Another World

In Maps Are Territories (1989), David Turnbull offers this as an example of a map that “can only be understood within the cultural specifics of the circumstances that it portrays.” It’s a Chippewa land claim presented to the U.S. Congress in 1849. The rightmost figure is the totem of the chief, who is of the Crane clan. Following him are members of allied clans — Martens, Bears, Man-Fish, and Catfish.

“To the eye of the bird standing for this chief, the eyes of each of the other totemic animals are directed as denoted by lines, to symbolize union of views,” explained ethnologist Henry Schoolcraft. “The heart of each animal is also connected by lines with the heart of the Crane chief, to denote unity of feeling and purpose. If these symbols are successful, they denote that the whole forty-four persons both see and feel alike — that they are one.”

The line drawn forward from the crane’s eye denotes the course of his journey, and another line is drawn backward to a series of small lakes for which he is seeking the grant. The long parallel lines below the figures represent Lake Superior, and the small parallel lines that diverge from this represent a path from its shore to the villages and interior lakes where the Chippewa hope to live.

Schoolcraft wrote in 1851, “The entire object is thus symbolized in a manner which is very clear to the tribes, and to all who have studied the simple elements of this mode of communicating ideas.”

(H.R. Schoolcraft, Historical and Statistical Information Respecting the History, Condition and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States, Volume I, 1851, 416-417.)

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In 1827, during a tense standoff in the Greek War of Independence, a single musket shot set off a cataclysm:

A British frigate sent its cutter to ask one of the Turkish ships to make space by moving its anchorage [in Navarino Bay]. The boat was unarmed, but a trigger-happy Turkish marine decided it was hostile and fired a single musket shot. His aim was good and he hit the boat’s officer. In return the frigate’s marines gave covering musket fire and, on hearing the fusillade, an overexcited Egyptian cannoneer fired at the French flagship, which replied with a full broadside.

Like Nelson’s engagement at Aboukir Bay, this was a duel between anchored gun batteries, rather than a conventional fleet action. Muzzle-to-muzzle, the two sides blazed away at each other with heavy guns and carronades. When the smoke cleared, the Anglo-Franco-Russian Alliance — with fewer, but larger and more heavily-gunned ships — had sunk or destroyed more than three-quarters of the Turco-Egyptians, inflicting tremendous loss of life, but suffering fewer than 700 casualties themselves.

“In a stationary fight that involved neither tactics nor sailing skill, nominally friendly powers had destroyed, or damaged beyond repair, more than 60 warships.”

(From David Blackmore, Blunders and Disasters at Sea, 2004.)

The Aberdour Heroine

In 1884 the S.S. William Hope was traversing the northeast coast of Scotland when its engines failed in a ferocious storm and it was driven into Aberdour Bay. In a mill on the shore was Jane Whyte, a mother of nine whose husband, a farm foreman, had already left for work. Despite high winds and hail, she rushed to the shoreline, retrieved the end of a rope thrown by the sailors, wrapped it around her body, and held it as the 15 crewmen disembarked. When they were safely ashore she took them to the mill and gave them dry clothes, hot tea, and a warm meal.

The owners of the ship gave her a sum of money in gratitude, and she received an award from the Shipwrecked Mariners Benevolent Society, a silver medal from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, and a bronze medal for gallantry from the Board of Trade.

In a Word

n. a faculty or facility for forgetting; faulty memory

n. the practice of self-discipline

n. the action, process, or faculty of looking back on things past

adj. liable to vanish

“King Darius, so as not to forget the harm he had received from the Athenians, had a page come every time he sat down to table and sing three times in his ear: ‘Sire, remember the Athenians.'” — Montaigne

Cato the Elder ended each speech with the phrase Carthago delenda est, “Carthage must be destroyed.”

Tertullian observed that a slave was stationed in the chariot of a triumphant Roman general to whisper in his ear, “Remember that you are human.”

A nomenclator was “a slave with a good memory who accompanied a public figure when he went out and whispered in his ear the name of anyone important he was about to meet.” (Anthony Everitt, Cicero)

Much later, Franklin Roosevelt’s campaign manager, James Farley, would keep a file on everyone Roosevelt met so that the candidate might later ask after a spouse or child. Modern politicians maintain “Farley files” for the same purpose.

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Ulysses Grant and Jefferson Davis never met, but their widows became good friends. They met at West Point in June 1893, when Varina Davis arrived to watch a cadet parade. Julia Grant presented herself and said, “I am Mrs. Grant.” “I am very glad to meet you,” Davis replied.

They ate dinner together on the piazza as curious guests looked on. “She is a very noble-looking lady,” Grant said afterward. “She looked a little older than I had expected. I have wanted to meet her for a very long time.”

They corresponded and met frequently after that. At Grant’s tomb Davis heard Julia say, “I will soon be laid beside my husband in this solemn place,” and she attended the memorial service in 1902 when these words were fulfilled, among men who had fought on both sides of the war.

In a tribute to her friend published in The World in April 1897, Davis had quoted Ulysses Grant’s motto “Let us have peace.” She added, “I believe every portion of our reunited country heartily joins in the aspiration.”

(From Ishbel Ross, First Lady of the South, 1958.)

Time Tables

polish-american system

Elizabeth Peabody hated rote learning. So the 19th-century American educator adopted the “Polish system,” a graphical means to help students recall reams of historical facts. Invented in the 1820s by Antoni Jażwiński and popularized by Józef Bem, the system relies on a series of 10×10 grids. The location of an event gives its date, the symbol that records it shows its type, and its color indicates the nations involved. A student who wanted to indicate that a revolution took place in America in 1776 would choose the grid for the 18th century, find the square for the 76th year (row 7, column 6), and paint a square using the color designating the British colonies in North America. The square indicates insubordination; a triangle would mean a revolt, an X a conspiracy.

The system is largely forgotten today, but it was immensely popular in Europe and North America in the early 18th century. In the 1830s it was approved for use throughout the French educational system, and Peabody toured the United States offering a book of her own, blank charts and a special set of paints. “Instructors who are themselves not well educated in history, may yet dare to undertake to teach chronology with the help of this manual,” she wrote, “and it must be obvious that highly-accomplished teachers can unfold and develop the subject to an indefinite extent.”

“The results of Peabody’s appropriation of the Polish System are both handsome and surprising,” write Daniel Rosenberg and Anthony Grafton in Cartographies of Time (2012). “Surviving copies of the charts in libraries look nothing like one another. Each bears the imprint of an individual student’s imagination.”

A New Dawn

In July 1054 Chinese astronomers saw a reddish-white star appear in the eastern sky, its “rays stemming in all directions.” Yang Weide wrote:

I humbly observe that a guest star has appeared; above the star there is a feeble yellow glimmer. If one examines the divination regarding the Emperor, the interpretation is the following: The fact that the star has not overrun Bi and that its brightness must represent a person of great value. I demand that the Office of Historiography is informed of this.

It’s now believed they were witnessing SN 1054 — the supernova that gave birth to the Crab Nebula.

Dancing the Slaves

After the morning meal came a joyless ceremony called ‘dancing the slaves.’ ‘Those men who were in irons,’ says Dr. Thomas Trotter, surgeon of the Brookes in 1783, ‘were ordered to stand up and make what motions they could, leaving a passage for such as were out of irons to dance around the deck.’ Dancing was prescribed as a therapeutic measure, a specific against suicidal melancholy, and also against scurvy — although in the latter case it was a useless torture for men with swollen limbs. While sailors paraded the deck, each with a cat-o’-nine-tails in his right hand, the men slaves ‘jumped in their irons’ until their ankles were bleeding flesh. One sailor told Parliament, ‘I was employed to dance the men, while another person danced the women.’ Music was provided by a slave thumping on a broken drum or an upturned kettle, or by an African banjo, if there was one aboard, or perhaps by a sailor with a bagpipe or a fiddle. Slaving captains sometimes advertised for ‘a person that can play on the Bagpipes, for a Guinea ship.’ The slaves were also told to sing. Said Dr. Claxton after his voyage in the Young Hero, ‘They sing, but not for their amusement. The captain ordered them to sing, and they sang songs of sorrow. Their sickness, fear of being beaten, their hunger, and the memory of their country, &c., are the usual subjects.’

— Daniel P. Mannix and Malcolm Cowley, Black Cargoes: A History of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1518-1865, 1962

Roll Call

More than 500 of the commanders in the American Civil War were West Point graduates, and all but a handful of these studied under the same military theorist, Dennis Hart Mahan, whose course “Engineering and the Science of War” applied the lesson of Napoleon’s campaigns — that the key to success was rapid maneuver to concentrate one’s forces at a critical point of weakness in the enemy position. (Of Grant’s encirclement of Vicksburg, Mahan said, “European warfare can produce nothing equal to it since the 1st Napoleon.”)

In addition to Grant, Mahan’s pupils included William Tecumseh Sherman, George Meade, George B. McClellan, Henry Halleck, George Henry Thomas, John Sedgwick, Ambrose Burnside, Joseph Hooker, and Philip Sheridan among the Union forces and Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson, James Longstreet, Albert Sidney Johnston, P.G.T. Beauregard, John Bell Hood, Richard S. Ewell, J.E.B. Stewart, and William J. Hardee in the Confederacy. Historian James Robertson called him “the guru of the generals.”

(James Robertson, The Untold Civil War, 2011.)

Play On

Local rules adopted at British golf courses during World War II:

  • “In competitions, during gunfire or while bombs are falling, players may take cover without penalty for ceasing play.”
  • “The positions of known delayed-action bombs are marked by red flags placed at a reasonably, but not guaranteed, safe distance therefrom.”
  • “A ball moved by enemy action may be replaced, or if lost or destroyed, ball may be dropped not nearer the hole without penalty.”
  • “A player whose stroke is affected by the simultaneous explosion of a bomb may play another ball from the same place. Penalty one stroke.”

In Curiosities of Golf (1994), Jonathan Rice writes, “At Folkestone GC, the wartime rules included the rather grudging allowance that ‘a ball may be lifted and dropped if in a bomb hole in the rough, but not if the bomb hole is in or part of a recognized hazard.’ So if you sliced your drive and just caught a bunker by the side of the fairway, which then turned out to be fifty feet deep thanks to an overnight bombing raid, you just had to play out of the hazard, however unrecognizable it might have been compared with the day before. They breed tough golfers in Folkestone.”

In July 1941, some American clubs reportedly adopted similar rules in a show of solidarity.

UPDATE: Here are the rules adopted by Richmond GC, southwest of London. (Thanks, Brieuc.)