Category: History

Stalin’s Barber by Paul M. Levitt

Consciously or not, Stalin conjoins religion and politics. Why?

Religion, especially the monotheistic religions profess the idea of damnation and divine retribution for sinners. Stalin must have thought that where bullets and the baton are inadequate in suppressing dissent, the fear of God would serve as a complete deterrent. Another explanation for Stalin’s mixing of politics and religion is to develop cult followership. In religion, we find how the revealed word of God is never contested. It would suit Stalin’s totalitarian agenda quite well to have the citizens worship him as a cult figure. By encouraging religion, Stalin is promoting certain personality traits that are complementary to running a totalitarian regime.

What is the point of having numerous Stalins? (the plaster of Paris busts in the basement)

Although Stalin was a man in possession of enormous political power, deep inside he was very insecure. Some consider . . . Read More

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Characteristics of 19th century Nation States

The 19th century saw many key developments in political science. It was a period of fertile intellectual discussion about various forms of government and their merits and demerits. It was a time when many societies were coming out of agrarian economies and embracing industrialization. On the political front, imperialism still held sway as the dominant geo-political formation, even as older forms of monarchies and principalities continued to exist. In the flux created by new industrial methods of production, warfare and administration, the idea of ‘nationalism’ came to fore. With Europe as its epicentre, nationalism was mooted as the collective geo-political representation of a race (ethnicity) of people. Another feature of most modern nation-states is their capitalist orientation, although it was less pronounced in the 19th century. (Cottam & Cottam, 2001)

The modern state is defined by a few key characteristics: contiguous territory, salaried bureaucrats, common . . . Read More

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Historical Analysis: Regeneration by Pat Barker

It is important to remember that Regeneration is a work of fiction, even if it is based on a real historical event. Certain circumstantial settings of the novel are indeed true. For example, it is not contested that within the theatre of the First World War, many British soldiers suffered severe psychological trauma. Likewise, it is a fact that some of them were treated at Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh. While retaining these basic facts of the war, author Barker had taken the liberty to change chronology of events or distil the collective experiences of the soldiers onto one character, etc. These literary licenses do not majorly diminish the utility of the work as a historical record. To the contrary they condense and encapsulate British soldiers’ experiences. The book proves to be both intellectually engaging and technically satisfying, while not compromising on history. This essay will argue that while accommodating the imperatives of the novel form, . . . Read More

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Synthesis of select War Literature by Tim O’Brien, Ann Jones and Michael Herr

The hallmark of good literature is that it combines art with raising social consciousness. This is certainly true of the 3 classics perused for this essay. Falling into different genres like fiction, nonfiction and reportage, the three works treat the social consequences of war in their own unique ways. The rest of this essay will show how themes of love, loss, perception and reality are adequately addressed in these works.

The Things They Carried is an assortment of short stories penned by Tim O’Brien based on his first hand experiences in Vietnam. O’Brien was part of the platoon called Alpha Company, which was actively engaged in combat with the Vietnamese. As a result, though the stories contain fictitious additions, they are mostly based on real events witnessed by the author. Several themes recur through these stories. Chief among them are love, camaraderie and courage. Love is most pronounced in the relationship between Cross and Martha. Cross agrees to narrate his . . . Read More

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Honour v Shame in Medieval Literature

Feelings of shame and honour are intrinsic to human nature. They are also universal across cultures and eras. In the three select works of medieval literature we see expression of honour and shame in different contexts. They vary in relevance and intensity in each of the classic works. But what is common is that honour is universally perceived to be a desirable and cherished value. In the same vein, shame is looked down upon and condemned. The rest of this essay will depict how shame and honour are manifest in the three chosen medieval literary works.

In the Tristan and Iseult legend, there is no definitive version of the actual turn of events in the story. Since oral tradition and anonymous/multiple authorship was common to literature of this period, many interpretations and variations have been added over the years. Yet, some strong unifying themes bind the variants together. Notwithstanding the version, we find that shame and honour are recurrent themes in the Tristan and . . . Read More

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The Great Man Theory of History as evidenced in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance

Applying the Great Man theory of History as a subtext to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s classic essay Self-Reliance makes for an interesting synthesis. The Great Man theory was brought into public discourse by Thomas Carlyle in the 1840s. But most of the later commentators pointed out to some of the misassumptions and flaws in the theory. Chief among them was Herbert Spencer who viewed that great individuals were products of their culture, history and environment and the inverse is seldom true. Yet the idea of the Great Man holds an intuitive appeal to readers. As people sharing a sense of community we are all looking for leaders and role models to provide us guidance. It is this intuitive appeal for leadership that sustains the value of the Great Man Theory, although it had somewhat become unfashionable in the last century.

Great men are thought to be path-breakers and independent thinkers. (James, p.114) In Emerson’s text, we find a powerful invocation of individuality. He . . . Read More

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Compare and Contrast: The Crips and the Neo-Nazis

All gangs and mafias have their own initiation rituals and modes of operations. The same is true of the two different gang cultures being studied here – the Crips and the neo-Nazis. In the autobiographical account of Monster – one of the leaders of the gang – we learn about the initiation rites, organizational structure, modus operandi, economic targets, treatment of rivalries, etc. The Crips is a predominantly black gang that hogged headlines during the post-war decades of the 1950s and 60s. In some ways the Crips represented a militant underground movement parallel to that of the Black Nationalist movement. While the Crips adopted some of the violent methods of the movement headed by Malcolm-X, it is not political in nature. So, despite its racial affiliation, the means and ends of the gang are largely anti-social. Likewise, in the film American History X, we are exposed to a dark underground cult of American society. Commonly referred to as ‘skin-heads’, the . . . Read More

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Imperialism in the film Apocalypse Now

Imperialism enables a state or country to increase its sphere of influence by seizing control of foreign territories. The film Apocalypse Now, based on the story Heart of Darkness, was produced in 1979 during the Vietnam War era and explores the role imperialism played in US foreign policy. The film highlights the drawbacks of imperialism by revealing the atrocities committed by the US Military, allegedly, in the name of freedom. The most tragic aspect of the Vietnam War was the huge numbers of civilian casualties, including women and children. Indeed, the chemical warfare exercised by American troops in the form of deploying Agent Orange (napalm) for deforesting the region is a major disaster for the local population. As a result of contamination of these heavy toxins, a whole generation of children was born with deformities and genetic mutations. Hence those who are apologists for imperialism are on the side of the unjust.

Military intervention in Vietnam was a part of a . . . Read More

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The conceptual dichotomy of civilization and the wilderness in African systems of thought w.r.t. Mande art and Kongo minkisi

Discuss the conceptual dichotomy of civilization and the wilderness in African systems of thought, and the significance of civilization and/or wilderness for Mande art and artistic practice. Discuss Kongo views of supernatural power, and the embodiment of this power in the ‘personhood’ of Kongo minkisi.

Anderson and Kreamer capture the essence of the African idea of the wilderness in their article titled Wild Spirits: Strong Medicine, African Art and the Wilderness. They identify the Kponyugo masquerade as one essential artifact representing the idea o the wilderness. Practiced by the Senufo community in Ivory Coast, the masquerade is quite a spectacle that accompanies annual ceremonies or special occasions. It is a mélange of composite features, snarling snout, projecting horns and tusks, etc, which epitomize the dangers of life in the African ‘bush’. It is equally a statement on the perceived tranquility and safety of the village communal life. . . . Read More

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The arts of Ancient Ife and the royal arts of the Yoruba peoples

Discuss the significance of the form and meanings of the arts of Ancient Ife and the royal arts of the Yoruba peoples. Discuss the different types of historic interactions and power relationships with Europeans as expressed in Afro-Portuguese ivories and the royal arts of the Benin Kingdom.

In the exhibition titled Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria, we learn how Ife art tried to juxtapose misery and glory, deformity and beauty, master and slave, disease and health. Made of copper alloys and terra cottas, the royal arts of the Yoruba people were informed by the myth of Obatala, whose legend is the art of deformity or sin or illness. Royal personages were commonly immortalized through art. Ooni, the ruler of Ife, wore elaborate textiles in the fourteenth century. The buffalo horn filled with medicines is a symbol of his authority. The staff on his hand also signifies authority. He also wears a beaded collar which usually holds a pair of . . . Read More

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