Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Book Review: Historic Photos of World War II: Pearl Harbor to Japan

Historic Photos of World War II: Pearl Harbor to Japan
by Bob Duncan
Review by Liz Berndt Morris, Central Michigan University

This summer I spent several pleasurable sittings viewing and reading Historic Photos of World War II: Pearl Harbor to Japan with text and captions by Bob Duncan. This 10” x 10” coffee-table book features 198 full-page, black-and-white photos of scenes from America’s Pacific Campaign. These photographs are arranged in roughly chronological order and in three chapters: Crisis in the Pacific (1941-1942), Leaning New Ways of War (1942-1944), and A Colossus Emerges (1944-1945). A final chapter, Notes on the Photographs, serves as an appendix providing each picture’s title, location, and, if available, call or box number. The vast majority of these photos came from the National Archive and Naval Historical Center, but there is a dash of privately owned photographs as well. While this book is the second volume in a two volume set compiled by Duncan, it can easily stand on its own as an independent book.

A consideration that Duncan had to make for a book of World War II photographs is to what extent to include graphic photographs. This book does not contain any photographs that I found gory, but it does contain a few photographs of fallen soldiers. With this being a coffee-table book, it is very tasteful in how it handles the violence of war and one should not be worried of the age appropriateness of the book.

The book is well united by Bob Duncan’s preface, chapter introductions, and short picture captions. However, the tone of the writing is unabashedly nationalistic in the United States’ favor. This is easily divulged by reading the dust jacket summary:

On December 7, 1941, America’s hopes of remaining neutral in World War II disappeared in the oily smoke that roiled from her battleships burning at Pearl Harbor. The nation faced Herculean tasks to strike back against the Imperial Japanese military that had attacked her. Victory demanded crossing thousands of miles of ocean, creating new weapons, and arming hundreds of thousands of young men to fight their way across a series of desolate islands that a fanatical enemy had fortified to exact the highest possible price from the American troops.

Historic Photos of World War II Pearl Harbor to Japan portrays this epic story, using black-and-white photographs selected from the finest archives and private collections. From the sinking of the Arizona to the raising of the Stars and Stripes over Japan, Historic Photos of World War II Pearl Harbor to Japan depicts in a way mere words cannot the determination, struggle, and sacrifices of America s fighting men as they rose to the challenge of liberating free peoples of the Pacific from a conquering invader.

The sweeping statements of this book’s nationalistic tone at times irked me. For example, a picture of captive Japanese prisoners states the reason Japanese soldiers abandon the code of Bushido was because of “how well they were treated in American captivity” (82). A picture of the aftermath of the atomic bomb in Nagasaki describes Japanese citizens’ “near-instant death”; ignoring through generalization the terrible fortune Japanese people endured and the reality that war is horrible. This undermines the sacrifices made on both sides.

With that said, I found the majority of the captions quite helpful in contemplating the pictures. The selection of photographs in this book is terrific. Simply glancing at any of these pictures is not possible. I found myself at times contemplating some pictures for long periods of time. Historic Photos of World War II: Pearl Harbor to Japan book would be an excellent gift for any World War II history enthusiast and could serve as a catalyst for anyone searching for inspiration for World War II research.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Mirror Crack’d-History Reflected by Hollywood

Academic Exchange Quarterly has an interesting article titled The Mirror Crack’d-History Reflected by Hollywood. It is by Paul D’Amboise and Avery Plaw. This article examines how mainstream (Hollywood) history films can be productively incorporated into high school and university history classrooms. It presents the findings of an experimental case study of the use of mainstream film in an Advanced Placement high school history course, and based on those findings suggests a sample module for a twentieth century history course combining film and text-based approaches to history.

Movies used included:

A Man for All Seasons (1966)
Elizabeth (1998)
1492: The Conquest of Paradise (1992)
The Quiet American (2002)
The Path to War (2003)
Thirteen Days (2000)
We Were Soldiers (2002)

From the site:

As the habit of reading continues to decline, especially among the young, history teachers are increasingly confronted by students whose impressions of the past are shaped by the mainstream historical films that Tony Barta has called “the most powerful engine of popular history in our culture.” (Barta, 1998, 2) The most prominent of these films are popular, Hollywood-style releases that characteristically sacrifice historical accuracy to the imperatives of emotionally-satisfying narrative resolution and commercial success. As a result, many students arrive in class with a deep background of historical misperception.

Faced with engrained historical misrepresentation, history teachers can respond with two basic strategies. Firstly, they can swim against the tide of increasingly cinematic history and continue to insist on the traditional text-focused curriculum, dismissing more popularized depictions of their course material. Secondly, they can attempt to adapt to the changing times by beginning to strategically incorporate popular historical films into the classroom despite their frequently dubious accuracy.

While recognizing that the first pedagogical strategy is not without merit, it is the second strategy whose potential we wish to explore here. We suggest the following merits of the second strategy warrant a closer examination of how it could best be accomplished: (i.) historical films provide a richer visual depiction of events than equivalent texts, are (ii.) an experience the class can more easily share, and therefore (iii.) are simply more inclined to instigate wide-ranging discussion than equivalent texts. Furthermore, (iv.) historical films will continue to exercise an enormous influence over most students; thus it only make sense to equip students with critical viewing capabilities. In addition, (v.) students have an enduring affection for unmasking manipulation, and the honing of this skill is likely to enhance the interest of history as a subject. Finally, (vi.) incorporating film into the core curriculum in no way necessitates the exclusion of relevant texts. On the contrary, historical films will generally give a visual immediacy to the events described in history texts, and thereby enhance their interest. Moreover, the employment of relevant texts in debunking the inaccuracies and manipulations of mainstream films will tend to enhance rather than diminish their importance. Indeed, it is the critical symbiosis produced by integrating dramatic visual narrative within a rigorous text-based curriculum that holds the greatest promise for enhancing historical understanding in the long term.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Free Medieval History Courses

Several universities are putting complete courses online for free now. Visitors can peruse course materials and watch lectures even if they do not get any academic credit for it. MIT is probably the best known for this but some other schools are as well including Notre Dame and the University of Washington.

Here are three example courses dealing with medieval history:

Medieval Economic History in Comparative Perspective - This MIT course is from the fall of 2006. The course features an extensive list of readings and assignments. A list of useful Web sites is also available in the related resources section. This course also features archived syllabi from various semesters.

Europe's Awakening - This is an Open University course in the UK. The site notes, "One of the most remarkable features of modern European history is the gradual emergence of that theoretical reasoning and experimental practice focused on the natural world that today we call science. In this unit we throw light on that eventual emergence of modern science in Europe by examining its beginnings in Greece and making comparisons with the early achievements of Chinese and Islamic science.You then return to medieval Europe in order to understand the intellectual and social origins of what has been called the 'scientific revolution'."

The Dark Ages - This UMass course is from the Summer of 2008. Beginning with the decline of the Roman Empire, this course discusses German, Muslim, Viking and Magyar invasions, the development of Catholicism in Western Europe and of Eastern Orthodoxy in the Byzantine Empire, the Arabic contribution to mathematics, science, and philosophy and the institutions of feudalism and manorialism. The course concludes with the economic, demographic and urban revival which began around 1000 AD.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Ancient-Skies - Human Cultures and Their Skies

Ancient-Skies - Human Cultures and Their Skies allows visitors to learn about the IYA2009 global scientific project. The aim is to collect and publish available information about various human cultures, their astronomical knowledge, and its representation in the sky within a single web accessible knowledgebase.

From the site:

The relationship between mankind and the sky is as old as mankind itself. Human beings started to recognize and interpret the objects and events in the sky as soon, as they had fulfilled their basic needs.

The sky, our common and universal heritage, forms an integral part of all human cultures around the world.The central theme of our project is, that all human beings live on one single planet and share the same sky. Knowing this, we created an infrastructure to preserve this global heritage in a web accessible knowledgebase.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Anne Boleyn Files

The Anne Boleyn Files is a blog dedicated to the doomed English queen Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII. It includes news, essays, historical biographies, book reviews, and a store with Tudor-related mechandise.

From the site:

This blog is written and managed by Claire Ridgway, a full-time freelance writer, closet history lover, armchair historian and champion of the underdog, from England - land of the Tudors, Shakespeare, green fields and yummy fish and chips. I now live in sunny Spain near the historic Alhambra.

I wanted to share my journey into the annals of history with other people who have an interest in Anne Boleyn and the Tudor period and thought that a blog would be the perfect forum.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

M9.1 "Boxing Day" Earthquake & Tsunami/Indian Ocean Tsunami

Details on the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami from 2004, including maps, animations, and video. It is from the Amateur Seismic Centre, Wellington, New Zealand. (Video from YouTube.)

From the site:

A "very great" earthquake struck the North Indian Ocean & the Bay of Bengal at 00:58 UTC on 26 December 2004. The earthquake began near the island of Simuelue off the west coast of Sumatra and ruptured a 1,500-kilometre section of the boundary between the Indian Plate & the Burmese Microplate. Shaking from the earthquake was felt many parts of south Asia and Indo-China. A devastating Indian Ocean-wide tsunami was generated by this earthquake causing heavy fatalities in many countries surrounding the Indian Ocean basin. This event is also referred to as the "Boxing Day Tsunami and/or Earthquake", "The Asian Tsunami and/or Earthquake and the "Indian Ocean Tsunami".

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