Shedding the Mythology of the Good Slaveholder

Tomlinson Hill Welcome Sign
By Chris Tomlinson

My grandfather used to tell me that our family had owned slaves before the Civil War, and they loved us so much that they took our last name. The descendants of the former slaves, he said, still lived on the land where their ancestors had planted cotton, a place called Tomlinson Hill.

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Posted in Contemporary History, Modern History

Today in History: Almost 100 Years After the Death of the Romanovs

The Romanov Sisters cover

On this day in history, 96 years ago, the Romanov Family was awakened from their sleep and executed, under the impression they were being moved for safety reasons. Helen Rappaport depicts the personal lives of the four Romanov sisters through extensive research, uncovering details in never before published diaries and correspondence all presented in her New York Times bestselling book, The Romanov Sisters.

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Posted in Modern History

Life on the Streets of Victorian London

Leadenhall Street in Victorian London
By Judith Flanders

One of the earliest changes to the streets was the arrival of public transport. For most of the century, most people walked—an hour to work, an hour home, was not unusual. But in 1828, a coach-builder saw omnibuses on a visit to Paris, and he thought they might work in London.

Inside the buses held twelve seats, with another two seats beside the coachman. These box-seats were for favored regulars, who tipped the driver to ensure that places were kept for them. They were very much for men only. The driver offered the passenger the end of a leather strap. Grasping it with one hand, and a handle on the side of the bus with the other, the passenger put his foot on the wheel and then swung himself up. From 1849, there was also seating on top of the bus, reached by a set of iron rungs at the back which led to a bench, also the preserve of men: no woman in skirts could have managed the ladders. Inside was low-roofed, and so narrow that the knees of facing passengers touched. There was straw on the floor, to keep the damp and cold out, but it was not very effective, and usually very dirty.

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Posted in Modern History

The Invasion of Okinawa

LSM's launching rockets 5 days before the invasion of Okinawa
By P. T. Deutermann

The invasion of Okinawa (April 1, 1945, to June 22nd, 1945,) turned out to be the last big naval battle of World War II. Yes, naval battle. For the U.S. Navy, it was more costly than Midway, in terms of casualties at sea. The U.S. Navy lost approximately three hundred sailors and airmen killed at Midway. At Okinawa, the figures were approximately five thousand aviators and sailors killed in action. The Allied navies offshore had more people killed and wounded at sea than were killed and wounded ashore during the extraordinarily vicious land battle in the southern part of the island.

When one hears the term naval battle, one conjures up an image of armored seagoing monsters trading large-caliber shells at extreme, almost over-the- horizon distances. Okinawa wasn’t like that because, by April, 1945, most of the Japanese surface navy was already asleep in the deep or mewed up in their bases for lack of bunker oil. The naval battle of Okinawa was between the remnants of the Japanese air forces and the U.S. Navy ships supporting the invasion forces ashore. The Japanese called their forces Kamikaze, or Divine Wind. The Americans called it hell on earth.

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Posted in Contemporary History, Military History

The Lost Lives of the Romanov Sisters

Tsar and Anastasia smoking
By Helen Rappaport

What more is there possibly to know, you may ask, about the Romanov sisters—beyond the familiar image of four pretty girls in white dresses and big picture hats? It’s a perennial question, and one to which the common response is “not a lot.” They died young, they were innocent, lived protected lives that had left them unworldly; they had seen very little of the world beyond the palace gates and had even less experience of the people in it. Their lives were lost to history, and to us, and perhaps they would have little in them of interest.

The Romanov sisters with Tsar Nicholas II
The Romanov sisters with their father, Tsar Nicholas II, standing on a cannon

Ever since their horrific and brutal murder in July 1918, the Romanov sisters have been perceived as beautiful and tragic, certainly, but in historic terms little more than the pretty set dressing to the much more dramatic story of their parents—Nicholas and Alexandra—and their tragic hemophiliac brother. Their story is part of a huge nostalgic fantasy about the Romanovs that has endured for the last century or more and is still growing—if not intensifying—in the current resurgence of interest in old Imperial Russia, Orthodoxy, and a nationhood linked to the tsars. Much of the story of Russia’s last imperial family has become the stuff of legend, peppered with a lot of wishful thinking, and as the years pass it becomes harder and harder to separate the real Romanov sisters—Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia—from the accumulating hagiography that now threatens to drown them in a tide of saccharine sentiment.

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Posted in Modern History

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