Category Archives: history

The use of Flashback in Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace (dir. Michael Apted, written by Steven Knight) seems to be the first major film to depict the life and activism of Wilfred Wilberforce. I was reluctant to write any review because I’m not sure of the historical accuracy of Wilberforce’s life. However, from a creative point of view, I find the use of flashback interesting.

Many biopics, from made for tv movies to big budget blockbusters, use flashback as a creative device. At one extreme you have The Iron Lady, where almost every other scene is the elderly Thatcher remembering her rise and fall. Then there’s the TV movie like Coco Chanel, where flashbacks are used intermittently to show a character still in her prime remembering how she got where she was while preparing a show.

The classic, however is a film like Gandhi (Dir: David Attenborough, writer: John Briley, 1982), where we start at the death of the main character, then tell the story in sequence, introducing the protagonist just before that fateful first decision is made. But, all these devices open a story toward the end of the story, not in the middle. Continue reading The use of Flashback in Amazing Grace

It takes more than 100 days

stone cylinder tower
Top of Wellington Monument, Pen Dinas, Penparcau

2 years ago, I witnessed the re-enactment of the battle of Waterloo.  Thousands of talented volunteers from around the world walked through the footsteps of Napoleon, Wellington, and Blücher, and their allies and armies.

Although we didn’t have the best seats on the field, it was wonderful that so many dedicated re-enactors, or living historians, brought history to life for us.  If you missed it, you should have been there. Continue reading It takes more than 100 days

The papers were wrong! Clinton is the loser!

In a letter to the British press, an American Federalist was sure of victory over Madison’s “Democrats.”

“De Witt Clinton will be president; Mr Monroe will go out; his successor is not named.”

He continued that “our secretary of treasury is going down as fast as possible. His budget will, no doubt, be the laughing stock of all foreign nations, as well as this.”

Continue reading The papers were wrong! Clinton is the loser!

The Emu, kidnapped by the American pirate

Susannah Lallemont, was condemned to death (some sources say that Susannah was only 16.)  Still, “the prisonner was recommended to mercy, on account of her age.”

Perhaps “mercy” meant that her death would not be as gruesome as some.

Perhaps it was lucky that the empire “needed” colonists. Susannah was repreived to a life of “transportation”, and she was exiled to Botany Bay.
Continue reading The Emu, kidnapped by the American pirate

The re-election of James Madison

WB Strickland's image of the USS United States capturing the HMS Macedonian
Did the October 25 capture of the HMS Macedonian by the USS United States help Madison win re-election in November 1812?

At times, it looked as if the election of 1812 would be a close one.  At any rate, its outcome was more important than remembered. Even as late as July 3 1813, the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser in Australian was speculating on who the winner was. Their information, which came from across the sea on the 12th January of that year, supposed that they could have been wrong about a DeWitt Clinton victory, but “The electors of Vermont are said to be in favor of Mr. Clinton.” Continue reading The re-election of James Madison

French terrorists vs Spanish insurgents

At the start of 1812, insurgents were big news in the French media.

“We learn from Valencia that the small fortress that Marshall Sechet has left in his rear, blockaded by various corps of the army, have successively surrendered, and the siege of Valencia has been seriously prosecuted by General Harispe, who commands under the orders of the Marshall. The Spanish General Blake is attempting to collect a force, in order to make a second attempt to relieve the place, but the uniform terror spread by the armies of France, is sufficient to impede his design; and the insurgents have, by the last account, been driven from the right bank of Guadilaviar. The Polish division has particularly distinguished itself in the late encounters with the enemy.”

USS terror at sea
The USS terror was a mine laying ship that operated with the American Navy during the second world war.

One thing I notice in looking at old documents is the use of the word “terror” in war, as if it were a good thing. The French weren’t alone is using “terror” as an instrument. Even in the US Navy, ships carried the name “USS Terror” as late as World War II. (The Terror was a minelayer, a ship whose primary purpose was to lay sea mines in the water.)

Of course, the word terror does not necessarily mean what we today call a terrorist. But has the definition of the word insurgent changed as well? Continue reading French terrorists vs Spanish insurgents

Mysteries of Lisbon: A historical film.

Like many of today’s historical films, Mysteries of Lisbon is long (very long). Before investing four and a half hours in a movie, it might be an idea to read a review or two.  After I invested my four and a half hours, ideas for reviews kept invading my head. But there are so many things to talk about, the director’s style, the actors, the camera work that one observer called “unobtrusive”, the level of history, it was hard to settle on something.

Sure, I could write a PhD thesis, researching the director’s life and speculating how that influenced the production, but I’m not interested in that. Instead, I’ll answer the two questions I think every reviewer should answer. Did I like the movie? And, how do my readers know if they’ll like it? Continue reading Mysteries of Lisbon: A historical film.

Remembering Antietam, with civil War expert John Michael Priest

John Michael Priest is a well respected author of the American civil war, especially the battle of Antietam.

Notice we didn’t say War Between the States or Sharpsburg.  Some of you might accuse us of bias. Well, that’s nothing new. Continue reading Remembering Antietam, with civil War expert John Michael Priest

Why is western Europe at peace?

Map of Europe with EU flag superimposedAs the EU wins the Nobel Peace Prize, we are reminded of a time when Europe was the site of many deadly wars.

Many institutions, from NATO to the UN, have claimed responsibility for the relative peace in Europe since the end of the Second World War. Can any of these claims be substantiated, or are they all special interests trying to make excuses for their hefty expense accounts? Continue reading Why is western Europe at peace?

Have we forgotten the purpose of the University?

some towers in the distant background, other buildings on the side, as we look down the mall and see students play and communicate.
Village design of University of Virginia by Tanner

I don’t know when the first University was established in the United States. That’s not because I’m too lazy to find out, it’s because different colleges claim the title. So, rather than nitpick over names and dates, I’ll tell a few stories from history that illustrate the worth of University, and how its meaning has changed.

When I started my degree at Aberystwyth, one of the lecturers made an observation, about our changing expectations. Continue reading Have we forgotten the purpose of the University?