It’s a problem in that there is no real reason for choosing this sort of periodization when discussing many social and cultural (I’m going to leave out intellectual since my reading in the other two is somewhat stronger) phenomena, while there may be good reasons for not doing so. Witness another recent social history of homosexuality that essentially admits that choosing 1870 – 1918 (the end of the Second Empire to the end of World War I [again]), was necessary because it was more neutral than other dates, such as the Eulenberg Affair, but then follows by justifying these “neutral” dates through the history of sexuality itself even as the book frequently dips both before and after the introduced timeframe. Wrapping oneself up in knots in an effort to have a subheading with dates people will recognize, just can't (it can't!) be worth it.
Two problems, aside the potential for playing twister in the introduction, can emerge from this. The first is, I believe, less common. If one brackets a study between what are generally considered two “Important Events,” and then treats that period synchronically (i.e., as a picture of time, rather than a movie) you run the risk of missing just what was happening, what was changing. And this stems, not from laziness, but from the initial epistemological assumption that the “Important Events” cause change and if you don’t have any in the middle of your period, then the changes must not be very important. This is a pretty drastic problem, one that historians such as Houlbrook and Tamagne don’t fall into, but it’s not one that all avoid.
The second problem, however, is the one I’m trying to keep most in mind as I do my initial forays into finding a research topic: just because an “Important Event” is happening doesn’t mean that everything changes. Social and cultural trends do not change at the whim of political regimes, nor even The Great War. For example, while digging around the Archives de Paris today, I found a folder featuring some memoranda and notes related to the building of a small square and/or kisosque (as in, they were deciding between the two) on Boulevard de Picpus. The details are completely unimportant for my current point. What’s important is that the earliest memo is dated early 1909 and the last one in the middle of 1916. Let’s see, what was going on in France during 1916? Oh, right, a lot of them were dying in the northern part of the country. Yet never underestimate the power of beuracracy: the square vs. kiosque debate continued.
Now, it may be pointed out, fairly, that the Services d’Architecture et des Promenades et Plantations, under the Prefecture of the Seine, didn’t have much to do with the war. To which I can, reasonably, respond that perhaps the Municipal Council of Paris, whom – it seems at least – continued to care about getting that damned square built, did. (It looks like the kiosque won, but I can’t be sure with what I have, in case you’re curious).
Anyway…my point is simply that great events do not stop, nor immediately change, culture and society. Nor do culture and society stagnate without great events. Its time historical studies of sexuality take this into account. In other words, expect the subtitle of my dissertation to reading something like this :A study of ______, February 3, 1863 – March 23, 1923 (6:00p).
Cross posted at air pollution.
Thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts concerning the education of Virginia's students during the Civil War Sesquicentennial. I welcome this as both a Civil War historian, but especially as an educator. The four years between 2011 and 2015 will no doubt attract a great deal of attention to the Civil War and related events. Not since the Civil War Centennial of the 1960s has there been such an opportunity to impress upon the general public and our children the importance of the Civil War to American history and its continued impact on our society today.
I welcome and applaud the Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission's enthusiasm for wanting to address issues of education; however, with that enthusiasm comes great responsibility. Tough choices will have to be made that will involve competing agendas and interpretive assumptions between various interest groups. During the Civil War Centennial celebrations that struggle was drawn between those who chose to emphasize entertainment and those who sought to push a more scholarly agenda. More importantly, various groups battled over more divisive questions of whether the themes of race, slavery, and emancipation should be emphasized as opposed to a reconciliationist message that steered clear of such issues. Such disagreements, along with distraction of the Civil Rights Movement, fueled a steady decline of interest in the Centennial by 1963. While the country may not be as fractured along racial lines as it was in the 1960s it is reasonable to anticipate a certain amount of bitterness from various quarters depending on how the sesquicentennial is remembered and commemorated. My hope is that the attention to education will be influenced by people who have a sincere interest in imparting history that is inclusive, reflective of recent historiographical trends, and relevant to today's students.
First and foremost the "message" to Virginia's students needs to be grounded in recent interpretive trends. Over the past few years historians have explored popular subjects such as battles, campaigns, and leaders along with a range of other topics from slavery and politics to the home front. Many of these more recent studies challenge traditional ideas that have their roots in the first few decades following the war. Just as important is the need to direct educators to primary documents. There is an abundance of primary source material that can be found on the Internet, in archives, and various publications. Students should be introduced to the Civil War through the words of the participants themselves. Their words bring home the myriad ways in which Americans understood a world that was constantly changing and in ways that few could predict. This abundance of source material makes it possible to emphasize the importance of multiple perspectives. Students should understand that the war's meaning and outcome can be understood depending on political persuasion, regional affiliation, gender, and race.
The overall message that Virginia's students should take away is a difficult one since there are so many avenues that can be explored. That said, students at various levels should be able to appreciate the ways in which the debates that led to the war and the war itself were a continuation of longer trends, such as the history of slavery, as well as more recent open-ended questions about federalism, which proved to be a difficult issue during the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and in the years to follow. The campaigns and battles will no doubt receive a great deal of attention (as they should); however, students should be asked to look beyond the traditional categories of commemoration and battlefield heroics to a more sophisticated appreciation of their experiences, including camp life, battlefield experiences, politics, and their connection to the home front. Once again the voices of the soldiers themselves should be utilized whenever possible.
At the center of any curriculum on the Civil War must be the subject of slavery and race. While this is clearly a sensitive topic for many, and will no doubt be debated by various groups, the consensus among professional historians must be acknowledged. Students need to understand the complexity and centrality of slavery/race as a cause of secession and its role in the evolution of the war itself. Few people could have anticipated the end of slavery by 1865 let alone the ways in which the lives of slaves and free African Americans were shaped and in turn shaped the outcome of the war. Attention to this subject will help place the Civil War within a broader historical context that connects with Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement and our contemporary dialogs about race. In addition, students will be able to more accurately judge the results of what some historians have called a "Second American Revolution." Like the first Revolution, the Civil War answered some questions, but left others to be worked out by future generations. Progress on such questions can lead to important historical class debates and discussions.
Finally, though Reconstruction tends to be taught as a separate unit I would hope that Sesquicentennial organizers can look beyond such arbitrary distinctions. The period of Reconstruction is one of the most misunderstood periods of American history though the political debates and racial challenges faced were directly connected to the war. This is another area where there is now a great deal of primary source material available for classroom use. Old stories of carpetbaggers and corrupt African-American politicians must be supplanted by more recent interpretations.
The development of age/grade-appropriate curricular materials ought to be a top priority for Sesquicentennial organizers. I encourage curricular developers to work closely with museums, historical societies, and especially the National Park Service. Many of the NPS branches have already developed plans for the Sesquicentennial with education as a key component. There is no better way to introduce students to the study of history and the Civil War than to bring them to the places where the war was fought and lived.
While I anticipate that most Americans will be attracted by reenactments, parades, and other forms of public commemoration it is my hope that the national and state Sesquicentennial Commissions devote most of their attention to the education of our students.
Even Geoffrey Chaucer LOL. (h/t)
Disability Studies points to this story of Pedro Guzman, a US citizen who was wrongfully deported.
Michael Guzman said that his brother was in special education classes before he dropped out of school, that he can't read or write, and that he has trouble processing information.
"My worst fear is that he is no longer living," said Guzman's brother, Michael Guzman."He doesn't know how to read. He often can't remember the family phone number. He even gets lost if he gets off the main street in Lancaster."
Are librarians really that stressed? Cronaca points to this BBC piece about stressful occupations. Librarians are ranked number one, above firefighters and police.
"Librarians complained about their physical environment, saying they were sick of being stuck between book shelves all day, as well as claiming their skills were not used and how little control they felt they had over their career."
I don't believe it. I spent about six years working in libraries, in several different departments. I realize it's just anecdotal, and that I didn't work in the British library system, but the librarians I knew were about the least stressed people I ever met.
Finally, via Scott McLemee, via Chris Hayes, via Lee
Moai in Rano Raraku. Photo (cc) GliderKing.
Easter Island is one of the places I'd most like to visit. It's history is a tragedy, one of eventual destruction at the hands of the modern world. From an engineering perspective the work that has gone into the creation and erection of the moai, the enigmatic statues, that seem to litter the island is stunning. Also, from looking at the pictures on Flickr, it looks like the entire island is a neatly mowed lawn and you're never more than a few
metres yards from a frowning face - which makes it a very English idyll. It's the lawn, or rather the deforestation, which is the subject of vigorous debate at the moment, as reported recently in the Independent.
The traditional story is that the island was settled around the middle of the first millennium AD. The population grew, built moai and chopped down forests to support growing population and the engineering work. Sometime in the 2nd millennium the island ran out of trees and the population collapsed with the culture falling into savagery. In 1722 when Dutchman Jacob Roggeveen found the island and isolated visits from Europeans occurred till 1862 when the Spanish, looking for workers to die their silver mines, made the population an offer it couldn't refuse. The population fell from from two or three thousand at discovery to just one hundred and eleven by 1877.
The big question is: Were the people that Roggeveen found the typical population of the island, or were these people the survivors of a collapse that had occurred a century or two before?
One of the problems in archaeology is that you already know how the story ends. It's what comes before that matters which makes it a bit like reading a novel backwards. One of the dangers of this is that interpretation of earlier periods is then often interpreted in a telelogical fashion. The past had to occur a certain way so that we end up here. To an extent this makes sense. A history of the Roman Empire that doesn't conclude with its fall is going to difficult to reconcile with the divided Europe of today. But equally people living today don't see their future as inevitable so that we end up wherever we are a century from now. That dynamic might well be clear to historians a thousand years in the future, but it's not how we live our lives. So explanations of Easter Island's history that are written in order that the ecology collapses may ignore the element of free will that islanders thought they had. In his article Rethinking the Fall of Easter Island Terry Hunt explores this problem.
The first question is over the colonisation date. Originally it was thought to be around AD 400 based on a radiocarbon date, but radiocarbon is a probability rather than a precise date. When people say something is carbon dated to AD 400, what they usually mean is there's a 95% chance that the sample dates from AD 400 +/- around a century. That means one time in twenty the sample is misleading. Additionally there can be problems with contamination of carbon samples in the natural environment, so usually one date is not usually enough. In the case of Easter Island linguistic evidence suggested that divergence from other Polynesian languages occurred around AD 800, so this has been the more recent accepted date. This has been correlated by some radiocarbon samples, so it appears that more than one line of evidence points to this date.
Terry Hunt points out one of the features that makes Easter Island so interesting when he looks at the linguistic evidence. Usually in archaeology is makes no sense to identify a 'culture' with a biological group of people. People marry in or out of society. Equally ideas flow between cultures which means that what it means to be American or Chinese or Indian is constantly changing. Easter Island is isolated. The nearest inhabitable island is over 2000km away. This means the interaction with other peoples did not occur till 1722. With this lack of interaction with other Polynesian societies would the usual rules of linguistic dating apply? One of the features of interaction with other societies would be that norms would be exchanged so that some idiosyncratic changes in language would be subsumed by the wider network. Easter Island did not have this. Could the linguistic difference therefore be a matter of isolation? Instead he's worked to see what other evidence for colonisation there is. He's worked with Carl Lipo to re-examine the radiocarbon dates.
Radiocarbon dating is still being improved. Past processes generating carbon-14 in the atmosphere still aren't fully understood. In the early days some periods like the Neolithic were moved wildly in chronology back and forth by a thousand years as evidence of changing background levels of carbon-14 in various periods was found. This information meant that some of the previously accepted radiocarbon dates were suspect. To their surprise they found that if modern models and sampling methods were applied to the island then the earliest colonisation dates would be in AD 1200. This would be around the time that deforestation occurred on the island. The accepted explanation of colonisation was that from AD 800 to AD 1200 the colonists had little ecological impact on the island and after AD 1200 something dramatic changed in Easter Island's society. Hunt and Lipo argue that the big change was that this was when society on Easter Island started.
There's some findings from elsewhere in the Pacific which would tie in nicely with these findings. The island of Rapa (also known as Rapa Iti to avoid confusing it with Rapa Nui - another name for Easter Island), over two thousand miles to the west, also appears to have been colonised around AD 1200. The argument is based on dates recovered from the Tangarutu Rock Shelter, which seems to have the oldest settlement remains. Douglas Kennett, leading the research at Rapa, suggests that the colonisation of the eastern Polynesia was in a late burst of activity.
What makes this particularly interesting from an outsider's point of view is that passion is very close to the surface of the debate. The basic question is are the samples which yield carbon-dates earlier than AD 1200 from uncontaminated contexts? Instead the argument seems to be about modern attitudes to colonisation and ecology. The Independent quotes Bahn and Massey's rebuttal of the re-dating in their recent article from the Rapa Nui Journal. Talking about those who argue for the late colonisation they say:
"They view the island through rose-coloured spectacles, choosing to believe that the community was thriving up to 1722 and that it was the Europeans who destroyed them.
"It is undeniable that many calamities befell the island thanks to European visits... but the Europhobic model ignores the mass of archaeological, oral, botanical and sedimentological evidence which documents the prehistoric transformation of the island by humans from pristine subtropical rainforest to a virtually treeless landscape."
I'll be interested to see how this develops. I'm inclined to agree with Bahn and Massey about prehistoric deforestation. Studies from other colonisations show that when humans arrive somewhere it dramatically alters the local ecosystem and the change can be catastrophic for the bits of ecosystem that taste nice when barbequed. At the same time It does seem that Hunt and Lipo have a reasonable argument that there may have been late colonisation of Easter Island and the late colonisation of Rapa is consistent with this.
This may change our understanding of the island's history, but even a late colonisation combined with indigenous deforestation would leave Easter Island as a warning of ecological carelessness. The work on Rapa would also suggest it's not an isloated tale. Douglas Kennett described Rapa as:
"...a compelling story. To me, this is an example of what's happening on the planet today in terms of expanding populations, environmental degradation and increasing warfare. Rapa is a little microcosm of our planet. There are lessons about the consequences of population growth to be learned there."
Eurekalert has a press release on Kennett's work at Rapa.
The Independent article may or may not be behind a paywall as the server sees fit.
In related research Chris Turney has a blog entry about the recent Polynesian Chicken Flap.
Via A Blog Clock Around the Clock, I've read about plans to drill for oil in the Val di Noto at the Skeptical Alchemist. To see what effect this might have you don't have to look far, the coast has been developed by the petrochemical industry. It's a particular worry because this is a notable region for for its remains, even by the high standards of Sicily. What makes the Val di Noto particularly special is that it doesn't just have ruins from one period. There are Greek and Roman remains like many other places in Italy, but it is is a major site for more modern archaeological remains.
In the late seventeenth century earthquakes struck this part of Sicily causing devastation. The town were rebuilt in the current style and so the Val di Noto is a time capsule of late Baroque architecture. Its because of the preservation of these buildings that the towns of the Val di Noto are inscribed into the UNESCO heritage list.
Normally towns build organically, so many European cities look like a mess with Roman phases over prehistoric settlements, which are superceded by medieval towns and modern rebuild. Modern redevelopment has to take into account the urban environment it is being built into. The architecture and planning of these towns more reflects the thoughts and planning of just one period.
Piazza Duomo, Catania. Photo (cc) Fazen.
Baroque architecture is about power, specifically about religious power. The Catholic church in this period saw emotion as an essential part of art and architecture if it was to convey their message to the masses. The architecture drew on the classical ideals made popular in the Renaissance and turned them up to eleven. These buildings were intentionally in-yer-face to push the religious message with the ornate carvings and vivid paintings. Baroque architecture is about shouting about Christ's power and, by extention, the power of the Church. It's about refusing to be ignored. It's no surprise that this should also have been the style favoured by the European powers when they started building in the newly founded colonies.
This is currently under a threat as part of the Val di Noto is set to be exploited by a company drilling for oil. The company isn't going to be demolishing Noto, but Sicilians already have an example of what happens when a petrochemical plant moves into the neighbourhood of an archaeological site. You can see the effect at Megara Hyblaea.
If you ever want to have a whole Greek city to yourself, then Megara Hyblaea is the place to visit. You can find it a little way off the main road between Catania and Syracuse on the east coast. It's not very well signposted and when you finally get out of the car you'll see why.
Or rather smell why.
The stench of oil refining is everywhere. While the industry doesn't physically encroach on the site, it's nonetheless inescapable. If you wanted to be poetic you could say that the fumes cast the scent of death over the long-adandoned city, but poets quite sensibly prefer roses and violets. The additional effect of low frequency hum and occasional hellish flare in the distance makes the completely exposed site somewhat claustrophobic.
The site isn't helped any by the over-enthusiastic rebuild of some of the walls. The metallic bridges and lack of any friendly tourist signs gives the site an unfinished feel. But there's no real incentive to add anything more if visitors aren't coming. No-one in their right mind would visit this site. Every time I've been there I've had the place to myself in the middle of summer. This rather than archaeological conservation is why drilling in the Val di Noto is such a bad idea.
Arguably Megara Hyblaea's neighbours help conserve the site. The sheer unpleasantness of the atmosphere keeps people away and so mean that the sheer pressure of visitors which is a problem at more popular sites isn't a problem here. The city will outlast the refineries that surround it. It would certainly be a nicer place if the refineries shut down tomorrow, but Sicily is poor. It needs jobs and this part of the coast isn't where people live or holiday. It's where they work.
The cities of the Val di Noto in contrast are vibrant. They are places where people live and which benefit from tourism. When the buildings which were recognised by UNESCO were built, this was a rebirth. It was a sign that the communities were strong enough to overcome the earthquake. Putting them in the shadow of the oil industry will drive away tourism and replace life with the odour of torpor. If the oil industry exploits the valley the buildings will survive but the feature that makes them special, the vigorous and lively culture driven by the people in these cities, will be lost.
If you agree there's a petition to sign at La Repubblica. If you'd rather they drilled for oil you'll have to find your own petition.
Some of you are already familiar with his work. Others, not. While not a historian per se, Henry Jenkins keeps a blog that might be of interest to many of you, Confessions of an Aca-Fan. Jenkins is a media studies scholar and focuses on popular culture and new media. Recent posts cover the transmedia nature of Heroes, wiki-media, and how class shapes social networking sites.
The incredible Alun Salt has added a new function to his Clioaudio site called Historyscape. He explains Historyscape here, as a Digg equivalent for archaeology, history and classics. And, here he explains how he built Historyscape with Yahoo! Pipes.
At Digital Urban Dr Andrew Hudson-Smith notes that"using image overlays it is possible to compare cities over time." He uses Google Earth to compare different iterations of the same city, in this case London.
The Food Timeline is a tremendous site giving a chronological list of food origins and cultivation, and a list of recipes. Each item links to a more detailed entry. It includes a food index, a culinary index, period cuisine, historic prices, and lots of other goodies. Delicious!
The German bombing of London and other British cities between September 1940 and May 1941 is referred to as"the Blitz", a contemporary term which, if not actually coined by the press, was certainly popularised by it. Blitz is short for blitzkrieg, German for"lightning war", which was the label given to the spectacularly mobile armoured offensives, strongly supported by tactical bombing, which led to the rapid conquests of Poland and France. Sometimes it is suggested that it was inappropriate or inaccurate to apply a word having to do with fast-paced ground combat, involving Panzers and Stukas, to a fundamentally different type of warfare, a strategic bombing campaign lasting nine months in which no territory was exchanged and no soldiers even saw each other. For example, after noting the popular origins of blitz, A. J. P. Taylor added as a footnote:
Popular parlance was, of course, wrong. 'Blitz' was lightning war. This was the opposite.1The Wikipedia page on the Blitz says:
The German military doctrine of speed and surprise was described as Blitzkrieg, literally lightning war, from which the British use of blitz was derived. While German air-supported attacks on Poland, France, the Netherlands and other countries may be described as blitzkrieg, the prolonged strategic bombing of London did not fit the term.
I'd like to suggest here that while it's true that the Blitz wasn't a lightning war, nonetheless it was a blitzkrieg. Confused? Hopefully I can explain ...
Firstly, note that initially blitz and blitzkrieg were synonymous terms. So immediately after the first big raids on London on 7 September 1940, the Daily Express was already using the familiar term: 'Blitz bombing of London goes on all night'.2 But at the same time, the Spectator was calling it a blitzkrieg:
The full purpose of the Blitzkrieg may have been more fully revealed by the time these lines are read. Its immediate object no doubt is to break morale.3
(Blitzkrieg seems to have been more common at first, but after a month or so it was replaced by blitz.) I think this is significant, because it shows that the British didn't think of the Blitz as something fundamentally different from blitzkrieg. It was the blitzkrieg, as applied to the attempted conquest of Britain -- which, being separated from the Continent by the English Channel, obviously wasn't going to play out in exactly the same way as it did in Poland and the West.
Interestingly, the word blitzkrieg was being thrown around even before the Blitz began: so in mid-August, in what we normally think of as the Battle of Britain, the New Statesman thought that
It is still too early to judge whether the steadily increasing severity of the air-attacks on this country marks the beginning of a Blitzkrieg or is the opening stage of a long process of beleaguerment.4
Since this blitzkrieg is posed as an alternative to a slow siege, it does at least imply speed. But it still doesn't sound like the traditional blitzkrieg: where are the onrushing tanks, the surprise paratroop landings, the columns of weary refugees trudging along dusty country roads being strafed by Messerschmitts? The missing element is the anticipated German invasion of Britain, thought most likely to take place in mid-September. The Spectator thought that even though the RAF remained undefeated, a desperate Hitler could still attempt invasion without air superiority:
In such a scheme the intimidation of London would play a natural part, in the double hope that disorganisation might be created at the vital centre and forces be detached to defend the capital that should properly be deployed to repel aggression.5
So, in the Spectator's view, London was not being bombed just to kill civilians or undermine morale, but to create chaos at a critical place and a critical time. A landing in Kent or Sussex could be only days away, and panic in London would greatly aid the invaders.
How is all this like the blitzkrieg? A leading article from the Manchester Guardian explains it best, even though it doesn't mention the word:
By bombing London [Germany] aims at cutting off supplies, dislocating life and shaking the individual nerve, even (if her newspapers are to be believed) at driving the population out into the countryside -- a success that she has had elsewhere but will not have with us -- and at diminishing the military production of the country. The comparison is rough, but Hitler is trying to do in London as a prelude to invasion what, by bombing, parachutists, and troop carriers, he succeeded in doing at Rotterdam and the Hague as a support to the attack of his army from the east. Confusion on the ground produced by air attack is one ally that he desires for his army just as the actual defeat of the opposing air force -- in Holland, as in Poland, he destroyed it -- is another.6
So the blitzkrieg was being carried out against Britain, just as it had been against Poland, Belgium, Holland and France -- only more slowly. Very roughly, here's how the blitzkrieg was imagined in Britain in 1940:
- Destroy the defending air force and gain air superiority. In May 1940, the elimination of the Belgian Air Force in the first few hours of fighting, for example. From August, the Battle of Britain (though of course this was a German defeat).
- Attack cities and communications behind the front line from the air and disrupt the defence. In May, the bombardment of Rotterdam; also the masses of refugees streaming away from the front. In September, the Blitz.
- Advance rapidly with mobile ground and airborne forces to encircle and defeat the defending forces. In May/June, the Battle of France, including Sedan and the Sichelschnitt. In September, Operation Sealion.
So blitz is not a corruption of blitzkrieg as the latter term was understood in Britain at the time. Of course, as the Blitz wore on, autumn turned into winter and people realised that Hitler wasn't coming -- yet -- the phrase took on a life of its own and came to refer exclusively to the aerial bombardment of cities by the Luftwaffe. But useful though this definition is, it unfortunately detaches the Blitz from the bigger picture and obscures the continuities and connections between it and the Battle of Britain, and Sealion.
I've disregarded the question of whether any of this bears any relation to the"real" blitzkrieg, or indeed the actual course of events; as ever I'm interested in what people thought was happening more than what was actually going on. But it turns out that blitzkrieg is itself a problematic concept, and it's problematic in quite an interesting way. I'll examine that in a later post.
- A. J. P. Taylor, English History 1914-1945 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992 ), 501.
- Daily Telegraph, 9 September 1940, p. 1; quoted in OED entry for"blitz".
- "A decisive hour", Spectator, 13 September 1940, 260. Emphasis in original.
- "The two blockades", New Statesman, 17 August 1940, 149.
- "A decisive hour", 260.
- Manchester Guardian, 18 September 1940, p. 4. Emphasis added.
A couple of weeks ago, I showed how the blitzkrieg became the Blitz. Now I'll show how the knock-out blow became the blitzkrieg.
Despite the abandon with which the term blitzkrieg is thrown around these days to describe the"lightning" German campaigns of the early years of the Second World War, it turns out that it was not a word much used at the time by the German army or German strategists (though neither was it entirely unknown). It's even been denied that there was even such a strategic concept as blitzkrieg, whether known by that name or not -- certainly not until after the German conquest of France, usually held to be the classic example of blitzkrieg. Karl-Heinz Frieser, in his revisionist (but well-received) book The Blitzkrieg Legend opens by saying that
In sober military language, there is hardly any other word that is so strikingly full of significance and at the same time so misleading and subject to misinterpretation as the term blitzkrieg.1
On Frieser's account, the attack against France and the Low Countries owed less to some innovative pre-war doctrine and more to individual initiative and astute tactics, resulting in a surprising (and strange) victory.2 He argues that rather than thinking of blitzkrieg as strategic in nature -- a way to win a war -- it might be better conceptualised as an operational idea -- a way to win an operation or a campaign (Blitzoperationen, perhaps). This is important, because (according to Frieser), after the fall of France Hitler and his generals made the mistake of thinking they could blitz their way to quick victories, without paying attention to the longer-term economic foundations of a war economy. They fell into the 'semantic trap' of blitzkrieg. Hence Barbarossa.
Frieser also discusses the origins of the term blitzkrieg, albeit briefly. He notes a fairly common claim that it was actually coined in English, by Time in an account of Poland's fate:
For this was no war of occupation, but a war of quick penetration and obliteration -- Blitzkrieg, lightning war.3
and disposes of this by pointing out examples of the term in German publications in 1935 and 1938. A Journal of Military History article by William J. Fanning, Jr,"The origin of the term 'blitzkrieg': another view", goes into the pre-1940 uses of the word in much more depth. He likewise rebuts the claims that it originated in 1939 Western press accounts, along with other theories (e.g. that Hitler invented it); but by the same token, he doesn't think there is much evidence for a German origin either, as it was used only sparingly in German publications before the war. It may actually have come from the Soviet military: Fanning cites uses of the phrase or similar expressions in the works of Tukhachevsky, which were translated into German by the mid-1930s. There are other possibilities, though -- blitz/lightning was attached to many terms as part of a natural linguistic ferment: lightning thrust, lightning offensive, and so on. But what made me sit up and take notice is Fanning's contention that when blitzkrieg did start to come into relatively widespread use in the late 1930s, it was usually in reference to my particular obsession, the knock-out blow:
The German terms"blitzkrieg," Überfallskrieg, and the French attaque brusquée were all used prior to 1 September 1939 primarily to describe the concept of the"knockout blow" theory created during the early 1920s and associated with the emergence of air power [...] Although given different labels, they all described the same thing: a sudden, rapid strike against an enemy, destroying in a matter of hours or days his ability to resist, completely shattering his morale, and forcing him to sue for peace in order to escape further devastation.4
As he describes it, airpower was only a predominant element in the knock-out blow, rather than completely dominating as is my understanding; but this may be a British peculiarity derived from living behind an ocean barrier.
According to Fanning, blitzkrieg first began to appear (outside of Tukhachevsky) in English-language publications around the time the Czech crisis, which peaked in September 1938, and began to be used with increasing frequency up until the outbreak of war: 'In almost every instance, the meaning was consistent with the strategic concept of the"knockout blow".'5 I can supply a supporting example not mentioned by Fanning, from The Times of 14 June 1939 -- incidentally, the first instance in that newspaper (and one which predates the Time article quoted above):
The opinion that civilian defence, and not active defence, is"the true answer" to the Blitzkrieg, or"lightning blow," of German air strategy is expressed in a bulletin entitled"The Nature of the Air Threat," issued by the Air Raid Defence League.6
Even if the Blitzkrieg were not now a commonplace of German military thought, it should have to be concluded that a main part of the strategic design was a belief that the new weapon could procure victory before the war settled down to the long struggle of armies and blockade assumed by French and British strategy.7
So it seems that prior to 1940, the knock-out blow and the blitzkrieg were pretty much the same thing. In the previous post, I suggested that the Blitz was not a corruption of blitzkrieg as the British then understood the term. If Fanning is right, then the qualification is almost unnecessary: there's a fundamental continuity between the Blitz of 1940 and the blitzkrieg of 1938-9. On this view, and taking Frieser into account,8 it's the blitzkrieg of 1940 and after which is the corruption. Now that's not the conclusion I thought I'd be reaching when I decided to write about the relationship between blitzkrieg and the Blitz!
- Karl-Heinz Frieser, The Blitzkrieg Legend: The 1940 Campaign in the West (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2005), 4.
- This helps explain the otherwise puzzling halt of the panzers before Dunkirk -- the German high command lost its nerve as it had lost control of its lower-echelon commanders. It wasn't the first time they'd tried to slow the panzers down, which were usually running far ahead of the mostly non-mechanised infantry.
- Time, 25 September 1939.
- William J. Fanning, Jr.,"The origin of the term 'blitzkrieg': another view", Journal of Military History, 61 (1997), 291-2.
- Ibid., 299.
- The Times, 14 June 1939, p. 9.
- Although it must be admitted that Fanning and Frieser don't mesh perfectly: in particular the former sees blitzkrieg as a strategic concept whereas the latter sees it as operational.
Ahistoricality and Manan Ahmed both point to Maureen Ogle's essay,"The Perils and Pleasures of Going 'Popular'; Or My Life as a Loser," about abandoning her life as an academic historian for the thrills of writing popular history.
Through the windows in my home office, beyond my back yard, I can look upon the back of a church. Every weekday I watch them load Meals on Wheels vans, presumably with lunches to deliver. Quite coincidentally, I recently came across this brief history of Meals on Wheels.
On the one hand Harvard Libraries should be commended for their Open Collections Program, which also points to several other great online collections, like Vanity and Virtue: Allegories on the Pursuit of Riches, on the other, they need to be sharply criticized for their lame-ass blanket copyright statement on centuries-old images. It is unclear to me why Harvard University Library wouldn't simply state that this material is in the public domain, rather than attempt to control its every use.
This material is owned, held, or licensed by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. It is being provided solely for the purpose of teaching or individual research. Any other use, including commercial reuse, mounting on other systems, or other forms of redistribution requires permission of the appropriate office of Harvard University.
If it is solely for teaching or individual research then Harvard does not condone using this material for criticism of the project, parody, or review purposes (unless you argue that"reviewing" is the same as"teaching.") One of the problems with this sort of attitude is that it restricts creative use. What if someone wants to re-purpose some of this material in a way unforeseen by Harvard. Rather than just doing it, they are asked to enter into a potential tangle of red-tape, miscommunication and misunderstanding. It may be that Harvard automatic response to most requests is"Sure, go ahead." But, if that's the case then why have the hurdle in place to begin with?
I read The Book of Margery Kempe as an undergrad. It's a tremendous work, moving and compelling. It's one of those works that helped me connect with people of the past. I found Kempe to be fascinating, enigmatic, and yet, somehow familiar. Over at Philobiblon, Natalie Bennett has some things to say about Kempe and then directs us to Mapping Margery Kempe, an overview of Kempe's era and her autobiography.
At Old is the New New Rob MacDougall points us to Actionable Offenses: Indecent Phonograph Recordings from the 1890s, a for-purchase collection of obscene and ribald stories and songs from the Edison National Historic Site.
They are so indecent that Russell Hunting was imprisoned in 1896 for making and selling them. Up to that point Hunting had been doing a brisk trade selling his bawdy cylinders to the exhibitors on Coney Island who had certain"discriminating" customers. Although he recorded under pseudonyms such as"Charley Smith" and"Willy Fathand," his voice was so well-known through his"Casey" routines that he was identified as the creator by aural evidence alone. Hunting's recording career never fully recovered, and he left the U.S. in 1898 to make a fresh start in England.
Rachel, over at A Historian's Craft, blogged recently about some concerns surrounding the nature of language and the problem of reference. She worries specifically about the ramifications for her ongoing research project of not being able to break down simple concepts into necessary and sufficient conditions:
I mean to say, I am wary about nouns & their ability to coherently refer to things. Example: when we call something a cup, we do not refer to the space inside the handle of the cup as part of the cup, nor even the shadow cast by the cup, even though there’s no real reason not to. The word ‘cup’ also reifies the concept of a cup: one might, for example, call a box a cup if it were small enough. The idea of a noun is pure convention, or convenience.
While I have absolutely no problem with asking such questions I wonder whether concerns about abstract philosophical topics such as objectivity, causality, and language should matter to the historian working historian. Rachel raises an issue that has attracted the attention of philosophers and linguists going back to before the Greeks. In the modern era this questions begins with Frege and winds its way through Quine and Kripke; the question now sits at the intersection of philosophy, linguistics, psychology, and neuroscience or what is called cognitive science. Whether we can reduce our concepts to simple definitions that are self-contained or whether they are in fact conventions along the lines of what Wittgenstein argued will no doubt continue. Such concerns about language and reality have seeped into classes in historiography over the past few decades; graduate students in history are now talking about metahistory and the latest in postmodern theory as if the ability to do history somehow hinges on being able to provide answers to these abstract issues. Does our language "mirror" a historical past? Can we even makes sense of a historical past? What does it mean to know something about the past? Such questions are incredibly seductive and are no doubt important. Unfortunately, when historians do it they usually fail. And they fail because in the end historians are rarely qualified to address the issues and are unable to show why answers to such questions ought to matter to working historians.
Consider Joyce Appleby's, Lynn Hunt's and Margaret Jacob's Telling the Truth About History (1995) which essentially called on historians to address the philosophical foundations of their discipline. The authors are all notable historians in their own right, and there is something admirable in wanting to tackle the kind of relativism that has eaten away at the social sciences in recent years by arguing for the possibility of a meaningful notion of historical objectivity and explanation. The book provides a solid overview of the rise of so-called scientific history and more recent challenges to the epistemology of historical studies. The problem these authors face (and it is a problem that any historian wishing to tackle these issues must deal with) is that to understand the outlines of the intellectual landscape of objectivity and epistemology requires abandoning historical studies. In looking for a philosophical underpinning for historical studies the authors argue for what is called "practical realism" which was introduced and defended by Hilary Putnam. The authors are no doubt on strong philosophical ground, but they are hardly out of the woods given that Putnam's theory is one among many. Putnam's realism does allow the authors to make philosophical sense of historical studies as stating claims about a past, but that is a far cry from justifying the theory.
This is wonderful example of doing philosophy of history from the top-down or conceptually. At no point do the authors inquire as to how Putnam's theory actually connects to the learning of and critical evaluation of historical studies. This top-down approach is not new. The positivist philosophers of science between the 1920s and 1940s criticized historians for their employment of the concept of causation. The positivists described historical narratives that included references to causation as "pseudo-explanations" since their understanding of the concept did not conform to the deductive-nomological or general law model. Rachel mentioned R.G. Collingwood in one of her comments and he is no doubt worth reading, but not as someone who has his feet in the muddy world of the historian. Collingwood is best known for his claim that historical knowledge is the result of a mental process which involves rethinking the thoughts of the historical actor. It is worth noting that Collingwood was responding to criticisims of history fro the positivist camp. Interestingly, at no point does Collingwood or the positivists seriously inquire into how historians actually go about doing history. I fear that much of what is coming out of Critical or Postmodern Theory and that is passing for serious philosophy of history has the same fundamental flaw.
Most historians are not interested in philosophical speculation and that's probably a good thing. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't think critically about our discipline. In fact, it is absolutely essential that we do so. However, we should do it with our feet on the ground. We need to ask questions that connect directly to the process of writing good history. What is so interesting is that while Rachel begins her post with an abstract question of how or whether our concepts describe objects in the world by the end she comes back down to Earth and asks a very reasonable questions about her ongoing research project:
[A]nyway, my thesis argument essentially takes the problem of the mui tsai as one of definition & redefinition — it was the colonial administration’s practice of bureaucratic categorization juxtaposed against the uncertain fluidity of the term mui tsai that made its abolition so intractable, and the whole process of abolition was one of legislative redefinition — this was a conclusion I arrived at through assiduous archival beavering. but I wonder how much it was a foregone conclusion given the inbuilt premises from which I operate. How much do my personal biases shape the way I look at the archive?
I wonder whether Rachel's descriptive claim was a "foregone conclusion" based on her philosophical questions. After all, it is possible to just as easily gravitate towards a theory of language that makes sense of the way in which concepts reflect or represent the world. It's her final question that is the real gem. Rather than asking whether objectivity is possible at all Rachel asks a descriptive question of how bias in fact shapes interpretation. To answer this question we need to examine actual historical studies.
What I find so interesting about Rachel's post is the way it straddles both the abstract and empirical terrain of philosophy of history. My own personal preference, however, would be to start with the empirical question of bias and see where it goes. A related question to ask is whether we can make sense of the notion of progress in historical studies. If we were to look closely at a long-standing historigraphical debate could we discern patterns of progress? Do we understand certain subjects better over time? What does it even mean in historical studies to understand better? Answering such questions does not stand or fall with the latest in philosophical theory. What it does require is a close examination of actual historical studies. And who better to explore these important questions than historians themselves?
At least where I teach this is the typical freshman's grasp of history.
NIXON: We were probably alive at the same time.
CHURCHILL: Indeed, my boy, indeed. I had something to do with World War II and I think maybe you fought in it.
NIXON: I'm not sure if I did.
CHURCHILL: There's not that much more about me that everyone knows.
Collect Britain gets the King George III Topographical Collection online.
"Over 2,500 watercolours, drawings and prints from the vast collection amassed by a monarch for whom geography was a personal passion as well as a professional necessity."
Academic bloggers get together for a panel discussion at UC Davis and make a MP4 available for download.
And, Beautiful English Online ends a sentence with a preposition.
Bonus link - I was going to post this, until I saw that Ralph had beat me to it.
Today I had a very pleasant lunch with a friend and fellow Civil War historian here in C-Ville. Among the topics we talked about was an apparent decision on the part of the editors at the Journal of American History to no longer publish reviews of Civil War campaigns. I thought this was unusual so when I arrived home I went through the last four issues and lo and behold there is not one review of a Civil War campaign. In all fairness there are plenty of Civil War related studies, but nothing that would count as a battle history. The decision must be fairly recent since I was able to find a review of James L. McDonough's Nashville: The Western Confederacy's Final Gamble in the December 2005 issue. I don't know of any other area that is subject to such a sweeping condemnation. Without any written explanation it is impossible to state their rationale with any precision. That said, it is easy to speculate that this probably has something to do with a bias against Civil War military historians. Perhaps the editors have been flooded with the overwhelming number of books from within this particular genre and decided that it was too much trouble to wade through for specific titles that were worth reviewing.
This is unfortunate as there are a number of first-rate campaign studies that merit serious review in any scholarly journal focused on American history. George Rable's Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg! and Ken Noe's Perryville have both been reviewed in the JAH which makes this decision all the more difficult to understand. If I can find additional information I will be sure to pass it on.
Ezra Klein points to a NYT article about teen-oriented magazines and the boyish charm of bloggers.
You don't agree with all his posts, but they make you think about new issues -- and whether he's as cute as his pics!
Find him at: A friend of a friend's Top 8 Your first move: Bloggers love having an audience almost as much as they like a battle of wits, so stir up some controversy by telling him when you disagree with a post.
Hidden payoff: An outspoken guy can stir up passions you never knew what you had -- and help you figure out what you really stand for.
At Progressive Historians Midtowing reveals the connection between today's terrorists and yesterday's pirates, and offers a solution to ending terrorism as we know it. Will we have terrorist-themed park rides in the future, and terrorist day parades?
I've just noticed that AHA Today has been running a feature called Grant of the Week that's worth keeping an eye on.
From 1999, a long overdue history of the cocktail umbrella.
The Nationalist version of Guernica -- that it wasn't bombed by fascist aircraft, but instead set alight by the Basque defenders themselves -- was not widely accepted at the time, but for decades afterwards it was still plausible enough for some people to believe. As late as 1969, letters like this could appear in The Times without comment:
In The Times of June 26, which I read in Paris, PHS repeats a hoary old myth and invents a new one. Not even Picasso, to my knowledge, has accused General Franco's forces of bombing Guernica and causing the deaths of two thousand people. The usual myth is that the Nazis were responsible. This view, however, is incompatible with the evidence of the German Foreign Ministry Archives and with other evidence now available, some of which I analysed in my book on Franco.
There was, in fact, a minor Nationalist air raid, in which the targets were a railway station and an arms factory. Some German bombs may also have fallen on the town. But the massive destruction was caused by systematic dynamiting of one quarter of Guernica -- and one quarter only -- by the retreating Republicans.
Ironically, Picasso's masterpiece probably celebrated a non-event.1
Such views are now impossible to sustain; we now know that the raid was indeed conducted by the Luftwaffe's Condor Legion, Germany's main contribution to Franco's war effort. I'm not sure when exactly, but at some point the diaries and reports of Lieutenant Colonel (later Field Marshal) Wolfram von Richthofen became available. Von Richthofen was the chief of staff of the Condor Legion.3 And it was he who planned the Condor Legion's operations, including the attack on Guernica.
So we now know what happened at Guernica on 26 April 1937. Some 43 German bombers (mostly Ju 52s, with a few of the new He 111s) and fighters (He 51s) attacked in relays over a period of two and a half hours. The bombers dropped 50 tons of high explosive, fragmentation and incendiary bombs on the town and laid waste to about half of it. About 300 people were killed, it is now thought: far short of the 1600 claimed by the Basques, but still a great shock to a small town. Franco's officers knew and approved of the attack in advance, contrary to their denials then and later.
Another the question remains: why? Why was Guernica targeted for destruction like this? The popular interpretation is that it was an experiment in Douhetist total war, a foretaste of the greater horrors to come. The Germans were testing the ability of bombers to shatter civilian morale by destroying the cities and towns where they lived; and a few years hence they were to put the knowledge gained to terrible use against Warsaw, Rotterdam and Coventry.
But is this true? James S. Corum argues instead that the aim of the attack on Guernica was not terror. For one thing, the fact that Guernica was the spiritual centre of the Basque country (with the famous tree and the ancient parliament) was merely incidental; von Richthofen evinces no knowledge of the cultural significance of the town. Instead, it was bombed because it was a major crossroads not far behind the front lines, through which the hard-pressed Basque forces would have to retreat. It could also become a stronghold, if the Basques were allowed to reinforce it. The aim therefore was to block the roads, and this was achieved (though only for about 24 hours).4 Von Richthofen's diary tells the story:
26 April 1937: K/88 was targeted at Guernica, in order to halt and disrupt the Red withdrawal, which has to pass through here.
27 April 1937: Guernica burning.
28 April 1937: Guernica must be totally destroyed.5
This tactic of intense aerial bombardment of towns and villages just behind the front lines in order to disrupt communications and supply lines was used again and again by Nationalist air forces during the war, both before and after Guernica, a fact which comes through very clearly in Antony Beevor's excellent history of the Spanish Civil War. So it's not clear to me why he thinks Guernica was any different in intent: 'One intention of the raid may have been to block the roads, as he [von Richthofen] wrote, but everything else points to a major experiment in the effects of aerial terrorism'.6
According to Corum, throughout von Richthofen career as a senior Luftwaffe commander there's no evidence that he ever deliberately targeted civilians in the German campaigns in western and eastern Europe during the Second World War -- though equally he was not worried if they got in the way of his bombs. I'm almost convinced by Corum's take on Guernica, but there's one problem: the fragmentation bombs dropped by the Condor Legion's bombers. These are anti-personnel weapons, pure and simple: when they explode, they scatter shrapnel through the air. If you drop them on a town then you can't claim you intended them to destroy bridges or set fire to buildings, where civilian casualties are secondary. Doesn't this mean that the Germans fully intended (not just fully expected, which is a given) to kill civilians at Guernica? As with Dresden, there may be no need to choose between competing explanations: perhaps both civilians and communications were the target.
In fact, the way in which Guernica has come to be the milestone on the road to total war is a bit reminiscent of the way Dresden has come to stand for total war itself. Neither raid was intended to be anything particularly different from those which preceded or followed it; both have been singled out for their respective roles by virtue of the unexpectedly great devastation they caused, the media attention they received at the time, and the way they have consequently lingered in historical memory. The myth of Guernica is not exactly untrue, but it is something of an exaggeration and it eclipses the reality of Guernica, along with the realities of Durango, Alcãniz and many other places in Spain, China, Ethiopia ...
I promise I'm almost done with Guernica, but there's one more post to come.
- The Times, 9 July 1969, p. 11.
- I haven't heard of Crozier before (although he was born in FNQ); he seems to have had an active career as a globe-trotting conservative pundit. I wonder if he ever retracted the claims he made in The Times?
- He was also a distant cousin of the Red Baron, and was himself a fighter ace in the First World War.
- James S. Corum, The Luftwaffe: Creating the Operational Air War, 1918-1940 (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1997), 199.
- Quoted in Antony Beevor, The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2006), 233.
Here's a confession: I don't really get Guernica -- the painting, that is, not the event (which is why I haven't mentioned it inthisseries until now). I understand that it's a passionate reaction by a great artist to the tragedy unfolding in his own country. It's physically imposing, rich in symbolism and, by now, a part of history itself. I'd love to see it one day. But what I don't get is how, and why, Picasso's Guernica came to be seen as a more powerful reaction to the coming of total war than this:
To me, it's not, but perhaps I'm irredeemably literal. Why is Guernica such a recognisable image, and these so unfamiliar? Is art more powerful than reality? (Not that photographs aren't constructed at all, but they do record the effects of photons which were actually reflected from the ruins of Guernica, or emitted from the flames which consumed it.) Are the photographs of Guernica '37 devalued by their similarity to post-raid pictures of London '40, Hamburg '43 and Tokyo '45? Feel free to educate me in the comments!
The images of Guernica after the air raid are from Wikipedia, though from a user page, not an article. A couple have been deleted from Wikipedia, but I managed to find them here and here.
PhDinHistory points to this recent article in Perspectives by Dan Cohen,"Zotero: Social and Semantic
Computing for Historical Scholarship," and provides a lot of thoughtful comment. (h/t Tim Lacy)
Tenured Radical and Siva at Sivacracy give some tips on locating a publisher to publish your academic work.
M gives us some insight into Pro-Union Southerners over at World History Blog.
And, Matt turns us on to another critic of the future, this time from 1924.
"I like to work. I like to earn my bread by the sweat of my brow because it makes me hungry to do it that way. For if, Henry, everything is done for us, what eventually are we going to do?"
(The"Henry" the author is referring to is Henry Ford.)
More Scholars calling for Wikipedia involvement
Prospectus writing in a post-Wikipedia world
Access to Knowledge, academics, and IP
For the rest check out his Wikipedia tab.
Ahistoricality commemorates the passing of Reverend Falwell by posting a"Don'ts for Students" handout from 1981, distributed by the North Carolina Moral Majority. There are 26 don'ts, including such gems as
1. Don't get into science-fiction values discussions or trust a teacher who dwells on science fiction in his/her"teaching."
9. Don't keep a journal of your opinions, activities and feelings.
23. Don't get into classroom discussions which being: What would you do if....? What if....? Should we....? Do you suppose....? Do you think....? What is your opinion of....? Who should....? What might happen if....? Do you value....? Is it moral to....?
Adam Kamerer points to some history in my own backyard. Some Tampa treasure hunters have located the"richest shipwreck treasure in history."
William Turkel continues his sharp series of posts about digital history with What It's About 3: Interaction.
What It's About 2: More is Different
What It's About 1: Links and Bias
As background/intro check out Luddism is a Luxury You Can't Afford, The Trouble with Modernity, and It's Not About Computers.
And in our Out of the Mouth of
The NYT has an article about your internal dialogue. We are constantly telling ourselves a story about who we are that helps shape our identity. Have people always done this? (h/t Rob)
Over at Abnormal Interests Duane writes about meta-meta-archaeology. (h/t Alun)
Lots of folks are pointing to this short video essay about copyright and fair use compiled by splicing together Disney cartoons.
George Meyer writes about his love of conferences at The New Yorker. (h/t Caleb)
Speedboats have been a lifelong diversion. Scotch, a serious problem. Yet no vice bedevils me like my one desperate fixation, my shameful ravening itch: I simply must attend conferences.
The sheer number is embarrassing—more than eight thousand.
And, here is President Lincoln's famous Gettysburg Powerpoint presentation.
Here's another paper I'll have to cite, Time-Space Context of Moon-Related Beliefs by Jaak Jaaniste. It's downloadable as a PDF paper from Folklore: The Electronic Journal of Folklore which I added to my del.icio.us file yesterday. I'll have to read it a few times, but there are several ideas in it which are really interesting.
The most salient section for me is found on pages 190-1:
The psychology of seeing causes us to perceive a “half of the skies” above which we lose contact with the horizon to be about 20 degrees (Eelsalu 1996).
Thus – if the moon moves at more than 20 degrees above the horizon, it is simply “in the sky” and its exact position is considered of no importance. And, if the moon moves at less than 5 degrees above the horizon, it is significantly concealed by earthly objects.
This is because I don't know if urban astronomy was a problem in the ancient world. The reason it might be is that a lot of sites I'm looking at are in urban contexts, even built into the hearts of cities which might have made observing the horizon difficult.
The horizon is important because the height of the horizon will change the day the sun rises over a particular point. The impact of the horizon varies on the latitude of the site. At the equator the sun rises vertically, so there's no change, but the further towards the Earth's poles you travel the more of an effect it has.
So my concern looking at urban sites is trying to work out where the horizon is. Is it the natural horizon that matters, even if it's blocked by a building? Is the the visible horizon that matters and, if it is, how to you reconstruct that? It would vary greatly on what buildings were in front of you and how high your own viewpoint was. I've been thinking of urban horizons as a problem and this is Jaaniste's view.
Thus – if the moon moves at more than 20 degrees above the horizon, it is simply “in the sky” and its exact position is considered of no importance. And, if the moon moves at less than 5 degrees above the horizon, it is significantly concealed by earthly objects.p191.
What I'm thinking now is that perhaps it isn't a problem at all.
The sky at the horizon isn't as full of stars as the sky above your head. The reason for this is atmospheric extinction. Near the horizon starlight has to pass through a lot more atmosphere than above your head, so stars dim. Too much atmosphere and they dim so much you can't see them. As a rough guide a star has to rise a degree above the horizon for each step of magnitude before it is visible. So for example Spica, the sheaf of corn in Virgo's hand, is a first magnitude star, so you'd expect to rise one degree before you could see it. Sualocin and Rotanev in Delphinus are closer to fourth magnitude, so you'd expect to wait until they were four degrees above the horizon before you could see them. Therefore if you're arguing that people have an interest in stellar astronomy, and I'll be arguing later in the year that the ancient Greeks did, building houses in front of a temple isn't a problem.
In fact one of the key observations in ancient Greece may have been looking for a New Moon, to signal the start of a new month. At this time of the month the Moon will be a wispy silver fingernail in a bright sky. Concentrating on such a difficult object makes it difficult to get a reference, and a reference is handy if you want to prove that it's there and not just a trick of the light. A built up horizon could arguably make referencing easier as in "No you idiot! Not there! Look there, over Alexander's house."
New Moon at 1.3 days. Photo (cc) JP Stanley.
Because the constellation names we use today derive from ancient Greece it's tempting to look back and apply modern exact astronomy to the study of the ancient world. The depends on the idea that modern astronomy is a development of ancient astronomy. Unfortunately the speculations of relatively few philosophers aren't accurate records of what people typically thought about astronomy in the ancient world. As Jaaniste points out classical astronomy is even less helpful once you move away from Mediterranean latitudes, but that might not be obvious if you live around 40° north where the classical experience of the night sky would match your own.
It's an interesting argument and because it's available via open-access you can read the paper yourself.