Category Archives: scholarship

Better Statistics on Homesteading

From Homesteading the Plains: Toward a New History, by Richard Edwards, Jacob K. Friefeld, and Rebecca S. Wingo (University of Nebraska Press, 2017), Kindle pp. 33, 37-40:

We can make a more direct and useful calculation using acres as follows. In 1860 farmland in the seventeen-state West was 17,839,000 acres and in 1900 was 249,222,000 acres; therefore, the growth in farmland was 231,383,000 acres; with 76,480,436 acres homesteaded (counting proved-up and in-process), the percent of farmland gained via the Homestead Act was 33.1 percent, hardly the “small role” Cochrane asserted.

In sum, correcting Shannon’s analysis shows that his estimate of “less than a sixth” of the new farms originating from homesteads is badly misleading. In the twenty-nine homesteading states, we found that 32.6 percent of new farms probably developed from homesteads. But more relevantly, in the seventeen-state West, we calculated that 63.9 percent of new farms created originated in homestead claims, contrary to Shannon’s assertions and those of the many historians who repeated them. And we found that 33.1 percent of new farmland in the West derived from homestead claims, making the ratio of purchased to homesteaded land about two to one, not the “three or four times” Hine asserted. The bottom line is that between 1863 and 1900 homesteading accounted for approximately two out of three new farms created and one-third of the new farmland in the West.

A more troubling question is why Shannon’s numerically wrong calculations and misleading statistical presentation have lingered for so long and found such ready acceptance among today’s scholars. The reasons scholars uncritically accepted his results are fundamentally unknowable, but the pattern is consistent with the hypothesis that having accepted that homesteading was somehow a sham, these scholars quickly welcomed any supporting evidence without checking it. It is long past time when such “evidence” should shape our understanding of homesteading.

Correcting the Historical Record

We can collect the findings from above to present a more accurate picture of homesteading in the period 1863–1900 in the West. First, we find that homesteading’s role in creating farms varied substantially among the seventeen states, as shown in figure 2.2. States where homesteading was very important in farm formation are Colorado (86.6 percent), Idaho (84.6 percent), South Dakota (80.3 percent), and Washington (96.7 percent). In some states, those with the highest density of homesteads, the number of homesteads patented actually exceeded the number of new farms created and still surviving by 1900—for example, Montana (109.6 percent), North Dakota (113.3 percent), Oregon (114.5 percent), and Wyoming (109.6 percent).

Although initially puzzling, this pattern (exceeding 100 percent) is quite understandable in areas where farms were undergoing the long-term process of farm consolidation. Imagine a section of land, one square mile, where there were no farms in 1860; in the next decade, four homesteaders each file 160-acre claims and prove up. In 1870 there would be four farms, all derived from homesteads, so we would say 100 percent of the farms in this section started as homesteads. Then, over the next thirty years, three of the four homesteaders sold out to the fourth. By 1900, our square mile would have four times (400 percent) the number of homesteads filed as functioning farms. As the example shows, how many homesteads resulted in functioning farms is highly time-dependent in a context of consolidation: the longer the period, the higher the ratio of original homesteads to functioning farms. For the West as a whole, that is, the sixteen states west of the Missouri River plus Minnesota, homesteading likely contributed up to 63.9 percent of the new farms created.

These findings are broadly consistent with Gilbert Fite’s conclusion: the charge that not many settlers actually obtained free land “is definitely not true if applied to the Minnesota-Dakota-Nebraska-Kansas frontier in the late 1860s and 1870s. . . . [Between 1863 and 1880] 86,169 farmers in Minnesota, Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas obtained patents [and another] 50,673 who had filed entries before June 30, 1880, gained their title [later]. Thus between 1863 and 1880, 136,842 of the 242,000 new farms were settled as homesteads. . . . This was about 56.5 percent of the total farms created. . . . About two-thirds of the farms in Minnesota were originally established by homesteaders.”

Homesteading was also important but less so in the proportion of land newly converted to farming in the West. As shown in figure 2.3, the states with the highest proportions are Idaho (65.4 percent), Washington (54.4 percent), North Dakota (50.3 percent), and Oregon (44.7 percent). Overall in the seventeen-state West, homesteading accounted for 33.1 percent of farmland added. Since homesteads accounted for a much larger percentage of farms than homesteaded acres did of new farm acres, the obvious implication is that homesteaded farms were on average smaller than farms obtained through purchase or other methods. This result would be expected, given that homesteads were capped at 160 acres (except under the Kinkaid and Enlarged Homestead Acts), whereas farms created via purchase, military warrants, agricultural college scrip, or other methods were not. This result again demonstrates why one cannot draw conclusions about the number of homesteaders vs. other farmers based on acreage unless one also knows the average size of each group’s farms.

What picture of homesteading, then, emerges from the more soundly grounded statistics reviewed above? Considering the West during the period 1863–1900, and remembering our earlier caution about the approximate nature of the data, both of the stylized facts we began the chapter with have been shown to be incorrect. The first assertion, that homesteading was a minor factor in farm making and most farmers purchased their land, might be replaced, based on the data in figure 2.2, with this finding:

Homesteading was a major factor in farm making in the West; before 1900 it was responsible for nearly two out of every three new farms and almost a third of the new land brought into farming.

The second stylized fact, that most homesteaders failed to prove up their claims, is refuted by a corrected reanalysis of Donaldson’s data for the period 1863–80 and by the Historical Statistics evidence for 1881–1900; instead, it might be replaced with:

Most homesteaders—between 55 percent to 63 percent before 1900—succeeded in obtaining title to their land during the first phase of homesteading.

This is a nearly complete reversal of what scholars for more than a half century have accepted as the received wisdom on homesteading and have been teaching their students.

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Recent Historiography of Homesteading

From Homesteading the Plains: Toward a New History, by Richard Edwards, Jacob K. Friefeld, and Rebecca S. Wingo (University of Nebraska Press, 2017), Kindle pp. 12-15:

Scholars have described homesteading as deeply flawed or unimportant or both; what’s the basis for their being so critical and dismissive? Their negative view is based on several shared understandings about homesteading—some scholars would call these characterizations “received wisdom,” lawyers would call them “stipulations,” and social scientists would term them “stylized facts.” They are what everyone “knows” to be true or agrees to treat as true, a simplified presentation of a perhaps more complicated train of empirical findings that adequately serves most purposes. Stylized facts operate as the preamble or premise, not the targets, of analysis. As we document in detail in succeeding chapters, scholars have adopted four findings about homesteading as stylized facts:

  • Homesteading was a minor factor in farm formation; most farmers purchased their land.
  • Most homesteaders failed to prove up their claims.
  • The homesteading process was rife with corruption and fraud.
  • Homesteading caused Indian land dispossession.

If these four assertions are true, it is easy to see why scholars would have a censorious view of homesteading and treat it as a minor factor in settlement.

The first stylized fact is that while homesteading has received a lot of popular attention, it was unimportant in creating actual farms; the historical reality, it is said, is less dramatic or romantic, and it is that most farmers simply bought their land. For example, mid-twentieth-century historian Fred Shannon declared that “less than a sixth of the new homes [i.e., farms] and a little over a sixth of the acreage [was] on land that came as a gift from the government. Eighty-four out of each hundred new farms had to be achieved either by subdivision of older holdings or by purchase.” In 2000 historians Robert V. Hine and John Mack Faragher asserted, “Most western settlers, it turns out, were not homesteaders.” The last generation or two of scholars have used the presumed unimportance of homesteading as reason enough to ignore it, increasingly treating it as a kind of ephemera of the period, like the Grange or utopian communities—once considered important but now receding in more sober retrospection. Why spend time and attention on a minor land program?

Scholars have moved on to other western topics and issues, and we can see their abandonment of homesteading in their college textbooks. Every scholarly discipline tends to express its “consensus” views in its textbooks—authors want instructors to adopt their books, and they know that to gain acceptance, their books must in general reflect the profession’s prevailing views (hence the often-lamented “lack of originality” in textbooks). Indeed, the common style is to omit source citations (except credits for reprinting copyrighted material) because, it is assumed, all the discipline’s practitioners “know” this information. When we examine college textbooks of American history, we find that homesteading has largely been written out of them, and in at least one case, it has been completely forgotten. Another way to see current historians’ marginal interest in homesteading is the absence of research articles on homesteading; we searched article titles in the leading American history journal, aptly called the Journal of American History, from 1965 through 2015, using JSTOR; JAH published no articles on homesteading during that fifty-year span. Homesteading, with its stylized facts, is no longer open to debate nor is it an appealing subject of research. One result of this abandonment is that virtually no one has worked to reconfirm or challenge the assertions and findings of the great mid-twentieth-century public land scholars like Benjamin Hibbard, Fred Shannon, Paul Gates, and Gilbert Fite, so when today’s scholars cite homesteading-related statistics in support of the first stylized fact, they almost always have to rely on decades-old compilations or calculations.

The second stylized fact, that most settlers who tried homesteading failed at it, is also deeply entrenched in the scholarly literature. Fred Shannon, the most forceful proponent of this point, defined “failure” as an entryman who failed to prove up and receive his or her patent—that is, someone who abandoned his or her claim. He then provided a statistical analysis as proof, and a long line of scholars adopted his work as authoritative. His writings remain the most frequently cited authority on this topic. Echoing (though not citing) Shannon, historian Alan Brinkley in 2012 declared, “The Homestead Act rested on a number of misperceptions. . . . Although [many] homesteaders stayed on Homestead Act claims long enough to gain title to their land, a much larger number abandoned the region before the end of the necessary five years.”

The third stylized fact, that homesteading was shot through with corruption and fraud, is the oldest point of consensus to be entrenched in the homesteading literature. In the 1880s public lands reformer Thomas Donaldson and GLO Commissioner William Sparks campaigned vigorously—so vigorously that Sparks was fired by President Cleveland—against land frauds. Historians then picked up the theme, and a long line of twentieth-century scholars complained about fraud, including Hibbard, Shannon, Roy Robbins, and Gates. Present-day scholars tend to situate homesteading in the rowdy, expansionist, proudly self-aggrandizing, and corrupt post–Civil War era, where financiers manipulated markets, trusts and industrial combines monopolized markets, congressmen offered themselves for sale, and the government granted to railroad companies immense tracts of public land with virtually no oversight. They found their notion of fraud-infested homesteading fit seamlessly into the same narrative, and they expected to find the same evils perverting it as had led to the theft of other public lands and assets. So historian Louis Warren, perhaps thinking he was expressing nothing controversial, simply noted, “After 1862, the federal government deeded 285 million acres to homesteaders. Half their claims were fraudulent, backed by false identities, fake improvements, or worse.”

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Growth of U.S. Intelligence Staff, WW2

From Ultra in the Pacific: How Breaking Japanese Codes and Ciphers Affected Naval Operations Against Japan, 1941-45 (The Secret War), by John Winton (Sapere Books, 2022), Kindle pp. 182-183:

Radio intelligence had also improved (although ‘Joe’ Rochefort had left Pearl Harbor in October, 1942, the victim of Washington intrigues). The Allies had begun to realize the full potential of communications intelligence. ‘In my opinion, the value of Radio Intelligence has been demonstrated to the extent that we can never again afford to neglect it as we did before the war,’ said Commander (later Rear Admiral) Joseph N. Wenger, a member of OP-20-G, in a lecture on ‘Future Co-operation between Army and Navy’ on 1 June, 1943. ‘Furthermore, the difficulties of obtaining Intelligence have increased so greatly that we shall have to maintain an organization constantly at work on high-speed electronic equipment if we are to be prepared for any future wars. The equipment necessary to obtain Radio Intelligence is growing so complicated that we cannot wait until war comes to provide it. Certainly we cannot afford to risk another Pearl Harbor.’

By 1943 the Allies were also coming to realize the scale of resources needed for communications intelligence. For instance, the number of personnel involved, both US Navy and Army — 300 in 1939 — had risen to 37,000 by the end of the war in 1945. There was an enormous expansion, in the United States and in the United Kingdom, in courses to train large numbers of people, many of them university students, to speak or read Japanese; classicists and students in dead languages usually learned to read Japanese, while modern language students learned to speak it.

Techniques had improved in every respect of intelligence, from the interrogation of prisoners-of-war to the evaluation of aerial reconnaissance photographs (colour-blind men and women were recruited because their disability enabled them to ‘see through’ camouflage).

By 1943 the Allies began to sense they were really winning the radio intelligence war against the Japanese. As more codes were decrypted, over longer periods, the cryptanalysts believed they were at last beginning to feel their way into the Japanese mind. As the Japanese suffered defeats on land and retreated, there were more opportunities to capture documents, such as diaries, operational orders and, as from [beached submarine] I-1, actual code books.

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Repatriating Okinawan People and Culture, 1946

From Liminality of the Japanese Empire: Border Crossings from Okinawa to Colonial Taiwan, by Hiroko Matsuda (U. Hawaii Press, 2018), Kindle loc. ~3760:

In addition to supporting the remaining Okinawans and handling the day-to-day management of the refugee camps, APO [Association for People from Okinawa (Okinawa Dōkyōkai Rengō-kai)] leaders prepared for returning to and rebuilding the ravaged Ryukyu Islands. For instance, knowing that the public library had burned down and that Okinawa had lost most of its books and documents during the war, Kabira Chōshin and other APO members initiated a campaign to collect books to donate to the new government of Okinawa. Taihoku Imperial University held numerous books related to the history and traditions of the Ryukyu Islands, some of which were historical and extremely valuable. Kabira, who had audited classes at the university, was desperate to bring them back to Okinawa and establish the new public library. However, the university, which had already been ceded to the KMT government, did not allow him to do so.

Nevertheless, he did not give up on the most precious historical book held by the university, Previous Documents of Successive Generations (Rekidai hōan), an official compilation of diplomatic documents of the Ryukyu Kingdom Government. Even though this book is one of the most historically important records of the Ryukyu Kingdom, an original copy had been transferred to Tokyo when Okinawa Prefecture was established and was subsequently destroyed in the Great Kantō Earthquake in 1923. Another copy kept in Okinawa had been destroyed by fire when the public library burned down during the war. The copy held by Taihoku Imperial University was based on the original copy that had been in the Okinawa Prefectural Library. Kabira asked a fellow Okinawan to transcribe it while he was waiting for a repatriation vessel and managed to bring it back to Okinawa. Furthermore, Kabira requested that Japanese professors donate their privately owned books upon their repatriation. Because each Japanese repatriate was not allowed to bring more than two bags on boarding the LSTs (landing ships, tank), many professors reacted positively to Kabira’s request and gave away numerous books on Okinawa-related subjects. In that way, Kabira and other APO members collected thousands of books. Kabira received special permission from the KMT government to bring these tens of thousands of books to Okinawa when he repatriated in December 1946. These books composed a major part of the Okinawa Central Library, which was reestablished in 1947. Although Kabira’s cultural activity … did not gain popular support from his fellow Okinawans, he made a great contribution to the reconstruction of Okinawa’s cultural life by transferring colonial Taiwan’s cultural assets to his home islands.

In June 1946, the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers finally revealed a plan to repatriate some 150,000 Okinawans to the Ryukyu Islands from Japan, Taiwan, China, and the Mariana Islands. Accordingly, the US military government set up two camps for this great multitude of repatriates: Camp Kuba-saki and Camp Costello, commonly known as Camp Yin’numi. On August 17, Camp Kuba-saki officially received a total of 556 repatriates from Kumamoto, Kagoshima, and Miyazaki Prefectures on Kyushu. From that time onward, ships began to travel more frequently from Mainland Japan to Okinawa and Amami-Ōshima in the northern archipelago of the Ryukyus. Between August and December 1946, a total of 139,536 repatriates from Mainland Japan arrived in Okinawa, Amami-Ōshima, and the Miyako Islands.

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Early Printed Pages in Europe

From A Place for Everything, by Judith Flanders (Basic Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 127-129:

It is easy to assume that standardization, organization, regularization—and alphabetization—followed hard on the heels of the arrival of printing, but the reality was less tidy, as reality usually is. It took some time even to arrive at what we think of as a standard page of text: black ink on white paper, a centered text in roman type, intermittently interspersed with italic or bold, broken up into paragraphs by indented spaces, surmounted by running heads and page numbers. Nor were other elements of the book—chapter headings to mark text divisions, tables of contents, title pages to announce the book title, the author, publisher, and date and place of publication—any more formalized at this date. Instead, in the fifteenth and well into the sixteenth centuries, texts were designed to resemble manuscripts, often with no title page, and with red initial letters, headings, and glosses underlined. Paragraphs or other breaks in the text were rarely used, and most frequently unknown, although paragraph marks—¶—were sometimes used as marginalia, to give an indication of the text’s structure. Indented paragraphs would not become commonplace for another half century.

The Venetian printer Aldus Manutius (1449/52–1515) was an innovator: in his Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, The Dream of Poliphilus, printed in 1499, he used the paragraph indents we would recognize; and two years later, he introduced italic typefaces. Other symbols that we take for granted appeared more gradually. In manuscripts, a diple (which resembles our mathematical symbol meaning “less than”: <) had often hitherto been used as a marginal notation to guide readers’ attention to something important in the text. In the sixteenth century, the symbol moved into the text itself, indicating those lines of text that included sententiae, or citations from the authorities. And then, around the 1570s, the diple migrated again, to the beginning of a citation, to indicate direct speech or quoted material: it had become an inverted comma, or quotation mark.

Pagination—numbering each page with consecutive Arabic numerals—came relatively swiftly, although it was not originally a matter of marking first page 1, then its reverse page, and so on to the end of the work. At first, printers used these numerals to guide themselves, not their readers. From the early days of printing (and still today), the technology of the printing press was such that eight, sixteen, or thirty-two pages were printed together on a single sheet, which was then folded to produce pages 1 to 8, 1 to 16, or 1 to 32 of a book. That folded section was, and is, called a signature (the equivalent for a manuscript was a quire, which was usually made up of between four and six folded sheets), and multiple signatures were gathered in order and bound together to produce a book. These gathers can best be seen today along the top or bottom edges of most hardback books, where the pages meet the spine. To ensure the signatures were kept in the correct order during the binding process, printers gave each signature a number, or, today, consecutive letters of the alphabet, printing them inconspicuously at the bottom of each signature’s first page. The signatures could then be dispatched to a bindery in any order, and by following the progression of the numbers or letters, the book, even without numbered pages, would still easily be bound in the correct order.

Printed books were originally bound in plain paper covers, with the expectation that their owners would have them rebound in different styles or qualities of leather according to their resources and tastes. To ensure that the order of the signatures was maintained during this second binding, printers included a “register,” or list, of the first words of each signature, placing it at the beginning of the text in the position that a table of contents later came to occupy. And not long after the establishment of printing houses, some began to do more than give each signature a numeral for internal use. In printers’ technical vocabulary, a folio is the sheet of paper consisting of two sides, or pages, the front and reverse. Once the sheets have been bound into a book, the right-hand, uneven-numbered page is called the recto, the left-hand, even-numbered page the verso. (This page, for example, is a verso.) At first, it was the folios themselves that were numbered, followed by an “r” for recto, or “v” for verso.    Whichever style was chosen, the numbers were no longer internal printers’ indicators, but were there for the convenience of the readers.

In 1450, fewer than a tenth of manuscripts used any system to indicate pagination. In 1499, a reference work to the epigrams of the Roman poet Martial, Cornu Copiae, The Horn of Plenty, by the Italian humanist Niccolò Perotti, may have been the first book to include numbering on every page, a novelty highlighted by the accompanying explanation at the head of the index: “[E]ach word that is sought can be found easily, since each half page [that is, each recto and verso] throughout the entire book is numbered with arithmetical numbers [meaning Arabic, not roman, numerals].” A century later, most printed books included page numbers as a matter of course.

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Finding Classics in Other Alphabets

From A Place for Everything, by Judith Flanders (Basic Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 81-83:

Arabic dictionaries also used nonalphabetical methods of organizing. The Mukhaṣṣaṣ, or The Categorized, by Ibn Sīda (d. 1066), was divided, as its title states, by subject or topic, beginning with human nature and continuing on to physiology, psychology, women, clothes, food, and weapons. Al-Khalīl Ibn Aḥmad (d. 791), in his Kitāb al-‘ain, The Book of [the Letter] ‘Ain, used sounds to organize his work: he listed entries in an order of his own, where each sound group was followed by subcategories based on how many consonants a word contained. …

These mainly nonalphabetical developments contrasted with the works of Hebrew scholars, who tended toward alphabetical order simultaneously with (and occasionally a little ahead of) their Christian contemporaries. At the end of the eleventh century, Nathan ben Jehiel (c. 1035–c. 1110) produced his Sefer ha’Arukh, The Set Book. Ben Jehiel, who had been born in Rome, spoke Arabic, Aramaic, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Latin, Persian, and Syriac, and he drew on his knowledge of these languages to produce an alphabetically ordered book of root words occurring in rabbinic literature. It became one of the best-known dictionaries of its type—more than fifty copies survive—as well as being one of the first Hebrew books to be printed, in Rome sometime before 1472.

Many of these works, both in Arabic and Hebrew, and the scholarship that had produced them, became accessible to scholars in Western Europe for the first time as these languages began to be more widely translated into Latin. … That so many of these works returned to the West via Arabic was significant, for earlier Arab scholars had frequently added substantially to the originals, including details of their own work, which was far in advance of much of Western thought at the time.

The Western rediscovery of the classics had two results, one somewhat abstract, one concrete. More generally, the awareness of how many great works had been entirely unknown before the lifetimes of these new readers, and of how many more had been permanently lost, produced a sense that the current generation needed to ensure that this recaptured knowledge, as well as all the works produced under its influence, were preserved for future generations. Further, it created a drive to ensure that the details contained in all these new works could be found easily—in other words, readers wanted not merely to read the books, but to refer to them: they wanted search tools.

These recently translated manuscripts also brought to the West other elements that are crucial for our story. Educated European readers now became increasingly familiar with foreign alphabets. In Italy and France in particular, Hebrew had routinely been transliterated into the roman alphabet when manuscripts were copied; in the rest of Europe, the Greek alphabet had sometimes been used, but less and less as time went on. In Europe, apart from Spain, where Arabic was in common use, Arabic too had been almost always transliterated into the roman alphabet. By contrast, some in the British Isles were familiar with Old English runes, known as futhorc, or with the Irish writing system known as Ogham. Many more would have recognized, and used in conjunction with the roman alphabet, the Old English runic letters such as thorn (Þ, þ) and wynn (Ρ, ρ). For these reasons, “foreign”-looking letters were more familiar and less unnerving in the British Isles, and so Latin and Hebrew letters were both used, as they were from the ninth century in Germany, a regular destination for highly educated monks from Ireland and Britain.

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Early Chinese Dictionary Orders

From A Place for Everything, by Judith Flanders (Basic Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 45-46:

On the other side of the globe and in an entirely nonalphabetic writing system, in China during the Han dynasty (206 BCE–221 CE), organizing principles were well in advance of the West’s as far as government administration was concerned. Emperor Cheng (51–7 BCE) commissioned an inventory and catalog of all documents in the imperial archives. Three imperial libraries were built and catalogs were drawn up, organized into subject categories: general summaries, the Confucian classics, philosophy, poetry, warfare, divination, and medicine. Dictionaries were also compiled. The Cangjie Primer (c. 220 BCE) was intended as a textbook to teach children their Chinese characters. It has not survived, but was said to have categorized the characters by meaning and by their structure. So “madness,” “blemish,” “sore head,” and “burn” were grouped together, all being related to the character for “illness.”

This was followed by the Erya (c. 200 BCE), which has been called the first Chinese dictionary. It too was divided topically, by subject, with linked words grouped together within each category, although the connections are not necessarily ones we recognize today: roads and bridges were considered to originate from the court of the emperor, and thus they appear under the heading “Interpreting the Court”; warfare too was the province of the ruler, who was divinely ordained, and thus it fell into the section dedicated to “Interpreting the Heavens.” In around 100 CE the Shuō wén jiě zì dictionary, containing some 9,500 characters, originated a sorting system based not on meaning but on the manner in which a character was written. Each was defined as either a single unit or a compound character, and then categorized by 540 elements, called radicals, which might be semantic elements of the character or might be graphic ones—the direction of a stroke, for example. Each character was then listed under a single radical, which came to define it for lexicographical purposes.

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Neutrality of Alphabetical Order

From A Place for Everything, by Judith Flanders (Basic Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 18-19:

This alphabetic predominance makes it hard for us to remember today that the phrase “alphabetical order” has two parts, and that they might be of equal weight: “alphabetical,” yes, but also “order.” And that all order, and ordering, is not of necessity alphabetical—indeed, for centuries the idea of ordering by random chance, by the letters of the alphabet, was considered less useful than a multitude of other sorting methods—geographical, chronological, hierarchical, categorical. Sometimes things had, and continue to have, no visible organizing method, their innate order being so essential that it is simply remembered. For a medieval clergyman, what would have been the point of putting the books of the Bible in alphabetical order? To him, it was obvious that Genesis comes before Exodus, just as, to us, it is obvious that Monday comes before Tuesday, September before October. In fact, it is surprisingly difficult to put the days of the week or the months of the year into alphabetical order, because the days and months have a “natural” order, one that is not alphabetical.

Other types of categorizing and sorting that were natural to generations past today seem as peculiar to us as April heading a list of the months of the year because it begins with A. Yet in a world more stratified than our own, sorting things hierarchically was once a natural impulse. The Domesday Book, that summary of land occupancy in England and parts of Wales produced for William the Conqueror in 1086, assessed the values of 13,418 places, organizing them first by status, then by geography, then by status again, and finally by wealth. The king came first, followed—broken down by region—by the great clergy, the powerful barons, and, lastly, each district’s most humble tenants.

But of course, for the information in the Domesday Book to be accessible to later readers, they had to know the regions of England and Wales, and the orders of hierarchy—who outranked whom. For, in all the millennia of reading and writing, only one major sorting system has evolved that requires no previous knowledge from the searcher: alphabetical order. To use it, the only thing searchers need to know is a list of approximately (depending on the language) two dozen characters, in an established order. They do not need to know on what continent a city is located to find it in an atlas, nor if a bishop outranks a cardinal to find him in a list of participants at a clerical summit. Neither do they need to know whether the English Civil War preceded or postdated the American Civil War to locate it in an alphabetical list of “Wars Through History”; nor, indeed, do they need to know whether a pumpkin is considered a vegetable or a fruit to search for it in a seed catalog.

Alphabetical order is in this way entirely neutral.

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Impressions of Yale, Early 1960s

From Eat Your Heart Out, Ho Chi Minh: Or Things You Won’t Learn at Yale, by Tony Thompson (BookSurge, 2012), Kindle pp. 26-28:

The required academic work was dreary. Having to write twee little essays for English courses about John Donne’s imagery made me want to smash things. Or to puke. Raising the level of the world’s drivel barometer is demoralizing. Ruining a youthful love of poetry is worse. “Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?”

Like my classmates, I wrote essays by the yard. Writing about great villains in novels or who won the Franco-Prussian War was less of a trial than writing about poetry. Also, learning to produce reams of more or less coherent written material about something totally boring and meaningless is good training for would-be lawyers or indeed for anyone who is lucky enough to land a writing job that bills by the column inch.

A few teachers inspired me. Like many ex-prep school students, I had been spoiled at Deerfield by excellent teaching and attentive teachers. At Yale, I quickly recognized that teaching undergraduates wasn’t the point of the institution and that my resentful attitude in the face of great learning and scholarship was childish. Still, I couldn’t help warming to the few professors who tried, however vaguely, to match undergraduate names to faces.

I adored Professor Gordon Haight who taught the Victorian English novel and was the world’s greatest expert on George Elliot. Professor Haight had been one of my father’s teachers, and I had known him as a small child. Academically, Professor Haight was a holdover from Yale’s former tradition of a broad historical approach to the study of literature. This appealed to me. I could never see the point of separating the life and times of John Milton from the poetry of John Milton. At least Milton’s life and times were interesting.

One escape hatch from the required courses in the embalmed world of English literature was accidentally discovering V. by Thomas Pynchon. I added Pynchon to the short list of fiction writers like Evelyn Waugh and P.G. Wodehouse whose style and attitude speak loudly to me. I must have read V. five times during my first two years at Yale.

Obviously, there were courses that didn’t involve writing reams of drivel or sitting through interminable lectures. Being formally introduced to economics and philosophy was stimulating, regardless of the teaching. And the younger professors didn’t all use the droning, dismal lecture-hall approach. Some showed actual flashes of interest in teaching undergraduates.

I was fortunate to be taught introductory economics by Jan Tumlir, a Czech refugee from Communism. Doing hard labor in the Czech uranium mines after the postwar Communist takeover had wrecked the professor’s health. Without making any specific comments about his experience of Communism, he was a living argument against the collectivist policies believed in, or at least advocated, by so many of the Yale professoriate.

Instead, Professor Tumlir cherished nineteenth-century economic liberalism and ideals like free trade and free markets. He taught us about Ricardo, the great English economist who first stated the law of comparative advantage. Professor Tumlir later became head of economics at GATT, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and predecessor to the current World Trade Organization, but died far too young.

Overall, though, Yale in the early 1960s offered the worst teaching I’ve ever experienced. The benighted, God-stuffed, over-long rambling sermons in the First Church of Deerfield were delivered better and with more conviction. Semi-literate army sergeants proved to be far better teachers, as did even the idlest Oxford dons. And Stanford Business School didn’t give tenure to anyone who received consistently poor student evaluations for teaching.


Filed under economics, education, literature, military, philosophy, scholarship, U.S.

Original Goals of Rhodes Scholarships

From Diamonds, Gold, and War: The British, the Boers, and the Making of South Africa, by Martin Meredith (PublicAffairs, 2008), Kindle pp. 382-383:

Rhodes was often troubled by premonitions of an early death. It prompted him to write a series of wills with grandiose notions intended to ensure his personal immortality. In his first will, drawn up in 1877 while he was a student at Oxford, he instructed his executors to establish a secret society with the aim of extending British rule throughout the world, restoring Anglo-Saxon unity and creating ‘a power so great as to render wars impossible’. His next four wills – in 1882, 1888, 1891 and 1892 – followed much the same theme; in a covering letter to his 1888 will, he suggested to Lord Rothschild that he should use the constitution of the Jesuits as a template for a secret society, inserting ‘English Empire’ in place of ‘Roman Catholic Religion’.

In 1899, at the age of forty-five, sensing he had not long to live, he drew up his seventh and final will, refining his previous ‘great idea’ into something more practical. He made bequests to members of his family and to his Oxford college, Oriel; and he directed that Groote Schuur should be used as the official residence for future prime ministers of a federal South Africa. But his main ‘great idea’ focused on the education of young colonists. He gave instructions for scholarships to be awarded to suitable colonial candidates to study at Oxford, stipulating the qualifications they needed. In the first place, only men were eligible. Discussing other necessary qualifications with W. T. Stead in London, Rhodes envisaged a points system:

You know I am all against letting the scholarships merely to people who swot over books, who have spent all their time over Latin and Greek. But you must allow for that element which I call ‘smug’, and which means scholarship. That is to stand for four-tenths. Then there is ‘brutality’ which stands for two-tenths. Then there is tact and leadership, again two-tenths, and then there is ‘unctuous rectitude’, two-tenths. That makes up the whole. You see how it works.

In the terminology he finally used, Rhodes instructed points to be awarded for: literary and scholastic attainments; success in ‘manly outdoor sports’; ‘qualities of manhood’, including devotion to duty, protection of the weak, and unselfishness; and ‘moral force of character’. He listed fifteen colonies from which sixty scholars from the British Empire were to be drawn; and he added a further ninety-six scholarships for students from the United States. After meeting Kaiser Wilhelm in 1899, Rhodes allocated fifteen scholarships to German students.

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Filed under anglosphere, Britain, education, Germany, language, migration, nationalism, philosophy, religion, scholarship, U.S.