has been churning out possible outcomes on both of the above topics that range from World Fame! to a refrigerator box by the Fox River. Helpful little grey splat that it is, it also has provided totally rational and credible explanations for how each could come about.
  • Apathy is frighteningly contagious. I’m feeling a little demoralized about everything else that used to be on my Things to Worry About list. The plan was to be super motivated on the smaller items once the big ones had gone. Ha, ha.

The good news is that my apathy has really only applied to things that involve my Future. The bad news is that I’m a Junior so everything pertains to the Future.

That said, here’s a quote from The Indian Empire (published 1858-1861), a history that includes a long account of the Mutiny. I thought this was hilarious, personally; I love it when historians get snippy.

Mr. Dorin [a government official] wrote a minute on the subject; […] “[…] My theory is, that no corps mutinies that is well commanded. If it should turn out that the officers of the 7th have been negligent in their duty, I would remand every one of them to their regiments.” This is a pretty compliment to regimental officers in general; perhaps some of them had their theory also, and held that no people rebel who are well governed. If so, they might reasonably inquire whether there were no means of “remanding” a civilian of sixty years of age; described as being “in all his habits a very Sybarite;” who “in no other country but India, and in no other civil service but the civil service, would have attained any but the most subordinate position;” but who, nevertheless, in the event of any casualty occurring to Lord Canning, would become, by rule of seniority, the actual and despotic sovereign of the Anglo-Indian empire. To return to the case in point.

Ha! It’s good to know that no matter what happens, Victorian authors will be there to shed a little light in my life.

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Filed under a for annoyances, h for history, s for school, t for thesis

Glory, glory

Here’s a poster that’s new to me:

“Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory” WAC recruiting poster

A bigger image, but you lose some of the coloring:“Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory” WAC recruiting poster

What an intense image– it’s actually kind of unsettling. The picture is definitely an illustration of the song, though; seeing this poster made me go search out a recording. The heart of the Battle Hymn of the Republic is right at the end, in the lines,

As He died to make men holy

Let us die to make them free

While God goes marching on!

This is the poster I always associate with BHotR:

“Americans will always fight for liberty” WW2 poster

But I have to say, I think the WAC poster has got it. The song is about God’s glory (not the army’s) and, in its Christianity, is essentially appealing to a notion of sacrifice. However it was originally conceived of and received, it’s not hard to bring it around to an affirmation of purpose in the midst of a grim situation. It’s not extolling the glories of war; it’s proclaiming that divine justice will be done regardless of what must be endured or carried out.

And so, we have in the background a very dark and shadowy depiction of War. Recognizable GIs are moving forward — up a ridge? It’s iconic and evocative more than anything. The wee airplanes up in the break of the clouds are a reminder of Modern War, but the focus is on the old-school advance. It’s an uncertain image, and not a happy one.

In the foreground we have Glamorous Young WAC, who is aware of all this, and not particularly glad about it. Look at her face: this is not a rah-rah poster. The dark, advancing depiction of War isn’t just what the song is talking about: it’s her perception of the war as something that is unpleasant and somewhat uncertain, but also dreadfully important and unstoppable. She’s standing in a heavenly spotlight, which is interesting, given the lines just preceding the ones I’ve quoted above:

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea

With a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me

It’s a fascinating way to appeal to women. How do you make the leap from the depiction of war to joining the WAC? By telling them that they can be part of the body that is “marching on”. Is it just me or is it appealing directly to women who have already lost someone in the war? I suppose by 1944 that would be a significant part of your audience.

Also, do you have to be a Christian (or understand the Christian worldview) to get why this is ultimately an uplifting poster and not a depressing one? The uplift seems to be rooted in the idea of “transfiguration” in the service of “His truth”; hence the emphasis on darkness and unpleasantness.

At any rate, it’s really something.

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Filed under h for history, s for sightings, t for thesis

Spot the theme

Let’s think about books, rather than my blistery feet or my muggy-hot room or my computer which is really hot and for once does not have its little fan on and also refuses to play DVDs.

Hmmm. Thinking about books.

Over the break I began and finished Good-bye, Picadilly: British War Brides in America, which was a delightfully thin book. It was very interesting and scholarly, tackling the complicated numerical/statistical issues while incorporating engaging anecdotal information. It reads like a thesis, and the author’s thesis is listed in the bibliography; however, I hesitate to think the book is just the worked-over thesis because the author cites it in a couple of places. But the whole first chapter is, let’s not kid ourselves, a literature review. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, it just was tickling a corner of my brain while I was reading. Overall it’s a good book, readable and illuminating of one facet of the overall picture.

One thing struck me while reading and since this blog is dedicated to things that I think are interesting and no one else does, I feel compelled to share. The author makes the valid point that WWII brought with it all kinds of social upheaval and turmoil, temporary or permanent as it may have been. She then is rather indignant at the suspicion faced by war brides at all steps of their journey to America (suspicion, that is, that they were immoral women or gold-diggers). Such suspicion, it seems to be, is not surprising in an atmosphere of upheaval. Even if, as the author asserts and I have no reason to doubt it, the marriages were by and large love matches that took place “despite” rather than “because of” the war, it remains that at a basic level, they came about because of a condition of upheaval, namely, that American GIs were in Britain long enough to contract marriages. If it hadn’t been for the social upheaval of the war, the GIs wouldn’t have been there — the couples would not have met. So the marriages — if not the love affairs, the emotional stuff — were integrally part of the upheaval. And it seems unsurprising that facets of major upheaval should be viewed with suspicion. I’m sure that’s clear as mud but, trust me, it was sheer unadulterated brilliance at the time.

I had ordered three books from Alibris before leaving campus and they very obligingly arrived while I was at home (where I had sent them). The first is Wartime: Britain, 1939-1945 which I am looking forward to, but is definitely a summer read by virtue of its brick-like proportions.

The second is Before Amelia: Women Pilots in the Early Days of Aviation, which I started today on the Lakefill. It’s an interesting subject, and the book more or less concerns itself (so far) with cataloging the women who had earned their Aero Club certification before the First World War. The most prominent women get longer accounts which can be kind of floral (but such are the primary sources). I got through the chapters on French pilots, and am now partly through the section on Milli Beese of Germany. I don’t know how the rest of the book will work out but I kind of wish, since taking up my second nationality, that the information was conveyed in a more contextual way. These women — the ones who were serious about aviation as a pursuit — were aware of one another. They competed against one another. The first (French) woman to get her Aero Club license was more or less working against several other women to get the title. They were, of course, also very aware of the men who were leading the field, and famous names like Grahame-White, Wright, Dornier, and Bleriot (there’s an accent in there) come up in the narrative. So while the book is good as a sort of biographical catalog, each woman was not an island and there is overlap and interweaving between separate life stories. But it is very interesting, very easy to read, fascinating subject, and good for getting some names in my head.

The third book was Heroines of World War II, which is one of those books that feels the need to tell you how lovely each girl was before telling you what she did. I find that sort of thing dopily charming more than offensive, and I appreciate getting such a reliable indication of a book’s quality/audience/purpose so early on. I started reading it just before leaving and got a couple of chapters in. I had expected to get a collection of biographies, more or less, but not so. Instead, the book is a paean to the various heroic contributions of women during the war, with a stated mission of avoiding the obvious, well known stories. That was a surprise, as I had hoped to get a nice long chapter on Daphne Pearson (she’s on the cover!), but there you go. So what good is it? Well, for one thing, I find it absolutely fascinating that WAAF heroics (like Pearson) are included under a chapter on the homefront, but I’m waiting to finish before drawing any conclusions from that since the organization is not very clear to me yet. (What adds to that is that the author is apparently a veteran.) Overall, it gives the impression of a broad summary of non-scholarly opinion regarding the contributions of women to the war effort. That wins it a place in the Of Interest stack (if such a stack existed); plus it’s a pleasant enough read and again good for catching me up with the basic stuff that I don’t know because I’m on the wrong side of the pond.

Finally, I picked up “my” addition to the library’s collection today. I had suggested the book, which was then ordered by the library and on hold for me. It was a proud moment, picking it up. The book is A Woman’s War Too: U.S. Women in the Military in World War II, and it’s essentially conference papers. You get an introduction to each session and then the talks. Good stuff, although I’ve mostly been fawning over it today rather than actually reading it.

The other major book-related event, of course, is the quarterly purchase of overpriced used books for classes. I went around and acquired all the required texts today, and I gotta say, P.T. Barnum’s autobiography is calling my name. The books for that class are so interesting looking that I can’t help but think it will be a good class.

On that note, I have emails to send and an internship to fret over.

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