History Notes and Some Essays What I have Done

What was the role of technology in British imperial expansion?
Technology can be defined as the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes and the machinery and equipment developed from the application of scientific knowledge.  Technology by itself cannot explain imperial expansion as it does not address the motives for expansion for which a number of explanations have been postulated from international rivalries to the needs to  create new markets and gain access to resources (the latter two surely driven by technological advancement at home).  Motive is one thing but alone will not allow expansion, it was as technology, as Headrick and others have been explicit in asserting, that provided the means of the rapid penetration of exploitation of Africa and Asia in the latter part of the nineteenth century.  This paper supports Headrick’s thesis and shall concentrate on this late nineteenth century rapid expansion but I would add that technology was a key enabler of the early development of the British Empire also.  

The British Empire grew in phases from English domination of the British Isles to expansion across the Atlantic to trading posts in India and beyond and whilst the gap in technological capability between the English/British and those areas being colonised in these earlier phases of expansion was never as great as in the late nineteenth century there were times when a gap was wide enough to make a difference.  Cromwell’s suppression of Ireland and Scotland through the New Model Army, better American settler weaponry during King Phillip’s War and James Cook’s banishment of scurvy with sauerkraut, not to mention innovations in Naval Architecture and timekeeping,  that allowed for his multiyear exploration of the Pacific and the discovery and mapping of New Zealand and the Eastern seaboard of Australia are all examples of imperial expansion enabled by technology and should not be ignored.  Furthermore, financial innovations such as the establishment of the Bank of England as well as the Industrial and Agrarian revolutions allowed Britain to outspend her continental opponents from the 1700s onwards that would lead to her industrial and naval supremacy for most of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries that gave her the strategic space to expand her empire.  From the 1750s extensive use of copper sheathing to protect ships’ hulls assisted British dominance in tropical waters.  Military innovations in weapons and organization were instrumental in expansion before 1800. The main difference between these earlier phases of expansion and that of the nineteenth century was that the technological gap widened significantly from the 1840s onwards thus making expansion cheaper in lives and treasure and causing a rapid acceleration that would not end until after the 1st World War when the new technology of air power was deployed in the middle east in order to control the mandated territories.

What was unusual about the 2nd half of the nineteenth century was the increasing technological gap between Europe, particularly Britain, and the rest of the world.  This gap allowed for accelerated British imperial expansion, and in this period expansion was not only made possible by the use of technology, but was also rationalised by technology and the British came to distinguish themselves from and claimed a superiority over others on the basis of their mastery of science and technology.  From the 1830s onwards, Headrick has noted that technology allowed for a three-phased analysis of imperial expansion.  Firstly several technologies enabled the British to move inland from their traditional trading posts to penetrate new territories.  The primary technologies employed were the flat bottomed, steam powered river boats and the isolation of quinine as a malaria prophylactic.  Well-armed naval steam powered gunboats were instrumental in the defeat of Chinese forces during the opium wars and the imposition of favourable, to the British, terms upon the Chinese that not oly forced market penetration for the opium trade but also led to the transfer of territory to the Empire.

Even today inland communications within Africa are hampered by natural barriers, disease and poor infrastructure and Africa had long been a European graveyard. During Bolts 1777-79 expedition at Delagoa Bay, 132 out of 152 Europeans on the journey died whilst Mungo Park's 1805 journey to the upper Niger resulted in the death of all the Europeans. By the 1840s, Bryson and others had identified the effectiveness of quinine and Laird’s 1854 expedition, following Bryson’s advice on quinine dosage, lost none of the European members despite spending 112 days on the Niger and Benue rivers.  Improved medical technology, however only provided the means to stay alive, to travel flat bottomed steam powered river boats were required.  As Kubicek points out, these boats, built in numbers for the Crimean War, were upgraded and distributed to various stations where they  both an instrument and symbol of Imperial control. Kubicek cites the example of HMS Goshawk being used in 1887 to kidnap a local ruler and palm oil merchant, Jaja of Opobo.

Once territories were penetrated, control need to be wrested from the indigenous population.  This could be achieved by military force alone if sufficient could be brought to bear or could be combined by weight of number, a population could be overwhelmed by British Settlers, Ferguson’s ‘White Plague’.  The British diaspora to the colonies, though not new, was facilitated to a great degree in the latter half of the century by a revolution in steamer traffic resulting from the replacement of iron for steel as the preferred material for ship and steam boiler construction and by from 1878 British usage of the Suez Canal.  The late century development of military capability, characterised as ‘Maxim Force’ allowed for overwhelming firepower to be brought to bear against those who resisted conquest – such as at the battle of Omdurman, though it should be noted that in many   clashes between the British invaders and local peoples from 1875 that both sides had modern weaponry, the British tended to have more of it and their factories could produce more.  Nevertheless, the South African War also showed, technological advantage was being eroded through technology transfer to subject peoples.  This transfer would eventually erode the economy of empire and set limits to the expansion of the Empire.

Headrick’s third analytical phase is that of consolidation – the bringing together of the territories and their capabilities to a coherent whole.  Consolidation is one word but exploitation would be equally valid. New transport networks, rail as well as steamship allowed for rapid communication and transfer of resources, as well as armies to quell unrest.  Modern mining technologies allowed extractive industry, and provided a motive for imperial expansion, notably in Southern Africa.  New communications technologies, notably telegraphs and undersea cables allowed for unprecedented speeds of communication that gave London distinct advantages in getting markets data and communicating to the imperial satraps thereby bringing the periphery under greater political control.  The ability to communicate rapidly also allowed for effective troop deployment to keep the empire together.  Telegraphy was an effective in aiding suppression Indian mutiny as well as one that could be used to provide the London financial markets with global news ahead of her competitors.  It even gave Britain a Strategic advantage over her European rivals as Kitchener proved at Fashoda when he communicated to London via subsea cable not available to his French counterpart or even more importantly during World War One when German signals traffic to the USA travelled on British Subsea cables, thereby bringing the Zimmerman telegram to light!

Headrick’s phases approach to the analysis of the impact of technology on the expansion of the British Empire is a useful one though in fact the reality is more muddles. Certain technologies were employed in multiple of his phases.  Technology was not important solely in the later development of the Empire but it was during the latter part of the nineteenth century when a distinct gap opened between Europe and the rest of the world, particularly with Africa, that provided for an acceleration of imperial expansion at a very low cost in lives and treasure.  This technological advantage would however be time bound.  Technology transfer to the less developed areas of the world, initially the white colonies but by the 1950s globally would make the cost of Empire prohibitive as the gap was eroded.


Geoffrey Parker, The Military Revolution, Military Innovation and the Rise of the West, 1500–1800, 2nd edn. (Cambridge, 1990).
Hough Richard, Captain James Cook: A Biography (London, 1994)
Sobel Dava, Longitude, The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time (London, 2008)
Dalziel Nigel, The Penguin Historical Atlas of the British Empire (Penguin Reference) (2006)
Jackson Ashley, The British Empire: A Very Short Introduction (2013)
Darwin John, Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain (2013)
Ferguson Niall, Empire, How Britain Made the Modern World (London, 2003)
Marshall Tim, Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need to Know About Global Politics (London 2016)
Bowman, W et al, Imperialism in the Modern World, Sources and Interpretations (2016)

What beliefs and arguments drove the movement to abolish slavery, and what kind of evidence against the slave trade was presented to the British public?
As the Eighteenth Century closed the movement to abolish slavery was becoming irresistible in the British Empire.  Abolition of the trade would occur in 1807 and would be followed a quarter of a century later by the abolition of the institution. Anti-slavery arguments, inspired by the European Enlightenment, can be broadly grouped into the following:
  • ·         Governance and Trusteeship
  • ·         Economic
  • ·         Strategic
  • ·         Evangelical and Humanitarian

Burke and others, perhaps inspired by the American rebellion, argued that possession of Empire and power brought obligations to promote the welfare of its peoples.  As much concerned with the ability of power to corrupt the British themselves and seeking thereby to limit that power, by 1783 Burke was speaking in Parliament of the ‘natural equality of mankind at large’[i] an admission that slavery and servitude were not compatible with British values.  Adam Smith argued against the institution of slavery as it was economically unsustainable pointing to the inevitably decreasing productivity of the West Indian monoculture dependent on the Slave trade and protected by trade barriers.  Smith’s claim that overseas plantations represented much less secure investments than metropolitan agriculture or industry was confirmed by the British West Indies’ difficulties during the War of American Independence.[ii] 
From a National Strategic perspective, the argument was made that the loss to Britain of very many sailors engaged on the trade, through sickness, mistreatment and, no doubt psychological trauma was unsustainable. Testimony of this loss was provided by the likes of Alexander Falconbridge[iii] and Clarkson who could show that, on average, 20% of each crew died from disease or ill treatment before the ship returned.[iv]
Much credit for abolition has been given to evangelical movements during this period.  Slavery, it was argued must incompatible with ‘a properly Christian existence’[v]. Slave-ownership conflicted with the obligations of charity and evangelization; slave status removed the liberty for moral choice and ethical behaviour.  Proving the humanity of the slaves should not have been difficult though Falconbridge went out of his way to demonstrate, in his testimony,[vi] the human behaviour of the victims of traders on the West African coast.  Falconbridge felt the necessity of pointing out that slaves, contrary to his earlier belief were not bred as cattle for the trade but had been kidnapped[vii].  To further humanise the victims, he went on to recall their only too human behaviours in trying to escape from captivity.  Having thus established the humanity of slaves he was able to provide evidence of the mistreatment, and high mortality, of them between capture and sale. The likes of Thomas Clarkson, in addition to interviewing actors in the trade also provided physical evidence of mistreatment - shackles, thumbscrews and a device for force-feeding slaves who went on hunger strike[viii] - to provide physical evidence of abuse and confirmed the testimonies of the likes of Falconbridge. 

[i] Porter The Oxford History of the British Empire: Volume III: The Nineteenth Century. Trusteeship, Anti-Slavery, and Humanitarianism Andrew Porter DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198205654.003.0010
[ii] The Oxford History of the British Empire: Volume II: The Eighteenth Century. P. J. Marshall and Alaine Low The British West Indies in the Age of Abolition, 1748–1815. J. R. Ward  OI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198205630.003.0019
[iii] An account of the Slave Trade on the coast of Africa by Alexander Falconbridge, Late Surgeon in the African Trade
[v] ibid
[vi] ibid
[vii] ibid

What were the main causes of British decolonisation?

Britain was forced out of India and Burma by political change within India, in part a response to the growing demands of the colonial state, in part an outgrowth of both religious revival and new cultural movements. From 1920 the Indian National Congress aimed at destroying the habit of deference to British authority.  The arrest of Congress members during the war allowed the rise of the Muslim League.  Even before the war there were strains on the system but the need for resources to defeat Germany and, in 1942, Japan’s invasion of Malaya then Burma led to the eventual British commitment to giving India self-government at the end of the war (though the intention was to tie India closely to Britain).  In the second half of the war, the causes of mass grievance and fear also grew quickly the likes of inflation and then food shortages (up to 2 million deaths in the Bengal Famine) exacerbated Congress’s calls for independence.

Once the war ended the British were exhausted.  Many British officials and soldiers longed to go home and get back to civvy street. Unrest in the Bengal Navy led to fears that the huge Indian Army might mutiny and it was recognised by Wavell and Attlee that if the Congress chose to make trouble, there was little the British could do: ‘I doubt whether a Congress rebellion could be suppressed,’ wrote the Viceroy’s adviser on internal security.  Attlee’s own assessment was:

a)      In view of our commitments all over the world we have not the military force to hold India against a widespread guerrilla movement or to reconquer India

b)      If we had, public opinion especially in our party would not stand for it

c)      It is very doubtful if we could keep the Indian troops loyal. It is doubtful if our own troops would act.

d)      We should have world opinion against us

e)      We have not the administrative machine to carry out such a policy British or Indian.

The end of the Raj did not lead to the immediate break-up of the empire. But it marked a critical break in its internal cohesion, and an irreparable loss of the vital resources – military above all.  Still an imperial mentality was still deeply entrenched at all levels of British society (and remains in today’s Tory party).  The USA’s hostility to European Empires was tempered by her fear of communism filling a possible vacuum, so for the next few decades the US would continue to accept imperial pretensions, though on its own terms.  This harnessing of empire to the task of Cold War containment would extend its life.

Britain’s strategic disasters in 1940–42 marked a momentous change. Canada, Australia and New Zealand (though not South Africa) discovered their strategic dependence on American power. Their status as sovereign countries, became increasingly real, indeed Australia recalled her ground troops from North Africa (despite Chuchill's pleas) to defend the homeland in 1942; they did not return.  Canada’s Navy was instrumental in the defeat of the U boat threat in the North Atlantic and by the end of the war she had a rising friendly power on her southern border that offered markets far easier to access than the earlier imperial ones –  access to which was made easier by Canada’s being a ‘dollar’ rather than Sterling Economy.

From the late 1940s the pressing issue for Britain became the economy and the weakness of sterling.  The reliance on ‘dollar’ goods led to an iniquitous policy of Britain sweating her remaining colonial assets by the transfer of colonial export dollar cash flows from the colonies to London’s ‘dollar pool’, to be spent as London decided a policy one would argue almost specifically designed to cause resentment of Empire as those countries whose currency was tied to sterling – including Australia, New Zealand and South Africa – were forced to accept central control of their dollar spending, and buy sterling goods whenever they could.  

By the late 1950s the aggressive expansion of the colonial state – regulating, restricting, conscripting – and the arrival of more and more whites as farmers, miners, officials and experts aroused ever-increasing resentment among African peoples, not least among the traditional chiefs on whom the colonial apparatus relied.  De Gaulle’s granting of independence to most of France’s African possession and the collapse of Belgian authority (self-inflicted for a large part) in Congo further inflamed African nationalists and opened the door to Soviet approaches as partner of choice thus further reducing British influence – particularly apparent in Egypt but also elsewhere on the continent.

Continued economic weakness into the 1960s and 70s, and the humiliations of Suez and De Gaulle’s ‘non’ to EEC membership would undermine Britain’s great power pretensions and reduce support at home  for further expenditure on an increasingly anachronistic project. 

World War 1: Lessons and Legacy of the Great War.  Future Learn MOOC run by University of New South Wales; Lead Educator - Dr John Connor; Course Educator - Dr Liana Markovich

This 6 week long MOOC compares and contrasts the reality of the First World War - a costly and wasteful conflict, but one that ended in a decisive victory over German aggression - with our memory of it today, a war of trenches, mud and barbed wire, a war that seen as both senseless and ineffective.  The Western front is the focus of study as it is seen as the most important theatre of the war (cf Mallinson who argues persuasively that instead of repeating frontal assaults against prepared defences on the Western Front Britain could have simply held the line there and instead sought a strategy to win by Naval Blockade and by kicking in a back door in Italy, or Salonica perhaps.  Indeed in November 1918 it was the removal of Bulgaria and the collapse of the South Eastern fronts that presaged Ludendorff’s breakdown).  The course aims to present a view of the war that better fits the historical evidence than that which is often popularly portrayed by selective readings of war poets.  I remember myself my sons coming home from school with English homework to discuss ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ and have since wondered why this was never juxtaposed with another German author’s war classic ‘Storm of Steel’.

The course is presented in three parts:

1 An overview of the War. Concentrating on the conflict on the Western Front and the development of trench warfare.
2 The ‘learning curve’ - compares how the British, French and German armies attempted to end the stalemate of trench warfare by developing new technology, training and tactics.
3 Remembering the First World War explores how the social and political landscape has shaped and changed the memory of the War over the last century, and how art, poetry and novels have contributed to that understanding.

Week 1 examines the immediate origin of the   War including those alliances that pressed Nations to act. It also looks at the Strategies employed throughout the war by the Germans, British and French. The Germans tried five separate strategies to win the first War and each of them failed:

1. Schlieffen Plan (Moltke) 1914
2. Knockout Russia – negotiated Peace to free Army to attack France unhindered by Eastern Front (Falkenhayn) 1915
3. Bleed France Dry – Verdun (Falkenhayn) 1916
4. Unrestricted Submarine Warfare (Hindenburg/Ludendorff) 1917
5. Kaiserschlacht – defeat Britain and France before US power applicable (Hindenburg/Ludendorff) 1918

Germany’s key strengths were in operations and tactics but her key weaknesses were in logistics and resources, her seizure at the start of the war of much of France’s Iron and Coal industry relieved to some extent here resource issues and also drove French Strategy to the attack in order to recover these.  A further problem for Germany, that worsens as the war progresses is the weakness of her key ally – Austria whom she increasingly needs to prop up.
The origins of the War are complex but as is commonly known the spark that ignited the War occurred on 28 June 1914 when the heir to the Austrian Throne Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were assassinated in Sarajevo.  A month later Austria invaded Serbia, Russia, seeing herself as the defender of Serbia mobilised her army which prompted Austria’s ally Germany to declare war on Russia.  Fearing that France would come to the aid of her own ally (Russia) and believing the British, though with an ‘Entente Cordiale’ with France, would remain aloof, the Germans put into to operation the Schlieffen plan in order to defeat France before turning her whole attention to the defeat of the slow to mobilize Russians.   As we now know, the German defeat at the Marne ended their chance of defeating France and led to the Race for the Sea and the solidification of the Western Front. Until 1918 further offensives would be a frontal attack against increasingly complex trench systems, in which the odds favoured the defenders.  The army commanders always knew that the war would only be won once manoeuvre returned to the battlefield but they lacked the technological means to achieve this.  

British Strategy:

The British Army on the First World War is really three different armies: 

1. Regular Army BEF of 1914 – Old Contemptibles – small but professional 2 x Corps
2. New Army – Volunteers plus Colonial divisions
3. Conscription 1916 onwards - this is the army which plays probably the biggest role in defeating the Germans on the Western Front. 

By 1918, for the first time in history, Britain is a military power. We must remember that Britain did not see itself as a military power. It was the world's biggest financial and naval power – which directed her strategy to win the war by Blockade and by financing her allies – much as she had done during the Napoleonic Wars.  By 1917 however, the army is required to do most of the fighting as the French Army had suffered horrendous casualties and was in a state of mutiny.  In 1918, Haig deployed the largest field army Britian had ever had and it was this army that was largely responsible for the battlefield defeat of Germany in the 100 days after the battle of Amiens 

French Strategy:

In 1914 it was assumed that the only possible way to defeat a German invasion was, in fact, to attack them hence Plan XVII – which actually fell right into the German plan by assisting encirclement!  However failure of Plan XVII was a godsend (at horrendous cost) in that it forced the French into retreat upon internal LOCs and eventually into the right place – The Marne.    Joffre, unlike Moltke, kept his head and was able to defeat the Germans on the Marne
The French strategy in 1915 was set by political and Allied considerations. At the end of 1914, once the Battle of the Marne had been won and the Germans had been stopped, yet again, at the First Battle of Ypres, it was obvious that the defensive battle had been won. However, German troops still sat in most of-- practically the whole of-- Belgium, and they occupied the mineral-rich industrial areas of northern France. Therefore, for political reasons, the strategy for 1915 could only be that the Germans had to be attacked and driven out of France leading to the strategy of offensive action. A second consideration was the Allies. Russia had done what it promised by  attacking Germany in eastern Prussia. So to help Russia the only strategy that was possible in Joffre's mind  was on offensives.  In fact this was to be the French strategy throughout the conflict though Joffre and more than one successor would be sacked for its failure long before the war’s end.

The course then spends time looking at the Western allies and their differences (including historical enmities)  – often leading to misunderstandings.  The French saw the British as ‘Germanic’, greedy and arrogant; the British saw the French as being ‘Latin’, emotional and unreliable.

It was Germany’s increasingly aggressive policies in the early 1900s that brought the two nations together. In 1904, France and Britain settled their colonial disputes with the agreement known as the Entente Cordiale. The two countries began joint military discussions that led to agreements that, in the case of war with Germany, the French Navy would take responsibility for the Mediterranean Sea, the Royal Navy for the Atlantic and the North Sea, and the British Army would provide a small expeditionary force to serve beside the French Army.

During the war French political and military leaders argued that France was doing more fighting and suffering more casualties than the British. There was some truth in this in the first part of the war while the British in this period had only a few divisions on the Western Front.  By the end of the war, and after horrendous French losses the British having by now become a military power (see earlier) this view could not really be uphold logically.  

The French accused the British – whose economy had not suffered from enemy invasion and occupation – of using the war to gain economic advantage though they never fully understood the British contribution to the alliance at sea and financially.  So while the British and the French were the chief partners in the alliance that defeated Germany, but  there was ‘no solution to the conflict’ between the two nations on how the war should be conducted and how the sacrifices of war should be shared.

Conclusions to Week 1:

The idea of the First World War as a futile and pointless war seems to have come from a viewpoint that the end result in no way justified the huge loss of life. However, European governments did not become involved in the war by accident, but through real commitment to underlying principles of loyalty to allies, the defence of small nations, as well as the opportunistic idea that a war at this time would be to one’s advantage.  Certainly at the time war was perceived an instrument of foreign policy – something that its eventual cost would make more liberal nations renounce (though not Hitler’s Germany of course)
These factors drove the strategies of the major powers. Germany supported its ally Austria-Hungary in its declaration of war with Serbia – in today’s terms a state sponsor of terrorism! They believed this would remove the threat to the multi-ethnic Austro-Hungarian state from rising Slav nationalism. As Russia saw itself as the protector of Serbia, the Germans recognised that supporting Austria-Hungary against Serbia would likely lead to war with Russia. The German Government believed war with Russia was inevitable, and that it was better to take the opportunity to fight the war sooner rather than later. Russian economic growth and the modernisation of the Russian army would, over time, make it a more formidable enemy.
France became part of the war because Germany attacked her Britain had no formal alliance with any European power, but the British Government had held secret military talks with France which did include plans for a small British Expeditionary Force to go to France in the event of a war with Germany.  However it was the German invasion of Belgium on 4 August that brought Britain into the war.  Though Asquith wrote in a letter on 2 August that his government did ‘have obligations to Belgium’, he also stated that he ‘cannot allow Germany’ to have naval bases on the Belgian coastline as they would threaten Britain – with echoes of the ill-advised Battleship building programme engaged in by Tirpitz. The British declaration of war was therefore a combination of national self- interest and defending the right of Belgium to exist. 

What factors worked against mutual toleration between Catholics and Protestants between the mid-sixteenth century and the end of the nineteenth century?
Wolffe makes a distinction between tolerance – the attitude of individuals towards different religious practices of their neighbours and toleration – the attitude of states to the religious diversity within their territories (Wolffe 2008, p8)[i].  This essay will therefore concentrate on the government actions and policies that affected religious toleration from the sixteenth century until the mid nineteenth century.  I will show that there are three major headings under which these factors can be grouped; these are religious attitudes; political factors and cultural factors.  Although I have separated these groupings, I will show that they are clearly inter-linked with considerable cross-over between them.  I will show how these factors worked against toleration in Britain, France and briefly in the USA.  I will also, briefly show how, after the horrors of the thirty year’s war, pragmatic acceptance became the norm, at least until Bismarck’s Kulturkampf of the late nineteenth century. 
In the sixteenth century, religion mattered.  Heaven and hell were held to be factual and the relationship people had with God was supremely important.  The Reformation came about as a debate regarding this relationship between mankind and God.  For Catholics the importance of sacraments, saints and the church to intercede on behalf of one’s soul was contrasted the Protestant belief of salvation through one’s faith alone.  In addition to these contrasting views on religious living was a very different view on sources of religious authority.  For Catholics authority came through the church whilst Protestants made direct references to the text of the Bible.  Conflicts on these matters between Catholics and Protestants mattered because it was felt that those who held the incorrect belief would die damned (Wolffe, 2008, p100)[ii] therefore forcing them to change religion was in effect ‘doing them a favour’.  Furthermore heresy was seen as damaging to society so state involvement was required to prevent it. 
Early on in central Europe conflict between Lutheran’s and Catholics was ended by the Peace of Augsburg of 1555 which established the principle that the religion of the ruler was to be the religion of the state.  In spite of this pragmatic approach, religious differences between Catholics and Protestants would do create violent conflict in the French Wars of Religion up to the accession of Henry IV in 1598 and later in the thirty years war that was ended by the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.  England’s own civil war has been described as a religious war however, if this was a religious war it was between Protestant sects (except in Ireland).  All of these examples show that religious differences were in themselves key factors in affecting mutual toleration.  Importantly these truly violent events could become a folk memory of the cruelty of the other side. 
Given the State nature of toleration it is not surprising that political factors affected toleration.  In England, the Henrician Reformation was a political act.  It was rolled back on the accession of Mary and then recovered and settled by Elizabeth I.  Elizabeth’s regime faced external Catholic threats.  The regime was considered to be illegitimate by the Pope who went on to excommunicate the Monarch.  In 1588 the Spanish Armada was defeated.  In addition internal plots, such as that which led to the execution of Mary Queen of Scots, were political events that would work against mutual toleration between religions.  In the light of these events, the exclusion of Catholics from civil life was seen as a prudent measure.  The belief, reinforced by the Popes’ excommunication of Elizabeth, that Catholics could not be trusted as they had allegiance to a foreign power in the form of the Pope.  A further result of the English crown’s successful negotiation of these political events was the creation of a national identity that could be promoted through a single religion.  In France in 1685 Louis XIV would revoke the Edict of Nantes on a similar agenda of promoting national unity.  In France, as in Britain, rebellions by significant religious minorities, such as that of the Camisards in 1705, created a climate of insecurity for the government that tended to mean that religious diversity was considered a ‘seedbed for subversion and social disorder’ (Wolffe 2008, p103).  Interestingly enough rebellion by the Protestant elite in England in 1688 was termed the ‘Glorious Revolution’ as it replaced a Catholic king with a Foreign Protestant one an example of an underlying anti-Catholicism in British culture that I will examine shortly.  Whilst apparently strong governments such as those of Britain and France saw subversion in religious diversity, it should be noted that the Netherlands after 1648, was remarkably tolerant of diversity (Lacquer 2006) [iii].  Such tolerance appears to have been the result of three key factors; the lack of strong centralised authority; the lack of a clear and coherent Protestant majority and a pragmatic approach to business. 
In Britain later political events would also have an affect on toleration.  The union of the English and Scottish parliaments in 1707 brought together two protestant countries to work together to ‘forge a united British nation’ (Colley, 1992)[iv].  The union between the British and Irish Parliaments, ostensibly as a result of the 1798 rebellion of the United Irishmen, would further polarize Britain as a Protestant nation but would affect the Irish Protestant view of their own security as a minority within Ireland whose privileged position was maintained only by their relationship to the Protestant majority in the rest of Britain. 
In the popular culture of English speaking nations, anti-Catholicism would become a peculiarly common obstacle to toleration that does not appear to have been seen much outside of Britain, although in the 1870s Bismarck’s Kulturkampf did attempt to reduce the influence of the Catholic Church this was a secular rather than Protestant response.  Anti-Catholicism in popular culture originally came about as a response to real violent events, particularly beginning with the reign of Mary Tudor from 1553.  Mary’s attempt to re-instate Roman Catholicism as the state religion created a popular perception of Roman Catholic viciousness and violence.  The burning at the stake of Protestant martyrs helped to associate Catholicism with violent persecution.  The low social status of many of the victims, and the fact that 55 of 275 victims were women created popular identification with the victims.  The memory of other violent attacks on Protestants, such as the St Bartholomew’s day massacre in Paris in 1572 combined with anti-Catholic literature that resulted from these events, such as Foxe’s Actes and Monuments all provided Mary’s successor, Elizabeth with the tools she required to secure her own position as shown above.  Persistent anti-Catholicism in the English- speaking world continued throughout the period, and can even be detected in the current debates of the 2010 General Election[v].  Further causes of this have included political insecurity, fear of the unknown, tales of lurid sexual practices as well as the reinforcement given by national celebratory events such as the annual celebration of Guy Fawkes’ Night on 5 November.  This anti-Catholicism was exported early to the American colonies where Puritan Protestants escaping Protestant intolerance were even more wary of Catholicism seeing it as the root source of religious authoritarianism (Wolffe 2008, p 109).  A lack of toleration in America was evident in events such as the attack on a convent in Boston in the 1833 [vi]during which state actors failed to prevent the actions of the mob.  Later Irish immigration to the USA after the famines of the mid 1840s would strengthen this lack of toleration.
Away from England a lack of significant Protestant minorities in Italy, Spain and Portugal meant that there was no real significant degree of state sponsored Anti-Protestantism in these countries, whilst the Treaty of Westphalia had extended the toleration agreed between Catholics and Lutherans at Augsburg to Calvinists.  The principle of cuius regio, eius religio was reaffirmed and Christians living in principalities where their denomination was not the established church were guaranteed the right to practice their faith in public during allotted hours and in private at their will thus in these territories, in principle at least, toleration had become an accepted state.  There would, of course be variations such as in Louis XIV’s France where a powerful central government had both the desire and the means to assert its will.  Obviously in Britain there was no formal treaty guaranteeing Catholic rights – in fact after 1678 the Test Acts limited freedoms whilst the Glorious Revolution of 1688 led to a still permanent settlement whereby Catholics are to this day prevented from marrying or becoming the Head of the State of the United Kingdom.  Thus politically motivated legal restraints added to a lack of toleration. 
In both Britain and Europe suspicion of religious minorities was not uncommon throughout the period.  The religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were followed by colonial wars in the mid eighteenth century between Protestant Britain and Catholic France.  From 1776 France supported the rebellious American colonies against Britain in the war of Independence.  In 1789 rebellion in Europe’s most powerful state (France) from lead to the immensely destructive Napoleonic wars.  All this instability created suspicion for minorities living all Christian countries.  Under suspicion these minorities tended to adopt a low profile which, paradoxically, only created greater suspicion of their motives leading to less toleration of their views and presence.
During the nineteenth century two factors contributed to the continuance of anti-Catholic intolerance in Britain.  Firstly the state of Ireland where three quarters of the population remained Catholic but the Protestant minority maintained a position of privilege.  This state of affairs continued to ensure that the Protestants remained insecure.  The second factor was a religious revival.  The tumult caused by the Napoleonic wars in particular contributed in the early nineteenth century to a view that the Apocalypse was near.  The fear of the second coming caused new Protestant preaching to Catholics in Ireland making an already tense situation worse.  During the mid part of the century a Catholic revival added further fuel to the fire.  The Oxford movement created fears of a Catholic takeover of the Anglican Church, high profile conversions to Catholicism such as that of Newman (a member of the Oxford movement) and the re-establishment of a Roman Catholic hierarchy, contrary to the wishes of the Prime Minister, all gave the government cause for thought.
The factors that led to lack of toleration between Catholics and Protestants during this period, although grouped in this essay for convenience into religious, political and social categories are intertwined.  Where monarchs or states felt insecure either from external or internal threat then toleration was an unwanted luxury.  In any case, until the Enlightenment toleration was not highly valued except for pragmatic purposes.  Throughout the Western Christian world toleration, was actually the norm for long periods of time.  The chronic anti-Catholicism seen in the English-speaking world does not appear to have had parallels throughout Europe and is perhaps a factor only that arose only from England’s peculiarly arrested Reformation.  Other than state toleration there were many examples of intolerance between and to individuals that have not been touched on in this essay


Abdy, E.S (1835) Journal of a Residence and Tour in the United States, London, in Wolffe, J (2008), AA307 Religion in history: conflict, conversion and coexistence Study Guide 2, The Open University
Bossy, J. (1985). Christianity in the West, 1400-1700 (OPUS)
Chidester, D. (2000), Christianity, Penguin, London
Laurence, A. (2008) Post Reformation Britain and Ireland: The churches of the British Isles 1560-1691; in Wolffe, J ed (2008), Religion in history: conflict, conversion and coexistence, The Open University, Manchester
MacCulloch, D. (2009), A History of Christianity, Allen Lane, London
Wolffe, J ed (2008), Religion in history: conflict, conversion and coexistence, The Open University, Manchester
Wolffe, J (2008), AA307 Religion in history: conflict, conversion and coexistence Study Guide 2, The Open University
AA307 Religion in history: conflict, conversion and coexistence CD2, The Open University
Podcast: Revolutions in Religion:1517-1555, Thomas Lacquer, UC Berkeley: History 5: European Civilization from the Renaissance to the Present; Fall 2006 – Audio; 11 September 2006
Podcast: Religious War and Witchcraft, Thomas Lacquer, UC Berkeley: History 5: European Civilization from the Renaissance to the Present; Fall 2006 – Audio; 18 September 2006
Podcast: The European Tradition of Constitutionalism, Thomas Lacquer, UC Berkeley: History 5: European Civilization from the Renaissance to the Present; Fall 2006 – Audio; 20 September 2006
Podcast: Absolutism, Thomas Lacquer, UC Berkeley: History 5: European Civilization from the Renaissance to the Present; Fall 2006 – Audio; 25 September 2006
Podcast: Salvation at Stake, Margaret Lavinia Anderson, UC Berkeley: History 5: European Civilization from the Renaissance to the Present; Spring 2008 – Audio; 4 February 2008

[i] Wolffe, J ed (2008), Religion in history: conflict, conversion and coexistence, The Open University, Manchester
[ii] ibid
[iii] Podcast: The European Tradition of Constitutionalism, Thomas Lacquer, UC Berkeley: History 5: European Civilization from the Renaissance to the Present; Fall 2006 – Audio; 20 September 2006
[iv] Colley
[v] Question asked to Prime Ministerial candidates Sky TV Leader’s Debate 22 April 2010 regarding the appropriateness of a planned visit by Pope to Britain
[vi] Abdy

To what extent can the crusades be understood as a Christian war on Islam?

In 1095 Pope Urban II initiated the crusades when preaching at Clermont in France.  Urban thus initiated a series of military assaults on the occupiers of the Holy Land – specifically on Jerusalem in order to ensure the church of the Holy Sepulchre was claimed for Christ.  Whilst Robert of Rheims[1] highlighted Urban’s claims that the Turks, not Muslims per se, were responsible for violence against Christian pilgrims and for desecrating the Holy Sepulchre both he and Fulcher[2] (both of whom may have witnessed Urban’s call to arms) emphasised the penitential nature of the crusades which were classed as acts of pilgrimage and sins were to be remitted in acts of violence in the name of Christ.  Even from this early viewpoint it can therefore be questioned whether the crusades were designed to be an attack on Islam rather than a representative act of penance.  I will attempt to show  that Islam was not the target of the crusades, even if a great many of its victims were Muslims.  I will examine the motivation of Urban himself and of crusaders generally; I will review the behaviour of crusaders in the Holy Land to show that whilst terrible things were done in the heat of battle, that there was a degree of co-existence between Christians and Muslims throughout the period of the crusades.  Whilst I will argue that the view of the crusades as a holy war against Islam is simplistic I would like to put the caveat here that this is a western secular view and may differ significantly from the view of Muslims of the 11th and 12th centuries who would be unaware of crusades against non-Muslims and even a modern Muslim viewpoint could legitimately differ from the view offered here.
Before going further I will examine the span of the crusades through time and place.  Urban II in preaching the 1st crusade initiated a series of conflicts that spanned a period from 1095 through to 1588 (Riley-Smith)[3] or even as depending on one’s point of view until Napoleon captured Malta from the Knight’s Templars in 1798 (Pearson, 2008, p48)[4].  During this period 8 crusades (if the children’s crusade is included) were targeted against the Muslim held territory of the Holy Land although the 4th Crusade instead of attacking Muslim held Jerusalem sacked Christian Constantinople.  Other crusades also attacked Christians – such as the Cathars (albigensian crusade) as early as 1209. √ Tyerman[5] (2007 p894) points out that between the late 13th and early 15th centuries crusades against Christians ‘formed the most consistent application of papal holy war’.  Other victims of the crusades include pagans in the Baltic, Mongols and Orthodox Christians.  The area fought over ranges from Spain in the west to Finland in the north[6] and as far east as India. 
In examining the crusades one must investigate the motives of Urban II in initiating this long series of destruction but also of the crusaders as a group.  Very little primary evidence exists but it is possible to see coherent threads in the evidence that does exist.  Firstly Urban’s motives can be examined through the eyes of Robert of R heims and Fulcher √ and can also be analysed against the political background of the split between the Roman and Byzantine patriarchies (1054); the rise of the Turks in the east the threat from whom was demonstrated at the battle of Manzikert in 1071; Byzantine requests for help against the Turks; dis-order in Western Europe and the position of Urban vis the Holy Roman Emperor.  Threatened by the installation of an anti-pope Clement III in Rome by the Holy Roman Emperor and the lack of recognition by most German bishops of Urban’s legitimacy, it is likely that Urban saw the weakening of the Byzantine empire, in the face of Turkish assaults, and consequent requests by the Emperor Alexius for military assistance as a means of strengthening his own position as the legitimate Pope.  Although the Holy Land had been Islamic territory for 400 years, Christian pilgrims had been allowed reasonably unfettered access to holy sites but there is evidence (Pearson, 2008, p47) from the early 11th century, coincidental with the rising power of the Turks, that pilgrims were suffering increased hindrance. √ Thus a plea from Alexius combined with a cassus belli resulting from the hindrance of pilgrimage provided Urban with the ability to establish his legitimacy, rather than any great desire for holy war against Islam, must have been a large part of the motivation for the 1st Crusade.
The 1st crusade was a military success.  Jerusalem was captured and a number of crusader states were set up in what had only recently been Byzantine territory.  It is possible that the military success was helped by the element of surprise and disunity amongst the Islamic community.  The arrival of Frankish warriors in the east was certainly unexpected and the invasion, from a Muslim perspective, appears neither to have been religious in nature nor taken very seriously (Pearson 2008, p53). √ By the time the crusaders of the 1st crusade had captured Jerusalem, murdering the defenders in the process, Urban II was dead.  The question needs to be asked therefore, what continued to motivate crusaders in the next centuries that continued to give impetus to the movement.  The early crusaders were clearly motivated to re-capture, defend and recover, once lost again, the Holy Places.  It seems likely form the primary sources and from Urban’s initial preaching, that the desire to gain access to heaven through pilgrimage and fighting[7]was an extremely potent motivator in an age when fear for one’s soul was palpable.  Even later crusades remained in essence penitential in nature.  Notwithstanding this prime motivation, France notes additional crusader motivations. 
For the aristocracy, the opportunity to grab land, evidenced by the setting up of crusader states in Syria, Antioch and Jerusalem, offered chances for improving wealth and status as well as providing for the salvation of one’s soul.  Other crusaders are may have been required to go on crusade, or even remain at home against their wish to crusade, through feudal obligation imposed by the patronage of another. Notably there does not seem to be a specific desire to wage war on Islam amongst the motivators that fuelled crusading for the next five or six centuries after 1095.
In spite of notably cruel acts, such as the massacre of the defenders of Jerusalem, against Muslims throughout the crusades, there is a significant amount of evidence of tolerance between Christians and the Muslims, as well as Jews, living in the Kingdom of Jerusalem.  Riley-Smith[8] notes that the when crusaders arrived in the east they appear to have ‘tried to experiment with dhimmis, that is the Muslim regulations for children of the book.’  Also a notable sign of tolerance was the acceptance and even protection of Jews in the holy land – when they had been persecuted in the European homeland of the crusaders.  √Riley-Smith also highlights the existence of joint Christian/Muslim places of worship such as are church mosques in Jerusalem. In Acre an oratory to Ali possessed an eastern apse a clear indication that Christians and Muslims were worshipping in the same building. Usama ibn Munqidh[9] in an interesting piece of primary evidence notes how Templars, friends of his, make the Christian oratory attached to the Masjid al-Aqsa available to him for prayer and even protect him from a Christian who tries to interfere with his prayer.√  Evidence of this level of tolerance contradicts the ‘Holy war on Islam’ paradigm.
In conclusion, I have shown that whilst Muslims were victims of the crusades, the movement was not an attack on Islam as such.  Both Riley-Smith[10] and Saladin[11] identify that the defining target of the crusades was not Islam but the Holy Sepulchre.  In time and space Muslims were just one group of victims of the crusades – other included Christian opponents of the papacy as well as pagans and even Protestant England in 1588.  The crusading movement was sustained not by a desire to fight Islam but by a desire to sanctify oneself as well as the opportunity, though risky, to taste adventure to get rich and to gain honour.  Others were obligated to take the cross through ties of patronage or through family connections.  The papacy continued to support crusading in order to maintain and enhance its own position.  Whilst I argue, for all of these reasons that the crusades were not a war on Islam the fact that Muslims made up a great number of the victims, particularly of the early crusades continues to mean that many in the Islamic world do see and represent them as such and I would not argue that their view has no merit.


Wolffe, J ed (2008), Religion in history: conflict, conversion and coexistenceThe Open University, Manchester
Tyerman, C (2007) God’s War, Penguin, London
Chidester, D. (2000), Christianity, Penguin, London
MacCulloch, D. (2009), A History of Christianity, Allen Lane, London
Podcast: Departing for war in the age of the crusades, William Jordan, Stanford Continuing Studies – Medieval Matters
Podcast: Ancient and Medieval Church History, Lesson 26 Crusades or Missions; Covenant Theological Seminary

[1] Wolffe, J (2008), AA307 Religion in history: conflict, conversion and coexistence Study Guide 1, The Open University pp127-129
[2] Wolffe, J (2008), AA307 Religion in history: conflict, conversion and coexistence Study Guide 1, The Open University pp130=132
[3] AA307CD1
[4] Pearson, J. in Wolffe, J ed (2008), Religion in history: conflict, conversion and coexistence ,  The Open University, Manchester
[5] Tyerman, C (2007) God’s War, Penguin, London
[6] AA307 CD1
[7] AA307CD1
[8] AA307CD1
[9] Wolffe, J (2008), AA307 Religion in history: conflict, conversion and coexistence Study Guide 1, The Open University p171
[10] AA307 CD1
[11] Wolffe, J (2008), AA307 Religion in history: conflict, conversion and coexistence Study Guide 1, The Open UniversityP175

The English Civil War

The search for a settlement, 1646–8
Do the Levellers deserve the description of ‘the first modern political party’?
The Levellers were a mostly civilian movement of political radicals associated in particular with the religious dissenting radicals initially associated with John Lilburne, Richard Overton and William Walwyn that emerged from the chaos of the first Civil War[1] .  In July 1646, the ‘Remonstrance of Many Thousand Citizens’ was the first Leveller text to make a claim to a mass following, a significant moment in the genesis of the group (Foxley 2014)[2]. By the end of 1649, having fallen foul of the army’s leadership they would be finished as a pressure group (Worden 2010)[3] although political agitation they inspired, mostly from within the army, would continue into the early 1650s.  It should be noted that the name ‘Levellers’ was coined by the enemies of the movement ‘to imply that they favoured the abolition of property rights and the equalisation of wealth’.  Levellers was not a label the movement applied to itself.[4]

The claim that the levellers might be ‘the first modern political party’ is surely founded in the ideas they developed in these three years of prominence, when they would have influence within the army and the ear of the army’s leadership when a confluence of grievances against the new tyranny of Parliament (in particular under Holles) replaced that of the King.   Certainly by the standards of the times their developing ideology as represented in the final version of  their manifesto ‘An Agreement of the People’ were indeed revolutionary and the demands made were not dissimilar to those clamoured for nearly two centuries later prior to the Great Reform Act of 1832 and those of the Chartists of the 1840s.

The key demands set out in An Agreement of the People[5] were:
  • The right to vote for all men over the age of 21 (excepting servants, beggars and Royalists)
  • Annual elections to Parliament with MPs serving one term only
  • No army officer, treasurer or lawyer could be an MP (to prevent conflict of interest)
  • Equality of all persons before the law
  • Trials should be heard before 12 jurymen, freely chosen by their community
  • The law should proceed in English and cases should not extend longer than six months
  • No-one could be punished for refusing to testify against themselves in criminal cases
  • The death penalty to be applied only in cases of murder
  • Abolition of imprisonment for debt
  • Tithes should be abolished and parishioners have the right to choose their ministers
  • Taxation in proportion to real or personal property
  • Abolition of military conscription, monopolies and excise taxes
As Lacey points out[6] these demands were ignored during the interregnum and after the restoration but came to pass piecemeal from the early 1830s and into the final quarter of the 20th Century (with some still outstanding). This analysis demonstrates that the ideas set out to form a written and binding constitution between Parliament and the People, from whom, according to Leveller theory, Parliament received its authority. 

These ideas and the final proposals set out in ‘An Agreement of the People’ certainly seem modern to our eyes and somewhat radical in the context of the mid-17th century, although given the upheaval of the period and the search for an acceptable settlement after Parliament’s victory they probably did not seem as radical as we may think. The fact that Lilburne’s developing proposals were discussed at the Putney Debates of 1647 and a year later by a committee of Levellers, London Independents, MPs and army Grandees at the Whitehall Debates in December 1648, indicate that Leveller leaders had sufficient influence for their ideas to be heard at the highest levels and indicate that the Leveller movement was influential, at least up to that point.

Having influence, a modern agenda and ideology are factors that might lead one to conclude that the Levellers were indeed an early modern political party.  However, a number of authors have pointed out that the Levellers were not in any sense a political party[7].  The Encyclopaedia Britannica defines a political party as Political party, a group of persons organized to acquire and exercise political power[8].

There appears to have been no attempt by the Levellers, both within and without the army, to acquire power for themselves, even to enact their ideologies, but instead only to influence the real powers of the land to ensure that society was ordered differently and with wider participation. 

The premise that the Levellers were in any way organized to acquire and exercise power is weak.  Whilst the likes of Lilburne, Overton and Walwyn may well have been prominent in the movement it is hard to pin down a leadership role to any of them in the modern sense that a party political leader would have.  Some have said (unkindly given the exemplary military record of Lilburne and others) that the Leveller leaders were philosophers, pamphleteers, and paper warriors, not men of physical action themselves[9].  Certainly they were influential in the political space as is shown by their influence at the Putney Debates and Whitehall of 1647 and 1648 this was only as part of the wider political discourse in which the demands of the soldiery were to the fore.  The power base that the levellers did possess was never their own.  The influence of their ideology and manifesto was only felt because of its confluence with the interests of large sections of the army.

Whilst there were Leveller meetings and even a newspaper, The Moderate, that aimed coordinating Leveller supporters across the country[10] however, as Scott points out ‘any notion of a “Leveller party” is misleading’ as ‘movement never established a large-scale organisation of its own’[11]. Levellers had little or no real political support outside their own numbers, the middling-sort in London and the dissident rank and file members of the New Model Army. There was little or no support from the senior Army officer staff, or the wealthier upper middle classes[12].  Perhaps the best argument against declaring the Levellers to be a modern political party is that whilst they did have an ideology, it was one that was fashioned ‘on the hoof’ in response to rapidly changing, even cataclysmic, events rather than being developed through a coherent political philosophy.

The Levellers' appeal to the people as the ultimate source of political authority, Lilburne’s notion of the ‘free-born Englishman’, the relationship between consent in the religious sphere and in political life[13] as well as their manifesto as expressed in An Agreement of the People would make it hard to argue against the premise that the Levellers were first modern Social Democrats.  However to say that they were the first modern political party is to go too far.  They were not organized along the lines of a modern political party but operated within a mid-17th century model having influence through association with other groups – in particular section of the army.  There is no evidence that they sought power for themselves as would a modern party and their programme, such as it was was developed in extremis.   There is no evidence that they ever developed a broad base of support, when the army was purged of their supporters they had no powerbase to fall back on, consequently they were easily supressed after their brief flowering between 1646 and 1649.  In truth it would be more accurate to assert that the correct modern analogy for the Levellers is not The Political Party but a Political Movement – something like ‘Occupy Wall St’ or ‘Pegida’  though the leveller leaders did in 1647-9 have stronger positional influence through their connections to the Army Leadership than ‘Occupy Wall St’.

[1] http://bcw-project.org/church-and-state/sects-and-factions/levellers
[2] Foxley, R. (2014) The Levellers (Politics, Culture and Society in Early Modern Britain), Manchester University Press
[3] Worden, B (2010) The English Civil Wars: 1640-1660, pub W&N
[4] http://www.exlibris.org/nonconform/engdis/levellers.html
[5] http://bcw-project.org/church-and-state/second-civil-war/agreement-of-the-people

[6] http://hilary2016.conted.ox.ac.uk/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=6851  Whatever happened to the Levellers?
[7] http://www.exlibris.org/nonconform/engdis/levellers.html
[8] http://www.britannica.com/topic/political-party
[9] http://www.exlibris.org/nonconform/engdis/levellers.html
[10] http://bcw-project.org/church-and-state/sects-and-factions/levellers
[11] Scott,J. (2000) England’s Troubles, Seventeenth-Century English Political Instability in European Context, Cambridge
[12] http://www.exlibris.org/nonconform/engdis/levellers.html
[13] http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/1519 

Future Learn Courses Autumn 2014

Future Learn is a private company owned by The Open University that partners with other Academic Institutions to provide MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses ) which are free high quality online courses on a huge range of topics. For more info take a look at https://www.futurelearn.com/about . So far I have done 2 courses – England in the Time of Richard the 3rd – presented by Leicester University and Causes of War by King’s college London. The courses are typically between 3-8 weeks in length and require around 3-4hours online study per week though you can go faster or slower if you require. There is no pressure on learners and no qualifications are awarded (although courses will provide certificates of participation if you wish them).

With the long days of Summer rapidly receding I have decided to think about keeping myself occupied over the long nights of Autumn and Winter by doing 3 more courses all with a historical flavour:

Shipwrecks and Submerged Worlds Presented by the University of Southampton

This is a 4 week course presented by the University of Southampton whose lecturers ( Professor Jon Adams, Dr Lucy Blue, Dr Justin Dix, Dr Helen Farr, Dr Julian Whitewright, Dr Fraser Sturt and Dr Jesse Ransley ) for the most part seem to be rather young – I suspect the nature of Marine Archaeology requires a high degree of fitness at least for the field work! Week 1 introduces the topic and looks at the history of Marine Archaeology – a relatively recent discipline that only in the 20th century, and from 1960 in particular, progressed from the search for and recovery of ancient valuable artefacts to systematic study of the context in which objects are found and preserved. In week 1 a range of fascinating links are included for additional study – the Mars Wreck and UK National Maritime museum to name just 2. The scope of marine archaeology is wide indeed ranging from the study of submerged human towns and cities to the study of shipwrecks and even crashed aircraft this study covers deep water, coastal and tidal regions as well as rivers and lakes (Odo Blundell’s early 20th century study of Scottish crannogs is cited).

Week 2 looks at shipwrecks and seafaring using a few (of the estimated 3million) shipwrecks from different era and parts of the world as case studies. The earliest indirect evidence of seafaring pre-dates modern humans dated to 800 000ya and the island of Flores but then a gap of 750 000 yrs separates this to the next evidence – that of the settlement of Australasia by a genetically viable population. The range of seafaring craft are looked at from Floats to Rafts (such as Kon Tiki and Ra – see Heyerdahl) to Pot boats – these were completely new to me and the earliest wooden boats – initially logs but then planked. The explosion of seafaring in pre classical Mediterranean is reviewed where significant evidence exists of extensive trade as early as the Bronze age (the Uluburun wreck 49 m vessel carrying 10 tons of copper ingots from Cyprus) and thereafter through to Roman times and beyond. Eventually we work through Medieval and Viking Seafaring to the year round voyages of the 19th century using case studies and video/you tube clips of dives and sailing reconstructions. Again a wide variety of links are provided to additional material – too much to read in one go but definitely worth coming back to. One advantage with Future learn courses is that they don’t close as soon as your time is up – this at least gives you time to browse the material and additional reading at your leisure later – otherwise you will spend hours on you tube following interesting leads!

The course traces shipbuilding through reconstructions from Classical time through the Viking Age and into the Medieval. Surviving remains such as the cog the Doel 1 found in in Antwerp harbour - Dendrochronology dated wood at 1325- are used as case studies; a Cog btw is a carvel bottom and clinker sided vessel. The Doel 1 had been caulked with moss but sheep’s hair repairs suggested she had been worked on in Britain or Scandinavia as caulking material vaired from place to place.

Also covered this week are navigation and trade – the Hanseatic League is mentioned but the Society of Merchant Adventures – see my book review on the Merchant Adventures were an example of one of the many trading companies set up in the early modern perios. Technological development from Clinker to Carvel (1st seen in Mediterranean) and technological exchange resulting from trade is followed. Ships from Northern Europe had more efficient stern rudders developed for use in heavy seas whilst Mediterranaen ships had better carvel /skeleton construction that allowed for bigger ships and better use of materials (less wood and lower quality wood could be used). Carvel ships also provided excellent gun platforms and cut out gun ports low in the hull.

Case Studies this week included:
Greek and Viking reconstructions
Doel 1
Mary Rose
The Age of Sail and European Discovery and Empire
‘Flower of the Ugie’ an early to mid 19th Century vessel is given as a study of a trading vessel in use in the 1850s.

Week 3 Understanding the Sea
This week covered the effects of changing sea levels rather than ship construction so the effects on human habitation / cities are covered though ships are not forgotten as techniques for investigating the seabed and below are discussed as is their use in identifiying and mapping wreck sites.
Sea Levels have fluctuated markedly throughout human history (up to 120m several times over last 2.5m years) we know this because of core analysis amongst other things. The primary driving force behind large scale changes is Orbital Forcing as described by the Milankovic cycle; Smaller scale (though not necessarily small scale, changes in sea level have resulted from 3 other factors:

Eustasy - the amount of Water in the oceans which has varied significantly as the result of repeated Ice Ages, the inundation of Doggerland (now the North Sea) was a result of Eusatasy. Human artefacts and mammal bones have often been dredged by trawlers from the bottom of the North Sea – these are the remenants of Dogger Land

Tectonics which might cause near instantaneous change

The course uses paleogeographic (the old geography of the world) models to show how fluctuating sea levels have affected humans and landscapes and introduces techniques for investigating submerged landscapes/wrecks - Side Scan Sonar to 4 D Swath Bathymetry; sub bottom profiling (seismic - acoustic) ; magnetometry. Fraser Sturt and Helen Farr use a large wall map to discuss submerged paleo landscapes; how myths of submerged cities and landscapes persist in folk memory - e.g. Atlantis; the details of Atlantis may have been pure fictionbut they are based on a true narrative of sea-level rise and coastal change and so it is no wonder that these stories are so common around the world.

Finally we return to ships, specifically surveying for Shipwrecks using these techologies. The course uses the USS Richard Montgomery as a case study but another example would be Do17 recently recovered by RAF Museum. As a final activity you get to have a go yourself at finding wrecks using a downloadable pdf.

In week 4, the final week of the course, the focus shifts to look at the different techniques used by Maritime Archaeologists and discusses debates surrounding ethics which emerge from working underwater and differentiates between preservation in situ and preservation by record (through excavation). At the end of the week the Course team, whom I cannot praise highly enough for their enthusiasm and obvious enjoyment of their topic, suggest ways that students can continue to participate in the subject from Masters level study down to what individuals could do locally.

When looking at techniques for understanding the past, Dr Jesse Ransley presents a video showing how Marine Archaeologists study how traditional boat building is carried around the world today and brings up the topic of boat ethnoarcheology. Jesse describes how such study can help archaeologists understand the processes and practices involved in making boats, as well as the skills and knowledge of the people who make and use them. At the same time she warns about drawing wrong conclusion from lessons taken out of context – either in distance or time and points out that the evolution of design is not necessarily a linear process.
Some key milestones in Maritime Archeology are discussed as case studies :

Tybrind Vig, Denmark (5400-4000 cal BC) - a prehistoric submerged sites are so uniquely interesting is because the preservation of organic materials – here inn 1972 a number of log boats and decorated paddles were found in an inundated (due to sea lelvel change) landscape. The prescence of a number of log boats indicated that maritime transport was more common than had previously been thought.

Cape Gelidonya, Turkey (1200 BC) – discussed in week 1 of the course but in effect the progenitor of modern shipwreck archaeology it was the first site ever excavated by archaeologists who dived and thus conducted the excavation themselves rather than archaeologists instructing divers from the surface

The Grace Dieu, England (1439) - In the mudflats of the River Hamble, Henry V’s flagship. Built between 1416-18 this was the largest English ship to be built for the next 200 years; never used in war, in 1434, she was towed up the River Hamble to Bursledon, where she was laid up in a specially constructed dock in the mudflats. On 7 January 1439, lightning struck and a major part of the hull burnt out. Only the keel and some of the bottom planking remained embedded in the mud. At extreme low tides, the impressive wreck would surface from the river. The Victorians thought the wreck was a huge Danish Viking ship, because the hull was clinker-built. In January 1970, the University of Southampton bought the wreck for a sum of £5 and her care lies with its Department of Archaeology. In 1973 the Protection of Wrecks Act was passed, and it was one of the first sites to be designated as of historical and archaeological importance.

The Torrey Canyon, (1967) - the significance of the Torrey Canyon is that the spill from her wrecking
he pivotal part of the Torrey Canyon’s significance is that the environmental disaster she created forced a shift in ship design, from ‘single skinned’ ships to ‘double hulls’ . The course provides an interesting link to a BBC news report with a dive on this wreck - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-13280507

The importance of Archival research is demonstrated with a wide number of fascinating links wothy of bookmarking. The future development of the topic is discussed under the following headings
• people - trg local archaeologists; better skills and more people
• underwater technology - AUVs; re-breathers - dive time
• Applications of new scientific techniques - 3d Printing; Computer visualisation
• Public platforms for exploration. e.g. Google Earth abandoned shipwrecks database – take a look!

To finish the course, threats to the world’s maritime heritage , from treasure hunters to the uninformed dive tourists to coastal economic development are discussed along with some solutions including the UNESCO 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage (see the final week of the 1919 course for the expanding role of the UN!) This Convention aims:

• to ensure and strengthen the protection of underwater cultural heritage.
• States Parties shall cooperate in the protection of underwater cultural heritage.
• States Parties shall preserve underwater cultural heritage for the benefit of humanity in conformity with the provisions of this Convention.
• For thThe preservation in situ of underwater cultural heritage shall be considered as the first option before allowing or engaging in any activities directed at this heritage.
• Ensure that Underwater cultural heritage shall not be commercially exploited.

To close the course a google hang out with the educators is posted on You Tube. Annoyingly I got the day wrong so have missed the interactive part of this but I hall go back to it.

In summary this was a stunning course. There is a wealth of new material to while away the hours and I do hope to spend time following up on a number of these. I would highly recommend the course to anyone it is so well presented it makes you want to take up diving and go back to university. Well done and a BIG thank You to the Course Team.

World War 1: Paris 1919 - A New World Order? - University of Glasgow

This is a 3 week long course that looks at the aims and outcomes of the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. The course is highly interactive and put together with some excellent videos and online tutorials weekly – that are then posted on You Tube. The course is Led by Professor Christian Tams and is enjoyable, well put together and makes one look at the topic from a new perspective. The weekly Tutorials can be found on You Tube (I am assuming they are still posted after the course):

Today many see in the ashes of the Versailles settlement the seeds of the 2nd world war. This is certainly arguable but for those attending the conference the intent at least was different. 1919 was different to early international conferences in its attempt to provide global answers – Self Determination, the setting up of a system of international governance etc. and not just to carve up the spoils of victory. As the course introduction says ‘Paris was meant to be an inclusive, an open and a transformative event: a peace to end all wars’ It also marked the arrival of the USA onto the global stage with the dominant figure at the conference being US President Woodrow Wilson (the USA being the power that emerged significantly enriched in economic as well as military terms from the war) significantly Wilson spent 166 days in Europe in his attempt to rebuild the world order – compare this with Barrack Obama’s longest overseas trip of 10 days.

In 1919 every man and his dog turned up in Paris. Initially representatives of the Allied powers attended and these were joined by the defeated powers later. The conference had 2 aims - to ‘make a settlement of victor over vanquished’ and; to ‘establish a functioning international system after the disturbances created by a world war’ (Clive Archer, International Organisations, 14).
The 1st week of the course looks at the initial influence of Wilson, particularly at the start of the conference and then the formation and an assessment of the performance of the League of Nations. There was a tension between the victors’ war aims – getting the vanquished to pay for the war , and President Wilson’s demands that the new post-war order would be based on the principles of equity and justice. Paris 1919 was a Global Summit NGOs; Trade Unions as well as heads of Government. Trade Unions won support for an International Labour organisation and Ho Chi Minh attended and was inspired by Wilson’s ideas on Self Determination. The question of Wilson’s idealism vs Naïveté is discussed.

Wilson’s 14 points were certainly inspirational but in hindsight seem unrealistic. “It was easy to mock Wilson, and many did. It is also easy to forget how important his principles were in 1919 and how many people, and not just in the United States, wanted to believe in his great dream of a better world. They had, after all, a terrible reference point in the ruin left by the Great War. Wilson kept alive the hope that human society, despite the evidence, was getting better, that nations would one day live in harmony. In 1919, before disillusionment had set in, the world was more than ready to listen him." Unfortunately Wilson’s idealism was one thing in reality he had no effective plan for implementation (beyond the League of Nations – of which more in a moment). In hindsight it is hard to disagree with John Maynard Keynes appraisal of Wilson as a‘blind and deaf Don Quixote’ who had ‘no plan, no scheme, no constructive ideas whatever for clothing with the flesh of life the commandments which he had thundered from the White House’ (Keynes, The Economic Consequences of the Peace, 58). In particular his support for ‘self-determination’ of peoples did nothing more than fuel Nationalist ambitions in a range of countries that has echoes to this day (not good ones IMHO).

The League of Nations was the 1st Agenda Item – even ahead of the Peace Negotiations; brainchild of Wilson it is seen today as a failure – it clearly failed to stop WW2. However it was the first attempt at setting up a permanent organisation to act in the name of global governance. It was a failed experiment but it allowed lessons to be learned in the setting up of the UN. The League’s failure in the 1930s was a failure of the members to act against aggressors – Japan’s invasion of Manchuria, Italy’s of Abyssinia. . Too much depended on the willingness of the disputing States. They were to bring before the League (or submit to courts or commissions) all crises ‘likely to lead to a rupture’ (Article 15). During a cooling-off period, States agreed not to begin war while the League considered how to preserve peace. And if the League Council was unanimous, it could impose sanctions on States ignoring their obligations under the Covenant of the League of Nations. The Covenant was flawed in one crucial respect – just like the French Maginot line – was designed to preclude another World War One. But states did not sleepwalk into World War Two; one side aggressively planned for it!

The course then goes onto challenge the accepted view that the League was a failure. Clearly in its primary aim – it did fail but the League’s secondary aim - ‘to promote international co-operation’ outside the security field were much more successful. In particular in the issuing of ‘Nansen’ passports to Refugees to allow them to be resettled in safe countries, in disease response and control (influenza ; typhus and others ) and in economic fields the League it turns out was to some degree successful, with some of its structures visible in international law to this day.

Week 2 – Problems with Internet Connections really slowed me down! Not a fault of the course but of BT!

Many treaties re-wrote the map of Europe but also the Middle East and Africa. 3 factors shaped the post war settlement - The war aims of the allies; the failure of multi-ethnic empires and the principle of self-determination (followed less in the 'mandates' of the former Ottoman Empire) . Note though that self-determination was no cure-all – in fact it provided legitimacy to Hitler’s claims in the Sudetenland! Zara Steiner said, “The Paris treaties gave 60 million people a state of their own but turned another 25 million into minorities” (Steiner, The Lights That Failed, 259). The Statesmen in Paris it should be noted were often making decisions on the hoof and without advice! Often they were out of their depth – clearly illustrated by an MP3 recording of Diary Entry re Discussion on providing the Greeks; Italians and others with parts of Turkey in which Lloyd George attempted to offer Greek Islands to Italy thinking they were Turkish ones!

The Treaty of Trianon was the Hungarian Settlement - the decision to reduce Hungary to a rump - still highly unpopular today. Overturned in WW2 it was re-established and confirmed by the victorious Allies in 1945 - But it is still contested. In 2010 Hungary named 4 June (date f the signing of the treaty) as National Unity Day

The Paris conference was the 1st to include minority rights protection within its provisions - ‘Little Treaty of Versailles’, also known as the ‘Polish Minority Treaty’. It was the first attempt to set up rules for the protection of minorities on an international basis (although this was exactly what Hitler would use as his excuse for aggression in Poland and Czechoslovakia).

The Paris Peace Conference strengthened the idea that international disputes should be addressed by impartial courts, on the basis of international law. In retrospect, we can say that it marked an important step on the way towards a ‘world court’. There were 2 steps to setting up world courts - agreement to submit to Arbitration of the World Court from 1922. The Permanent Court of International Justice was established in The Hague 1922 - and it carries on to this day as the International Court of Justice. The World Court was in fact the only institution set p after 1919 that was taken up by the settlement of 1945. Today it is still housed in the Peace Palace in The Hague, and still functioning largely according to the same rules as those set in 1922.

The 2nd step was a discussion on war crimes. The peace treaties of Versailles (with Germany) and Sèvres (with the Ottoman Empire) made provision for the prosecution of persons that, in today’s terminology, would be referred to as ‘war criminals’. The Treaty of Versailles e.g. envisaged the prosecution of Kaiser Wilhelm II before an international tribunal; and required Germany to extradite ‘all persons accused of having committed an act in violation of the laws and customs of war’ (Article 228). These provisions provoked outrage in Germany, and were never effectively implemented, as the Netherlands refused to extradite the Kaiser. Germany also watered down the duty to extradite war criminals: it held war crime trials before German courts and ensured that they were conducted in a ‘minimalist’ way. As for Turkey, plans for investigating crimes committed against Armenians and others were never seriously implemented. While prosecutions after World War One never went very far, they are best seen as the ‘prologue’ to subsequent developments. After World War Two, the victors insisted on criminal justice – and prosecuted War Criminals at Nuremburg and in Tokyo. Since the 1990s International tribunals have continued to prosecute war crimes notably those committed in former Yugoslavia and Liberia. The Rome Conference of 1998 established a permanent International Criminal Court, competent to address genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression.

The week concludes that the ‘Paris Peace Conference is easy to criticise, but much of the criticism is overblown.’ Margaret MacMillan's assessment from her book ‘the Peacemakers’ is quoted to end the week:

"if the peacemakers could have done better, they certainly could have done much worse. They tried, even cynical old Clemenceau, to build a better order."

Week 3
This week the work of the next generation of peacemakers who tried again to build a new world order after another even more destructive world war. It should be remembered that the League of Nations had done nothing to prevent the 2nd World War and that the world did not ‘sleepwalk’ into the war this time around – Germany (in particular) and Japan actively planned for it. Despite the failure of the League of Nations to prevent WW2, the idea of a world organisation survived to become the United Nations during and after WW2

We begin the week with the following quote:
‘when the victor Powers began to reorganise the world in 1945 …, they had no doubt that something similar to the League of Nations must be formed again’ (Northedge, The League of Nations, 278).
On 8 May 1945 Truman announced that ‘the forces of Germany have surrendered to the United Nations’ reminding us today that the UN was not simply a post-war construct but had come into being as a concept, if not yet with a fully defined structure (this would come after the San Francisco Conference that ended whilst the war with Japan still raged) during the war and had come about by agreement between the major Allied Powers.

The fresh start required a new framework given the League’s failure and the founders of the UN (primarily GB; USA and USSR) had learned 3 crucial lessons – the need for universality, and the need to empower an executive body (the Security Council) to impose effective sanctions if the permanent five (France and Nationalist China were added at the last minute) members states acted in concert. Furthermore the peacemakers of 1945 did not tie the new project to the settlement of the war –unlike the creation of the League in 1919.

Unlike in 1919 the San Francisco conference, at which the UN Charter was finalised, was preceded by detailed discussions among the major powers that resulted in a near-complete text to serve as itskey reference document. This text contained the ‘cornerstone’ of the new international order: a general ban on military force in inter-State relations, which should henceforth only be used in self-defence or with the UN’s mandate.

A comparison between the League and the UN shows that they had similar structures but some very key differences. Both organisations had a Plenary Organ (the General Assembly at the UN); an Executive Body (the Sy Council) and a secretariat. A key difference however was that the Sy Council did not require unanimity to act it simply needed to avoid a Veto by a permanent member (of course this would cause many a block to action in future years as the Cold War took hold and even today can prevent Action e.g. Russian Support of the Assad Regime in Syria). Nevertheless the Sy Council could impose a wide range of military and economic sanctions, and it could do so by imposing upon UN member States binding legal obligations. The General Assembly’s powers were defined less clearly. The assembly was not to threaten the Security Council’s primary responsibility, and it could not impose binding legal obligations on members. Otherwise the General Assembly was free to take up matters at will which, given that it represented all the members (today nearly 200), it does with considerable legitimacy.

Like the League before it the UN also took up work to improve international co-operation in ‘technical’ areas but it has gone much further than the league as is evidenced by its support for and legitimation of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, passed as a (non-binding) resolution of the General Assembly in 1948; The Genocide Convention, denouncing genocide as a ‘crime under international law; and in its 1st resolution (Jan 1946) the setting up of the Atomic Energy Commission, to ‘deal with the problems raised by the discovery of atomic energy’.

The course discusses some of the difficulties of the UN over its 70 life span – not least the Cold War and the consequent inability of the Permanent Members to actually act in agreement in most cases, anotable exception being the Korean War when the Soviet representative was ordered by Stalin to boycott the meeting at which the resolution to intervene was passed. Issues with the permanency of the Sy Council members are raised in the discussion forums and it is certainly legitimate to query why powers such as Britain and France retain their permanent seats in 2014. Over its lifetime the UN has also expanded from 50 to nearly 200 members (the result of European empires de-colonisation being a major factor here); in 1973 West and East Germany were admitted. This growth gave the UN much more universality tan the League had ever known. Consequently the UN General Assembly is much less a mouthpiece for the Western Powers these days and the Assembly now regularly adopt resolutions opposed by the United States and western allies.
Since the 1970s the UN has provided a forum for the discussion of concerns around Human Rights and the environment (Stockholm Conference (1972) and the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (1992)). Of course since the end of the Cold War the UN has at times been remarkably effective (1st Gulf War) and remarkably ineffective (Rwandan Genocide) and of course the , western States’ assertion of a right to use force, without a UN mandate, against Serbia in defence of rights of Kosovar Albanians, antagonised a majority of UN member States – who emphasised the ban on the use of force has challenged the nature of the UN but so far it remains on balance a force for good and is still a key player on the global scene

In the last part of this course we will look 3 case studies used to view the UN today. In the area of global security the UN can sometimes seem powerless – witness Russian Aggression in the Ukraine and Israeli aggression in Gaza where the Sy council is stymied by vetoes. Still in contrast the case of Hany Yousseff is used to show how effective the UN can be against terrorist threats. In Medicine, according to a UN report in 2011, an estimated 6.9 million children died from mostly preventable diseases – that is 19,000 children per day and yet the role of UN agencies - UNICEF; WHO; UNHCR etc have been at the forefront of the fight against Polio – under the aegis of the UN, 2.5 billion children have been vaccinated against Polio since 1988 which has led to a 99% reduction in cases. In ‘technical’ areas the UN has been instrumental – through ICAO and the World Customs Organization in facilitating global travel

The final 2 paragraphs of the course are spoken in the last of his videos by Christian Tams:

'In fact, even while we remember the centenary of a great war, perhaps we should be ready to admit that the real world order challenges of our generation come less from war and peace than from hunger, poverty, and disease, which every year claim many more lives than interstate conflict.
The peacemakers may have got many things wrong, but they were bold. They try to build a better world order. In their high hopes, they were bound to be disappointed. But if we look back after nearly a century, perhaps there's something we can learn from the spirit that brought statesman and activists to Paris in 1919.'

My own conclusion on this course is that it was superbly well presented. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

World War 1: Aviation Comes of Age University of Birmingham (and RAF Museum Hendon)

This is a 3 week course that in reality is a potted history of early powered flight from the Wright Brothers upto the beginning of WW2 so is misnamed which was disappointing as it was WW1 that I was most interested in. The course is presented by Professor Peter Gray . Throughout the course Video clips and voice recordings of early pioneers such as Sopwith and DeHavilland as well as an eye witness to Bleriot’s crossing of the Channel in 1909 are used to illustrate key points and for me these were some of the most interesting parts.

The 1st week of the course looks at Pre WW1 and how the fantasy of flight – as quoted from Tennyson – becomes tinged with realisation of the darker implications of airpower as a weapon of war as the Wright Flyer was developed into more practical types.
Week 2 aviation - looks at development of Aircraft; tactics and weapons during the 1st WW; the importance of Recce at Mons – where the RFC spotted that the French 5 Army had not kept up with BEF advance - exposing BEF flank – informed the retreat and then the BEFs stand at Le Cateau. At the Marne the RFC was also to play a major part when it spotted the gap between the German First and Second Armies, into which the BEF advanced and the result was the ‘Miracle of the Marne

The myths of Chivalric Jousting in air fighting and ‘lions led by donkeys’ nonsense are discussed as well as the advent of Strategic bombing - which led directly to formation of RAF. Though having little impact in WW1 the focus of RAF doctrine between wars and into WW2 would be based on the lessons of WW1 - hence strategic bombing. Also discussed in this week is the industrial scale production developed from cottage industries at the start of the war; also brought in is the introduction of women to traditional male jobs
In week 3 the development of air power through civil use and the doctrine of strategic bombing is discussed though not in a lot of detail – no mention is made of Douhet or Billy Mitchell which is a missed opportunity.

Compared to the other 2 courses I have taken this autumn, this one has been aimed at a lower level of learning – this is not a criticism as the whole MOOC (Massive Open Online Course ) concept is appeal to a wide audience so it is important that those with no previous experience have courses available to stimulate further interest though for me I would have preferred to concentrate on Aviation in the lead up to and in the 1st WW.

A key lesson learned for me this year is to do 1 course at a time! Doing 3 has meant that I could not dig ionto all the fascinating material provided by both ‘World War 1: Paris 1919 - A New World Order?’ and ‘Shipwrecks and Submerged Worlds’ which is a shame – though at least the material is still available after the course. I already knew a great deal more than ‘World War 1: Aviation Comes of Age’ presented so I haven’t missed out here. Both the Paris 1919 and Shipwrecks course have inspired me to read more – Margaret MacMillan’s ‘The Peacemakers’ has been downloaded to the Kindle; Thor Heyerdahl’s and Tim Severin’s books have been taken off the bookshelf for a re-reading.

14 Oct 14

Future Learn Courses Autumn 2014

Future Learn is a private company owned by The Open University that partners with other Academic Institutions to provide free high quality online courses on a huge range of topics. For more info take a look at https://www.futurelearn.com/about . So far I have done 2 courses – England in the Time of Richard the 3rd – presented by Leicester University and Causes of War by King’s college London. The courses are typically between 3-8 weeks in length and require around 3-4hours online study per week though you can go faster or slower if you require. There is no pressure on learners and no qualifications are awarded (although most courses will provide certificates of completion if you wish them).

With the long days of Summer rapidly receeding I have decided to think about keeping myself occupied over the long nights of Autumn and Winter by doing 3 more courses all with a historical flavour:

Shipwrecks and Submerged Worlds University of Southampton

World War 1: Paris 1919 - A New World... University of Glasgow

World War 1: Aviation Comes of Age University of Birmingham

Once I complete these courses I shall be posting here my key take aways from each course.

21 Jan 14

“A simple lie is easier to sell than a complex truth” - Alexis De Tocqueville

I suspect a number of people are falling over themselves to score political points regarding the anniversary of the start of World War 1. In my view too many people are reverting to ill-informed cliché to frame the iew of the conflict. Sadly these include the Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove– with his overtly jingoistic ahistorical recent article in the ‘Daily Mail’. On one point though Gove was right in asserting that we need to get away from the myths surrounding the war – the Lions led by Donkeys nonsense and the USA ‘rescuing Europe’ myth of equal nonsense. To add something to the debate on this I have added some of my previous writing on these issues below. What I would ask people to do is to actually go away and read some modern history on the subject and stop perpetuating myth and misunderstanding.

"He presents to me in these red years the same mental picture as a great surgeon before the days of anaesthetics, versed in every detail of such science as was known to him: sure of himself, steady of poise, knife in hand, intent upon the operation; entirely removed in his professional capacity from the agony of the patient, the anguish of relations, or the doctrines of rival schools or the devices of quacks. He would operate without excitement, or he would depart without being affronted; and if the patient died, he would not reproach himself. It must be understood that I speak only of his professional actions. Once out of the theatre his heart was as warm as any man's." W S Churchill

Churchill’s statement is aimed directly at Haig’s war record and was made after Haig was safely deceased. What few realize today, thanks to the myths surrounding the war, was that Haig was hugely popular in Britain after the war. Churchill’s implication was that Haig, who assumed command of the BEF in December 1915, was a man of a previous era who had little understanding of modern warfare.

The statement is disingenuous and reflects the politician’s desire to shift blame for the horrendous casualties of the Western Front to the generals and away from their own culpability (Lloyd (LLiar) George pulled off the same trick in his memoirs also written after Haig’s demise). The same desire is one that led to panacea attempts to shorten the war by focusing on ‘Easterner’ answers that in truth were no less costly – see Churchill’s pet project Gallipoli (and his continued nonsensical attention to Europe’s ‘soft underbelly’ in WW2).

As a National commander Haig was subject to Government direction and limitations, such as Lloyd George’s insistence that the BEF fought at Arras in 1917(Sheffield, 2011 p199) . As the junior partner in the Western coalition before 1917 Haig could not choose his time and place of fighting – the Somme battle was brought forward (Haig would have preferred to have fought in Flanders and have waited until tanks were available) (Sheffield, 2011 p164) to relieve pressure on Verdun. Post war criticism of Haig focused on the number of casualties has tended to ignore the political imperatives that dictated offensive action (Sheffield, 2011 p372) thus forcing Haig to attack when the weapons available for the period 1915-17 tended to favour the defender.

Beckett (Beckett, 2007 p220) makes the point that in 1916 Haig did not understand artillery and criticizes him for continuing to seek a breakthrough battle, on the Somme when one was not in prospect. Beckett may have a point but the development of the BEF from 1916 to 1918, under Haig seems to support the view that Haig, and the army under him were able to adjust tactics so that eventually a breakthrough battle was achievable. This has been termed ‘the Learning Curve of the British Army’. Lessons learned on the Somme and at Ypres in 1917 were applied effectively in 1918. In particular Haig recognized the importance of artillery and in 1918 HAD ENOUGH available to provide heavy barrages at several points when earlier in the war there was insufficient artillery. As early as 1914 Haig had appreciated the importance of aircraft for reconnaissance and artillery spotting. By 1918 the technological improvement in this weapon allied to improved artillery techniques was decisive and supported by Haig.

The effective training of a newly raised army has been credited to Haig (Pugsley, 2011 p16) who appointed Solly-Flood to a newly created Training Directorate in 1917 for the specific purpose of disseminating Lessons Learned. Haig also supported development of doctrine for the use of Tanks (learning from the mistakes of the Somme in 1916) with infantry support.

Haig was no military genius, but neither was he a buffoon. His actions were constrained by coalition warfare, insufficient artillery early in his command and the need to train a citizen army from scratch as well as integrate new weapons and develop doctrine for their use. His victories in 1918 were the result of effective learning and command.

Regarding the influence of the USA the main impact of the US intervention was the power which the Americans could eventually bring into the war, rather than the size of the contribution they were able to make by the end of 1918. We shouldn't back-cast from the 2nd world war the USA's importance as an industrial/technological power - she was armed by France and Britain in 1917/18 rather than vice versa (Stachan 2000) . As a trading power her supplies of agricultural good (horses and food) was more important to the Entente powers than weaponry.

Nevertheless the main combatant states by 1917 were very strained financially, socially and militarily by the whole conflict. The idea that the war was going to be short and easily concluded had been shattered, in Britain the Liberal government had collapsed and a new coalition government needed to be formed. The civilian government in Germany had been steadily undermined by the military high command as the war dragged on and by 1917 the most important figures in German politics were Ludendorff and Hindenburg. Civilian rations were dwindling and the only thing which kept morale going on all sides was the idea that the war could not last indefinitely and that eventually the opposing side would be able to fight no longer. The US was a very important industrial power by the late-nineteenth century and possessed huge natural resources so the psychological blow of US intervention in 1917 was very significant though her actual fighting contribution was small relative to Britain and France. The governments and populations of the Central Powers must have wondered just how long the conflict could continue as American military resources arrived in Europe.
Further Reading:

The War that Ended Peace: How Europe abandoned peace for the First World War [Hardcover]
Professor Margaret MacMillan (Author)
ISBN-10: 184668272X
ISBN-13: 978-1846682728

The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 [Hardcover]
Christopher Clark
Publisher: Allen Lane (27 Sep 2012)
ISBN-10: 071399942X
ISBN-13: 978-0713999426

The Making of the First World War [Hardcover]
Ian Beckett
Publisher: Yale University Press (2 Oct 2012)
ISBN-10: 0300162022
ISBN-13: 978-0300162028

The First World War: A New History [Paperback]
Hew Strachan
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Free Press; New edition edition (2 May 2006)
ISBN-10: 074323961X
ISBN-13: 978-0743239615


i Sheffield,G. (2011) The Chief: Douglas Haig and the British Army; Aurum Press Ltd, London

ii Sheffield,G. (2011) The Chief: Douglas Haig and the British Army; Aurum Press Ltd, London

iii Sheffield,G. (2011) The Chief: Douglas Haig and the British Army; Aurum Press Ltd, London

iv Beckett, I F W (2007); The Great War: 1914-1918 (Modern Wars In Perspective) 2nd Ed; Routledge

v Pugsley, C (2011); Haig and The Implementation of Tactical Doctrine on the Western Front ;Central Library RMA Sandhurst

vi Strachan, Hew, The Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War, Oxford University Press, 2000, page 148

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