French Enlightenment and Scottish Enlightenment

Adam Smith and Rousseau are both considered writers of the Enlightenment. Except the Enlightenment was purely French, wasn’t it? Rousseau, Diderot, Condorcet, Voltaire were the primary writers of the Enlightenment, brushing away the cobwebs of superstition and medieval thinking to cast a new light on how people thought about education, society, politics, and the law. At least, that’s what the textbooks and popular wisdom insist. Except…

There were actually two groups of thinkers working at almost the same time, and they went in rather different directions. I’m omitting the Germans (Die Aufklärung) and Italians for the sake of brevity and because English-speakers are far more familiar and more influenced in many ways by the French and English/Scottish Enlightenments. A lot of what was refined by the Germans—for good and for ill—was seeded by the French and either disproven or elaborated upon. The Anglo-Enlightenment went a different way, much as England and Scotland were charging away from Continental political thinking at the same time. Continue reading


Changing History or Changing How We Understand History?

I accidentally spooked a colleague this week. We were in the work room. I was reading a new history of the Russian Revolution and shaking my head because of how much recent archival research has changed understandings about the events (for those willing to read the resulting books and papers). I grumbled, “I wish people would stop doing research and changing history.” The other teacher stared and said something along the lines of “When I hear people talking about changing history, I think of 1984.” I agreed with her, and assured her that I would be updating the material in the book with the new evidence, not changing the overall story.

Except, at least in European history, sometimes the evidence found later does shift the understood story around. Then what do you do? Continue reading

Equinoctial Storms

Howdy, Instapundit readers! Thanks for stopping by.

I first encountered the “equinoctial storm” in the first chapters of The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The family has a claim in South Dakota, and a sudden cold snap hits before the farm-house is finished and weather-proofed. Laura’s mother and father call it the equinoctial storm and everyone goes about their business. At the time I blinked, but was far more interested in the story than the terms and so I plowed on and didn’t think about it. Then I met the term, many years later, in a newspaper from the Texas Panhandle. It really was “a thing,” as they say on the Internet. Continue reading

One Foot in the Past

I freely admit that I live in the past. Following in the sartorial footsteps of a professor who was voted “Best Dressed Faculty” for five years running, I lean toward the Victorian and Edwardian in my clothing.* I read about history. I write books with strong historical elements. (OK, I steal from the past.) And it feels as if I have one foot in the past, as if I am closer than I really am.

Continue reading

Just War Theory and the Baltic Crusades

Huge Disclaimer – I am not a scholar of Just War theory, nor one of medieval philosophy and warfare. This is information I compiled in order to teach a lesson on the Baltic Crusades.

In 1147, March saw a gathering of the nobles of the Holy Roman Empire in Frankfurt. This was both for the Easter feast, and because the Pope had sent a messenger calling the nobles to a second crusade in the holy land. The nobles were attentive, but not overly enthusiastic for the long journey to the Holy Land. Instead, several of them proposed a closer, but equally urgent, cause. The pagans along the Baltic Shore had threatened Christians in the past, and on at least three occasions had shaken off their conversion, lapsed to paganism, and gone to war. Could His Holiness extend the protections and dispensations granted to those defending Jerusalem from the Seljuks to those defending Christians in the north, and spreading Christianity there? In June, Pope Eugene III agreed, and the Baltic Crusades began. Continue reading

Common Knowledge?

What is common knowledge? What touchstones, or objects, can a speaker or lyricist refer to that a large majority of her listeners will understand and possibly relate to? I am starting to wonder, because a few weeks ago the senior minister at the church where I sing picked a Charles Wesley* hymn. OK, the tune was familiar (Richmond) and the lyrics were typical late 1700s Christian terms. But the minister had to explain the meaning of “It varies with the wind” referred to the spring in a clock, and that winding the mechanism more tightly affected how fast or slowly the clock ran. The text specifically is about what we’d call a grandfather clock, because it also mentions the chain that holds the weights. I thought everyone knew how clocks worked. Oops. Continue reading