Category Archives: 20th Century

Empty London: Sheltering from the Blitz

Bus in Crater, London Blitz

In the early 19th century, this grand city became the first in the modern world* to reach a population of one million, and over the next 100 years, that number multiplied six times over.  By the mid-20th century, London was home to over 8 million people. Not that you’d think it looking at London at the height of the Blitz in 1940.  Buildings lay in crumbling ruins.  Millions of people are missing, either serving in the armed forces or having

The Passing of Quiet Hero Sir Nicholas Winton

Sir Nicholas Winton, a quiet civilian hero of World War II, has died at the age of 106. In a time of considerable disinterest in the Jewish plight, Winton rescued 669 Czech Jewish children, most of whom would have otherwise perished. In pre-World War II Europe, Jewish living conditions varied widely. Centuries of anti-Semitism were a reason locals often did little to support their Jewish neighbors when the Germans came and further persecuted them. Many were forced to live as

For My Students, a Fading Memory of 9/11

Child at 9/11 rememberance

This semester, I am teaching Religions in America at UW-Oshkosh. Rather than simply being a survey course of religions, the course specifically addresses how these religions manifest in and interact with American culture. I debated long and hard whether or not I would cover Islam on Sept 11. I don’t want to be inflammatory, and certainly my syllabus doesn’t nicely flow with Islam on Sept 11. However, if the session is about how Islam interacts with American culture, you can’t

Today in History: the Assassination of an Archduke

Austrians shooting Serbian POWs.

100 years ago today, Austria declared war of Serbia, sparking the First World War, which would be the deadliest war to that point and arguably the most deadly in history.  (It depends how you count the war dead for WWII.) The first time I taught WWI, I asked how many knew how WWI started, because my own education of it was painfully lacking until well into college.  More than half raised their hands.  I was shocked.  Then I realized I

The Fickleness of Vocabulary; or, the Case of the R-Word

Strip of 1974 stamps dedicated to "retarded" children

In 1974, the US Postal Service put out a stamp stating “Retarded Children Can be Helped.” The sentiment was certainly one we can relate to: the mentally impaired do not need to be marginalized. This is contrary to a long history of approaches to mental disability, which has included institutionalization and forced sterilization. I can find no consensus as to how many people were still using the word “retarded” in a non-derogatory way in 1974. Some thought it was already

Adventures of a Lost Autograph

Signature of Wernher Von Braun

My grandfather was a civilian employee of the U.S. military.  He worked in the Pentagon “as the plaster was still drying.”  He wasn’t some super secret scientist or anything like that.  He was a self-educated administrator who periodically got to meet some pretty famous people. Somewhere’s there a newspaper photo of him and Charles Lindbergh.  I have no idea why they’re together.  I just know the picture exists. I’ve also known there’s a famous autograph floating around the family.  A

Today in History: Birth of Queen Elizabeth II

Elizabeth II, queen of the United Kingdom and head of the Commonwealth turns 88 today, April 21.  She is already the oldest British or English monarch. The second and third oldest monarchs (Victoria and George III) were both 81 when they died. As an Aside: Great Britain is the union of Scotland and England, which formally happened in 1707.  Previous to that, they were independent nations. To call Elizabeth “Queen of England” is technically incorrect. In September, 2015, she will

This Week in History: the Sinking of Titanic

CNN Reporting Titanic Sinking as "Breaking News"

Lesson One: I am doing very badly with my goal of posting history on appropriate days. On April 14, 1912, RMS Titanic sank, killing 1500 passengers while 700 survived in lifeboats.  This week marks the 102nd anniversary. Lesson Two:  CNN is even less on the ball than I am. The above interview began as a story of the deep sea search for Malaysia Flight 370, and the expert has also worked on explorations of Titanic’s wreck.  As the interview continued,

Nazi Memorabilia and Memory

Auction house Vermot de Pas has cancelled the appearance of Nazi items in an April 26 auction after multiple groups objected.  Critics called the sale obscene and insisted the sale would give the items “unhealthy symbolic value that resembles cynicism and a form of moral indecency”. The Nazis and the Holocaust are difficult topics to deal with.  Today, survivors still live, but even after the last of them pass, the topic will not easily fade from the public mind. Nor

Recovering the Oral History of the Holocaust

February 24 marked the death of the oldest living Holocaust survivor.  Certainly there are still survivors out there, but they are growing scarcer by the year.  Someone who was 15 in 1945 would be 83 today, and most people under the age of 15 didn’t survive the Holocaust at all because they were seen as useless for labor.  Even those born in 1945 are 68 this year. One might think that all the stories to be told have already been

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