I frequently come across interesting websites, blog entries, videos, or documents on the Internet, and thought it might be fun to start a semi-regular feature called “Internet Knickknacks,” a combination of history, Christianity, and pop culture. It’s high time for a second installment.
As usual, there’s always new history being made–this time it’s Pope Benedict XVI announcing that he is stepping down from the papal throne. Given that this is the first time a pope has resigned since 1415, it’s no surprise that the Vatican would be awash in rumour and speculation.
Pope Benedict XVI isn’t the only pope in the news recently, though. New research by historian Gordon Thomas (a Protestant, no less), who was given access to the Vatican Archives, makes the case that Pope Pius XII–so often famously accused of silence in the face of the Holocaust–actually “oversaw a secret operation” to rescue Jews, through safe houses, fake baptismal certificates, and the provision of food, clothing, and medicine for Jewish refugees. This echoes what William Doino Jr. wrote in a strong defense of Pius XII in First Things (August 2011, and see the ensuing discussion for more evidence). Scholars have long been calling on the Vatican to open up its archives more fully, so that a clear historical verdict can be established. One indication of how much work remains to be done is the report (complete with 47 specific questions) issued by the prestigious International Catholic-Jewish Historical Commission back in 2000. This preliminary report and the commission itself both generated a good deal of controversy, leading to the suspension of the investigation. Paul O’Shea, author of A Cross Too Heavy: Pope Pius XII and the Jews of Europe, has posted this thorough overview of the commission and its critics.
On a lighter note, I’m a big fan of novelist and vlogger John Green’s “Crash Course World History” videos. Roughly ten to twelve minutes long, each of these rapid-fire monologues (well, if you discount the questions and comments from “me from the past”) features large amounts of solid historical information, witty-to-hilarious writing (including priceless asides and insertions), surprisingly sophisticated historiographical discussions, charming cartoon segments, and really strong efforts to connect the past to contemporary society, culture, and politics.
In a similar vein, I recently discovered Professor Jane Humphries of All Souls College, Oxford, who has been engaged in some fascinating research of child workers/slaves in Industrial Britain. Her Childhood and Child Labour in the British Industrial Revolution is the result of her interest in how children “have made the transition from contributors to family resources and social insurance for parents to the expensive luxury consumption goods that they constitute today.” (Hmmm) As Cambridge University Press puts it: “Using more than 600 autobiographies written by working men of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Jane Humphries illuminates working-class childhood in contexts untouched by conventional sources and facilitates estimates of age at starting work, social mobility, the extent of apprenticeship and the duration of schooling. The classic era of industrialisation, 1790–1850, apparently saw an upsurge in child labour. While the memoirs implicate mechanisation and the division of labour in this increase, they also show that fatherlessness and large subsets, common in these turbulent, high-mortality and high-fertility times, often cast children as partners and supports for mothers struggling to hold families together. The book offers unprecedented insights into child labour, family life, careers and schooling. Its images of suffering, stoicism and occasional childish pleasures put the humanity back into economic history and the trauma back into the industrial revolution.” Professor Humphries’ research has recently been turned into a sharp-looking BBC production called The Children Who Built Victorian Britain.
Wrapping up on history, I recently “met” Professor John Q. Barrett of St. John’s University School of Law, who has written some solid and very readable legal history on the Nuremberg Trials and Justice Robert H. Jackson. Six other interesting historical links are World War Two expert David Caesarini surveying “The ever-changing face of Holocaust Studies”; an argument for the ongoing relevance of Hans and Sophie Scholl (of the White Rose student resistance against Hitler); an unbelievable story about a Russian family of Old Believers who lived in isolation from the 1930s to the 1970s; the unusual, beautiful, and/or arresting images of Paris Unplugged; a story about how resourceful Malians saved Timbuktu’s priceless artifacts from Muslim extremists; and finally, Chris Gehrz’s reflections on teaching the Cold War, complete with links to Soviet anti-American and anti-capitalist cartoons.
On the subject of faith and history, I continue to be taught by the same Chris Gehrz’s blog, “The Pietist Schoolman.” With so much of the faith-scholarship debate dominated by Reformed voices, it’s enriching to read thoughtful writing on the integration of faith and history from a Pietist/Covenant perspective. I’ve especially enjoyed his reflection/analysis on Pietism and Christian education, and on the vocation of a Christian historian (which in turn drew on previous posts on Frederick Buechner on Vocation and on current Conference on Faith and History president Tracy McKenzie speaking about the need for Christian historians to serve the church).
For those interested in Christianity, I have three offerings this month. This past week, my pastor preached on the problem of conflict poorly handled (1 Corinthians 6) and drew the attention of the congregation to Peacemaker Ministries, a group who promotes and facilitates biblical approaches to conflict resolution. I’m also reading two interesting books. The first is Chris Lowney’s Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-Year-Old Company that Changed the World. It’s about the Jesuit Order and the leadership lessons Lowney took from his time as a member of the Order of Jesus into the world of high finance, as a managing director with J. P. Morgan. A very different take on leadership, the book celebrates the leadership values of self-awareness, ingenuity, love, and heroism. The second book deserves a post of its own. It is Christopher J. H. Wright’s The God I Don’t Understand. I’m reading it as one of a number of works I’ve tackled in hopes of finding helpful answers to difficult questions concerning the roots of evil and (in particular) the nature of God’s command and participation in the all-out attacks on the Old Testament Canaanites. More on this soon.
Finally, two pop culture tidbits this month. First off, Germany seems to be having a problem with plagiarism. For one thing, the federal minister of education was forced to resign after Heinrich Heine Universitaet stripped her of her PhD for “systemic and intentional plagiarism”. What’s worse is that she is the second German federal cabinet minister to resign on account of plagiarism in under two years! And now the plague is spreading–it appears that the recent winner of the competition to represent Germany in the popular Eurovision Song Contest (which launched ABBA in 1974–Olivia Newton John was 4th!–and little else since then) has ripped off last year’s winning entry. In meticulous fashion, German Eurovision officials have contracted with a professor of linguistics to prove the musical plagiarism.