Tuesday, April 15, 2014

How Do Europeans Remember the Crimean War?


How Do Europeans Remember the Crimean War?: As the first war in history to be officially photographed, the Crimean War from 1853 to 1856 happened under complex circumstances. Like the War of 1812, status quo ante bellum can be considered the war's outcome, as no major boundary changes occurred. But for the Allies (Britain, France, etc.), the war is remembered as a victory, especially since they thwarted Russia's expansion into the Middle East. The primary issue at stake was the Ottoman Empire (present-day Turkey, Bulgaria, etc.), which had been dissolving due to rising nationalism amid various ethnic groups, including Turks, Serbs, Jews, and Arabs. In effect, Russia sought to seize upon Ottoman vulnerability by going to war over the rights of Orthodox Christians in the Holy Land. Russians today recall such a venture as legitimate, mostly because Arab-Muslim control of that territory would have complicated matters too much. And France essentially intervened in the Russian-Ottoman conflict on behalf of Catholic Europe. Yet as Russia quickly decimated Ottoman forces around the Black Sea in late 1853, the Crimean War became more about geopolitical acquisitions than religious rights. After the war's popularity had declined precipitously in Britain by 1855, the government commissioned Roger Fenton to document the war in photographs, which would later be sold to newspapers and private collectors. The British government also looked to its poet laureate at the time, Lord Tennyson, to immortalize the war in "The Charge of the Light Brigade," which recalled the ill-fated advance of British cavalry against Russian artillery at the Battle of Balaclava in 1854.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

How Do Americans Remember the Civil War?

How Do Americans Remember the Civil War?: Pictured above is the Pennsylvania Monument at the Gettysburg Battlefield. Dedicated at a cost of about $250,000 in 1910, it commemorates the approximately 35,000 Pennsylvania soldiers who fought in the battle. Constructed of iron, concrete, bronze, and granite, it's one of the most elaborate state monuments at Gettysburg. If a monument such as this can be viewed as signifying a kind of collective memory toward the Civil War, then how do individual minds approach the subject? According to historian David Blight, there are three main visions for how people generally remember the war. First, and perhaps the most obvious, is the Reconciliationist vision. Embodied initially by Abraham Lincoln and his Second Inaugural Address, the Reconciliationist vision encourages Americans to recognize that faults existed on both sides during the war, North and South. Next is the Emancipationist vision, which was popular among anti-slavery activists like Frederick Douglass. With this vision, the rights and privileges of citizenship were to be extended to all Americans, especially freed slaves. And lastly, there's the White Supremacist vision, which trumpeted the "Lost Cause" mythology and emphasized the roles of Confederate heroes such as Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

On the Pennsylvania Railroad


On the Pennsylvania Railroad: A little more than a decade after the first steam locomotive (Tom Thumb) made its debut in the United States, the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) received a business charter from Harrisburg in 1846. For most of the 1830s, Pennsylvania spent millions of dollars on canal construction, effectively trying to replicate New York's Erie Canal success. But the state's bankruptcy in 1841 (due to excessive spending on the canals) forced Pennsylvania to embrace railroads as an emerging transportation technology. Although the PRR's initial strategy was to model itself after the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, it quickly became the B&O's biggest competitor for both passenger and freight traffic between the Northeast and Midwest. By the mid-1850s, the PRR had reduced travel times between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh from 3.5 days to just 13 hours. In the 1860s, the PRR was the first American railway to use domestically-produced steel rails and install air brakes on its train cars. These decisions helped the PRR become the world's largest corporation in the 1880s. With approximately 30,000 employees and revenues in the hundreds of millions, the "Pennsy" had outgrown even the federal government. However, its growth became stunted by the simultaneous emergence of air travel and interstate highways in the mid-20th century. Eventually, the PRR merged out of existence in 1968.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Realism of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

The Realism of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.: On Memorial Day in 1895, Holmes delivered a famous commencement address to graduating Harvard students titled "The Soldier's Faith." As a Civil War veteran himself, he warned of the "false faith" which came with war service. A soldier should never "blindly accept" his duty and throw away the joys of living, especially for a cause that "he little understands." Such thinking was in line with Holmes' realism, which he brought to the bench of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (and later to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1902). The two most notable cases where Holmes displayed his legalistic realism were Schenck v. United States (1919) and Buck v. Bell (1927). In Schenck, Holmes outlined what were perhaps the first federal (legal) limitations to "free speech" since John Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. Also with Schenck, which occurred on the heels of World War I, Holmes declared that speech could be criminalized if it created a "clear and present danger" to Congress' ability to govern in wartime. Another classic Holmesian legalism emerged in the Buck case, where he deemed constitutional the compulsory sterilization of the mentally disabled and criminally insane. In reference to Carrie Buck's family history, the plaintiff who had her Fallopian tubes cut, Holmes infamously decried "Three generations of imbeciles are enough."

Saturday, February 15, 2014

On Darwinism and Human Nature


On Darwinism and Human Nature: Darwinism was perhaps the most important ideology to emerge from the nineteenth century. Marxism was a close second, but Darwinism gave birth to more controversy for social scientists, natural scientists, religious figures, and political leaders alike. For historian Carl Degler, Darwinism consisted of three basic principles: first, that organisms reproduce, second, that each organism differs slightly from another (even in the same species), and third, that all organisms must compete for survival (or else face extinction). Thus, bare-bones Darwinism was really nothing more than observational ecology. And it would take the development of genetics by Augustinian friar Gregor Mendel in the 1860s to substantiate some of Charles Darwin's core claims about natural and sexual selection. Darwin himself was worried after he published On the Origin of Species in 1859 that many of his scientific observations would not be fully accepted in the budding community of academic biology. Yet aside from Darwinism's effects on fields like biology and ecology, it had a major impact on the developing world of cultural anthropology. Early anthropologists such as Franz Boas and Margaret Mead were convinced that human nature was more a product of culture than biology. Thus, they began to view racism, sexism, and even eugenics, as incompatible with Darwinism's core tenets, and likened them more to social constructs such as "society" and "history."