Some Sunday History Links

Eoin Purcell

Really interesting post about Colbert and Academic Spies by the Wonders & Marvels folks:

Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-1683) knew that well-paid scholars potentially make effective and sometimes brutal intelligence agents.
He also knew they had the requisite skills to make state surveillance systems. With their knowledge of law, feudal history and archival practices, Colbert trained a number of top ecclesiastical scholars such as Étienne Baluze and Joseph-Nicolas Foucault, and the d’Hozier family to help him make and manage police and tax files on French parliamentarians and nobles.

Just because the tool is there and I think we should always use useful tools, I bashed out a tagmash on LibraryThing for France, 17th Century, some interesting results. I’d like to see this being deeper and maybe a little more non-fiction focused but ut sure makes for an great jump off point.

Weidenfeld & Nicolson have acquired a one-volume history of World War II by Anthony Beavor. This is almost assured of being a massive seller from The Bookseller:

The new book, which is likely to be at least 700 pages long and titled simply The Second World War, is provisionally set for publication in 2012. Little, Brown and Company will publish the book in the United States.
Beevor’s Stalingrad has sold well over 400,000 copies in all editions through Nielsen BookScan, and Berlin close to 200,000, while D-Day has sold over 100,000 copies since publication in hardback in May. The Battle for Spain has sold close to 70,000 
copies through Nielsen BookScan.

If the book is anyway as good as Norman Stone’s book, World War One: A Short History, (which by the by didn’t require 700 pages to deliver a great text) it will be a very welcome volume.

A rather excellent infographic on the history of US Government bailouts since the 1970s.

And, for the date that is in it, read a little something on The Battle of Pharsalus, Ceaser’s victory over the forces of Pompey.

Eoin

A great Review for Petticoat Rebellion

Eoin Purcell

The Herald today has a smashing review of one of Mercier’s new books: Petticoat Rebellion: The Anna Parnell Story:

During the reign of Queen Victoria, women wore corsets to thrust breasts upwards and nip in waists, and crinoline hoops to make their buttocks and hips wider. They had problems walking freely, and often fainted.

Patricia Groves’ new book, Petticoat Rebellion; The Anna Parnell Story (Mercier Press, E14.99), offers a fascinating insight into the social restrictions and mores that threatened to hamper a radical female activist in the 19th century.

You can read the rest of Anna Coogan’s review here and you buy the book from Mercier here.

I have to say that I am biased as this was a book I commissioned early enough after arriving at Mercier Press, but the story is a wonderful forgotten episode in Irish history and well worth reading. The author is Patricia Groves and you can read her profile here. The Parnells were a truly international family, Anna’s grandfather was an American
Eoin

Books I'm reading this quarter

Eoin Purcell

The Decline and Fall of the British Empire
The Decline and Fall of the British Empire

I’ve been given some amazing gifts this christmas.
For starters I’m half-way through Europe Between The Oceans 9000 BC-AD 1000 by Barry Cunliffe a book I was tipped off to by Margin Revolution. There is a nice review over at the Times.

I’ve also been given the hardback version of Simon Schama’s The American Future: A History. It’s reviews (1, 2, 3, 4) are more widespread which is unsurprising given it had a tv show to go with it.

Last but not least (for history anyways) I got the paperback version of Piers Brendon’s The Decline and Fall of the British Empire which is now a full year old and has a few reviews to its name as well and features an interesting excerpt on The Daily Beast.

Some history links 15 November 2008

Eoin Purcell

Fencing duel at the University of Wisconsin--Madison, ca. 1970. (uwdigitalcollections via Flickr cc)
Fencing duel at the University of Wisconsin--Madison, ca. 1970. (uwdigitalcollections via Flickr cc)

A really intriguing map from Strange Maps showing the correlation between cotton picking areas in 1860 and areas that voted for Barack Obama. Here

Today in 1777, the Articles of Confederation were first agreed and proposed. Well worth marking. Here, here and here.

A rather nice few posts about duelling. Here, here and here.

The Coming Anarchy – Kaplan's piece and the blog

Eoin Purcell

The warning bell
All that digging in the archives lead me to Kaplan’s fabulous February 1994 piece The Coming Anarchy which attempted to shake off the lethargy and myopia that had spread across the Western World with the downfall of communism and the seemingly rapid spread of democracy to the former soviet satellites.

Kaplan offered what he (or the sub editor) nicely headed:

A Premonition of the Future

West Africa is becoming the symbol of worldwide demographic, environmental, and societal stress, in which criminal anarchy emerges as the real “strategic” danger. Disease, overpopulation, unprovoked crime, scarcity of resources, refugee migrations, the increasing erosion of nation-states and international borders, and the empowerment of private armies, security firms, and international drug cartels are now most tellingly demonstrated through a West African prism. West Africa provides an appropriate introduction to the issues, often extremely unpleasant to discuss, that will soon confront our civilization. To remap the political earth the way it will be a few decades hence—as I intend to do in this article—I find I must begin with West Africa.

There is much more unsettling stuff there that seems relevant even now from his points about Côte d’Ivoire:

Consider “Chicago.” I refer not to Chicago, Illinois, but to a slum district of Abidjan, which the young toughs in the area have named after the American city. (“Washington” is another poor section of Abidjan.) Although Sierra Leone is widely regarded as beyond salvage, the Ivory Coast has been considered an African success story, and Abidjan has been called “the Paris of West Africa.” Success, however, was built on two artificial factors: the high price of cocoa, of which the Ivory Coast is the world’s leading producer, and the talents of a French expatriate community, whose members have helped run the government and the private sector. The expanding cocoa economy made the Ivory Coast a magnet for migrant workers from all over West Africa: between a third and a half of the country’s population is now non-Ivorian, and the figure could be as high as 75 percent in Abidjan.

During the 1980s cocoa prices fell and the French began to leave. The skyscrapers of the Paris of West Africa are a facade. Perhaps 15 percent of Abidjan’s population of three million people live in shantytowns like Chicago and Washington, and the vast majority live in places that are not much better.

Not all of these places appear on any of the readily available maps. This is another indication of how political maps are the products of tired conventional wisdom and, in the Ivory Coast’s case, of an elite that will ultimately be forced to relinquish power.

Chicago, like more and more of Abidjan, is a slum in the bush: a checkerwork of corrugated zinc roofs and walls made of cardboard and black plastic wrap. It is located in a gully teeming with coconut palms and oil palms, and is ravaged by flooding. Few residents have easy access to electricity, a sewage system, or a clean water supply. The crumbly red laterite earth crawls with foot-long lizards both inside and outside the shacks. Children defecate in a stream filled with garbage and pigs, droning with malarial mosquitoes. In this stream women do the washing. Young unemployed men spend their time drinking beer, palm wine, and gin while gambling on pinball games constructed out of rotting wood and rusty nails. These are the same youths who rob houses in more prosperous Ivorian neighborhoods at night. One man I met, Damba Tesele, came to Chicago from Burkina Faso in 1963. A cook by profession, he has four wives and thirty-two children, not one of whom has made it to high school. He has seen his shanty community destroyed by municipal authorities seven times since coming to the area. Each time he and his neighbors rebuild. Chicago is the latest incarnation.

Fifty-five percent of the Ivory Coast’s population is urban, and the proportion is expected to reach 62 percent by 2000. The yearly net population growth is 3.6 percent. This means that the Ivory Coast’s 13.5 million people will become 39 million by 2025, when much of the population will consist of urbanized peasants like those of Chicago. But don’t count on the Ivory Coast’s still existing then. Chicago, which is more indicative of Africa’s and the Third World’s demographic present—and even more of the future—than any idyllic junglescape of women balancing earthen jugs on their heads, illustrates why the Ivory Coast, once a model of Third World success, is becoming a case study in Third World catastrophe.

President Felix Houphouet-Boigny, who died last December at the age of about ninety, left behind a weak cluster of political parties and a leaden bureaucracy that discourages foreign investment. Because the military is small and the non-Ivorian population large, there is neither an obvious force to maintain order nor a sense of nationhood that would lessen the need for such enforcement. The economy has been shrinking since the mid-1980s. Though the French are working assiduously to preserve stability, the Ivory Coast faces a possibility worse than a coup: an anarchic implosion of criminal violence—an urbanized version of what has already happened in Somalia. Or it may become an African Yugoslavia, but one without mini-states to replace the whole.

Now that’s a long quote but when you read these stories from the recent past you see just how clear sighted the article was. Now the country has regained some sense of normalcy in the last twu years but the tensions remain.

And the blog
The blog is an interesting discussion forum based on the ideas and concepts the Kaplan brought forth in his article, but Kaplan does not contribute there and he is not involved in any way. He is more of an inspiration. There is no end of variety to the topics covered so I won’t try and elaborate except to say that this is by far my favourite on a review.

So much to think about sometimes is there not?
Eoin

Technology moves rapdily (even now)

Eoin purcell

Sometimes silly ideas catch my eye
For a very short while I was enamoured by the idea that our 50 years was moving slower in a technology sense than previous blocks of 50 years. For a while I agreed with the concept thoughtlessly and then I realised it was hokum.

Change never happens in exactly the same way and often the most incredible changes of the past block of years are things we rarely account for. And even allowing for that sometimes we take enormous change and see it as mundane because we lack the right perspective. Rob over at snowbooks posts today on the very point:

The CRAY-1A had a 12.5-nanosecond clock, 64 vector registers, and 1 million 64-bit words of high-speed memory.” All very impressive I’m sure, but my current mobile phone could give it a very serious run for its money – and probably beat it for many types of calculation.

Well worth reading.

I’d also advise reading The Shock of the Old by David Edgerton which although it doesn’t make the same point I’m making is nonetheless an excellent perspective on innovation and technological advances. You can buy that here*.

Rob’s got me thinking
Eoin

*Non affliated so I don’t make any money!

A little more info: Thiers

Thiers
So we have some fine nugget of information turning up. As I suspected but had not confirmed on writing the previous post one of the authors cited, Adolphe Thiers, was head of state of France for some time prior to and following the collapse of the Second Empire and the Franco-Prussian war, Thiers was instrumental in crushing the Paris Commune and stabilising the nation. There is more on his here on Wikipedia.

Can we lay our hands on a copy?
Project Gutenberg has more than excelled itself by providing the entire text of The History of the French Revolution online for free. Sadly it is in French and so is useless to someone as poorly schooled (that is to say my teachers were in fact rather good but cursed by lazy students) in the language as I. other may however use this resource to the hilt.

The Google Book Search copy is also available and for anyone not used to the run of events in the period it has an extensive time line in the front matter here. Reading it reminds me how the actual radicalisation might not have been as inevitable as I suggested yesterday. The opportunities and chances for a more benign resolution almost jump from the page. It is well worth looking over.

Finally for today I thought I’d mention the introduction (here) which is a solid twelve pages long but worth the read. It also sets the book into a nice context and offers insights that are beyond my ability.

Wrap up
So for now I will leave Thiers and his work and do some digging on the others. Just one point that I know will crop up again and again with this project. Why can I not buy the right to print some extracts or even select text from the online version? It is in the public domain, it is scanned. I would happily pay up to twenty dollars to access Google’s version of it and it would certainly make this task easier and more enlightening to be able to quote portions. The sooner Google offers the facility to use the text the better is all I can say.

From a wonderfully sunny Dublin
Eoin
July 16th 2006