Tuesday, December 27, 2011

War Horse

Christmas Day I sat in a very full movie theater and experienced a crowd so moved by what they had watched they cheered and clapped at the end of the movie.    It’s such a rare occurrence.   I think I can count on one hand the times in my life where I’ve witnessed clapping after a movie, but the particular movie I saw deserved it.  I just have to wonder how many of those people realized they enjoyed a story that was originally published as juvenile fiction.

Yes!   The movie War Horse was originally published as a book for young adults in 1982 by Michael Morpungo.

The movie could be summed up by five words – a boy and his horse – but it’s so much more than that.   While the main storyline involves a very special horse and a young man who owns him there are other story lines as well involving duty, responsibility, patriotism, etc.  Morpungo expertly weaves a tale about the horse and various people he meets before and during the course of World War I. 
The horse ends up entering the war when he is sold to an English cavalry officer.  From there the horse ends up pulling ambulance wagons for the Germans, living with a French girl and her grandfather, and then has the arduous task of pulling German artillery before miraculously meeting up with his owner again following the Second Battle of the Somme in 1918.

Once the horse entered military service I couldn’t help but think with every new scene how great it would be to use the movie in the classroom to enhance a World War I unit.  The realism of no man’s land, the mud and muck of trench warfare, the gas, the barbed wire, the stories where men from both sides would meet up at times under a flag of truce within no man’s land were all part of the real war.  There are many facets of War Horse that would help students key in on content they have learned in the classroom regarding the Great War.

One aspect of the war I have never taught is the use of horses.   One million horses died on the British side alone.  Most folks learn World War I was the first war with modern technology.  This is true since it was the first war where the tank, motorized vehicles, poison gas, etc., were used, but it was actually a war where warfare was in transition.   Cavalry units were used as portrayed in the movie, and as more and more machine guns were utilized the cavalry units were phased out.  In fact, trench warfare had made the cavalry superfluous.   The Germans had disbanded theirs by the end of 1917.

One of the key scenes in the movie involves a disastrous cavalry charge by the British which was filmed appropriately at Stratfield Saye House in North Hampshire, the estate of the Duke of Wellington who along with his charger, Copenhagen, became famous for their heroic exploits during the Napoleonic Wars.  This site indicates:

Copenhagen and the Duke became synonymous and even in retirement from war they remained together.  The Iron Duke, as he was affectionately known, become Prime Minister of Britain in 1828 and rode Copenhagen up Downing Street to No. 10 to take up his new position of leadership….When the great horse died in 1836, at the remarkable age of 29, he was given a funeral with full military honors.  

As technology took over the role of horses began to change.  Since horses were better at traveling over mud and rough terrain many were used for logistical support as many of the scenes in War Horse supported.
Artist Alfred Munnings is considered to be Great Britain’s finest painter of horses, and during World War I he worked as a war artist where he painted many scenes and often worked a few thousand yards from the German lines.

One particular painting by Munnings is titled Charge of Flowerdew’s Squadron 1918, seen below, which portrays what is described as “the last great cavalry charge” during the Battle of Moreuil Wood.  

Flowerdew’s squadron rode into the fire of fine infantry companies….more than half of the men in C Squadron were killed.   Flowerdew was fatally wounded.

This link is about another horse and its rider during the Battle of Moreuil Wood.   The article and the recollections regarding the cavalry charge have many similarities to the cavalry charge in the movie War Horse.

I have a feeling War Horse will be receiving several awards over the next year, and I highly recommend the movie to everyone who wants to see an emotional and interesting movie regarding historical content. 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Official White House Christmas Card for 2011

I've been writing about the official White House Christmas card here at History Is Elementary and American Presidents Blog since 2006.  I love to look back at past administrations to see what design was chosen.

Unfortunately, over the last few years the card seems to cause some type of controversy...either it causes the politically correct leaning folks to be appalled because a Bible verse is on a card that happens to be recognizing a holiday  which happens to celebrate the birthday of Jesus Christ OR the card happens to be too secular for the taste of Christians who get their feathers ruffled because there aren't enough details on the card to determine it is in fact a Christmas card.

Well, this year is no different.

Head on over to American Presidents Blog for the whole story and to get a glimpse of this year's official card.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

13 Things About Flappers

When we think of Flappers we think of women in the 1920s wearing dresses with low waistlines, with hemlines a little below the knee, long strands of beads, rolled stockings, cloche hats, bobbed hair and lots of dancing, right?

1. All of that is true and more including rather scandalous behavior for the times that had to do with smoking, wearing make-up and being sexually promiscuous.  It has to be pointed out though some women took on the Flapper style, but they opted out regarding some of the more scandalous behaviors, but others took to some of the more tame activities which including driving a car.

2. The word "flapper" dates back as far as 1631 and meant "prostitute."  Eventually, it came to be a slang term referring to a mid-teenage girl.  In 1904, the novelist Desmond Coke used the term "flapper" in a sentence that read, "There's a stunning flapper."

3. Many think the Flapper Era began in the United States, but it can actually be traced to Great Britain via Germany.  By 1910, there were a series of stories in a London magazine regarding a 15 year old girl and her Flapper adventures, and in 1912, John Tiller, a British dance troupe organizer who specialized in precision dance mentioned a Flapper was a girl who had "just come out."   Tiller eventually brought his dance troupes to America and the "Tiller girls" eventually morphed into groups like The Rockettes.

4. Author, F. Scott Fitzgerald and artist, John Held, Jr. are credited with first using the term in the United States.   Fitzgerald described the Flapper as "lovely, expensive, and about nineteen."  Held drew young girls wearing unbuckled galoshes that would make flapping noises when walking.  It is his illustrations that provide the idealized image we know today as the "The Flapper."

5. By 1920, the ideal image we have of a Flapper had evolved.  CoCo Chanel introduced the "garconne" look which means "little boy".  Women actually wound their chests with strips of cloth in order to flatten their breasts.  Waistlines dropped to the hips.

6. The Flapper Era encouraged clothing that was lighter and more flexible.  This encouraged women to be free and move around.  The laces and stays that were the norm during the Victorian Era were gone.  Many critics state the loose clothing led to independent thinking and of course, ended up with many having contempt for Victorian values.  Flappers certainly had image AND attitude.

7. The type of "step-in" panties women wear today came into use during the Flapper Era replacing restrictive corsets and pantaloons.

8. Dances such as the Charleston, Black Bottom, and Shimmey were created during the Flapper Era.   A quote from Atlantic Monthly dated May, 1920 states, "...trots like foxes, limp like a lame ducks, one-step like cripples and all to the barbaric yawp of strange instruments which transforms the whole scene into a moving-picture of a fancy ball in bedlam."

9. The concept of dating was born during the Flapper Era.  Pre-arranged and chaperoned courting would soon become a thing of the past.

10. In an article during the decade titled, "Too Many Women", Dr. R. Murray-Leslie described Flappers as, "the social butterfly type...the frivolous, scantily-clad, jazzing flapper, irresponsible and undisciplined, to whom a dance, a new hat, or a man with a car, were of more importance than the fate of nations."

11. However, many historians argue the Flapper Era had its start because "the fate of nations" referring to World War I.  Many historians theorize the Flapper Era became so entrenched with society in the 1920s due to the loss of so many men in the Great War.  By the time the war was in full swing young men were dying left and right which led many people to cling to the eat, drink and be merry attitude.  

Men and women opted for extreme (considered then) life changes.  Women had a very hard time...without possible suitors they didn't want to waste their life in spinsterhood.

12. Once the war was over it was hard to get back to normal.  Folks wanted to enjoy life, and they did.   They took risks.

13. The Flapper craze did not survive the Great Depression, but the new or modern woman had been created.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The President's Overdue Library Books

I have to admit that I have had my fair share of overdue library books before.
Stuff happens, right?

We don’t mean to steal the book.  We just get a little sidetracked with our busy lives or the book ends up in a place where it is no longer in our line of sight and we forget all about it.

We’re human, right?

Why on Earth would we think that the same thing couldn’t have happened to President George Washington?

(Head on over to American Presidents Blog here for the rest of my story……)

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Static History...It Doesn't Exist

We would like to think that history is static meaning that it never changes. 
We would like to think the history we learn in school will be the same history our children learn, but it can't be.  
History does change.
Time marches on creating new history and existing history changes over time as well.   Each new generation analyzes past events based on their context - what they are currently experiencing.  The further we get away from a particular event points of view change, new variables come into play shaping the events, and attitudes shift over time. 
New resources such as journals, letters, etc. come to light all the time to give new interpretations.  New archaeological evidence is discovered that can change historical events dramatically.
Last year an interesting discovery was written regarding Africans and the Western Hemisphere.  It seems 49 skeletal remains were found by archaeologist working at the colony of La Isabela in present-day Dominican Republic.  The colony was founded by Columbus during his second voyage to the New World in 1493. 
1700 souls helped settle the colony and when 300 remained due mainly to disease and starvation Columbus finally abandoned the place.
Last year the reports...this one included...advised two of the remains found were thought to be of African descent.   If this is proven we could be teaching students within a few years that Africans reached the New World possibly 150 years before we previously thought, and it might possibly turn out they came here of their own free will since their arrival pre-dates known slavery.  The last update regarding the testing and analysis of the situation is the one I linked to above.  I haven't been able to find a new update.
When I was in elementary school Christopher Columbus had a very tall pedestal and went from THE man who discovered America to one of the men who discovered America.   Then there was the discussion regarding how you can discover a place where folks were already living there, and the most important change in the story came about when we began teaching how natives were treated once Columbus arrived.  Many educators were actually criticized for giving the Columbus myth a black eye, yet we cannot keep teaching the same story once new details are discovered.
Yes, history changes.
Sometimes history changes because corrections have to be made.  The other day I was writing an installment of my local history column and discovered a slight error regarding the travels of Benjamin Hawkins, an Indian Agent, through the wilderness of Georgia and Alabama in the early 1800s.
You can find my post, Credit Where Credit Is Due here.