The Case for Applied History

The Case for Applied History

Robert Crowcroft

Can the study of the past really help us to understand the present?

In An Autobiography, published in 1939, R.G. Collingwood offered an arresting statement about the kind of insight possessed by the trained historian. The philosopher of history likened the difference between those who knew and understood history and those who did not to that between ‘the trained woodsman’ and ‘the ignorant traveller’ in a forest. While the latter marches along unaware of their surroundings, thinking ‘Nothing here but trees and grass’, the woodsman sees what lurks ahead. ‘Look’, he will say, ‘there is a tiger in that grass.’What Collingwood meant was that, through their familiarity with people, places and ideas, historians are often equipped to see how a situation might turn out – or at least identify the key considerations that determine matters. Collingwood’s musings implied an expansive vision of the role historians might play in society. Their grasp of human behaviour, long-term economic or cultural processes and the complexities of the socio-political order of a given region of the world meant that they could be more than just a specialist in the past. By being able to spot the tiger in the grass, historians might profitably advise on contemporary and future challenges as well.For around 2,500 years, the notion of the historian-as-commentator has been well established. It origins lie deep in antiquity. Thucydides, for example, imagined his History of the Peloponnesian War as being not merely a history of an epic struggle, but a possession ‘for all time’, which revealed the mainsprings of political ambition and human conflict. It would remain useful ‘so long as men are men’. Historians writing thereafter often saw themselves as not only piecing together the details of a specific event, but offering their readers conceptual tools with which to understand other situations in the world around them – and in that to come. For centuries, statesmen and thinkers used history as a tool to shed light on their own difficulties and to suggest courses of action. When Niccolò Machiavelli wrote The Prince (1532), he illustrated his case by constant reference to examples from the past. Politicians of 19th-century Europe were classically educated and sought a Greek or Roman analogy for every problem. The Victorian historian J.R. Seeley went so far as to declare that history was no less than a ‘school of statesmanship’; a bold assertion of what the discipline might offer us.Past, present and future imperfectHistorians are not seers; their analogies may be misplaced and their assessments can be wrong. Yet the idea of history constituting a valuable guide for present and future action was an established part of western culture. This makes sense. After all, the past is our sole repository of information about what works and what does not; we have nothing else to draw upon. In our everyday lives we constantly make decisions based on past experience. While two situations may not be perfectly alike, nevertheless we divine patterns and lessons in the past that can help us to make better choices.In recent decades, however, things have changed. The longstanding view of the historian as being, in modern jargon, ‘policy-relevant’, has fallen out of favour and often arouses suspicion. In 1969 the Tudor historian Geoffrey Elton attacked those who looked for ‘applicability’ in history, a sentiment now widespread. Moreover, academic historians work on ever-narrower subjects, becoming specialists in topics which are sometimes comprehensible to fewer than a hundred fellow scholars. There is a view that the devil is in the detail and that history does not repeat itself. Context, in short, is king. Because no two situations are exactly the same, attempting to draw parallels between events risks distortion. ‘Lessons’ cannot be gleaned across time and space and to affect to do so produces oversimplification. As such, there is now widespread professional distaste for the Thucydidean vision. The possibility of developing the implications of a series of historical events and employing this to illuminate current policy challenges jars with the accepted norms of academic life.Yet this arguably impoverishes social and political debate, banishing the insights of historians from the public sphere. Some scholars – such as Graham Allison, Andrew Ehrhardt, Niall Ferguson and Martyn Frampton – challenge this. The rediscovery of an older vision of the profession has been labelled ‘applied history’. So how can history help those with responsibility for policy? What does a historical sensibility offer to individuals seeking to navigate contemporary challenges and prepare for future ones?Most fundamentally, history teaches us to look past the ephemeral and search out the underlying, long-term dynamics of problems. As a matter of routine, historians probe the roots of a situation and endeavour to trace causalities. Indeed, historians ought to grasp causality better than any other expert group. If one can pinpoint the factors that brought a situation about, one can make helpful observations about how likely a proposed course of action is to succeed, or temper one’s ambitions for a simple resolution. For example, a major factor in precipitating the Second World War was the power vacuum in Central and Eastern Europe created by the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires at the end of the First World War. This produced a cauldron of instability that the regional states inevitably competed to control; while the ambitions of the Nazis were limitless, what enabled them to pursue their course of action was that they were operating in a geopolitical vacuum. Such a vacuum was unlikely to be filled without a war between the two biggest local powers, Germany and the Soviet Union.A historical awareness of how states behave towards regional rivals and the impact of the retreat of old power blocs has obvious relevance for policy in contemporary global trouble spots. The ongoing struggle for regional ascendancy between Saudi Arabia and Iran, following the partial disengagement of the US from the Middle East, is a powerful example of this sort of turmoil. So, too, is the looming possibility of war between Iran and Israel. Thucydides’ argument that states go to war because of fear, honour and interest seems as true now as it was in ancient Greece. If Western governments had faced up to the longstanding enmities between ethnic groups in the Balkans that made large-scale violence plausible, even probable, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, thousands of lives may have been saved.Thinking toolsPerhaps the most accessible tool offered by history is that of the enlightening analogy. It is conventional for everyone, not only historians, to liken one situation to another and to spot parallels. Public officials often employ historical analogy in order to justify their policies. It is a valuable tool for thinking with, yet it is also easy to misuse in crude ways. What historians can do is to subject analogies to close scrutiny and judge whether or not they are appropriate, given the differences and the similarities between situations. Scholars can identify the most relevant analogies and use them to enrich the policy conversation.Those looking for guidance on how rival power blocs can compete, and even fight, while also co-existing could do worse than to study the interaction between the Ottoman Empire and the Christian states of the Mediterranean in the 16th century. Historical analysis of the fault lines separating civilisations reveals lessons for those responsible for formulating policy today. The range of analogies commonly utilised in public debate is depressingly small – almost any event of significance is related to either the international crises of the 1930s or the economic turmoil of the 1970s. Historians are equipped to enrich that pool with more exotic alternatives.Related to analogy is precedent. History is a source of precedents that illuminate policy problems. For example, the growth of Chinese power is likely to be a defining trend of the 21st century and threatens to upend the global order; it may pitch an assertive, dictatorial China into confrontation with the US, Japan and others. There is a possibility that such a rivalry could spiral out of control. Thankfully, history is replete with similar situations. We can draw upon countless examples of strategic rivalry, from ancient Egypt to the present, encompassing struggles great and small, in order to suggest policy in the Asia-Pacific region. While competition between major powers often produces conflict, there are examples of more benign outcomes and successful, if strained, co-existence. History can help us to predict how decision-makers in Beijing or Washington might respond to certain acts. In the years following 9/11, those hoping to graft Western-style liberal democracy onto nations such as Iraq and Afghanistan, which were accustomed to despotic rule and where tribal loyalty was often more significant than other affinities, would have done well to ponder the work of the Middle Eastern specialist Elie Kedourie. His exploration of British and French attempts to create Western-style states in the Middle East during the 1920s is sobering.Through their expertise, historians are able to make helpful inferences, probe and challenge assumptions and take a problem apart. That is because they are accustomed to studying the full complexity of organised and interactive human behaviour. It is one of the reasons why, in March 1990, Margaret Thatcher organised a secret meeting of leading historians to discuss the imminent reunification of Germany and specifically whether or not there was a serious possibility that a future German government would use its power to dominate Europe. As the former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger warned, history is ‘not a cookbook offering pre-tested recipes’. It does not provide ‘rules’ for action that are consistently reliable. Yet while the historian cannot devise hard-and-fast rules, or state definitively what should be done in a given scenario, it is possible to reason from history. A historical sensibility opens up one’s imagination and cultivates insights that are impossible to acquire in other ways.Historical anomalyThe armed forces are one of the few institutions that consistently make ‘applied history’ an integral part of their operation. Military establishments study past battles and campaigns in order to improve their performance in future conflicts. Yet this is an anomaly. Kissinger was a rare example of a modern politician who actively used history. He held a doctorate in the subject from Harvard and constantly drew upon historical analogies as instruments to aid him in his stewardship of US foreign policy; there are few better examples of the merits of a historical sensibility in directly shaping policy. He was doubtless influenced by Thucydides’ maxim that ‘the present, while never repeating the past exactly, must inevitably resemble it. Hence, so must the future’. Kissinger was acutely aware that, if history teaches anything, it is humility. Radical plans to overhaul the status quo rarely work as intended and often backfire, so one needs to operate with a sense of proportion. Sadly, a Kissinger is almost unthinkable today.Given that history is so policy-relevant, the scepticism of the majority of professionals about ‘applied history’ is a shame. First, it displays a lack of awareness of the provenance of the discipline. Second, it implies a misunderstanding of causation – the very thing that historians are supposed to be specialists in. If one makes a claim to expertise in cause and effect, one should be trained to discern patterns and project trends forward. Third, it disregards what the public want from their historians (who they largely fund): a willingness to tackle big problems. Finally, the professional wariness about the ‘relevance’ of history is arguably one important reason why thousands of university students fret that their history degree will prove ‘useless’.History is fascinating in itself, but what makes it so stimulating is that it offers deeper insights into the human condition that are of enduring value. The past is not a foolproof guide to the present or the future – it is simply the only guide we have. Here, Collingwood is again helpful. He believed that the past is ‘incapsulated’ in the present and thus ‘lives on’: when one peels back the layers, one quickly realises that the present is nothing more than the accumulated decisions and actions of the past. History is ‘alive and active’ and stands ‘in the closest possible relation to practical life’.Robert Crowcroft is senior lecturer in Contemporary History at the University of Edinburgh and the author of Attlee’s War: World War II and the Making of a Labour Leader (I.B. Tauris, 2011).

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Today in History for 19th August 2018

Historical Events

440 – St Sixtus III ends his reign as Catholic Pope
1524 – Emperor Charles V’s troops besiege Marseille, France
1909 – Indianapolis 500 race track opens
1964 – Communication satellite Syncom 3 launched
1993 – 34th Walker Cup: US, 19-5
2008 – The men’s gymnastics program at the Beijing Olympics concludes with the home team from China dominating the medals tally takes 7 of 8 gold medals; Zou Kai wins 3

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Famous Birthdays

1940 – Johnny Nash, rocker (I Can See Clearly Now), born in Houston, Texas
1940 – Jan Claire, actor (American Anthem)
1948 – Susan Jacks (Susan Pesklevits) Saskatoon Canada, singer and songwriter
1956 – Adam Arkin, actor (Busting Loose, Pearl, Northern Exposure), born in Brooklyn, New York
1959 – Susan Cummings, Monegasque-born American heiress and convicted murderer
1998 – Ella Guevara, Filipino actress

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Famous Deaths

1795 – Friedrich Hartmann Graf, composer, dies at 67
1914 – Franz Xavier Wernz, German Superior General of the Society of Jesus (b. 1844)
1970 – Paweł Jasienica, Polish historian, dies at 60
1986 – Hermione Baddeley, British actress (Camp Runamuck, Maude), dies at 79
1994 – Ladislav Fuks, Czech writer, dies at 70
2009 – Don Hewitt, television news producer and director; creator of 60 Minutes (b. 1922)

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Today in History for 18th August 2018

Historical Events

1835 – Last Pottawatomie Indians leave Chicago
1945 – Scheduled demonstrations at Polo Grounds and Ebbets Field to end segregation in organized baseball are called off
1956 – Cincinnati Reds (8) and Cubs (2) combine to hit 10 HRs in a 9 inning game
1957 – US performs nuclear test at Nevada Test Site
1968 – Kathy Whitworth wins LPGA Holiday Inn Golf Classic
1995 – Cards reliever Tom Henke earns his 300th career save

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Famous Birthdays

1935 – Lajos Papp, Hungarian composer, born in Debrecen
1957 – Denis Leary, American actor and comedian (Rescue Me), born in Worcester, Massachusetts
1967 – Tracy Tracy [Tracy Cattell], musician (The Primitives), born in Australia
1969 – Edward Norton, American actor (American History X), born in Boston, Massachusetts
1971 – Trey Ames, actor (David-A Year in the Life), born in Canton, Ohio
1981 – Dimitris Salpingidis, Greek footballer, born in Thessaloniki, Greece

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Famous Deaths

1642 – Guido Reni, Italian painter (b. 1575)
1645 – Eudoxia Streshneva, Tsarina of Mikhail I of Russia (b. 1608)
1815 – Chauncey Goodrich, American politician (b. 1759)
1887 – Orson Squire Fowler, American phrenologist and lecturer, dies at 77
1966 – Watze Cuperus, Frisian author (Struggle and Blessing), dies at 75
2001 – David Peakall, British scientist (b. 1931)

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Method in the Madness

Method in the Madness

Richard Lansdown

Methodism gained great popularity in the 18th century, but its followers were thought enthusiastic to the point of insanity, posing a serious threat to the established church.

Writing 20 years after the death of John Wesley, William Warburton, Bishop of Gloucester, claimed in 1811 that the founder of Methodism had invented ‘a new trade’ – that of ‘turning fools into madmen’.A paper published the previous year listed the causes of insanity of 863 patients at London’s Bethlem Hospital, about one third of those admitted between 1772 and 1787.That religion should be mentioned as a cause of madness among Bedlam inmates is not a particular surprise. There is a well-established link between religious belief and mental illness. It is common, for example, for those diagnosed with schizophrenia to report some kind of religious delusion: they have talked directly to God, they are God, they are possessed by the devil or his demons.But why single out Methodism? The mid-17th century had seen a proliferation of zealous religious sects, yet Congregationalists, Presbyterians and Baptists, although persecuted, seem not to have behaved in a way that brought about charges of insanity. On the other hand, Quakers, so named for their shaking as they heard the spirit speaking to them, or Fifth Monarchists, who saw Christ’s kingdom coming at any moment, and others of similar vein were frequently declared mad. Methodists were the latest in a long line.Methodists were deemed crazy because what they said, what they stood for and what they did were seen as threats. John Wesley himself, with a frequency that makes one think of a self-fulfilling prophecy, told his followers that they were likely to be seen as having taken leave of their senses.‘Methodist’ was a baggy, slippery term in the 17th century. It embraced evangelical groups, some Anglicans and anyone who seemed to take religion seriously. But during the 18th century it had come to describe a group, which became an organisation, which became a denomination, slowly built up by Wesley, his brother Charles, the great hymn-writer, and George Whitefield. Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon, became Wesley’s chief patron and supporter. Converted in the 1730s, she was ‘a kind of godmother to many of the Revival leaders’. An evangelical movement within the Anglican Church, Methodism was based firmly on the ‘born-again’ principle that Christ had been sent to save us from sin – not just those we committed, but the ‘original sin’ we were born with. The emphasis was on personal belief: personal responsibility for saving oneself.Wesley, an ordained Anglican, never formally severed his connection with the Church of England. The year before he died, he wrote: ‘I live and die a member of the Church of England … I never had any design of separating from the Church. I have no such design now … I declare, once more, that I live and die a member of the Church of England, and that none who regard my judgment or advice will ever separate from it.’ But by the time of Wesley’s death in 1791, there were 470 Methodist chapels with 300 full-time itinerants and around 2,000 local preachers. In 1795, just four years later, the Methodists split from the established religion and, just like the Baptists, the Congregationalists, the Presbyterians and the Quakers, became a separate, dissenting church.Methodists’ behaviourFrom the outset there had been rumblings that Methodists were mad. While undergraduates, Wesley and his followers attracted ridicule. John declared in 1727 that ‘Leisure and I have now taken leave of one another’, referring to his devotion to a pious and proper way of living. The Wesley brothers were the centre of a small group at Oxford, set up originally by Charles. They lived by strict set rules and apportioned their time carefully to study and religious duties, allowing as little as they could to sleeping and eating. It is hardly surprising that their fellow undergraduates thought them odd; they gave the group’s members a number of names, including the derisory ‘The Holy Club’. They also made up a rhyme:By rule they eat, by rule they drink,By rule do all things but thinkAccuse the priests of loose behaviour,To get more in the layman’s favour.Method alone must guide ’em allWhen themselves Methodists they call.The critics’ conviction that the club members were making excessive demands on each other and were possibly insane was confirmed when one member of the group, William Morgan, went mad and died tragically in 1732. Critics appear to have ignored the fact that members of the ‘Holy Club’ visited lonely people in prison, took food to poor families and taught orphaned children to read.Accusations of madness were also made about the behaviour of Methodism’s early congregations, where there was much shouting and screaming, crying and swooning. They could at various times and in various places convulse. On one occasion a woman ‘cried out aloud as in the agonies of death’, two others ‘were seized with strong pain and roared with disquiet of heart’. Wesley himself reported scenes of the Acts of the Apostles reproduced with demon-possession, visions and healing.The claims and beliefs of some of Wesley’s followers did not help. George Bell, for example, claimed in 1761 that he had been converted following a vision of Christ. He went on to say that he had cured a woman with painful lumps in her breast by prayer, a claim supported by Wesley. Bell and others around him went on to declare that they were exempt from death and that they could give sight to the blind. Bell took things a step too far when he predicted the end of the world on 28 February 1763, for which he was disowned as a Methodist. As Wesley’s biographer H.D. Rack concluded in 1989, the George Bell episode showed how difficult it was in early Methodism to distinguish religious zeal and visionary spiritual gifts from ‘pretending to special revelations’ and insanity.Enthusiasm The educated elite of the 18th century lived in dread of a return to the previous century’s civil war and revolution, in which religious sectarianism played a major role. They disliked, too, what they saw as primitive beliefs in astrology, witchcraft and demons that had been common, turning instead to the cooler, rational thought exemplified by the founding of the Royal Society in 1660. Above all, the Establishment, feeling its way towards Enlightenment, loathed and feared ‘Enthusiasm’.This pejorative term was coined to cover the extreme emotion and zeal, characteristic of many of the 17th- and 18th-century dissenters, which was essential to them as both a confirmation and a demonstration of religious experience. These were people who would interrupt a service to inform the preacher and his congregation of the error of their ways, who would cure illness not with medicine but with prayer. They preached that an omnipotent God had done everything and had left nothing for humanity to do but believe as, without faith, good works were of no avail.It is no accident that Rack’s biography of Wesley is entitled Reasonable Enthusiast. Alexander Knox, who knew Wesley well, said: ‘He would have been an enthusiast if he could.’ As Wesley put it: ‘Whatever is spoken of the religion of the heart, and by the inward change by the Spirit of God, must appear enthusiastic to those who have not felt them.’William Hogarth, in his 1762 satire Credulity, Superstition and Fanaticism (originally engraved in 1761, with the title Enthusiasm Delineated), poured scorn on a Methodist preacher (possibly George Whitefield) rousing his congregation to paroxysms of religious fervour. Presiding from a great height, the preacher-performer terrorises his congregation with a pair of puppets representing the devil and a witch. The text beside him reads: ‘I speak as a fool.’Wesley responded to accusations of Enthusiasm by pointing out that he and his followers were simply abiding by scripture. He was scathing about the word itself, arguing in one of his sermons that it was ill defined, little understood and often used in contradictory ways. He preferred ‘fanaticism’. To him, fanaticism was, indeed, a disorder of the mind, a sort of madness, not part of religion: ‘Quite the reverse. Religion is the spirit of a sound mind and so it is the very opposite of madness.’But there was more to Enthusiasm than religious zeal. Enthusiasts were also seen as agents of political and social upheaval, arguing for the need for individuals to change themselves and, by extension, society. Loyalty to the king and support for the status quo could not be guaranteed among those who saw their loyalty to God as paramount.E.P. Thompson, in his classic 1963 study The Making of the English Working Class, sees Methodism as anything but a threat. He writes of a reactionary religious terrorism, suppressing progressive political activity:Nothing was more often remarked by contemporaries of the workaday Methodist character, or of Methodist home-life, than its methodical, disciplined and repressed disposition … Energies and emotions which were dangerous to social order, or which were merely unproductive … were released in the harmless form of sporadic love-feasts, watch-nights, band-meetings or revivalist campaigns. Thompson, however, was describing the Methodism of the late 18th and 19th centuries. The picture from earlier times was different.Jacobite brushAlthough Wesley was at least outwardly loyal to the status quo, Methodism became tarred with the Jacobite brush. The Jacobites, traditionally understood to be those who saw William and Mary as interlopers and wished a Stuart to return to the throne, also included those who believed firmly in the sanctity of hereditary kingship. Many Tories saw themselves as heirs to the Cavaliers and were natural Jacobites (supporters displayed pictures of both Royalist and Jacobite heroes in their homes). Both Wesley’s mother, Susanna, and Charles demonstrated more than a hint of Jacobitism. The latter was at one point taken before the Yorkshire magistrates for praying for ‘the Lord’s absent ones’. John distanced himself from such criticism by proposing a somewhat equivocal oath of allegiance to the king, in which he stated: ‘We are ready to obey your Majesty to the uttermost in all things which we conceive to be agreeable thereto.’In Britain, Methodism flourished selectively in terms of occupation and social status, attracting in particular craftsmen and urban industrial workers. By the 1790s, 62 per cent of male members were artisans. These were people less bound to their employers, pastors and masters than labourers and less likely to be deferential. The desire among Methodists for social change was evident: Wesley and his followers violently opposed slavery and they even had women preachers. Philip Embury, a Methodist preacher who emigrated to America, became notorious there for the strange goings-on in his house: ‘Women often prayed and even stood up and made speeches just like the men.’Conservative members of the Anglican Church found, in some areas, their congregations diminishing, as did the Baptists. One commentator claimed Wesley had made a takeover bid for growing religious groups, satisfying a need for a religion of the heart.The threat of Methodism’s rising popularity led to physical attacks, particularly in the 1740s and 1750s. Sometimes the attackers were no more than a few rowdies breaking up Methodist meetings, frightening women and throwing the preacher into a duck pond. One can imagine that, for the perpetrators, this would have been construed as having a bit of fun. But there were also more organised mobs egged on, sometimes with free ale and money, by the local Anglican clergy and landowners, seemingly designed to deter would-be Methodists from joining the movement.John Trelford gave a graphic account of one of the more aggressive mob assaults:On 25 January 1742 … the rabble made all the noise they could and pushed violently against the hearers [of Wesley]. They struck some of them and broke down part of the house. [They] began to throw large stones, which forced their way through the roof and fell with the tiles among the people. Wesley saw that the people were really in peril of their lives.Wesley offered a simple response to such attacks. In one of his sermons he preached that holiness brings persecution: ‘This is a badge of our discipleship, a seal of our calling … The meek, serious, humble, zealous lovers of God and man are of good report among their brethren; but of evil report with the world, who count and treat them “as the filth and offscouring of all things”.’Religious melancholyReligious mania and melancholia were recognised well before the 18th century. Timothie Bright had written in 1586 of ‘that heavy hande of God upon the afflicted conscience, tormented with remorse of sinne, & feare of his judgement’. Richard Burton, in his 1621 Anatomy of Melancholy, wrote of ‘an anguish of the mind’, in which fear and sorrow were inseparable companions. He coined the phrase ‘religious melancholy’, which he saw as resulting from the Devil working through ‘superstitious Idoloters, Ethnickes, Mahometans, Jewes, Heretickes, Enthusiasts, Divinators, Prophets, Sectaries, and Scismatickes’. He lists ‘too much devotion, blind zeal, fear of eternal punishment, and that last judgement, for a cause of those Enthusiaticks and desperate persons’.The most cursory reading of Wesley’s sermons offers explanations of why those of his followers susceptible to depression or mania could well have been tipped over the edge; why they, too, suffered ‘a holy terror and despair of the promise of salvation’. Justification by faith was the fundamental tenet of Methodism: no matter what good work one has done, if one is not born again in the realisation that Christ died to save one from sin, then one would be taken by the devil and spend eternity in hell. Wesley preached:How can we enjoy life, either here or in the hereafter, while we are afraid of God’s anger towards us? … who can appear before such a judge as God, who is quick to spot the smallest divergence from the fullest obedience to the law? … One single breach of the law destroys our whole claim to life. If we have ever offended in a single point, this righteousness is at an end.Listening to such sermons must have led many to the conviction that they were, indeed, bound for hell. Or, if they had been born again, they rejoiced and wanted to tell everyone they met, in what we would now see as a manic phase. Sarah Jones, an 18th-century American Methodist, summed it up in a letter to a friend, describing her thoughts on a typical day: during an hour of prayer she suffered ‘acute agony’, she ‘plunged into a sea of self abasement and self abhorrence and groan[ed] … for the deepest measure of profound humility’. But later, when recalling that Christ was ‘ointment for every sore’, she became ‘buried in wonder, swallowed up in extatic joy and gladness’.To quote Wesley again: ‘If you aim at the religion of the heart … it will not be long before the sentence is passed, “you are beside yourself”.’ He was right.Richard Lansdown is a retired psychologist.

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Today in History for 17th August 2018

Historical Events

1952 – Betty Jameson wins LPGA World Golf Championship
1959 – 7.1 quake strikes Yellowstone National Park
1987 – Bunt single gives Paul Molitor longest hit streak of 1980s at 32 games
1996 – Soyuz TM-24, launched into orbit
2005 – The first forced evacuation of settlers, as part of the Israel unilateral disengagement plan, starts.
2013 – 18 people are killed in conflict between Boko Harem and Nigerian military

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Famous Birthdays

1890 – Harry L Hopkins, US politician (Loan and Lease law)
1909 – Larry Clinton, American trumpeter and bandleader (d. 1985)
1927 – Robert Moore, American director and actor (Murder by Death, Marshall-Diana), born in Detroit, Michigan (d. 1984)
1930 – James Gulliver, businessman
1953 – Judith Regan, American book publisher
1973 – Paul Wiggins, offensive linebacker (Pittsburgh Steelers)

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Famous Deaths

1723 – Joseph Bingham, English scholar (b. 1668)
1777 – Giuseppe Scarlotti, composer, dies at 54
1945 – Pater Bleijs, [Louis], resistance fighter, dies in car accident
1953 – Johannes B Tielrooy, literature (French Living Lesson), dies at 66
1993 – Robert C Maynard, CEO (Oakland Tribune), dies at 56
1995 – William Strethan “Wild Bill” Davis, musician, dies at 76

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We Speak French Here

We Speak French Here

Imogen Marcus

French was the only language worth speaking in medieval Britain – and not just by the upper classes.

Medieval Britain was a multilingual place. Alongside English were Welsh, Cornish, Irish, Scots, Norse, the now extinct Germanic language Norn, Latin and, after the Norman Conquest in 1066, Anglo-Norman French. Anglo-Norman French was the variety of French spoken in the British Isles from the Conquest to the end of the 14th century. It differs grammatically from the French spoken in France itself at the time,and has often been classed as a deviation from the ‘proper’ medieval French of the Continent. Scholars thus used to label it an imperfectly learned jargon. More recently, however, the idea, developed by historical linguists such as Richard Ingham, that this form of French was a viable, legitimate variety of the language, shaped and influenced by its direct contact with English, has come to be accepted.The traditional narrative is that, after the Conquest, Anglo-Norman French was used by people at the very top of medieval society: in the royal court and government, the law and among the nobility, including the bishops. It is usually held that it never took hold outside these spheres and that its use decreased from the late 1200s. Yet, despite the fact that it was supposedly losing out to English by the late 13th century, the number of practical, administrative and other documents, such as letters and medical texts, written in Anglo-Norman French actually increased.These documents allow us to discern a flourishing bilingual culture in the professional circles of later medieval Britain, one that continued until at least 1400. Anglo-Norman French was not, therefore, restricted to the elite levels of society. Nor were its speakers just those with a Norman pedigree and a landed inheritance. It was used across a range of contexts where accurate and efficient communication was essential. To get ahead in British professional life post-1066, it was important to speak French.French in the professions It is thought that young boys probably acquired French at ‘song’ school, where they were taught singing and reading, before moving on to study Latin at ‘grammar’ school. Probably the most well-known practical application of the resultant bilingualism in the professions is in the legal domain. Anglo-Norman French was used in the legal Year Books, compilations of law reports or ‘pleas’. It was also used for the readings (lectures) and moots (academic debates) in the Inns of Court in London, held for the education of young male lawyers. The Paston letters, a large collection of letters written by members of the upwardly mobile Paston family in Norfolk, include letters by the judge William Paston, written in both French and English. Knowledge of French was not just restricted to lawyers, however. Thomas Dru, commissioner of the peace in Wiltshire, wrote to the Sheriff of Oxfordshire in 1378, in French, requesting that he hold a murder suspect in prison:Par quei, Sire, voillets garder le dit William tanque vous eyet bref et commaundement de le court de lui mander es Bank le Roy ou altrement devaunt les justices de la deliverauncez el counte de Wilts. Sire si ren voilletz de moy qe faire puisse ceo serrez prest.[‘Therefore, Sir, kindly keep the said W. until you have a letter and instructions from the Court to send him to the King’s Bench, or otherwise before the prison release justices in the county of Wiltshire. Sir if you desire anything of me that I can do, it will be accomplished.’]Although commissioners of the peace typically came from the gentry and were not required to have legal training, it is clear that their duties included dealing with legal matters and, as a result, they needed to make use of French. This also seems to have applied to their personal affairs, because the wills of those belonging to the gentry were quite often written up in Anglo-French by the 14th century.Central government officials and municipal administrators often had legal training and could converse in French. There are numerous accounts, memorandum books, corporate registers and ordinances that attest to this. For example, in 1354, Daniel Rough, the town clerk of Romney in Kent, wrote official French language letters to the representative of the nearby town of Hythe concerning a dispute over fishing nets (‘spindlers’):Com le dit W. fust peschant en la myer ove ces spindlers … cy vynt la tempeste de la mier sur lui, par kai en salvacioun de lui et de sa companye, lessa ces spindlers et se trea al haven de Romene.[‘As the said W. was fishing in the sea with these spindler nets … there came upon him a sea-storm, so seeking his and his company’s safety he left these nets and withdrew to Romney harbour.’]What, though, of other professions? We know that a large quantity of medical recipes (which sometimes include some questionable advice) were written in Anglo-Norman French, as can be seen below:Esclarciemenz as oylz: Pernez freses meures e les gardez tant que ele seient purries …[‘Clearing the eyes: Take fresh plums and keep them until they are rotten …’]In fact, there were no medical recipes written in post-Conquest English until the 15th century. It is unlikely that doctors spoke French to their patients, but medical knowledge seems to have been compiled in it, which suggests that English doctors had at least some knowledge of the language. The same can be said of architects, who specified building contracts in French. In these contracts, the appearance, proportions, materials and other aspects of the building to be constructed are in French, meaning knowledge of it was essential.Estate management, probably the biggest professional sector in medieval England due to its predominantly agricultural economy, involved a number of different occupations, including landholders, stewards, bailiffs and reeves. Vast amounts of manorial records, especially accounts, survive. These are mainly written in Latin (with sections in English and French increasingly appearing as the medieval period goes on). Letters dealing with practical things, such as arrangements for the sowing season and the provision of locks for barns, however, were often written in Anglo-Norman French. Clear evidence of this is found in the letters of the Abbot of Westminster, William of Wenlock, who, around 1300, wrote many letters of instruction in this variety of French to the bailiffs and reeves of the various manors held by the abbey. Similar letters survive from Canterbury Priory and the bishoprics of Exeter and Bath and Wells, among others.These letters paint a picture of an organised structure of managerial responsibilities and suggest that, to perform these responsibilities, a good working knowledge of French was required. This evidence has implications for how we view the literacy of bailiffs and, in particular, reeves in medieval society. A reeve was a manager of individual manors, responsible for overseeing the peasants. The office was typically held by a man of lower rank. It is therefore sometimes supposed that reeves would not have been literate and would have needed to keep a record via tallies. Although some reeves may not have been able to read or write, the fact that William of Wenlock wrote, in French, to a dozen reeves in the various manors held by his abbey as sole addressees indicates that they were not only literate, they were bilingual as well.Medieval merchantsTrade and commerce were domains where French was used for both domestic and international communication. Merchant guild regulations were often drawn up in Anglo-Norman French. These key regulatory documents would have been required reading for a range of merchants and traders and, in order to understand them, they would have needed at least a working knowledge of the language.Some surviving correspondence in ecclesiastical registers suggests that when business transactions needed to be effected in writing, for example in the linen trade, French was preferred to Latin or English. It is also thought that English merchants used French for business dealings with overseas merchants by the mid-13th century, not only to negotiate business deals, but also to arrange travel, lodgings and food. European trading communities were deeply interconnected during the period, predominantly via shipping, and French was used as the lingua franca of medieval maritime law, not just in the British Isles, but throughout the Atlantic and Northern seas. The maritime historian Maryanne Kowaleski argues that French would have been understood by a lot of European merchants and seamen, illustrated by the fact that the 1317 legal proceedings launched against the Flemish pirate John Crabbe in Yarmouth, which involved an inquest jury of Flemish merchants, were conducted in French. She does note, however, that for the most part we simply do not know which language was used by seamen from different countries within the British Isles (she mentions two Italian merchants arrested in York, who had wandered the city for three days because nobody could understand them).Further evidence of the importance of French in trade comes from the many trade-related words borrowed from French that found their way into Middle English (the form of English spoken and written between 1100 and 1500). These words include truken for ‘barter’, purchasen, ‘to buy’, surchargen, ‘to make excessive charges’, marchaundise, which could be the practice of trading itself, achatour and wastour for buyers, marchaunt, ‘a shopkeeper or a merchant’, pessoner, ‘a seller of fish’ and fruiter, ‘a seller of fruit and vegetables’. There are also French-origin Middle English words for different kinds of coins, such as scute, real and noble, the word merchaundise for goods and various words for specific kinds of goods, such as haberdashrie. Words related to pecuniary value include value itself, valour, meaning ‘price’, allouen, meaning ‘to estimate or value something’ and enhauncen, meaning ‘to raise in price’.The merchants and traders of medieval England must have understood these borrowed words, otherwise they would not have been used in Middle English texts concerned with trade. Thus, although the accounts or other private documents of traders do not usually survive in large numbers or in readily available form, these words add to the evidence that the French of England was a practical, oral language, used by professional merchants as well as those working in other professional domains. Furthermore, while these words may have started out as part of the occupational argot of trade, a number of them remained within everyday English and became part of common usage, recognisable today, including, for example, haberdashrie, merchaundise and marchaunt.Why did people use French, anyway?Since these professionals would normally have been native English speakers, the question is: why did they communicate in French? First, Middle English was full of linguistic variation, so much so that it was often near impossible for people from the north of England to understand what those from the south were saying, and vice versa. Given this extreme diversity, it may often have just been easier to speak Anglo-Norman French, as long as all parties could basically understand it, in order to ensure comprehension and agreement on business particulars.Second, as the economic historian Richard Britnell pointed out, it may be that the use of French in the professions was simply an established cultural habit. Latin was conventionally used as the language of written record and was also spoken in some religious and academic contexts, but was rarely used as a vernacular language on the street, i.e. as a language spoken or written by the ordinary people of the country. There is, however, evidence to suggest that Anglo-Norman French was actually spoken by the people using it and was therefore more of a vernacular, living language than Latin. That explains why French might have been used over Latin, but why was it chosen over English? Even though English would seem to be the vernacular language of choice for texts such as practical letters or administrative documents, there was a long-established tradition of French for official, administrative and business-related documents by the 14th century. Therefore, despite the fact that were no native French speakers in Britain by then, Anglo-Norman French was associated with officialdom and appears to have been a preferred written (and potentially spoken) medium in certain professional communities. Indeed, it may well have been used as a kind of neutral professional language, much as English is used around the world today, in sectors such as finance, business and IT. It may also have served to confirm the higher occupational standing of those employing it.Language, ideology and identityTwo wider points can be drawn from this exploration of the dynamic language situation in medieval Britain. The first concerns the development of the English language itself. Traditional accounts of English have tended to build a monolingual history that emphasises uniformity and purity. However, the fact that many English speakers during the Middle Ages were bilingual, and sometimes multilingual, suggests that these accounts are rather anachronistic. The English we know today emerged within a multilingual Britain and any account of its development needs to be open to that reality.The second concerns the connection between language and identity. It has been claimed that language is the primary indicator of national identity. If you speak Hungarian, you are Hungarian, and so on. In later medieval Britain, however, the association between language and national identity was much looser and more fluid than that. Anglo-Norman French was used in the British Isles, was distinct from Continental French and was arguably shaped by its contact with English. It can therefore be considered one of the languages of medieval Britain, one that allowed its bilingual speakers the chance to achieve practical things. French did not just belong to the French. It belonged to whoever wanted to speak it, write it and use it to their advantage.Imogen Marcus is Senior Lecturer in English Language at Edge Hill University.

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Today in History for 16th August 2018

Historical Events

1922 – ATandT radio station WBAY becomes WEAF (NYC)
1944 – US 15th Army corp reaches Eure, surrounds Dreux
1989 – A solar flare from the Sun creates a geomagnetic storm that affects micro chips, leading to a halt of all trading on Toronto’s stock market.
1991 – US President George H. W. Bush declares recession is near an end
1993 – South Africa relinquishes sovereignty over Walvis Bay
2009 – 12th Athletics World Championships: Usain Bolt wins 100m

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Famous Birthdays

1858 – Arthur Achleitner, German writer, born in Straubing, Germany (d. 1927)
1892 – Otto Messmer, American cartoonist (Felix the Cat), born in Union City, New Jersey (d. 1983)
1933 – Julie Newmar, actress (Catwoman-Batman, Living Doll), born in Hollywood, California
1954 – James Cameron, Canadian film director and writer (Titanic, Avatar), born in Kapuskasing, Ontario
1961 – Christian Okoye, American football player
1979 – Michael Stahlman, American rower and coach

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Famous Deaths

1675 – Bogdan Chmilnicki, cosack leader/murderer of 300,000 Jews, dies
1870 – Ludvig Anton Edmund Passy, composer, dies at 80
1973 – Selman A Waksman, Russian/US microbiology (Nobel 1952), dies at 85
1986 – John Hurley, song writer (Son of a Preacher Man), dies at 45
1997 – Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Pakistani musician (b. 1948)
2006 – Alfredo Stroessner, President of Paraguay (b. 1912)

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Today in History for 15th August 2018

Historical Events

1914 – Panama Canal opens (under cost)
1936 – Marshall Wayne and Elbert Root make it an American 1-2 in the 10m platform diving at the Berlin Olympics
1944 – US 12 Army corps enters Le Mans through Orleans
1964 – Mayor Daley declares “Ernie Banks Day” in Chicago
1985 – P. W. Botha gives the “Rubicon” Speech in Durban, South Africa, dissapointing many by refusing to consider immediate and major reforms in the country’s apartheid system
2006 – Der Spiegel, Spiegel Online, publishes documents confirming German writer Günter Grass’ membership of the Waffen-SS in World War II

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Famous Birthdays

1740 – Matthias Claudius, German poet (d. 1815)
1872 – Shri Aurobindo [Aurobindo Ghose], Indian guru and nationalist, born in Calcutta, British India (d. 1950)
1948 – Patsy Gallant, Canadian pop singer (It’ll All Come Around), born in Campbellton, Canada
1970 – Ben Silverman, American TV executive
1972 – Ben Affleck, American actor (Armageddon, Pearl Harbor), born in Berkeley, California
1989 – Joe Jonas, American singer (Jonas Brothers)

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Famous Deaths

1038 – Stefanus I, [Arpad], 1st king of Hungary, dies
1369 – Philippa of Hainault, Queen consort of Edward III of England
1714 – Constantin Brâncoveanu, Prince of Wallachia (b. 1654)
1968 – Edward Kilenyi, Sr. [Ede Kilényi], composer and teacher (Clipped Wings, Outside the Law), dies at 84
1978 – Harrison Kerr, American composer, dies at 80
2010 – James J. Kilpatrick, American newspaper journalist and columnist (60 Minutes), dies at 89

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Today in History for 14th August 2018

Historical Events

1559 – Spanish explorer de Luna lands in Pensacola Bay, Fla
1862 – Abraham Lincoln receives the first group of African Americans to confer with a US president
1912 – 2,500 US marines invade Nicaragua; US remains until 1925
1940 – Dutch Premier De Geer vacations in Switzerland
1959 – 26th NFL Chicago All-Star Game: Baltimore 29, All-Stars 0 (70,000)
1984 – West Indies complete 5-0 series annihilation of England

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Famous Birthdays

1552 – Fra Paolo Sarpi, [Paulus Venetus], expert/philosopher
1737 – Charles Hutton, mathematician
1888 – John Logie Baird, Scottish inventor and father of the television, born in Helensburgh, Scotland (d. 1946)
1949 – Bob Backlund, American wrestler
1953 – Cliff Johnson, American computer game author
1980 – Roy Williams, American football player, born in Redwood City, California

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Famous Deaths

1834 – Friedrich Christian Ruppe, composer and violinist, brother of Christian Friedrich Ruppe, dies at 63
1971 – Georg von Opel, German auto manufacturer, dies at 59
1991 – Douglas Kiker, newscaster (NBC-TV), dies of a heart attack at 61
2006 – Bruno Kirby, American actor (b. 1949)
2007 – Tikhon Khrennikov, Russian composer (b. 1913)
2010 – Herman Leonard, American photographer (b. 1923)

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Today in History for 13th August 2018

Historical Events

1932 – Yankee pitcher Red Ruffing homers and wins game 1-0 in 10 tying
1960 – USSR withdraws advisors from China
1981 – Last broadcast of “The Waltons” on CBS-TV
1986 – KRE-AM in Berkeley CA changes call letters to KBLX (now KBFN)
1988 – US beats Jamaica 5-1 in 2nd round of 1990 world soccer cup
2006 – Canadian Open Women’s Golf, London Hunt CC: Christie Kerr wins by 1 shot from Angela Stanford

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Famous Birthdays

1860 – Annie Oakley [Phoebe Ann Moses], American sharp shooter (Buffalo Bill’s Wild West), born in North Star, Ohio (d. 1926)
1899 – Alfred Hitchcock, English director (Psycho, Birds, Rear Window), born in Leytonstone, Essex (d. 1980)
1920 – Neville Brand, American soldier and actor (DOA, Love Me Tender), born in Griswold, Iowa (d. 1992)
1952 – Tom Marino, American politician (Rep-R-Pennsylvania 2011-), born in Williamsport, Pennsylvania
1971 – Moritz Bleibtreu, German actor
1979 – Román Colón, Dominican baseball player

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Famous Deaths

1721 – Jacques Lelong, French bibliographer (b. 1665)
1948 – Elaine Hammerstein, American actress (b. 1897)
1990 – Jimmy Starr, actor (Hot Flashes), dies at 86
1994 – Manfred Worner, German general/Secretary-General of NATO (1988-94), dies at 59
1996 – António de Spínola, Portuguese general and conservative President of Portugal (1974), dies of a pulmonary embolism at 86
2007 – Brian Adams, aka Demolition Crush, American professional wrestler (b. 1964)

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