History

Sophie Scholl: The Final Days

While I was growing up in the 60’s and 70’s I learned in my history classes about the horrors of what happened in Germany during WWII.  However in these classes the German people were painted with broad sweeping strokes of black as supporters of the Nazi movement and Hitler.  I never learned of people such as Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist who managed to save the lives of so many of the Jewish people.  Nor had I heard of groups, such as “The Swing Kids,” “The Edelweiss Pirates,” “The Solf Circle,” and “The Kreisau Circle.”  All of these were groups of German Nationals who were either vocal opponents of the Nazi doctrine or actively fought against them as part of the underground resistance in Germany.  In fact there were a lot more “subversive groups” in Germany than I was aware existed.  Another group I had never heard of was one founded by Hans Scholl and his sister Sophie known as “The White Rose.”

The Weather Experiment: the pioneers who sought to see the future

People around the world are fascinated by weather generally and in particularly these days with so many unusual events. This intriguing book describes the explorations and discoveries of people who changed weather from a local phenomenon into a science that explains the why, where, and how of weather.

More importantly these new scientists could warn people before harsh storms struck to allow them to postpone travel, particularly by sea, or to mitigate the damage.

On Nov. 23, 1703 an intense storm rammed England with no warning. The Great Storm, as it came to be called, sent ships from the North Sea into Sweden. Many were shipwrecked; thousands of others drowned.  Leaders discussed the need for weather forecasting to warn the population of danger before it struck and produced casualties and massive property damage.  But alas little happened until the nineteenth century.

Did you ever wonder how meteorology got its name? Historically, “meteors” referred to any object in the sublunar zone. This included meteors of course, but also lightning, rainbows, clouds, and gusts of wind. The famous Dr. Johnson of dictionary fame defined meteors as “any bodies in the air or sky that are of flux and transitory nature.”

Atomic Café

In the early 60’s I remember going through atomic bomb drills in school.  We were dutifully herded by our teachers down to the depths of Roger’s Elementary school here in Bloomington, past the furnaces, and seemingly below the floors to the area in which we were to remain until the radiation levels dropped enough for us to come out.  I can still remember the big storage cans of water stacked along the walls and under stairwells marked with the Civil Defense emblem.  I assume, though I can’t really remember seeing them, that there were food rations that were available for us to eat as well.  Along with the television advertisements for cereal, candy and toys we saw public service announcements with “Burt the Turtle” teaching us how to “duck and cover” if we should ever see the flash of an atomic bomb.   How naïve these advertisements and steps seem today when more accurate information about atomic blasts and radiation is common knowledge.   We know for example that we can’t survive an atomic blast by hiding inside of a refrigerator.

Monuments Men

It’s not often that a World War II film comes my way that stirs my soul.  It’s even rarer that what stirs my soul is not the personal story of an individual or a small group  of people standing up for what is right against the Nazi’s or an escape from a German internment camp despite impossible odds.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy a good war film, but most war films have the same basic features,

Unpublished

Civil War Fiction

Killer AngelsThis summer will be the 150 year anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, one of the deadliest periods of the Civil War.  The three days saw record causalities and is also considered one of the turning points of the war.  Instead of breaking out a dusty nonfiction tome, consider The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. This fiction book does a good job at adequately describing the events that did occur, but shines at getting into the heads of the major players. We meet Lee, Longstreet and Chamberlain and start to understand their thoughts, positions, opinions and fears as they prepare and head into battle.  This is well researched, and really readable.  The maps give you a good visual perspective as well.

One of the things I love most about history is not only learning the outcomes and the details of the events that took place, but investigating the other possibilities, thinking about the what-ifs, and figuring out the decisions that went into what really happened.

The World of Downton Abbey

My husband, who seldom brings books home from the library, surprised me recently with this one.  I laughed and said, "I'm not that desperate" but after dinner I found myself browsing through the pictures. But soon I was drawn into the writing.  If you're a Downton Abbey fan, you'll love this book and if not, you'll probably at least sample the series after reading it.

The World of Downton Abbey is a social history of the times--Edwardian England to shortly after World War 1.  In eight essays, Fellowes describes life then.  She also gives an idea of how many people worked in service in those years--more than in farming or mining.  Families would rejoice when a child got hired by a wealthy landowner, especially one as highly regarded as an earl. Not only would the person have a secure job, but the family would no longer have to provide housing, clothing or food as they would have needed to if the person worked as a clerk.

This book is full of interesting facts about working in service at the beginning of the last century. There was a network of downstairs folk who spread news of job openings from place to place and also kept a black-list of rich people who mistreated their help.

Also, covered are corsets--just know you are very lucky to be spared the agony of wearing one. Even Daisy the kitchen maid had to don this straitjacket under her uniform. A woman in those days could not take hers off by

A History of the World in 100 Objects

What a cool idea for a book. Telling the history of the world by looking at museum artifacts. To make it even more interesting, these descriptive reports of jewelry, mummies, pottery, coins, art, textiles, etc. were written by experts for radio.  Luckily, for us we get to view the pictures also, hundreds of them.

A History of the World in 100 Objects is no coffee table book but a book to be read end to end. The entries for each of the objects (that range in date from 2,000,000 B.C. to 2010 A.D.) describe not only the artifacts themselves but what they teach us about history and about humanity. For example of silver bowl full of coins from around the year 927--shows that already England was well on its way to becoming a monarchy. Inscribed on one coin is Athelstan Rex totius Britanniae or Athelstan, King of All Britain.  

Other items found in this same buried stash were arm bracelets from Ireland, Viking coins, and others from as far away as Afghanistan. A Viking stash of coins showed that they were becoming Christian--engraved on several was St. Peter's name (Petri), but also inscribed was the hammer from Thor, the old Norse god.

Unpublished

Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State

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This six part documentary produced by the BBC looks not only at the horrors that took place in Auschwitz; but at the developments, both political and technological that resulted in what many consider the worst of all the Nazi internment camps -- Auschwitz, along with its immediate aftereffects. I can't say that this documentary was a pleasure to watch but it was educational, important, and horrific.

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