Socrates In The News

October 18th, 2010 by De oppresso liber

Socrates, one of the foremost philosophers of Classical Greece, continues to make news more than two thousand years after his death. According to Britain’s Guardian newspaper, the great hemlock swilling thinker is still relevant.

The paper offers a nice introduction to Socrates and his influence, his life and death, before noting that we should not elevate him beyond the corporeal realm.  He was very human: “a bustling, energetic, wine-swilling, man-loving, vigorous, pug-nosed, sword-bearing war veteran: a citizen of the world, a man of the streets.”

Says the paper: were he still alive, Socrates would have greeted the distracted, texting-obsessed world of today with an “I told you so” smile.  “Our modern passion for fact-collection and box-ticking rather than a deep comprehension of the world around us would have horrified him too.  What was the point, he said, of cataloguing the world without loving it?”

Ultimately, Socrates fell victim to pheme, trial by media.  His public stock fell after the masses came to believe that he had corrupted the youth.  Far from corrupting the kids, the article holds, Socrates held fast to his ideals.  He stuck with core values that we would all do well to pursue.  “Rather than follow the example of his accusers, we should perhaps honour Socrates’s exhortation to ‘know ourselves,’ to be individually honest, to do what we, not the next man, knows to be right.  Not to hide behind the hatred of a herd, the roar of the crowd, but to aim, hard as it might be, towards the ‘good’ life.”

Whether you’re looking for life lessons, or not, the article warrants a look.

Passport to Pimlico

October 18th, 2010 by De oppresso liber

As many of you may now, I’m in the midst of researching a book about nineteenth and twentieth century English public houses. A big part of studying the past involves trying to understand events within the context of the time in question. What were the various concerns of the people? Aesthetic ideas? Major political concerns? Economic conditions? And so on.

To prepare for writing this new book, I’ve been watching old British films in my spare time. Most recently, it was Passport to Pimlico.  Absolutely fascinating.

The plot is simple enough.  It is 1949 and much of London is still in ruins after the war.  In Pimlico, debate rages over what to do with an open-space created by German bombs.  A park?  Sell it for development?  The question is made irrelevant when some boys manage to blow up an unexploded German bomb.  When one of the neighborhood leaders falls into the blast hole he finds a medieval treasure and a document that shows, without doubt, that Pimlico is the possession of a prince from Burgundy.  The residents of Pimlico are foreigners!

The film functions on at least four levels.  First, it is a good comedy.  Second, it offers a fantastic critique of the postwar British bureaucracy (which is totally unable to deal with the diplomatic issues created by this crisis).  Third, the movie evolves into a timely comment on contemporary events in Berlin where the airlift was in high gear when this film was made.  At one stage, the good people of Pimlico (who are soon surrounded by a barbed wire wall) are the beneficiaries of airlifted supplies.  Finally, the movie engages with British ideas about national identity.

In short, Passport to Pimlico is a wonderful historical document.

Passport to Pimlico Trailer

Check it out!

—Eric G.E. Zuelow

Grand Tours of Scotland

October 15th, 2010 by De oppresso liber

Although not available in the States (yet), Grand Tours of Scotland is currently running on BBC1 and BBC2 in the United Kingdom. This clip not only gives an idea of what the show is like, it provides some really fascinating information about Victorian tourism.

Hitler Exhibit Opens In Germany

October 14th, 2010 by De oppresso liber

Ever since graduate school I have been particularly interested in Holocaust memory.  There is no place where such memory work is more contentious than in Germany.  Here, guilt remains very much a part of the national identity.  Strict laws forbid Nazi-like hate speech and Nazism is illegal.  Whenever a new monument is installed, a furor of dialogue and debate is the result.  Whenever a new movie proposes to address the Nazi past, it immediately becomes a focal point for fierce discourse.

It is therefore very interesting that Berlin’s German Historical Museum recently launched the first exhibit in German history devoted to Adolf Hitler.  England’s Guardian newspaper reports that the exhibit is designed to explore how Hitler came to power.  The author writes:

“Hitler and the Germans: Nation and Crime, at Berlin’s German Historical Museum, has been praised for smashing taboos and opening afresh the debate about how Hitler managed so successfully to seduce a nation. ‘Whether we like it or not he remains our strongest trademark,’ said Karl Schnorr, a 68-year-old retired engineer at the preview. ‘Maybe it’s time we shook him off, but first we need to understand how we fell for him so utterly.’ “

The question of Hitler’s rise to power and the Machtergreifung, or “seizure of power,” by the Nazis are among the most fiercely debated topics in all of German historiography.  The reality that most serious students of the Holocaust believe that such an event could easily happen again, virtually anywhere, makes such questions that much more important.  As the article reports, one in ten Germans currently longs for a Führer-like figure to govern the country, while some 35% imagine that their country is “dangerously overrun” by non-Germans.  Such beliefs, wherever they arise, virtually demand probing and extended inquiry.  Perhaps this exhibit will help.

—Eric G.E. Zuelow

The Berlin Wall Exhibit, Fall 2010

October 14th, 2010 by De oppresso liber

This past summer, the UNE History Department received a fascinating assignment: develop a museum exhibit telling the story of the Berlin Wall from its initial installation in 1961 to its destruction in 1989.  There were a variety of challenges.  Space and time were the biggies.  We had a single, relatively small gallery and only two months.  Ouch!

Our team set to work the moment the assignment arrived to develop something.  We wanted it to be eye-popping and to tell the astonishing story in the most detail possible.  Six walls do not make detail easy.

After considerable discussion, we decided upon a duel format: six large, iconic photographs with explanatory text, combined with an interactive archive that would be accessible on iPads provided to visitors.

Once the concept was in place, the real work started.  Finding and purchasing the rights to the images.  Writing the text.  Developing the graphic design.  Getting in touch with German history experts and museum curators.  And, perhaps most importantly, hiring a programmer.

For my part, I was tasked with writing the text for the exhibit.  I’ve written a lot about museums.  I’ve even taught courses about them.  I had never actually been involved with putting one together.  It is hard!  One panel explains how Germany was divided after World War II, how tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States grew, recounts the saga of the Berlin Airlift, and ultimately constructs the Berlin Wall.  In 320 words.  Another panel addresses the reunification of Germany in 320 words.  It was painful.  How does one say something and create drama in just over 300 words? I emerged with a dramatically heightened appreciation of museum professionals and a renewed interest in teaching about museums in the future.

In the end, the team worked brilliantly together and the exhibit went up right on schedule.  So far, the response has been good.  If you’re in the Biddeford area this fall (the display will stay up until December 21, 2010), check it out.

Oh yeah, a shameless plug for the department… if YOU are a UNE student and would like to try your hand at developing a museum exhibit, check out History 290 this spring or talk with one of us about doing a museum-related internship.

-Eric G.E. Zuelow