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February 16, 2009

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» News from the Classroom: Violence in America

Third Year Option: Violence in America

<image class="left" title="National Rifle Association Logo" src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2009/2/16/NRA.jpg" alt="National Rifle Association Logo" />

The United States of America is a violent country. On any average day in the U.S. there are 81 gun-related deaths. The murder rate for American men aged between 15 and 24 is 37 per 100,000 — 60 times that of England and Wales. In 25 years of terrorist violence in Northern Ireland, 3,000 people died. However, even this horrendous death toll pales in comparison to the murder rate of just one large American city. In New York, over 2,000 people were murdered every year from 1987 to 1994. The response of American law enforcement is to fight violence with violence: according to Amnesty International, in 2002 a total of 71 prisoners were executed in the United States — more than in Syria, North Korea Saudi Arabia and Libya combined.

The United States also exports violence abroad. Even in peacetime, it spends more on its defence budget than the next dozen countries combined. From the Berlin Blockade until just prior the World Trade Center attacks, there were over 200 American military incursions in other countries. No wonder that in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Noam Chomsky reminded Americans that they should “recognize that in much of the world the U.S. is regarded as a leading terrorist state”.

Using examples from American literature, television, cinema, comic books, and popular music, the students on Brian Ireland's second-year module, Violence in America, are investigating America’s culture of violence. Why is the United States so violent? Some argue that the entertainment industry is to blame. Through watching contact sports, Hollywood movies, music videos, computer games and television shows, Americans unarguably are exposed to many violence images. For example, one survey has estimated that the average American child sees 200,000 violent acts on television by age 18, and witnesses 16,000 murders. Yet American culture is exported around the world, with no corresponding increase in levels of violence in those countries that are the most eager consumers of violent American entertainment. Some argue that America’s brutal past acts as a paradigm for today’s violent society. Perhaps the seeds of violence sown during the frontier wars against Native Americans, or during the African slave trade, are now being reaped? The United States is, however, not exceptional in having a violent history. Germany and Japan were responsible for two world wars, yet now have much lower levels of violent crime than the United States. Maybe it is the high level of gun ownership that leads to violence? The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees that citizens have the “right to bear arms”, and this is one right that Americans are not slow to exercise: the FBI estimates, for example, that there are over 200 million privately-owned firearms in the United States. Nevertheless, gun owners claim that their weapons make them safer: the influential National Rifle Association promotes firearm ownership, claiming that citizens need to be armed to safeguard their political liberties. Indeed, they might argue, if it were not for well-armed citizen militias, the U.S. might still be part of the British Empire!

February 6, 2009

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» News from the classroom ... What was the Black Death?

History Foundation Module: What was the Black Death

St Roch with marks of the plague

What was the Black Death? The answer – as every schoolchild knows – is simple: the Black Death was the bubonic plague (or Yersinia Pestis to give it its scientific name). It’s a belief not confined to school children. Lots of websites – and lots of serious history books – confidently tell us that the disease which spread through Europe in the late 1340s and early 1350s was none other than Y. Pestis. How could it be anything else? The painful buboes – or gavoccioli (swellings in the groin and neck) – that were mentioned so frequently by observers in the mid-fourteenth century are surely some of the strongest indicators we have that bubonic plague was responsible for the worst catastrophe in human history.

However, students on Andy Croll’s foundation history module, ‘The Black Death: A Medieval Disaster’, have been looking afresh at some of the primary evidence from the mid-fourteenth century as well as considering some of the latest research by scientists and historians of medicine. Whilst many chroniclers mentioned buboes and painful swellings, we’ve seen how many didn’t. Likewise, we’ve seen how the Black Death spread far more quickly than Y. Pestis spread in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and how top scientists from Oxford failed to find DNA evidence of Yersinia in the teeth and bones of Black Death victims exhumed from five mass graves. The death rate of the fourteenth-century disease was also much higher than the modern form of bubonic plague.

So, just what was the Black Death? Experts put forward a number of possibilities ranging from anthrax through to haemorrhagic plague. It could be that the Black Death was an earlier, more deadly, form of bubonic plague that has since mutated. Or it could be that whatever was responsible for millions of deaths in the medieval period has itself died out. Whatever the answer, it’s clear that we have to read our primary sources with much more care than was hitherto the case. One gavocciolo does not make a bubonic plague epidemic.

February 1, 2009

History Division News
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» Welcome

History Division Blog

This blog is the news and opinion forum for Glamorgan's History Division. The division has eleven members of academic staff, who work on the history of Wales, Europe, and the World since 1500. In the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), History at Glamorgan was rated joint first in Wales

We have reorganised the blog into sections where we will post and discuss news from the classroom, our comments on history and current affairs, and details of events we've organised or attended. To navigate between sections, use the links on the right of each page.

Visit the History Research Unit webpage to find out more about us, and for research news and full details of forthcoming events.

January 28, 2009

History Division News
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» News from the classroom ... Lenin's Successor in Soviet Russia

Third Year Option: ‘The Soviet Union and Stalin, 1917-1953’

<image src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2009/1/27/Stalin-Lenin-Kalinin-1919crop1.jpg" height="248px" alt="Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Lenin, and Mikhail Kalinin, 1919" width="720px">

One popular option among students studying modern European history at Glamorgan is Norry LaPorte’s third year module on ‘The Russian Revolutions and the Soviet Union, 1917-1953’. A typical class deals with the rise of Stalin to absolute power during the 1920s.

Many leading personalities in history have been more than historical actors. By writing memoirs and other accounts of the events they were involved in, they aim to frame the subsequent historical debate. Trotsky was famously one such figure. His eloquent writings on the power struggle to succeed Lenin, after his death in 1924, were influential in prompting generations of scholars to dismiss Stalin as a power-hungry thug with no understanding of Marxism. One man, not the new Soviet system, could be blamed for the degeneration of the evolution, from bright new dawn of the ‘red October’ to the dungeons of the secret police’s torture chambers. Then the fall of the Berlin Wall opened the way to new research which used newly available documentary sources to question seeming certainties. Historians became familiar with previously unknown aspects of Stalin, the Georgian poet and intellectual whose appeal to ‘workers from the bench’ with radical polices were as important as his manipulation of the party machine in becoming Soviet Russia’s bloody, undisputed leader. Trotsky – the writer of history – was shown to have been as politically incompetent as he was intellectually gifted.

Students studying this topic engage with contemporary accounts of how Stalin came to power, questioning them in the light of the new findings and interpretations of new literature – such as Dimitri Volkoganov’s monumental biographies of Stalin and Trotsky. There is only one problem with studying the fall of the Russian Empire and the rise of the Soviet Union – how do you put the books down or walk out of the seminar room?

October 21, 2008

History Division News
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» Forthcoming paper: Alun Withey on early modern medicine

‘The ‘Dyn Hysbys’ and the Doctor: reassessing the medical history of early modern Wales’

Wednesday 29 October 2008

2.30pm, D121b, University of Glamorgan (Treforest Campus)

Alun Withey graduated with first class honours in History from Glamorgan in 2005 and his undergraduate dissertation was immediately seized for publication by Welsh History Review. He took an M Res at Cardiff and is currently studying for an AHRB-funded PhD at Swansea. His article ‘Unhealthy Neglect? The Medicine and Medical Historiography of Early Modern Wales’ appeared in the Social History of Medicine, vol. 21 no.i, April 2008.

The ‘Dyn Hysbys’ referred to in the title is a cunning man or local wizard.

The paper is hosted by the Centre for Modern and Contemporary Wales. For further details contact Prof Gareth Williams. For directions, click here.

CROESO I BAWB. ALL WELCOME.

October 20, 2008

History Division News
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» Open Day, 25 October 2008

Interested in studying the histories of Wales, America, witchcraft, poverty, the First World War, the Cold War?

The University is hosting an Open Day on 25 October 2008 and anyone thinking about taking our History degree is welcome to attend. Jane Finucane will talk about our degree and the subjects we cover; she will also be available to answer any questions you may have.

You can book your place on the Open Day here.

If you are unable to attend this time, please do book for one of our later Open Days. The next ones are scheduled for 15 November 2008 and 8 July 2009.

In the meantime, you can email Jonathan Durrant, the Award Leader for History, for further information:

jdurrant@glam.ac.uk
.

October 9, 2008

History Division News
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» Introducing ... Jonathan Durrant

Jonathan Durrant is a historian of gender in early modern Germany, focussing on witch trials in the prince-bishopric of Eichstätt and soldiers who fought in the Thirty Years’ War (1618-48). As well as writing the book Witchcraft, Gender and Society in Early Modern Germany (Brill, 2007), he has written chapters on the kiss of shame, friendship and male witches and contributed entries to the award-winning Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Western Tradition, ed. Richard M. Golden (ABC-Clio, 2006).

Jonathan is interested in the presentation of history in the public domain. He has recently given a paper on the representation of enemies in films about Elizabeth I at the symposium Filming and Performing Renaissance History: Representing Conflict, Crisis and Nation, Queen's University, Belfast. And he has secured funding to look at possible research and teaching collaboration with St Fagans: National History Museum.

Jonathan is editor of the Witchcraft Bibliography Project Online and a co-convenor of the Forum on Early Modern Central Europe with Richard Butterwick and Natalia Nowakowska

Jonathan is also the Award Tutor for History at the University of Glamorgan. He is happy for you to contact him about any aspect of the degree:

jdurrant@glam.ac.uk