Rise Of The Ironclads: A Revolution In Naval Warfare

One of the most famous naval engagements in American history was the duel fought at Hampton Roads, Virginia, on March 9, 1862 between the ironclad warships USS Monitor and CSS Merrimack (more precisely named the CSS Virginia).  I have recently been learning much more about the details of the battle, in Richard Snow’s wonderfully entertaining Iron Dawn:  The Monitor, the Merrimack, and the Civil War Sea Battle That Changed History.  I listened to the audiobook, and wanted to convey some basic outlines of the story here.

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A Phone Call With Stalin

Stalin biographer Steven Kotkin relates this ominous anecdote in the second volume of his monumental three-volume study of the Soviet dictator’s life and times.  It shows–perhaps more clearly than any other anecdote–just how a man’s fate can hinge on a few critical moments in his life.

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Great Deeds Of Valor From The Fourth Crusade

Geoffrey of Villehardouin (1160–1212?) is known as one of the first important names in French historiography.  Unlike his predecessors, he was not a dry chronicler; he was a historian who participated directly in the events he described, and was reasonably objective by the standards of his day.  His book, The Conquest of Constantinople, is a moving and pious account of his involvement in the Fourth Crusade.  He was not born a nobleman; he earned his spurs as a knight through loyal service as a soldier and organizer of military campaigns.  After his withdrawal from public life, he set out to record the great events he had been a part of, much in the same way that Bernal Diaz (one of Hernando Cortes’s soldiers) and Usama Ibn Munqidh (an Arab knight of the Crusades) would do.  Great deeds of valor are rightly celebrated in every culture and in every age, because (as Sallust tells us):

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The Remarkable Memoirs Of Madame Roland

When a writer composes his or her memoirs while in prison awaiting execution, we owe it to ourselves to consider what they have to say.  It may be a cliché that the prospect of death focuses the memory and concentration, but it is a cliché that is powerfully true.  In Chapter 5 of Thirty-Seven, I discussed the fate of Boethius, who wrote his Consolation of Philosophy while languishing in a dungeon (and awaiting execution) for a crime he did not commit.  I recently heard of another last testament written during captivity:  the poignant memoirs of Jeanne Manon Roland (1754–1793), known to history simply as Madame Roland.

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The Fragility Of Historical Knowledge: The Case Of Lorenzo Boturini In Mexico

In the modern era we like to think of knowledge as something indelibly fixed and permanent.  We take it for granted that it will always be here, like the Great Pyramid, and are apt to overlook the bitter struggles that our ancestors may have endured to acquire such knowledge.  Information has not always been as easy to obtain as it is now.  As we read about the adventures of scholars of the past, we get the distinct impression that the learned men who came before us had a hardiness and tenacity that is lacking in the modern era.  I will let the reader judge for himself.

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Paulus Catena: The Psychology Of An Accuser And The Anatomy Of A Witch-Hunt

Witch-hunts and persecutions thrive in environments where certain conditions are met.  There must be some driving motivation, such as greed, envy, ideology, or hate; there must be willing accomplices who spread accusations and create new ones; and there must exist some tolerance of the persecution, whether from the leadership at the top or from the affected group at large.  When these conditions are met, witch-hunts can seize hold of a group and spread as quickly as a wildfire.  They are sustained by fear and hysteria; the affected group is made to feel as if hidden enemies are lurking around every corner and hiding behind every curtain.

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The Brutal Siege Of Amida

The Persian king Shapur II (A.D. 309–379) decided early in his reign to recover by force several of the Roman Empire’s eastern provinces, especially the rich lands of Mesopotamia and Armenia.  In the year 359 he focused his attention on capturing the city of Amida; the city was located in the spot currently occupied by Diyarbakir in Turkey.  Its extended siege and dramatic fall are recounted in detail by Ammianus Marcellinus, whose account (Res Gestae XVIII.9) forms the primary source for the present article.  The historian was personally present during the siege and took part in its defense, and his account of the battle forms one of the most dramatic episodes of his book.

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