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Posts Tagged ‘Napoleon

“History is past politics and politics present history”*…


Vintage compass lies on an ancient world map.

A recent study confirms a disturbing trend: American college students are abandoning the study of history. Since 2008, the number of students majoring in history in U.S. universities has dropped 30 percent, and history now accounts for a smaller share of all U.S. bachelor’s degrees than at any time since 1950. Although all humanities disciplines have suffered declining enrollments since 2008, none has fallen as far as history. And this decline in majors has been even steeper at elite, private universities — the very institutions that act as standard bearers and gate-keepers for the discipline. The study of history, it seems, is itself becoming a relic of the past.

It is tempting to blame this decline on relatively recent factors from outside the historical profession. There are more majors to choose from than in the past. As a broader segment of American society has pursued higher education, promising job prospects offered by other fields, from engineering to business, has no doubt played a role in history’s decline. Women have moved in disproportionate numbers away from the humanities and towards the social sciences. The lingering consequences of the Great Recession and the growing emphasis on STEM education have had their effects, as well.

Yet a deeper dive into the statistics reveals that history’s fortunes have worsened not over a period of years, but over decades. In the late 1960s, over six percent of male undergraduates and almost five percent of female undergraduates majored in history. Today, those numbers are less than 2 percent and 1 percent. History’s collapse began well before the financial crash.

This fact underscores the sad truth of history’s predicament: The discipline mostly has itself to blame for its current woes. In recent decades, the academic historical profession has become steadily less accessible to students and the general public — and steadily less relevant to addressing critical matters of politics, diplomacy, and war and peace. It is not surprising that students are fleeing history, for the historical discipline has long been fleeing its twin responsibilities to interact with the outside world and engage some of the most fundamental issues confronting the United States…

Hal Brands and Francis J. Gavin suggest that “The historical profession is committing slow-motion suicide.”

[Image above: source]

* The motto of the Johns Hopkins History Department (attributed to 19th century Oxford historian Edward Augutus Freeman by some scholars, and to 19th century Cambridge historian Sir John Robert Seeley by others)


As we look to the past, we might recall that it was on this date in 1803 that the Louisiana Purchase was consummated, when the U.S. took formal possession of 828,000 square miles of territory from France (an area that includes all or part of 15 current U.S. states and 2 Canadian provinces).  Americans had originally sought to purchase only the port city of New Orleans and its adjacent coastal lands; but Napoleon, cash-strapped by his war with England, offered a (much) larger parcel– and the U.S. quickly agreed.


The modern continental United States, with the Louisiana Purchase overlaid




Written by LW

December 20, 2018 at 1:01 am

“That’s the place to get to—nowhere”*…


In a triumph of data collection and analysis, a team of researchers based at Oxford University has built the tools necessary to calculate how far any dot on a map is from a city — or anything else.

The research, published in Nature last month, allows us to pin down a question that has long evaded serious answers: Where is the middle of nowhere?

To know, you’d have to catalogue and calculate the navigation challenges presented by the planet’s complex, varied terrain and the dirt tracks, roads, railroads and waterways that crisscross it. You’d then need to string those calculations together, testing every possible path from every point to every other point.

That is pretty much what the folks did at the Malaria Atlas Project, a group at Oxford’s Big Data Institute that studies the intersection of disease, geography and demographics. The huge team — 22 authors are credited — spent years building a globe-spanning map outlining just how long it takes to cross any spot on the planet based on its transportation types, vegetation, slope, elevation and more. Those spots, or pixels, represent about a square kilometer.

Armed with this data, and hours and hours of computer time, The Washington Post processed every pixel and every populated place in the contiguous United States to find the one that best represents the “middle of nowhere.”

Congratulations, Glasgow, Mont.!

Of all towns with more than 1,000 residents, Glasgow, home to 3,363 people in the rolling prairie of northeastern Montana, is farthest — about 4.5 hours in any direction — from any metropolitan area of more than 75,000 people…

Remoteness, ranked– see the runners-up and the contenders in other categories at “Using the best data possible, we set out to find the middle of nowhere.”

* D.H. Lawrence, Women in Love


As we idolize isolation, we might recall that it was on this date in 1815 that Napoleon, who had been banished to France’s “middle of nowhere,” escaped from Elba.  With 700 men, he sailed back to France.

The 5th Regiment was sent to intercept him and made contact just south of Grenoble on 7 March 1815. Napoleon approached the regiment alone, dismounted his horse and, when he was within gunshot range, shouted to the soldiers, “Here I am. Kill your Emperor, if you wish”.  The soldiers quickly responded with, “Vive L’Empereur!” Ney, who had boasted to the restored Bourbon king, Louis XVIII, that he would bring Napoleon to Paris in an iron cage, affectionately kissed his former emperor and forgot his oath of allegiance to the Bourbon monarch. The two then marched together towards Paris with a growing army. The unpopular Louis XVIII fled to Belgium after realizing he had little political support. On 13 March, the powers at the Congress of Vienna declared Napoleon an outlaw. Four days later, Great Britain, Russia, Austria, and Prussia each pledged to put 150,000 men into the field to end his rule…  [source]

So began the Hundred Days of Napoleon’s second reign, at the end of which (on the 22nd of June) he abdicated.

Napoleon returned from Elba, by Karl Stenben, 19th century



Written by LW

February 26, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Simplicity is the final achievement”*…


Most innovations evolve over time, but when it comes to the index card, there has been little room for improvement. The idea of using “little paper slips of a standard size” has been around since Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus formally adopted it in 1767, but the index card has remained virtually unchanged for the past 250 years.

Linnaeus was inundated with information in his herculean task of classifying plants under the system of binomial nomenclature. While inspecting the Queen of Sweden’s butterfly collection in 1752, he had the idea to use small, uniform cards to catalog his findings.

By the time he started using the system on a regular basis, his method had evolved to very much resemble index cards of today: 3×5 inches on card stock only slightly more substantial than everyday paper, with notes written across the card horizontally. Linnaeus’ innovation would eventually give birth to the Dewey Decimal System and other ambitious attempts to systematically categorize human knowledge—but it also had a dark side.

As Daniela Blei writes in the Atlantic, “From nature’s variety came an abiding preoccupation with the differences between people. As soon as anthropologists applied Linnaeus’s taxonomical system to humans, the category of race, together with the ideology of racism, was born.”…

From Vladimir Nabokov’s use of index cards to write his novels (and to do his interviews) to less expected uses, explore the lore at “Index Cards.”

See also “How the Humble Index Card Foresaw the Internet.”

* Frederic Chopin


As we file ’em away, we might recall that it was on this date in 1795 that the French government announced a prize of 12,000 francs for a method of preserving food and transporting it to its armies.  Napoleon, who famously understood that an army travels on its stomach, had offered the award.

Nicolas Appert, who worked 14 years to perfect a method of storing food in sterilized glass containers, won the prize in 1810.  Interestingly, that same year (1810), Appert’s friend and agent, Peter Durand, took the invention to the other side.  He switched the medium from glass to metal and presented it to Napoleon’s enemies, the British– scoring  a patent (No. 3372) from King George for the preservation of food in metal (and glass and pottery) containers… the tin can.

One of Appert’s/Durand’s first cans



Written by LW

February 2, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Hell, when I was growing up, I could make a meal out of a package of Top Ramen and a bottle of Windex”*…


In 1958, Momofuku Ando, the founder of Nissin Food Products, invented Chicken Ramen, the first instant ramen product. In 1971, he created Cup Noodles, introducing the world to instant ramen in the form that’s become its avatar… Ando continued to create many variations on the theme, culminating, in 2005 (two years before his death at age 96) with Space Ramen (ramen packaged consumption during for space travel).

Ando’s personal fortune was dedicated at his death to the formation of the Ando Foundation, which has created the CupNoodles Museum.

Dig in at “CupNoodles Museum.”

* Coolio


As we add the flavor packet, we might send well-preserved birthday greetings to Nicolas Appert; he was born on this date in 1752 (though the year is listed in various sources as 1749, 1750 and 1752; month also varies between October and November).  Inventor of the canning process, preserving food by sealing it in sterilized containers, he published the results of 14 years of research in 1810 and received 12,000 franc award from the French government. Napoleon, who famously understood that an army travels on its stomach, had offered the award.

Interestingly, that same year (1810), Appert’s friend and agent, Peter Durand, took the invention to the other side.  He switched the medium from glass to metal and presented it to Napoleon’s enemies, the British– scoring  a patent (No. 3372) from King George for the preservation of food in metal (and glass and pottery) containers– the tin can.

One of Appert’s/Durand’s first cans



Written by LW

October 23, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Waterloo – Couldn’t escape if I wanted to”*…


On the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo** this week, The Bodleian Library is featuring it’s Curzon Collection of political prints from the period of the Napoleonic wars– including several British and French cartoons depicting Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo.

Most are available online in the Oxford Digital Library.

* Abba

** Napoleon wasn’t actually in Waterloo when he met his Waterloo. Most of the battle had occurred in Braine-l’Alleud and Plancenoit, just a few miles south of the town (the Lion’s Mound, the most iconic symbol of the battle, is located in Braine-l’Alleud). [source]


As we retreat to Paris, we might recall that it was on this date in 1782 that Congress adopted the Great Seal of the United States and, effectively, the bald eagle as the national symbol.  Benjamin Franklin, who had been a member of one the four committees charged with developing a design for the seal and had proposed an allegorical theme from Exodus, later wrote to his daughter,

For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.

“With all this Injustice, he is never in good Case but like those among Men who live by Sharping & Robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank Coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the District. He is therefore by no means a proper Emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our Country…

“I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on…



Written by LW

June 20, 2015 at 1:01 am

Bonaparte’s Boom-Stick*…

“The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries,” Jacques-Louis David (1812)


In 1821, the year of Napoleon Bonaparte’s death from stomach cancer, his penis embarked on a journey that rivaled its owner’s bloodthirsty trek across Europe. It began on an autopsy table on the British island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean, which had been the emperor’s home since the ill-fated Battle of Waterloo…

Shortly after the autopsy, rumors circulated in Paris that the doctor’s aides had smuggled various souvenirs from the island: strips of the bloody bed sheet, teeth, nail clippings, splinters of rib, locks of hair, chunks of bowels. Dr. Antommarchi himself filched the emperor’s death mask and two pieces of lower intestine, which he left with friends in London. Napoleon’s chaplain, Abbé Ange Vignali, laid claim to the most intimate part of the royal anatomy, boasting about his treasure when he went home to Corsica. Two decades later, when the British government allowed Napoleon’s body to be returned to Paris, Vignali’s relatives kept Napoleon’s penis for themselves—at least until 1916, when descendants put the Vignali collection up for auction. The organ was described thusly in the catalogue: “a mummified tendon taken from [Napoleon’s] body during post-mortem.”

An unknown British collector purchased the penis, which had been exposed to the air over the previous century and shrunk considerably. In 1924, eccentric American collector A.S.W. Rosenbach bought it for £400. Home in Philadelphia, he boasted of the relic, used it as a conversation piece for parties, and temporarily loaned it to the Museum of French Art in New York, which displayed it on a small velvet cushion. “Maudlin sympathizers sniffed; shallow women giggled, pointed,” Time magazine reported. “In a glass case they saw something looking like a maltreated strip of buckskin shoelace or a shriveled eel”—a verdict that would give anyone a complex.

In 1969, the Vignali Collection was shipped back to London for auction, but Napoleon’s penis failed to sell. Eight years later, the collection was broken up and auctioned in Paris, where Columbia University professor Dr. John K. Lattimer—America’s leading urologist—bought it for 13,000 francs, about $2900. He had it X-rayed at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, which confirmed that it is definitely a penis (although French cultural officials remain skeptical of its provenance, and refuse to exhume Napoleon’s body for examination). Lattimer kept his Napoleonic trophy in a suitcase under his bed in Englewood, New Jersey, where it stayed until he died in 2007. His daughter has fielded at least one $100,000 offer and has so far showed it to only one person, author Tony Perrottet, who deemed it “certainly small, shrunken to the size of a baby’s finger, with white shriveled skin and desiccated beige flesh”…

Read the whole tale at “The Strange Journey of Napoleon’s Penis.”

[C.F. also:  Rasputin’s penis, on display in Moscow, where the museum director avers that “having this exhibit, we can stop envying America, where Napoleon Bonaparte’s penis is now kept. Napoleon’s penis is but a small ‘pod’, it cannot stand comparison to our organ of 30 centimeters.”]

* your correspondent’s own nomination for addition to the (self-proclaimed) “world’s longest list of penis euphemisms


As we wonder at all this jones-ing for johnsons, we might recall that it was on this date in 1859 that the final installment of what is surely the English language’s best-known (and loved) account of the preface to Napoleon’s rise, Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, was published in Dickens’ periodical All the Year Round.

 from the Victoria & Albert Museum’s site, where one can browse the manuscript of A Tale of Two Cities

Written by LW

November 15, 2013 at 1:01 am

In memoriam…

From the sublime to the ridiculous is but a step.

Napoleon, on the invasions of Russia (10 December 1812),as recorded by Abbé du Pradt


“Napoleonland”, the brainchild of former French minister and history buff Yves Jégo, is being touted as a rival to Disneyland – assuming, that is, it can gather the £180 million needed to leave the drawing board.

The plan is to build the unlikely amusement park on the site of the brilliant but doomed French leader’s final victory against the Austrians in the Battle of Montereau in 1814 just south of Paris.

With its reenactments (including a water show re-staging of Trafalgar), a ski run through a battlefield “surrounded by the frozen bodies of soldiers and horses,” and a recreation of Louis XVI being guillotined during the revolution, “it’s going to be fun for the family,” Mr Jégo promises.

Read the whole story in The Telegraph.

As we contact our travel agents, we might compose a birthday verse in dactylic hexameter for Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis, AKA Juvenal; the author of the Satires was (at least insofar as tradition has it; the records are scant-to-the-point-of-nonexistent) born on this date in 55 CE.

quis custodiet ipsos custodes (Who will watch the watchmen?)

Satires, 6.347-48

 Frontispiece of Dryden’s translation of Satires (source)

Written by LW

March 2, 2012 at 1:01 am

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