Podcast Episode #2: The White Ship

Go immediately to my podcast listen in on the high drama when, in 1120, the White Ship sinks killing the heir to the English throne and threatening the Norman Conquest itself. Go now!

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In the Minnesota Valley

Today, Caren and I toured the Minnesota River valley with a special focus on the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.

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We visited the Lower Sioux Agency site, where the war started when local U.S. government agents refused to give over annuity payments and food due to the tribe members. We also visited the Battle of Birch Coulee, bloodiest and longest (1.5 day camp siege) battle of the war. As someone who is used to the size of Civil War battles, these sites seem tiny, but when you consider the population and density of Minnesota in the 1860s, these actions were huge earth-shattering occurrences. The prairie was certainly on fire.

The end result was the Dakota reservations being dissolved, the native people being exiled to other states, and (most infamously) the hanging of 38 natives in downtown Mankato in December 1862. It still the largest execution ever ordered by the US Government.

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More happily, we also hit the Starkeller in New Ulm for some sour beers and viewed the bizarrely huge Hermann Monument. A good birthday weekend.

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Podcast: The Anarchy

Here it is: the first official announcement on my upcoming history podcast.

It will look into the background, causes, character and aftermath of the Anarchy in 1100s England.

This is an exciting but rarely discussed (among non-professional historians) period that connects the Norman Conquest with the Plantangenet/Avengin Empire of Henry II and his heirs.

It features a dynasty destroying shipwreck, several powerful female characters which pre-date the over-examined Eleanor of Acquitaine, and a decades-long war that left England largely rulerless.

Bottom line: Empress Maud should have a popular history book and ultimately movie or TV series. This is my effort to jump start that.

I envision this as my first series of podcasts focusing on medieval history. Right now, I feel like it will last about 10 1-hour episodes. Maybe more, maybe a little less. No promises there. And once those are wrapped up, I don’t have a second series topic picked yet. We’ll see what kind of traction I get and I’ll see if the audience has particular interests. More links coming as I get things set up. First episode in June.

As a final request: I need a title for the podcast as a whole. I’m leaning toward Illuminated Medieval right now, but I’ll take suggestions.

Brexit considered

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I spent the 90s caring deeply for the European Union. I studied it, I lived in Brussels, I wrote about it, I spoke to its creators. I was lucky enough to have people like Peter Praet, Jamie Shea, and Jerry Sheridan and others as my teachers. So I come to this with opinions and of course with biases, and also with some in-depth education and professional interest. I haven’t always been an accountant or a professional libertarian. I spent the first decade of my working life in International Affairs. (Please enjoy this wikileaks cable with my name in it.)

So Brexit creates mixed emotions for me. Some thoughts in no particular order:

  • I am certainly sympathetic to the notion that pushing power away from the center and farther down to the (or at least closer to the) people is a good thing generally. But a UK disconnected from Brussels does not necessarily make for a freer or more prosperous UK. Please remember what pre-Thatcher, pre-EU Britain was like. That nation has the capacity to go insular and closed very fast. And, of course, it can be the most open, prosperous place on the planet as well. So I think some of my friends celebrations are a bit premature. Garbage in the streets and “Rivers of Blood” Enoch Powell are possible again. Of course, those things are possible with the EU as well, but I think the former communist nations prevent that from happening too fast. More on that later.
  • As my friend Tsvet Tsonevski pointed out this week, one does not simply “leave” the EU. There are dozens of treaties, hundreds of agreements, and probably thousands of regulations which have been incorporated into UK law in one or another over the past decades. How this all is dismantled (will it be?) is subject to potentially years of wrangling. In addition, the UK presumably wants to remain at the very least a trading partner of the EU (see above for that question). So all these rules and regulations will continue to have some level of de facto force in the UK, to the same extent that, say, the US must abide by EU rules to trade with European countries (and vice versa). I would wager that some “Leave” voters don’t realize the degree to which they can’t leave the EU. Ever.
  • An example: CE marking. Hell, I’m subject to CE marking and I don’t live in the EU. Also, CE marking is governed by the EEA. Will the UK leave just the EU or also the EEA? How about EFTA? How about the successor agreements to the WEU? What about this freaking mess in Cornwall? You mean people voted for “freedom” but want free money anyway? Shocking. All this to say that no one really knows what “leaving the EU” means. The (very sketchy and unclear) map is not the territory.
  • I would like people to appreciate the role the EU played in healing wounds post-war in Europe and in successfully bringing the post-Soviet countries out of the that orbit and into the West. Yes, I know we don’t know how things would have played out without the EU. Maybe things would have been just as successful or even more so. But we don’t actually know, and it seems like a lot of people I know who are jumping on the Brexit bandwagon assume the EU was always this regulatory behemoth. But the project in the 50s through the 80s was not that at all. It was a means to creating a larger peaceful market that recognized the political difficulties in such a project, and so slowly but surely integrated the nations of Europe. A valuable and noble project in my estimation. And one that was largely successful when concerned primarily with trade.
  • My old boss Dan Griswold makes some good arguments about possible future UK regret connected to trade dynamics. It’s hard to know but this is a good possibility.
  • Finally, I’ve spent the last few weeks listening to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History series on World War I called Blueprint for Armageddon. He does his usual amazing job, but it makes me worry. Whither Europe?

In summary, uncertainty abounds, regret is already appearing, and I think the stakes are higher than most think. But hey, democracy can’t be wrong.

Lethe and Eunoe

Purgatorio

In Purgatorio, Dante puts the source of the mythical rivers Lethe and Eunoe at the peak of the earthly mountain at the antipodes that is Purgatory. After purging yourself of your sins in ascending through Purgatory, you must wade through the two rivers before entering paradise.

The Lethe (Greek for “forgetfulness”) purges your memory of your sins. The Eunoe (“good mind”) enhances your memory of those good things you accomplished in life.

It’s a nice reminder of moving on in our own personal lives. You can’t really move on to bigger and better things until you put the old issues behind you. Heaven with constant reminders of the problems of the past is not really heaven.

There is also an interesting Buddhist flavor here, reminding you to live in the present. What’s done is done, you’ve accounted for it, now move on.

— Reader’s Note —

I encourage everyone to make the full journey from Inferno to Paradiso. Its best done, in my opinion, by choosing whether you want to read for poetry or read for late medieval Italian historical detail. Doing both at once can be overwhelming. Either way, if you do, definitely check out the Dartmouth Dante Project.