One Egg A Week: WW2 Rations and Irrational Over-consumption

Have you ever walked through the supermarket, or the out-of-doors market (if you are lucky enough to have one nearby) and stopped to appreciate just how much food we have access to on a daily basis?

Intellectually we know that there are many places around the globe where food is not so plentiful nor available. Venezuela at the moment is struggling through famine triggered by political unrest and a decade of instability. In other places it is simply the norm to be without. However, to quantify scarcity is sometimes difficult as we stroll the aisles of the supermarket and decide if we want the artisan, “hand-made” (by machines shaped like hands) cumin basil crackers or the tomato pesto anise flavor? Gasp.

Was there a time when the western world had to face food scarcity? You bet! It was called the Second World War. Almost all of the European nations, and beyond, suffered from going without. For much of continental Europe that was a result of having been overrun by hostile armies and subjected to starvation so that food could be shunted back to the German Army. Russians, German citizenry, Italians, the French, the Dutch, Spaniards (who had been going without all through the 1930’s because of a civil war) all faced famine, and the list goes on and on. The British Isles certainly suffered, but theirs was, from the start, superimposed rationing to feed the populace and its soldiery. The Americans, too, ended up with varying degrees of rationing, but certainly not as strict as the British model.

And it is to British rationing that we’re going to turn to help get a sense of personal scale of scarcity. The Ministry of Food was the organization that implemented rationing for the populace at the behest of the British Government. When you look over the requirements you realize how little each individual was allowed, but you also see the care and thought given to maintaining vitamin intake for children (fruits and fruit preserves were to be given to children first to sustain healthy growth). Bread and Vegetables, especially the homegrown variety, were not rationed and people were encouraged to grow their own. For adults, vegetables were the mainstay of nutrition.

What was rationed, and here is where we can begin to appreciate what and how much we have on a daily basis, was meat. Meat was rationed by price, only so much per person per week and then only of what was available and sometimes that was offal, or organ meats…heart, lungs, intestines, etc. So, no hamburgers or juicy steaks every night for a week!

Recipe books of the era recommend stews and pot pies with minimal meat supplemented by plentiful vegetables. My favorite cookbook from this era, incidentally, is a reprint by the Imperial War Museum called, Victory Cookbook: Nostalgic Food and Facts From 1940-1954 by Marguerite Patten OBE, 2002. I found it at a wonderful booksale held in the Guildhall in the city of York…a story for another time. This volume presents reprints from government material produced during the war, much of which was the work of a young woman named Marguerite Patten, whose creativity helped inspire home cooks throughout the war.

Milk was also rationed, 4-6 cups per person, per week. Think of what that meant, if you are a regular consumer of hot chocolate you could have a cup every other day, but you couldn’t get the chocolate. But what if you wanted pudding…that requires milk and, whoops, you just used up your allowance. Or baking, which often requires milk… there it went again. Milk in your tea (which was also rationed, think of that the next time you order a 28 oz glass of sweetened iced tea!)? What do you choose? And yes, you could combine a family’s portion, but how did you refrigerate it until you could use it? Refrigeration wasn’t universal in the 1940’s. Powdered milk was a big bonus, but it wasn’t the same as fresh.

Something to contemplate the next time you see all those gallons of milk lined up in the dairy section as you absentmindedly grab one.

Then were was cheese and butter, 2 oz (yes, two thumbs-size slices worth) of each per person each week! That would give you roughly one small sandwich or two after-dinner cheese chasers or a quick gobble for an afternoon snack…no cheesy, gooey grilled sandwiches to eat four bites of and throw the rest away. And butter, you have to bake with butter, remember? So, cookies, scones, cake…all required major planning and the pooling of amounts between family members (which, in the days of mothers being the main organizer of home was all planned and implemented by mom, kids didn’t get to take their cheese stash to their room and watch it mold).

A lot to think about. Belts were tighter then, and interestingly, mass produced bread was made with 1/2 regular “white” flour and 1/2 whole wheat or whole meal flour. As statistics were compiled during this time period, it was found that the health of the nation actually improved as a result of this austere, but very healthy diet.

Image: Amanda Stiver

Image: Amanda Stiver

And then we get to eggs, or, I should say, egg. Just one a week, and sometimes just one every two weeks. No high-protein, cheesy, three-egg breakfast omelets, no scrambled eggs, probably few egg dishes at all as these precious few eggs would have gone to work in the weekly baking. Things improved somewhat when powdered eggs were made available from the US, but if you have ever had the misfortune to consume powdered eggs regularly you will realize what a glorious blessing it is to have fresh eggs at all! Let alone the ability to buy 4 dozen at will!

Then there was sugar, and this is killer because I think it is safe to say that we nowadays could be referred to by archaeologists looking back at us from well into the future as the “sugar-eaters”, so much do we consume it in sweets and even in things that should be savory. Sweets were rationed to 12 oz every four weeks. If this was granulated sugar imagine, 12 ounces is just a cup and a half, and the average cookie recipe these days typically calls for 2 cups of sugar, per batch! So for a month you could enjoy the stale remnants of your monthly less-sweet cookie baking binge. But again, even pooled together for a family of four, you would need this sugar mostly for preserving fruits, if you could get them, or making faux-fruit preserves from vegetables…Carrot Marmalade anyone? (quite serious, there was a recipe!).

So, as we step off the nostalgia tour bus, I hope you can use this personal-scale food scarcity overview to get a sense of how blessed you may be. While it is vital to do what we can to help others in need, to not waste what we have, and to share, we also need to take a moment, a deep breath, a bowed head, and thank God for what we have. America has a history of overflowing abundance and it is a very popular mindset right now to try to apologize for that abundance (while gorging on it, it seems), but ungratefulness is not improved by embarrassment or apology. To be grateful is to be grateful. Out of gratefulness flows generosity, while out of embarrassment flows self-consciousness and self-centeredness.

So let’s be grateful for our blessings, look outward and share what we have!

Keep thinking history!

– Amanda Stiver

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Garden Like It’s 1943

Among my many books (I collect them, so when I say “many” I mean…more than a hundred, much more) is a gardening tome called the Victory Garden Manual by James H. Burdett. It was produced in 1943, right during the Second World War years. The purpose was to instruct city dwellers in the process and possibilities of developing their urban space into what were called “Victory Gardens.”

Image: Amanda Stiver

Image: Amanda Stiver

The victory garden movement was meant to encourage civilians to develop their urban and rural spaces into large scale kitchen gardens. The kind that would keep an average family of four in potatoes, carrots, and turnips all winter long. The idea was to reduce the burden on the domestic vegetable and fruit producers so that their industrial sized haul of produce would be primarily shunted to foodstuffs for the U.S. troops. It was also meant to reduce the oil, coal and gas used to fuel transit of produce from one end of the country to the other.

This effort was so successful that average Americans produced 1/3rd of the annual vegetable crop for consumption during the war years. More importantly, a whole generation of young people grew up knowing how to garden and how to eat locally, keeping their ear to the ground as it were. Knowing how to produce food is invaluable. Even if you only have a small garden, the simple experience of watching a plant grow to maturity and seeing the fruit form gives you insight into the quality of the vegetables and fruits you will be buying at the store or the roadside stand (I recommend the latter, these folks benefit from your business and the product is usually much tastier than the grocery-store variety).

I haven’t had the means or space for a full scale garden in several years, but I still love to cast my mind back to the garden my grandparents grew. They were children of the Great Depression and their grandparents pioneers into the west before them, so “growing your own” wasn’t a leap of logic, but a standard operating procedure. My grandparents used half of their roughly one acre yard to create a substantial and highly productive victory garden. I spent many memorable moments helping dig up potatoes (they come from the ground, by the way, not trees, just thought I would clarify…you never know), picking raspberries, and other produce.

I learned what good soil smelled like, that veggies were supposed to have dirt on them, and that with plants…you have to have patience.

victory garden book for historygal

Image: Amanda Stiver

So, back to The Victory Garden Manual, this lovely little book is a project of it’s era, a red-white-and-blue cover with a big “V” for victory. It has just a few color photographs that look like they might be lithographed, but they are beautifully composed and show off the abundant produce of the test garden. Truly inspiring.

However, I have another favorite gardening book, this one, a reproduction titled, How to Grow Vegetables & Fruits by the Organic Method that was first printed by Rodale Books in 1961. The reproduction print run from 1999 is still widely available and they sport a bright yellow jacket with vintage 1960’s photos of various gardeners and their surplus.

What makes this such a great book is the comprehensive nature of the material. It covers everything from planting to harvest to saving seed and, of course, how to grow a garden with basic knowledge of soil health and structure and without toxic chemicals and pesticides. Great stuff.

I hope this post will be an insightful little nudge to go out and grow something. Anything, from a giant backyard kitchen garden to as small as a few pots here and there (my garden this year). There is an education in growing things. I think we find ourselves more balanced after time in the natural world as we seek to understand the creation and the Creator than we do in the digital creations that seek to obscure reality.

Gardening demands patience, curiosity, and the capacity to deal with loss. These are all vital qualities that help us, when translated into human interaction, to relate to others and to seek to understand them.

So dig in, don’t be afraid to grow! Because you will when you tackle vegetable gardening!

Keep thinking history!

– Amanda Stiver

A Look at D-Day through the Eyes of A Village: Aunay sur Odon

Many lives were lost during the Normandy invasion. Among the Allies and the Axis troops, but also the collateral damage that occurred in the small villages and towns over and upon which was the battlefield for Europe at that time.

Sometimes historic events and genealogy merge and you find yourself at a crossroads. In this case my own family history with the village of Aunay-sur-Odon, in the French department of Calvados near the Normandy coast. Many centuries ago my mother’s ancestors followed William the Conqueror across the channel to England and later to Ireland, and possibly back to Wales. At some point they made a greater leap and came to America, maybe in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries. (Regardless, we got here somehow.)

The village of Aunay-sur-Odon as the bombs fell. Source: By Conseil Régional de Basse-Normandie / National Archives USA, Attribution, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16076017

The village of Aunay as the bombs were dropping. Source:By Conseil Régional de Basse-Normandie / National Archives USA, Attribution, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16076017

But the real story took place back in the village of Aunay after the June 6, 1944 events of D-Day, as the Allies progressed further into the countryside of Normandy and eventually across France. On June 12th, in the British sector, a decision was made to bombard a strategic crossroads between the towns of Caen and Vire, and Bayeux and Falaise. That crossroad village was Aunay-sur-Odon. The initial bombs were dropped and the village centre was obliterated along with the lives of 100 people.

Aunay after the bombardment. Source: By Reeves (Fg Off): - http://media.iwm.org.uk/iwm/mediaLib//9/media-9416/large.jpgThis is photograph HU 92982 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30877964

Aunay after the bombardment. Source: By Reeves (Fg Off): – http://media.iwm.org.uk/iwm/mediaLib//9/media-9416/large.jpgThis is photograph HU 92982 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30877964

Then, a few days later, another decision was handed down that called for the bombardment of the entire surrounding town. On June 14 and through the night into the 15th, the entire town area was barraged. 25 percent of the population was killed.

Undoubtedly, in the crush of events that pushed the invading armies across France to free the enslaved peoples of Europe, the decisions were made quickly and with the full knowledge that collateral damage would happen. The Germans dug themselves in where they could and wanted to keep the roads open for their own defenses. A strategic crossroads was a viable and necessary target for the Allied forces. This is the nature of war.

So, as we remember the sacrifices of the men who died valiantly for their countries, we also need to be reminded that war takes a very real toll on the civilians who are caught in the crossfire, or, in this case, the crossroads. It is always thus, regardless of the conflagration. There is collateral damage, often innocent people, but always those who simply want to stay out of the way but cannot.

War is not always glorious. Mostly, war is death.

Keep thinking history.

– Amanda Stiver

EXPERIENCE HISTORY:  If you are interested in the the D-Day invasions and want to experience them as the news reports came to America through the radio broadcasts that day, tune into Conyers Old Time Radio and listen as they broadcast the original recordings from Invasion day. Try to imagine yourself, gathered with your family around the radio, waiting to hear exactly what was happening across the Atlantic Ocean. Imagine that your brother, husband, or, possibly, father was overseas and his life was on the line that day. Imagine also the villagers and people of France as they braced themselves for what was to come in the next few days once the invasion had begun.

If you’ve missed the June 6 broadcast, you can listen to some of the recordings here at Complete Broadcast Day D-Day from Archive.org.

Tomorrow’s History: Weekly Roundup (Austria Moves Right-wing – Unphotogenic: The ‘Not-Kate’ Effect)

Austria’s Far-right Party Loses Election, But Wins As A Movement

While Americans continue to be entranced by the ongoing boxing match between U.S. Presidential candidates, another election has just thrown a spotlight on political conditions across the Atlantic. Austria, which for many people is associated more with Edelweiss and Von Trapps than political innovation, has just given the rest of the world a rare opportunity to see a political future in advance.

Ironically, Austria has, in many ways, been right at the heart-beat of European politics, from the Holy Roman Empire on to the time of the First World War, and most definitely during the Second World War and the short-lived Nazi supremacy, it has often shared the fate of its neighbor, Germany.

In this case, jubilation has broken out across most of the European Union after Alexander Van der Bellen, a leftist and academic took the election for the Austrian Presidency. Interestingly, he won by a miniscule (only 31,000 votes) majority following the counting of absentee votes, a unique and curious circumstance that is likely only to feed the fires of the political opposition that barely lost (Bernd Riegert, “Opinion: Black Eye for Austria as Van der Bellen Wins Presidency,” Deutsche Welle at DW.com, May 23, 2016).

The opposition candidate, Norbert Hofer, is a right-wing politician who supports a nationalist, EU-skeptic state and opposes whole-sale entry of refugees from the Middle East. And while he may not be seated in government, the real news is that a right-wing party has gained enough momentum in Europe to take and nearly win a presidential election. And where Austria goes, Germany may follow, a well acknowledged relationship governs these two language-sharing states. The centrist Social Democrats of Austria lost the election in a big way (the same party with which German leader Angela Merkel, a Christian Democrat [which is a political party, not just a statement of faith], has a ruling coalition), indicating Austria may have just become a harbinger of the political winds that are about to change in Germany.

The refugee crisis has served on the one hand, to highlight the precarious nature of the European Union and it’s fragile infrastructure of allied nations. On the other hand, it has shown that when large numbers of people (in the millions) begin to shift around the globe there will be wars. This has happened from the very ancient past onward. If a million people move from one place to another, and there is not enough room where they are going, they will bump others to the side and be perceived as a threat. That threat has been perceived in Europe, and the beginnings of a militant reaction are evident, even in this latest Austrian election.

It is well to remember the purported Chinese curse, “may you live in interesting times.” I think it’s safe to say that interesting times have arrived!

The Awkward Ones: Being Unphotogenic In The Age Of Digital Cameras

And now, let’s go lighthearted for a change.

I recently read an amusing article by British journalist Sarah Vine. She commented on the unfortunate fashion choices of the Princesses of York, Beatrice and Eugenie, that clashed with the willowy grace of the Duchess of Cambridge (Kate Middleton) at a recent garden party held at Buckingham Palace. Kate, in a beautiful cream suit flowed gracefully in the direction of adoring party-goers, whilst trailing behind were the York sisters, who with less statuesque height chose frocks that were somewhat unusual in shape (read: ill-fitting), and bold in print and color. In the framed image, they follow behind the Duchess looking as though they are glaring daggers at the back of her head. Sigh, such is life for the imperfectly photogenic.

In reality, in the image, the sisters were undoubtedly looking elsewhere (and do in fact possess their own brand of beauty), but in the “click-click” nature of digital photography that one frame caught what looked like both a fashion and a deportment faux-pas. The author of the article goes on to discuss the challenges of those who don’t look good on camera, or who always look slightly goofy, while others always seem to be perfectly composed. I can relate to the former! (Sarah Vine, “I Know Exactly How Beatrice and Eugenie Feel When They’re Photographed Next To Kate: I’ve Been There Too, Says Sarah Vine,” The Daily Mail at DailyMail.co.uk, May 25, 2016.)

But it brings up an interesting historical question (one the author also posits): What must it have been like before cameras were around? Back when the best you could hope for to perpetuate your physical appearance was a painting or sculpture? It’s a thought, isn’t it.

Imagine a time when animation of features, expression, and voice were valued over the angles of cheekbones and thinness of limbs. Imagine that strength of arm, determination of mind, aptitude of intellect, ability to cultivate and grow plants and animals, keep a clean, healthy, productive home, cook nutritious, delicious meals, and raise healthy, balanced children was the stuff of which virtue was made, and didn’t take a back-seat to some rarefied, hormone-driven vision of what feminine “beauty” is. Difficult isn’t it?

Let Mr. Darcy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice fame help us, when the subject of his contemplations are demanded of him by the hovering Miss Bingley, he replies, “…My mind was more agreeably engaged. I have been meditating on the very great pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can bestow.”

Fine eyes, no less! When was the last time I heard that?!

Difficult as it may be, I think we need to spend time in that past world, imagining it more often. I have nothing against the photogenic, beauty adds to our world, but we need to find a better balance! Beauty of virtue is a thing, too (for more info, please read the book of Proverbs, chapter 31 in the Bible). If we let it, history can remind us that there is more to this life than just surface value.

Keep thinking history!

– Amanda Stiver

Tomorrow’s History: Weekly Roundup (Radio Drama – Faith and Health – History Gateways)

Theater of the Mind: Adventures in Classic Radio

Can you see it? The detective walks cautiously through the streets of 1950’s Cairo. An American he, owner of the Cafe Tambourine and subject to all manner of trouble, from old friends, shady ladies, and local desperates. Luckily, he is aided in his sometimes inadvertent quest for justice by the stalwart Lt. Sam Sabaya of the Cairo Police.

Sound intriguing? Imagine the possible sets, camera angles, visual effects and action sequences! So when is this series going to premiere? Which channel? Or is it on one of the digital media powerhouses, Netflix or Amazon Video?

Would you believe……radio? No visual effects, no screens, no adventure sequences filmed with the help of talented stunt teams, just……voices, music, sound effects, and some incredibly talented writers. The show?

The Adventures of Rocky Jordan, starring Jack Moyles and Jay Novello. It was on air from 1948 to 1951 and was one of many in the genre of post-World War Two radio detective-adventurers. But the era called “the golden age of radio” wasn’t just about detectives, it included all manner of entertainment, humor, music, drama, news, matching and often surpassing the content of today’s video media.

The common element was that it was all audio and though it allowed for amazingly low budgets it did require three vital elements. First, actors with tremendous voicing skills, a finely tuned ability to express all emotions, states of mind, and motivations with voice alone. Next, writers of unsurpassed ability who could develop a script that accounted for descriptions that would normally be explained by visuals, as a result many shows were narrated by the main character to allow for this device. Finally, a sound engineer with imagination, timing, and endless energy to produce all the sound effects that filled in the final details of the audio action.

If you want to learn more…start with a simple online search for “old time radio shows”. Since the copyright on this type of entertainment has mostly run out, there are many shows in the public domain and posted by various organizations and individuals. If you use internet radio look for WMKV – wmkv.org (FM 89.3, Reading, Ohio), Conyers Old Time Radio – conyersradio.net (FM 89.9, Conyers, Georgia) and others, or search for an “old time radio” app on your smart phone. Finally, to hear a sample of Rocky Jordan use this link to the comprehensive Archive.org (a site with many episodes of many series available): https://archive.org/details/RockyJordan

Have a listen! It’s one of the places where history and entertainment meet!

Faith and Health: What’s the Connection?

According to the findings from the Nurses Health Study, which tracked 75,000 female nurses from 1992 to 2012, the women who attended church most often (Protestant and Catholic were the most common denominations among the nurses studied) had a lower risk of dying. Those who attended church (or church activities) twice a week had the lowest risk of dying, while those who attended once a week or slightly less also had a significant, though slightly less-lower risk of dying. Churchgoers were also found to be more optimistic.

Experts have endeavored to determine why this is. Some have posited that it is the social support that improves longevity. Others believe it is the framework of a belief system that provides improved life stability (Corina Storrs, “Going to Church Could Help You Live Longer, Study Says,” CBS Philly at Philadelphia.CBSlocal.com, May 16, 2016).

An interesting statistic. Many will find a way to discount it, but it gives food for thought. How does what we believe actually affect us? Do we stand for something? Or not? To go beyond and connect to the study of history: does the historical tradition and impact of ancient documents, such as the Bible, bear more respect as sources of verified history with the ability to create positive change in the life of adherents?

Finding Your Gateway into History

Many times I’ve heard people say that studying history in school was their most dreaded class. And almost instantly, and somewhat sheepishly, comes the follow up that they actually liked some of the stories and they find it fascinating now, but history class was so hard to get interested in then.

There are many explanations, often it has to do with the teacher. Some history teachers are jewels, and imparting the fabric of the past is their highest goal. However, others taught history because it allowed them to do other things, like coach, or sometimes they had to double up and teach history and literature and they simply didn’t have time to dedicate to creating that gateway between the student and the continuum of history.

The gateway is the thing. Think of it as a doorway or passage of curiosity that allows you to enter into the study of history. Not necessarily academic study, but a gradual building of knowledge on a particular part of history or on many parts of history that helps you understand the meaning of it all.

There are many gateways. Sometimes a good film about a historical topic makes us want to know more. At other times a biography makes us curious to know more about the people surrounding the main subject. A living history museum might be it, or a piece of art work that begs the question, what was going on then that made the painter create this image, this way? Even religious belief can be a gateway to history, for instance wanting to know more about the lands in which the biblical record took place.

Whatever the gateway you find, take it! The value of historical knowledge in the quest for truth cannot be overrated.

Keep thinking history!

– Amanda Stiver

Tomorrow’s History: Weekly Roundup (Trump – Holocaust – Year Without Summer)

“Today’s news is tomorrow’s history,” is a quote attributed to Judy Croome, a South African writer. However, the jist has long been known to historians, is ignored by politicians and celebrities, and has become the fight song of History teachers throughout the world…if only students would listen!

So follow along as we look at some current events, possible implications, and a few random pieces of history that should interest and amuse:

THE GOP PICKS A FINALIST:

DONALD TRUMP APPEARS TO BE THE GOP NOMINEE FOR THE 2016 U.S. PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

It seems the era of American oligarchies may have begun (though it has surfaced now and again for decades). Mr. Trump has the luck of FDR with him at the moment…a promise of better things, regardless of the existence of a down payment. Mrs. Clinton is a known quantity with a great deal of baggage and bad health. Mr. Sanders plays well before but one audience, the young, starry-eyed Millennial population that has been taught to idolize the socialist ideal, but has never lived in its dangerous and constrictive borders.

Above all, Mr. Trump is shiner, wealthier, and exudes more power, and those three things play well in American elections, especially in an era of underlying financial recession (where the economy looks good-ish on the outside, but beneath it is in peril). The outcome remains to be seen.

Whatever the choice, it is clear the U.S. is barrelling rapidly away from the foundations of the Union, the Constitution. We are drifting perilously close to the shores of a confederacy, rather than a union of states. Love them or hate them, the Judeo-Christian principles upon which the nation was founded gave us greater purpose, cause, and humanity. Without that we tread toward a dark age (incidentally, those are never pleasant to live through, and most die in them).

TO REMEMBER THE HOLOCAUST

An interesting news story re-surfaced this week thanks to the algorithmic aggregators of news that feed us our daily thoughts on Facebook as it followed on the May 4th and 5th occasion of Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), commemorating the Jewish lives lost in the slaughter by the Nazis. Featured on the “House Beautiful” magazine website, it related the discovery last year by renovators in Holland of an inscription on a door. Written in 1942, it appears to be the last written testament of a Jewish couple in hiding during WW2 (Nikki Erlick, “A House Reno Reveals A Heartbreaking Message Etched Into A Door,” House Beautiful at HouseBeautiful.com, July 17, 2015).

A short, simple inscription in Dutch which said, “Look on the roof and find my last personal things and try after the war to find family of ours. Give them my things and you will become something. Oh God of Israel, have mercy on your humiliated brothers. Signed, Levie Sajet born at 1-8-1881 born in Nijmegen and his housewife Ester Zilberstein born at Stettin on the 28-7-1899.”

Tragic events in history can become so big and anonymous that we sometimes fail to relate on an individual level to those who have suffered. But such a short, sad witness to two lives must affect us. It must bring us back to the understanding that people just like us died then, and die now, and that murder is evil.

This tragic replay of history was cited in a quote by Mordechai Palzur, a Holocaust survivor and former diplomat, “I’m not sure that there is any improvement because we see that hundreds of thousands of people are being murdered and they are showing how they cut off the heads and so on and nothing happens [referring to the current conflict across the Middle East]. I would not generalize and say that there has been a change, but altogether from what we see today the people who were cruel then they are cruel today,” (Sam Sokol, “Against Orders, Some Diplomats Saved Jews During Holocaust,” The Media Line for The Jerusalem Post at JPost.com, May 5, 2016).

1816, THE YEAR WITHOUT SUMMER

Let’s take a step back, say, two-hundred years to 1816. It was, in many ways, a frightening year. The sun stopped shining brightly, crops failed (accounts speak of frosts in mid-June), and the warm, sunny productive season of Summer was nowhere to be found. Don’t worry, in case you are, it wasn’t man-made global warming, but rather…just plain old global cooling courtesy of the planet itself.

The reason, fully understood much later, was a volcanic eruption in the Indian Ocean. Mt. Tambora, erupting in April 1815, had sent ash high into the atmosphere, which manually blocked the sunlight from filtering down to the surface of the earth, where it was needed. Overall the year wasn’t an overly cold one, it just happened to get very cold right during growing season leading to crop failure and food shortages. Even Thomas Jefferson noted the phenomenon in his copious records keeping at Monticello. (Robert McNamara, “The Year Without A Summer Was A Bizarre Weather Disaster in 1816,” About: Education at History1800s.About.Com, November 27, 2014.)

Some historians even suggest that this dismal year for crops pushed restless souls west to seek better land, becoming therefore an impetus for the vast westward migration and settlement in American history. My own family, one of them at least, had just survived a stint in Napoleon Bonaparte’s army in the disastrous invasion of Russia of 1812. He picked up his family a few years later in the 1820’s and departed the Swiss-German borderlands for Pennsylvania, a generation later his children would push west with the rest of the migration and settle in Nebraska.

The lesson, watch out for earthquakes and volcanic explosions that have far reaching consequences (I say this as we experience an increased amount of seismic activity in the Ring of Fire). Also, remember, an event here, a consequence there, and we, too, can feel the very pulse of history, if we are not careful. Events trigger other events, so keep your eyes open and stay the course!

I’ll be back next week to bring you another weekly roundup of tomorrow’s history!

Keeping thinking history in the meantime!

– Amanda Stiver

I Beg of You… Don’t Hate History

Let the following numbers sink in and then I’ll explain why they’re horrifying…

(Image: Morguefile.com)

— A mere 20% of American fourth-graders (~10-11 years old) passed a National Assessment of Educational Progress U.S. history test with a “proficient” knowledge of their country’s history.

— Only 17% of eighth-graders (~14-15 years old) tested proficient.

— Worst of all, twelfth-graders, seniors in high school ready to go to college and become registered voters at 18 years old, scored a horrendous 12% proficiency (Stephanie Banchero, “Students Stumble Again on the Basics of History,” Online.WSJ.com, June 15, 2011).

I cannot number the times I’ve heard the now familiar statement, “Well, I hated history when I was a kid, but now I’m that I’m older, I’d really like to learn about it.” Followed by, “It’s probably because I didn’t have very good history teachers in school.”

I can’t fix the latter, which is the quagmire of our educational system dictated by politics. I can address the former; indeed I feel I must, so dangerous is this crisis.

I have but one life to give…

(Image: Morguefile.com)

Theoretically, 88% of American seniors know next to nothing about the country that gave birth to them, prospered their parents, allows their freedoms of dissent, and finally freedom to vote (or not to vote, as they wish).

88 per cent devoid of basic U.S. history knowledge! This is abysmal!

To me, as a historian, it is tragic because I love history, and my knowledge of the past lets me see into the future. Yet more fundamentally, I am appalled that our nation knows so little of its glorious, storied, sometimes dark, but often bright history.

It is tragic, too, because history is the fulcrum upon which our freedoms balance. Educationally speaking, math, science, and written word studies give us the means to improve our lot and style of life, but history hovers above, around, and beyond all that. History was passed on by word of mouth long before it was written down; it pre-existed and sustained those other disciplines. You can’t learn math if it is illegal for you to do so. History teaches us what is legal and what is not.

Most importantly, however, history preserves our knowledge of what freedom is. Without that, any dictator can come in and trounce us into submission. Without understanding the history of their struggle for freedom, any people can and will become the servant rather than the master. They no longer value what generations before fought and died to give them. They no longer value the representative government, the checks and balances, the useful traditions that give us identity, freedom of expression, freedom to meet together in peace, and freedom to transact government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

(Image: Amanda Stiver)

The Scottish Declaration of Arbroath says it this way:

“It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom—for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.”

Give me your tired, your poor…

To know history is also to learn compassion for those who suffer because so much of human history is suffering. It is to hear the cries of hungry children during the Great Depression, waiting for food that would not come because no food could be bought because no one had money and no jobs were to be found.

It is to hear the weeping of mothers whose sons died at Lexington and Concord, and at Gettysburg and Antietam. It is to see the fire fall from the sky as American soldiers invaded the coast of Normandy and made bombing runs deep into enemy territory over Germany to defeat the Nazis during World War II.

It is the struggle of pioneer families who made the hard, unrelenting trek across the American West to find a better life, full of greater promise and a more abundant future for their children and generations to come.

Learn to love history…

These low scores are simply one of the signs of a greater malaise in America right now. It will take us some doing to get out from under its apathetic and dreary spell.

(Image: Morguefile.com)

I’m prescriptive by nature, and every problem has a solution. I can’t think of a better way to illustrate how history should be taught, and how to find the stories hidden amongst the dates, battles, and personalities than to recommend the following clip of Andy Griffith teaching a history lesson. It is classic and unparalleled. It is how I see history when I read it – full of life, full of great causes, full of heritage.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGXCH7zBdc4

In my next post…

I will concentrate on ways to re-invigorate a personal and family love of history with book and magazine recommendations and other ways to make history approachable. Man or woman, parent or child, young or old it is essential to find a way to learn U.S. and World History, and to learn to love it… stay tuned.

– Amanda Stiver