Micro-level electoral analysis

Today I came across this amazing article in which Benny Johnson collects and displays precinct-level election returns for the U.S. presidential elections of 2008, 2012 and 2016. It very much the sort of thing that I do with historical German elections, although of course my work involves more than two colors. It is really a fascinating piece.


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End of Semester Reflections


Another semester winds to an end. Looking back, how do I think it went? I continue to be thrilled with my online sections of Western Civ, both sprint and semester-length. I require so much more work from online students, its not really fair. The quality of the essays that they have to write on their textbook reading is astounding. Every week I read excellent discussion forum contributions. These vary, of course, as they should but the quality of the work that I read is closer to a 300-level class than a survey. One thing that I noticed this semester was the degree to which they responded to readings on medieval universities and intellectual life. This makes me think that I should record new lectures to burden them with.

My traditional class was amazing. I had a very engaged group; they asked a lot of interesting questions and kept me hopping. Because I had a critical mass of interested students, I brought in the books that I was reading in course of semester. They seemed to appreciate it. A note for the future: the class became substantially more enjoyable after the course drop deadline. I inadvertently stopped taking roll. Maybe a third of the class took the hint and stopped attending.

My concerns about World Civ continue. The vast majority of students simply do too well. Every semester I adjust the criteria in the hope of producing more variation without success. This is really disconcerting; I will be glad not to be teaching it in the spring.

A look towards the future: in the spring, I will be teaching three online and one F2F sections of the second half of Western Civ. I have recast the F2F in the inverted classroom format. The students will read and be tested online, our class meetings will be devoted to discussing sources and reflections on the patterns that they can discern about the time period under study. I am very excited to give this a try.

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The Pax Romana

Pax Romana. War, Peace and Conquest in the Roman World by Adrian Goldsworthy arrived from the library just as I was scheduled to lecture on the topic! How very frustrating. I immediately began reading the book in my typical ADD-style (back-to-front, wherever it opened up, etc) but was only able to show my class the cover and cite a few good stories.


I have used Goldsworthy’s Augustus extensively, so I knew that this would be good. Well, there is always next year!

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The Viking Saga


I have earlier on these pages linked to sources addressing the current fascination with Northern peoples. I highly recommend to anyone interested Northmen. The Viking Saga AD 793-1241 by John Haywood.

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Why did we choose to industrialize?


This Saturday, I had the great pleasure of participating in a book roundtable on Robert Sweeny’s Why Did We Choose to Industrialize? at the Social Science History Association conference in Chicago. Robert is an incredibly engaged and engaging scholar. We (Martin Burke, Ian Gregory, Don Lafreniere and myself) really got him going, most especially about source criticism and ideology. None of us were really ready to stop when the session came to its mandated end. Robert was off elsewhere, but Burke and I continued the discussing the book over dinner at the Berghoff and into the night. I look forward to citing Sweeny next semester in class!

FYI, a description of Robert’s book from the press promo:

The choice to industrialize has changed the world more than any other decision in human history. And yet the three prevailing explanations – the technical (new energy sources), the Marxist (new social relations), and the neo-liberal (people became more industrious) – are inadequate in making sense of this fundamental change. In mid-nineteenth-century Montreal, as in other early industrializing societies, change occurred as a result of the choices people made when faced with unprecedented opportunities and constraints. Montreal was the first colonial city to industrialize. Its overlapping French and English legal traditions mean that people’s actions were exceptionally well documented for a North American city. Robert Sweeny’s novel reading of sources like city directories, ordinance surveys, monetary protests, and apprenticeship contracts leads him to develop important critiques of both mainstream and progressive historiography. He shows how the choice to industrialize was tied to the development of completely new ways of thinking about the world on three inter-related levels: how should we relate to each other, to property, and to nature? In Montreal, as in all the other early industrializing societies, thought preceded action. Sweeny illuminates the personal and familial decisions that tens of thousands of people made by the mid-nineteenth century which already prefigured much of what industrialized Montreal would look like in 1880. At a moment when global conflict is tied to resources and climate change, Sweeny shows how fundamental decision making can determine widespread social change. Informed by four decades of scholarship, Why Did We Choose to Industrialize? Is a politically engaged argument about history, a sustained reflection on sources and method in historical practice, and a singular vantage point on the ideas that have shaped historical understandings of industrialization.

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Opening Christ’s Tomb

I found this several weeks ago and have been waiting to post it. When I was in Jerusalem in June, I went multiple times to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is such an inspiring and interesting place on so many levels. One high point was hearing the Franciscans sing the evening Office and accompany them in a candlelight procession within the church reminiscent of the Way of the Cross. Experiencing the church at different times, especially by candlelight, was quite remarkable. It is easy to see why it has been a place of pilgrimage for two millennia.

I always made sure to enter the Edicule, the structure surrounding the niche where Jesus’s body was laid. This trip, it was surrounded by construction fencing as a Greek firm was preparing to make important restorations.

I look forward to the National Geographic special. Truth-be-told, I was hoping there would be a live streaming of the process as there was of the raising of the Costa Concordia. You can also find additional information here and here.

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Roman elections

I was out in Washington state last week and taken aback to find these ubiquitous “ballot boxes”. Many more than USPS drop boxes. Color me traditionalist! I have of necessity voted absentee on occasion, but I love the regularity of going to my polling place the first Tuesday following a Monday in November and actually casting a ballot. Morally superior persons will of course explain to me how this is disenfranchising people and I get it. They are morally superior and control the process. I can’t help but think that these drop boxes are several steps too far.

Our dear ancestors in this country believed in viva vice voting. You showed up and declared who you were voting for. That’s how it worked in the German state elections that I study. The problem with viva vice is that it was dangerous for subordinate men to challenge the choice of their betters. This was surely the case with the Romans, who conducted bloody elections. But the expectation was, man up.

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Roman economic difficulties 

Here is an excellent, if problematic, article that purports to show how Roman central planners destroyed the Empire’s economy. He is absolutely dead-on regarding Diocletian’s reforms, so beloved of textbook authors. Students interested in the decline/transformation of the Roman world will find this fascinating.

My problems with the article. The author has interesting things to say about the economy of the Late Republic, then jumps too quickly to the third century. He ignores the huge boost that expansion – and the new human capital in the form of slaves – brought Rome. Once the frontiers stabilized, these injections of new wealth ended. He also misses the huge drain on the imperial treasury occasioned by the revolving door emperors of the third century. New emperors needed to make “donations” to the troops to buy their loyalty. More troops were needed to defend the frontiers against marauding tribes. What a mess! 

Problems aside, a nice, quick essay.

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A History of the World in Maps

Shocking really, what you can find on the Internet. I found this incredible video on one of the blogs that I follow. It charts world civilization, displaying political entities year-by-year. Utterly fascinating. (BTW, it displays much better on a laptop than on an iPhone.)

I am sure that plenty of historians will quibble. One criticism that I can imagine is that its focus on settled societies misses nomadic peoples. Well, as I argue in class, civilization is about order. Nomadic peoples possess cultures, but not civilizations. Another will be that it focuses on political/administrative at the expense of the race/class/gender trinity. As if those things could be so effectively mapped and as if any one learning object can address every concern.

I would love to see someone use this technology to chart the spread of genetic haplogroups across time and space. I have been doing some reading this past week on linguistics, the persistence of place names and migration patterns at the end of the Neolithic. In some cases, all that we have left of the language of submerged or eliminated peoples are the names that they gave places that were then taken over into the successor people’s place-names.

Posted in Digital History, HST 121, HST 122, HST197, Teaching, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

New Books

This weekend, the Wall Street Journal reviewed two new books on evergreen topics that are sure to be of interest to students.

The first is a biography of the Duke of Monmouth, the bastard son of Charles II who put himself at the head of a rebellion against James II. The reviewer is critical of certain aspects of the biography, but overall suggests that it is well-done. I will have to read it myself, since I spend quite a bit of time in my Civ survey on the Stuarts and the Glorious Revolution.

The second book is a sure winner. Churchill has to be one of the most written-about statesmen of the 20th century and still there is more to say! Paul Bew, in his study on Churchill and the Irish Question, does every instructor of modern European history a huge favor with this book. Every time that I teach HST332, I have students who want to write on either Churchill or Ireland. After his character’s numerous cameos in Peaky Blinders, I expect that the next time I teach the course some eager history major will want to do a paper on “what did Churchill really do” regarding Ireland. Now I have someplace to direct them!

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In defense of the college lecture

Finally! I decided to become an academic historian because of a brilliant lecturer and Bede scholar, Roger Ray. My whole career, I have attempted to emulate Roger and taken every opportunity to improve content, delivery, engagement, etc.

Three relevant points here. Academics are not taught to be lecturers. (I particularly enjoyed the author’s discussion of the passing of the discipline of Rhetoric.) When Char started at BGSU and I was still ABD, I tagged along to hear a speaker they had brought in to teach “how to draft a lecture.” Simple, brilliant outlining. I used the method the first four years that I taught (at UT and OSU), keeping a careful page of notes for each lecture that included an “after-action report” of what I did well and poorly, what connected and what didn’t, etc. That’s it for my “training” as a lecturer. Now, Miami does run an excellent set of Learning Communities for the enhancement of teaching – I’ve participated in over a dozen – but I have never seen one offered for lecturing.

Next, we are definitely NOT promoted because we are effective classroom teachers. I can say from personal observation that I have seen a number of exemplary and beloved lecturers denied tenure, in my opinion because their colleagues were threatened by their ability and derided them as “popularizers”. In a similar fashion, those who receive poor student course evaluations always poo-poo the process and act as if students are incapable of judging “quality” instruction. Its always “men always get higher evaluations” or “its just  popularity contest” or some other line.

Last point: a well-crafted lecture is the most effective way of conveying and/or reinforcing knowledge. Every instructor at every institution can’t be Socrates and every student isn’t a Plato. We don’t have the time or in our modern, degenerated world, the capacity for the Socratic method. Nor is the best way always student self-discovery or whatever silver bullet the educrats are in love with this year.

In short, read the article.

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Israeli archeologists uncover a Philistine cemetery 

Haaretz reports that a team of archeologists working at Ashkelon have excavated Philistine cemetery, the culmination of 21 years of work by the Leon Levy expedition. The site has implications for both Biblical and Egytpian archeology. Students will find reference to the Sea People interesting.

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Our deadly species

While on vacation, I saw links to two article detailing our wonderful propensity to kill each other. Here in tabular form the deadliest conflicts in human history.


If cutsie Millennial websites are your thing, perhaps this article from American Scientist will pique your interest.

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Clash of Civilizations

In the post-1945 world, we continue to arrogantly assume that we (or at least the West) have transcended history, as if violence and the will-to-power has somehow gone away. The events in Germany in the past week – and now in Normandy – should disabuse of us this naive and ahistorical conceit. Whither Charles Martel? Jan Sobieski?


May eternal light shine upon him.

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Research in the Holy Land


I have been back one week from a quick research trip to Jerusalem. As part of my work on Peasants & Jews, I needed to track down the records of East Fresian Jews who survived the Holocaust. As part of this, I was able to see documents at Yad Vashem, the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People and the Central Zionist Archives. Everywhere I was greeted by accommodating and helpful archivists.

I took advantage of Shabbat closures to visit the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre. Pictured above, the Orthodox alter atop Calvary. What an amazing spiritual experience. In preparation for my visit, I reread the literature on the site: its origins as a holy place for early Christians, the pilgrimage of Constantine’s mother Helen and the creation of the basilica and the many destructions and reconstructions since. Later in the week, I returned to hear vespers chanted in Latin in the Franciscan chapel and participate in a candle-light Way-of-the-Cross procession.

I am of course hooked and look forward to my next visit. Might as well be optimistic, right?

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The Beginnings of Agriculture

I found this very interesting figure in a non-scientific article on the Neolithic agricultural revolution. I tried for several hours to track down the paper it referenced without success.


The hypothesis is interesting: agriculture arose at different places around the globe at the end of the last Ice Age because it could. There was more CO2 in the atmosphere. It makes sense; too bad that I can’t reference the science!

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An interesting essay on the Roman frontier

I read a very interesting article this morning by Jakub Grygiel in The American Interest this morning. In “The Stages of Grief at the Frontier”, Grygiel looks at the life of St. Severinus along the Danubian frontier and details the parlous situation for Romans living in the province of Noricum in the 5th century. I strongly suggest this article to any student interested in what the end of the Roman world meant.

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Stab-in-the-Back available in August


Forthcoming in August, available now for pre-order, The Stab-in-the-Back Myth and the Fall of the Weimar Republic. A History in Documents and Visual Sources.


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The latest on Bronze Age Greece

My students might be forgiven if they get the notion that I believe the entire world revolves around my Western Civ classes. Sometimes, however, it does. Yesterday I found online the announcement of of two incredible finds from Bronze Age Greece, just in time for me to talk about them today’s lecture.

The first regards the unearthing of an unknown palace complex near Mycenae; the second a sunken Bronze Age city tentatively dated to 2500 BC. I haven’t had time to go through the articles systematically and find other material on these sites, but I wanted to post these links in time for my 11:30 lecture.

More anon …

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A Dictionary from Uruk

This Tweet came across last night and I immediately thought of our class discussion last



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