In History, It’s The Things We Barely Know That Interest Me

dec15_n17_ameliaearhart.jpg__800x600_q85_crop Getty Images via Smithsonian Magazine

Despite the manner (names & dates to memorize) in which virtually every teacher and professor approaches history, I have managed to have a fascination with the subject. In spite of them, I guess.

Perhaps it is due to the efforts of one Professor, Professor Norman Graebner of the University of Virginia, who taught me what would normally be considered one of the dullest areas of history in a field most consider dull to begin with.

He taught Diplomatic History to me 43 years ago.

I became aware of him through reputation – talking with other students. He was always assigned a normal classroom, but so many students wanted his class that he eventually was assigned the auditorium. From an allotted 30 students to 200-300.

You’d think the study of treaties would be one of those yawners – being in a classroom where you try to force yourself to stay awake. I suspect you would be correct because of the way 99% of the time it is taught.

It was quite the opposite in his class.

Graebner would talk about the economic conditions, the result from a war, the personalities involved and by the time he actually got to the actual treaty, you knew that it was simply a logical culmination of all the aforementioned elements.

I’ve been fascinated by the facts that many times, the most profound events and changes can come from some of the most seemingly trivial things.

Some time ago I read in a history magazine that the decision of the British to populate Australia with convicts came after our Revolutionary War (that’s the War Of Rebellion, Hogday 🙂 )  from an American Loyalist talking with Captain James Cook.

After 1783 when our own avenues were closed – the state of Georgia had been used for that purpose, the British prisons were starting to get overcrowded and they needed an outlet.  Four  years after the Treaty of Paris (1783) which officially ended the war, the Land of Oz became that new outlet.

As to the possible American Loyalist connection, I have never seen this documented anywhere else. Wish I had kept the magazine article.

I really enjoy the publications from the Smithsonian – both Air & Space Magazine and Smithsonian.

Amelia Earhart has long held an interest for me. Over the years, I have both read and heard from seasoned pilots that as an aviatrix Earhart was not held in the highest esteem. (lest you think I am gender bashing someone in our Facebook group suggested Jackie Cochran as a good model to which I wholeheartedly concurred).

Amelia does hold my respect for doing something that, during her time, women were just not supposed to do. She knew how to get publicity and having a wealthy husband as publisher George Putnam to finance her aviation didn’t hurt.

But I had heard that as a pilot, she didn’t always have the best judgement. One of the reasons she had Fred Noonan, who was fighting alcoholism was that the best navigators didn’t want to fly with her.

I read somewhere that on the first trans oceanic flight – from Natal, Brazil to Saint-Louis, Senegal against the advice of Noonan she headed south down the coast in the wrong direction. She eventually turned 180 degrees and on fumes got to Saint Louis, Senagal.

I am sure that some of you – upon reading my “read somewhere” documentation have a right to be skeptical.

I certainly understand. Take it as you wish.

But it’s those little things – is that why many think she ended up not on Howland Island but Gardner Island (Nikumaroro) to the south? Then others think she was spying for FDR and executed by the Japanese and still others think….well, the theories abound.

Regardless she still has my admiration – imagine flying 2500 miles across the Pacific, calculating the (known) prevailing winds and  using up virtually all of your fuel, hoping to navigate to a fly-speck of an island.

This month’s Smithsonian has 2 interesting articles – on Earhart and PTSD in the Civil War.

In the Earhart article they give a plausible reason why she didn’t hear the transmissions of the Itaska .

The Civil War article paints a picture of the horrible conditions soldiers of both the North and South fought.

“Many soldiers regarded the aftermath of battle as even more horrific, describing landscapes so body-strewn that that one could cross them without touching the ground. When over 5,000 Confederate soldiers fell in a failed assault at Malvern Hill in Virginia, a Union Colonel wrote: ” A third of them were dead or dying, but enough were alive to give the field a singularly crawling effect”

A number of these soldiers spent the next 50 years in insane asylums.


Filed under Uncategorized

6 responses to “In History, It’s The Things We Barely Know That Interest Me

  1. An excellent description of the transatlantic flight can be found in “Amelia Earhart: The Mystery Solved” by Elgen Long & Marie Long . The book is better than the title makes it sound. It also goes into some of the technical and communications issues that may have been a factor in her disappearance. As an interesting side by today’s standards all of those early pioneers were low time pilots.

    • Bill Brandt

      Thanks Phil – will look into it I remember too an article by an old WW2 aviator – he knew how they navigated in those days and was sure they took a wrong turn

  2. One of Earhart’s contemporaries, “Pancho” Barnes, didn’t have a very high opinion of her.

  3. I enjoyed that Bill and I agree regarding the initial `turn-off` concerning history lessons. My secondary school history teacher did not `have the knack` and as a consequence the lessons were lost on me, despite my mind being an `open door` to the subject. He was a rather ineffective chap generally and could not hold us despite my class being`3A`- streamed for being the brightest of the year group and destined for good exam results and higher education. The notorious class `3C` gave him merry hell – notorious because of that `3` age group being 13-14 yr olds, and the fact that they were `C` stream, a grading system that does not exist these days, containing less industrious, less conscientious but more unruly students – what today’s disillusioned and harassed further education teachers would deem `bums on seats` or `making up the numbers` or `dead wood`.

    When I became an instructor in the police service, I made sure my lessons were as interesting and memorable as I could possibly make them, with as much humour and anecdotal fun as I could muster.

    • Bill Brandt

      The inability to really impart a sense of understanding with historical events seems prevalent everywhere HD. Just think of the Spanish Armada in 1588 and Sir Francis Drake – if that storm hadn’t come – think of the implications in the New World….not to mention how England would have been radically different today If i had that in a lesson plan it would be fun to speculate how things would have been different today without that storm.

      Or would they?

      Class discussion.

      On the American Loyalist who allegedly gave Captain Cook the idea of transporting prisoners to Australia, I think I read that in the BBC History Magazine.

      Wish I had kept the issue.

      Math seems to be taught the same dreary way. I avoided math classes unless I had to take them.

      Finally had a friend who was a Math PhD dropout from the University of California at Santa Barbara – I had to learn the basics of Calculus and Trigonometry – he said “Look, this is the way they teach it but this is the way I want you to approach it”.

      Within a few weeks I got the basics.

      Teachers who actually inspire are few and far between, but are lifetime memories.

      In writing this I am wondering if the dreary teachers are those who have lost the enthusiasm of teaching and educating young minds?

      If one has an enthusiasm for the subject, the students can tell. If they don’t have an enthusiasm the students can tell.

  4. Pingback: Virginia City NV Part 1 | The Lexicans

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s