Yearly Archives: 2013

Sweden, Israel, and why national history museums fear history

Posted by dianamuir on September 04, 2013
Museums of National History, Sixteenth century nationhood, Uncategorized / Comments Off on Sweden, Israel, and why national history museums fear history

The curators of the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm are embarrassed.   So are the curators of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.   People visit these museums of history not merely because they want to see artifacts, but because they want to see the narrative that the artifacts illustrate.      But some topics are so fraught with meaning that curators in Sweden and in Israel are afraid to approach them.


To some extent, these curators may be responding to the contemporary preference for displaying objects unencumbered by context.   The core of Historiska (the Swedish History Museum) is an enormous basement vault filled with gold.   Case after case of gold baubles, bangles, and beads, mostly displayed in no particular order and with a label but not a context.  Looking at objects that total 114 lbs (52kg.) of gold and 200 kg. of silver turns out to be boring.   We humans need narrative to make sense of things.   If the curators told us where the various glittering objects came from,  how the various styles of objects evolved, or how they contributed to the evolution of Sweden we might care.

Upstairs, the stories are all too specific.   The museum begins with the oldest prehistoric objects – presented as dramatic stories about human sacrifice and the dire possibility that slashes in an ancient cloak indicate murder – while larger questions go unaddressed.

We want to know  how did the first people returning after the Ice Age make a living, what happened to them when peoples with a knowledge of farming moved in, and what made the people of this region go a-viking?

Visitors to this museum especially want to know what made them go a-vikig=ng.  After all,  the coasts of Europe were ringed with farmers and fisherfolk, but it didnot not occur to the Breton, Basque, or Briton farmers to get into open boats, sail to Gotland or Öland, and carry home gold.   the museum could present the leading  theories about what made the Vikings set sail as heavily armed traders capable of seizing an opportunity to raid and loot, or were they better described as armed raiders willing also to trade, whatever worked?  You wont find out in the Swedish History Museum.

In this museum the Vikings hardly go viking at all.

All that Viking Age gold, how did it get to  Sweden?    “During late Viking times we find a great deal of wealth entering the country in the form of Western European coins.”   As though the gold entered the north lands of its own free will.

It may seem puzzling that so much gold could make its way to a country that exported some fur and a bit of amber.  But, according to the Historika, so it was.  “The Vikings were mostly peaceful traders.

But if so, who trashed Lindesfarne Abbey in 793?

It was the biggest news story of its day.  Alcuin of York, whose account we have,  was not at Lindesfarne, he was comfortably seated at his writing desk in Charlemagne’s court  when he wrote that memorable bit about blood gushing as  Norsemen stepped on Christian monks as though they were pieces of shit lying in the street.   He may have exaggerated; the Vikings have come in for more than their share of exaggeration.    But the curators of the Historika  grossly exaggerate the peaceful nature of these armed boatloads of warrior/trader/conqueror/colonizers.

Also, they succeed brilliantly in making the Vikings boring.   On a Sunday  in a city packed with tourists and families, the museum was virtually empty.

Vikings are so central to the Swedish imagination that modern curators are apparently only capable of describing them with absurdity, exaggeration, and denial.  Swedish curators are capable of better, it is visible upstairs in the same museum where Swedish history from the middle ages  forward is presented as  a  fairly straightforward explication of how competing medieval fiefdoms were eventually joined under a monarchy that, by the reign of Gustav Vasa, is recognizably Swedish.

The other topic (in addition to the Vikings) that the curators cannot discuss rationally is the role of religion in shaping Sweden, a nation created less by Vasa’s sword than by his savvy decision to create a Swedish written language, have the Bible, catechism and prayers translated into it, and  break with Rome.   When a Swedish archbishop answerable to the king presides over a church where in each parish the world suddenly changes from a place where incomprehensible prayers are chanted in Latin to a place where the congregation hears the Bible, sings the psalms and prays for the King in their native tongue, a national identity is created.*

Curators at the recently renovated Israel Museum would probably be capable of describing Vikings objectively, what they fear is a straightforward presentation of the history of the  Israelite kingdoms  in the 10th to 7th centuries BCE.

The archaeology wing of the Israel Museum does not begin with  the earliest human artifacts.    Instead, the curator makes an arbitrary choice to start  with a dramatic set of large 13th 14th century humanoid sarcophagi showing clear Egyptian influence.   This, the curators are saying, may be called the Israel Museum, but we will not follow, or even endeavor to present, a narrative history of the Israelites.  Rather, we intend to depict this land as a space occupied by a constantly shifting kaleidoscope of   cultures.

The sarcophagi fill the first room of the archaeology wing.   Only a visitor who chances to turn around  will see a large, horned altar tucked behind the entrance panel.     Horned altars are a distinctive form described in the Biblical text.  Several have been found.    This one comes from a temple in Beersheva that was destroyed in the 8th century BCE, thereby corroborating the Biblical story of King Hezekiah’s suppression of altars in other towns as part of his campaign to centralize worship in Jerusalem.

The archaeology wing is filled with inscriptions and objects that could be used to trace the development and history of the Israelites.   The museum could have been arranged so that such a narrative could stand alongside narratives about the rise and fall of Canaanite culture, the arrival and history of the Philistines, the periods of Egyptian influence, conquest and rule, and so forth.

Separating these braided cultural threads into narratives of cultural development and interaction that the visitor could follow through time would help make sense of the complex history of this land.   Instead, there is an endless, confusing, and ultimately numbing procession of objects, here a figurine of a bull, there an inscription mentioning the royal “House of David”.    The museum rarely attempts to draw the visitor’s attention to objects that have excited major scholarly controversies, or overturned widely accepted understandings of the history of the region.

Instead of telling us what Persian, or Phoenician, or Israelite culture was, the curators focus on the way that artifacts produced by these cultures show that they influenced one another.     It is as though exhibit after exhibit in a  sports museum  showed us  the similarities between baseballs and soccer balls, without explaining  what makes soccer and baseball two different games.

The Israel Museum is large.  In another part of the campus there is a large-scale and very popular model of Jerusalem in the first century.   And, of course, the Shrine of the Book, housing the Dead Sea Scrolls.  But, like the history of the Vikings, and the history of Christianity in Sweden, the history of the Israelites is too hot for the curators of the Israel Museum to handle.

*Appelbaum, Diana Muir, “Biblical Nationalism and the Sixteenth-Century States”, National Identities, in press.





Henry Kissinger’s father’s Stockholm synagogue

Posted by dianamuir on September 03, 2013
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On Rosh Hashanah Barack Obama will stop in at the Great Synagogue of Stockholm,  an extraordinary building erected in the 1860’s during an international wave of enthusiasm surrounding the first archaeological digs to uncover the ruined glories of ancient Assyria.   The advantage to the Jewish congregation in Stockholm was that in an era when fashionable churches were being built in medieval Gothic style, they  were able to erect an ultra-fashionable building in an even more ancient architectural style (follow link and scroll down to Assyria), one that linked back to the Bible.

A few short blocks away there is another synagogue, in a large room inside the Jewish school.   The school enrolls 150 Jewish children, with another 150 or so on the waiting list.   Unlike the Great Synagogue, Adat Jeschurum is orthodox.     And while the Great Synagogue draws crowds for the holidays, and will undoubtedly be packed during Obama’s visit, the orthodox services at the far smaller smaller Adat Jeschurun bustle.   Visiting on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah, we attended the bar mitzvah of a boy who chanted the first sections of the Torah portion beautifully, followed by a series of teenagers able to read the Torah, lead prayers, and sound as though they do it every week.

Stockholm is not the dying Jewish community all too typical of European cities.   The Shabbat crowd at Adat Jeschurun skews young.   Children dart in and out because, their parents tell me, Sweden is a good place to rear a family.   A second Orthodox shul, Adat Jisrael, on Södermalm, the other side of Gamla Stan, is a little quieter –  Adat Jeschurun draws the young families.  So, while the question of whether there is Jewish future in Europe is open, the community of young, Jewish families in Stockholm who attend a traditional synagogue and send their children to a Jewish school is not merely flourishing, it is growing.

Adat Jeschurun is decorated in a blend of the early 20th century Arts and Crafts Movement and art nouveau styles, with particularly charming lilies on the Torah Ark and decorating the ends of the wooden pews.   Sweden, which has had a Jewish community since the eighteenth century,  maintained a pro-Nazi neutrality during World War II, but it admitted (saved) Jews from Norway and Denmark during the war, and had admitted a modest number of Jews from Germany in the 1930’s.   Some of these Jews came form Hamburg, as did the furniture of Adat Jeschurun.

In the months between Kristallnacht (November 9, 1938) and the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, the interior of a Hamburg synagogue that had survived the Nazi synagogue burning of November 9 was dismantled and shipped to Stockholm.   Henry Kissinger’s family fled Hamburg in 1938, traveling to London and on to New York.   But he remembered the synagogue his father had once belonged to and he sent a letter to  Adat Jeschurun when the old German shul celebrated its fiftieth year on Swedish soil.



Cathedral of the Viking Ship, and the National Museums of Norway

Posted by dianamuir on September 03, 2013
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In 1932 Norway built a cathedral to house the spectacularly preserved  Viking ship unearthed at Osebourg.   They call it a museum,  but as I crested the hill walking up from the ferry landing the cruciform, domed  church museum building with it’s enormous vaulted nave looked so much  like a large, mid-century, suburban Lutheran Church  that  I assumed that it was one, and glanced back at my iPhone to figure out where  the museum was.

Inside, light angled from tall windows into the foyer, filtering into the high arched nave built as a reliquary  to contain  the most arresting physical relics of Norway’s Viking past.    The Viking Ship Museum is formally a branch of  the University of Oslo’s Museum of Cultural History, located in the city center, and  curators in both museums present the relics of the nation’s past with a reverence once reserved for fragments of the true cross.

The  Museum of Cultural History devotes the first floor to the history of Norway from the Ice Age through the Middle Ages – treating the carved doorways of Norway’s stave churches with especial reverence –  but it does so as one floor in an ethnology museum.   There are large Africa, Arctic, and Amerindian galleries, a recently revamped Ancient Egypt gallery, and  an East Asia gallery with compelling objects in a series of display cases that appear not to have been altered since the  museum opened in 1904.   The Japan section, for example, includes kimono, Samurai armor and an elegant sedan chair, and it is located beside sections on  China, Korea, Tibet and Mongolia.   Norway, then, is presented here as a national culture that can take it’s place in the world alongside other ancient cultures.   This was a bold political statement  in 1904, when Norway was ruled by the king of Sweden.

Norway was governed by the Danish King until January 1814, when, with Denmark on the losing side in the Napoleonic Wars, there was no government in effective control of the country.     Norway’s republican nationalists seized the moment.   They declared themselves independent, asked Prince Christian Frederick, heir to the Danish throne to serve as head of a constitutional monarchy,  ratified a Norwegian Constitution  on May 17, 1814, and began seeking diplomatic recognition.   The victorious powers, however, had awarded Norway to the King of Sewden, who had an army.  A brief Norwegian-Swedish war in the summer of 1814 ended in a negotiated truce that allowed the Norwegians to keep their new constitution.    Norway, however, came under  the Swedish crown, where it would remain until independence in 1905.   The history of 19th century Norway  can be read as a long nationalist campaign for  independence, echoes of which are still visible in Oslo’s  national museums.

Pre-oil boom Oslo, a city that you could visit as recently as a decade ago, was set back from the working harbor and centered around a one-block-wide park stretching from Parliament  (built 1866) to the Royal Palace (1825), with the   National Theater (1899) placed in the center of the park.   National institutions clustered nearby:  the 1811 University of Oslo, 1876 Kunstindustrimuseet (Norwegian Museum of Decorative Arts and Design)  and the 1882 Nasjonalmuseet (National Gallery).

The two old art museums have recently merged with Oslo’s architecture museum to form the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, slated to move into a dazzling new building on the waterfront.    The new museum has not yet been designed, but we can know that it  will be architecturally dazzling because part of the Norwegian  identity being built by North Sea oil is a self-image of Norway as a country that combines love of the mountains and countryside with some of the world’s best architecture and design.     Oslo is carefully adding density and dazzle without blocking its views of  green hills and  harbor islands, the beloved city nestled between mountains and sea is too dear to the hearts of Norwegians  to risk.

The National Gallery houses the canvases of Norway’s romantic nationalist painters, but the Decorative Arts and Design Museum (Kunstindustrimuseet) is perhaps more interesting.   The building originally housed both the Kunstindustrimuseet and the Norwegian National Academy of Craft and Industry, (Statens håndverks- og kunstindustriskole), founded in 1818, a category of institution beloved of romantic nationalists.   The Kunstindustrimuseet inscribes Norway into the roll of European nations by displaying Norwegian examples of work from every category and period of decorative arts from the 11th century forward alongside work from France, England, the Netherlands and Germany.  The display of Norwegian art nouveau objects is particularly arresting in it’s strongly Norwegian themes. 

Many of the tapestries and, in particular, the silver are worth seeing for their artistry, but they are interesting for the argument they make, backdating the national borders and identity into the mists of medieval politics to stake a claim to the cultural continuity of the Norwegian nation that goes back to the Viking period.   And reinforcing that claim with the display of modern Norwegian artistry.   In this regard the fourth floor with its dazzling exhibition of the work of Norwegian designer Per Spook is particularly interesting in it’s assertion of Norwegian design as both part of the international fashion scene, and a unique product ofg the Norwegian nation.

And yet Norwegian nationalism is most compellingly on display in the origins of Norwegian  democracy as shown at the Norsk Folkemuseum.

In 1891,  when the King of Sweden ruled Norway, Stockholm opened the Skansen, a collection of old buildings gathered in an outdoor museum with the intention of preserving folk architectural traditions.  ( Sturbridge Village  followed in the 1930s)  Skansen describes itself as the world’s first  open air folk museum.    Norway answered with the 1894 Norsk Folkemuseum.    However,  in 1907 Norway’s 1894 museum incorporated the collection of old Norwegian buildings collected and re-erected near Oslo beginning in 1881 by King Oscar II of Sweden and Norway in an effort to show how deeply he cared about his lesser kingdom, Norway claims that its museum is the oldest.   Certainly, few museum donors can top the 12th century stave church His Majesty collected.   But the museum’s most moving exhibit is not at all royalist.

The constitution of 1814 is comparable to the constitutions written in that era across Latin America in that it was written by liberal nationalists who were members of the small, educated elite in a desperately poor and largely illiterate land.  What is impressive about Norway is not only that the gentlemen liberals of the Storting (parliament) were able to defend their constitution against a series of determined attempts (1815, 1821) by King Carl Johan to destroy it.   But that instead of feathering their own nests as powerful elites are wont to do, Swedish nationalists brought farmers into the Storting, building an increasingly real democracy.

The Constitution was written and ratified in a manor house at Eidsvoll, but the Storting very quickly moved to Oslo (then called Christiania) where it appropriated a lecture hall in the Latin School as its meeting place.   The building was demolished, but the interior of the old lecture hall is preserved in the Folkemuseum.

The Norwegian Parliament moved to it’s present quarters in 1866.  But for me, the room where they defied a king and included simple farmers in a  democratic government is the most moving exhibit in Norway.  Constitutions, after all, are easy to write.   And national liberation movements all too easy to organize.   But the room where a clear-eyed group of romantic nationalists built a democratic nation – that is something worth seeing.

The Folkemuseum’s collection of buildings from all parts of the country makes a straightforward statement that All of Norway – from Rogaland to Finnmark – forms a single nation.  Next door to the Folkemuseum, but set on a commanding hilltop, is the Cathedral of the Viking Ship with its claim to unify that nation with an shared and ancient history.






Ethnic change, language shift, and Belize

Posted by dianamuir on June 05, 2013
Ethnic change, Language shift / Comments Off on Ethnic change, language shift, and Belize


Belize is a small, Central American country that has its origins in a seventeenth-century English, pirate base. The settlement survived and in the eighteenth century grew into a small, English-speaking, self-governing unit capable of defending itself from Spanish military assault but not recognized by any government.   The economy was based on the use of slave labor to cut and export mahogany and logwood, a tree used for dye.   It formally became a British colony, British Honduras, in 1862 and was given independence in 1981.   Over the centuries Belize developed a complex ethnic mix, including descendants of the Mayan Amerindian people, descendants of the indigenous Garifuna, but the majority were part of a uniquely Belizean creole blend of descendants of all of the people who had immigrated to this small place, whether as slaves, slave owners, or workers, who spoke a unique creole language (Kriol).   Education, publishing and government, however were carried out in English.  In recent decades, this creole and English speaking culture has been undergoing rapid change as waves of Spanish-speaking immigrants called mestizos and regarded as of mixed Hispanic and indigenous descent, have arrived from El Salvador and Guatemala.   Some came fleeing war, others seeking land and jobs, but the overall impact has been to rapidly change Belize to a country where the majority of the population are native Spanish-speakers, and Spanish has become the dominant language.


Liah Greenfeld is wrong on “Nationalism, Madness, and Terrorism”

Posted by dianamuir on May 21, 2013
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Liah Greenfeld, an historian of great learning and – usually – sound judgment is simply wrong in her assertion that “schizophrenia and depressive disorders” were new phenomenon in the sixteenth century.

Albrecht Durer knew this well, and he knew it well before Luther published or Elizabeth ascended the throne.



Nationalism in Heian Japan

Posted by dianamuir on April 22, 2013
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もろこしも Far Cathay too
天の下にぞ Lies under the same heaven,
有と聞く I hear:
照る日の本を Please do not forget
忘れざらなむ This Land of the Rising Sun.

Written by an aristocratic lady of the Heian period.

Formal argument for a “strong sense of national identity”  among the chattering classes of the era,  Robert Borgen, Japanese Nationalism: Ancient and Modern.

Annual Report of the Insitute for International Studies [Meiji Gakuin University], no. 1 (December 1998), pp. 49-59.

The Old Moorish Synagogue in One of England’s Densest Muslim Neighborhoods

Posted by dianamuir on April 21, 2013
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During a trip to England two years ago I drove up to Bradford to see the old synagogue.    I have an interest in historicist architecture – identity statements made in stone – and a passion for Islamic architecture.

Bradford is perhaps the most authentically Islamic of the many Jewish synagogues built in what is known as the Moorish Revival Style.   Handsome Moorish synagogues like the one in Bradford  a dual statement: we are part of the public life of this community, and we are a people with ancient roots in the East.    According to Sharman Kadish, the  Jewish community of Victorian Bradford was mostly made up of Reformed Jews from German-speaking communities in Central Europe, where Moorish synagogues were extremely popular.

A member of the synagogue had agreed to meet me and let me into the building; he very kindly waited as I made several wrong turns, calling him on my cell as I bumbled through roundabouts and no-right-turn signs before finding my way to  Manningham, a south-Asian neighborhood of substantial Victorian town houses and a lovely park bursting with daffodils.  I finally located the synagogue.      The building’s Lombard stripes, Ogee arched windows, and Hebrew inscriptions were unmistakable.

The interior is beautiful, especially the Torah Ark set into an exquisitely carved horseshoe arch.

The Bradford synagogue was part of an admiring wave of Orientalism that swept Europe in the nineteenth century.   Washington Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra was a great best-seller.   Artists flocked to the paint the dazzlingly exotic Near East.   And Westerners built exotic orientalist buildings, like P. T. Barnum’s  house in Connecticut, Iranistan.   The Royal Pavillion at Brighton, England.   Exotic Olana on Hudson.   And the Arab Hall at Leighton House, London.

But the greatest number of Moorish revival buildings were  synagogues.   There were over two hundred Moorish revival synagogues, although a complete count has never been made and some of the smaller European examples may go unrecorded.   A surprising number survive, including  the  Budapest’s exquisitely beautiful  Rumbach Street synagogue, an eight-sided architectural homage to Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock designed by the great Viennese architect Otto Wagner, which, like many old world synagogues, is far more magnificent inside than out.     Americans may know   the soaring minarets of Cincinnatti’s Plum Street Temple, the onion domes of  Temple Beth-El in Corsicana, Texas or the funky Moorish roof line of the little synagogue in Owensboro, Kentucky.

The Bradford Synagogue can take its place among the most handsome and authentic buildings of the Moorish revival, but it must  have looked dramatically exotic in the Bradford of 1880.     On the day I visited the neighborhood, there were a smattering of people in western dress, but the streets of Walsingham at midday on a Thursday were filled with mothers in hijab pushing baby strollers, and clusters of men and boys in shalwar kameez.

The congregation has been kept open until now by the sentimental attachment of members and the children of former members who live elsewhere.   It opened a suburban location years ago; that building has recently closed.

Whether the old Moorish revival building on Bowland Street can continue to function as a synagogue, even with the help and support of its Muslim neighbors, is an open question.    If it does not, it will make a handsome mosque with an exquisite mihrab in the center of one of Britain’s liveliest Muslim neighborhoods.



Before Religion

Posted by dianamuir on April 16, 2013
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Brent Nongbri explains how the West constructed  a category,  and came to believed that it was a valid description of the real world.


Modern Conceit; Review by William T. Cavanaugh in May, 2013  First Things.

Misappropriating Patriots’ Day

Posted by dianamuir on April 16, 2013
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In the divisive, tensely political years when ungrateful colonists destroyed private property of the Boston Tea Party, when mobs attacked His Majesty troops the Boston Massacre and unruly subjects took up arms against a legitimate Parliamentary government and the American Revolution, public commemorations were a tool used by advocates of American rights to increase commitment to their cause.    The revolting Americans celebrated the anniversaries of the Boston Massacre, the Battle of Bunker Hill,  and April 19th – the day a political struggle turned into war at the Battle of Lexington and Concord.   These celebrations were not holidays; they were pro-Independence political rallies.   In 1777 the Fourth of July joined them as one more pretext to rally the sometimes fading enthusiasm of ordinary men and women to support the fight for independence.

After independence was won and the Treaty of Paris signed, Americans lost interest in celebrating the Fourth of July.   The holiday was  revived to by political activists fighting for and against a proposed Constitution that would replace the Articles of Confederation with a stronger federal government.       New York and Rhode Island were implacably opposed to a federal constitution.    If you read the Constitution carefully, you will find that it says, “Done… by unanimous consent of the states present” at the Constitutional Convention on September 17, 1787.  What is actually means is: done without Rhode Island and New York.

The fight over ratification was famously bitter in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Virginia, South Carolina and New York.   (Rhode Island didn’t have enough pro-Federalists to stage a debate.)    By mid-June 1788, nine states including Massachusetts, New Hampshire and South Carolina had ratified.   Formally, 9 was enough.  But it was clear to everyone that with New York saying ‘nay’,  if Virginia also refused to ratify the new federal government would be too weak to function.   By June everything hung on Virginia.   Virginia ratified on June 26.

This was the eighteenth century.    The telegraph had not yet been invented.   News of Virginia’s ratification did not reach Albany until the July 3.   On the morning of the Glorious Fourth, feelings were running high as the Anti-Federalists fired the customary 13 salutes, and ignited when they burned a copy of the Constitution.     Federalists – who had  drunk more than was good for them  –  fired 10 salutes in honor of the 10 states that had ratified and were marching home when they met anti-Federalists – who were also three sheets to the wind.   The anti-Federalists were mad as hops over the politically-motivated firing of 10 salutes instead of 13; and they were  armed with clubs, stones, and a field-piece.   The battle lasted 20 minutes.  The Federalists won.  Several men were wounded, one killed. (Appelbaum, The Glorious Fourth, pp. 30-32.)

That, however, was as violent as the battle over the Constitution got.   The fight was  bitter.  Federalists and anti-Federalists formed two opposing political parties and refused to sit down together for dinner on the Fourth of July.   Towns had two speeches, two dinners, two celebrations.    The invective of Federal-era politics can make today’s scurrilous  tweeting sound downright genteel.   But before 1860 and since 1865, the fiercely held differences of opinion over how this country should be governed have been settled by persuasion, compromise and vote.   Not by violence.

Holidays are part of that debate, subject to being used as political tools the way both pro- and anti-Federalists once used the Fourth of July.   Columbus Day, for example, was created as part of the Italian American political struggle to gain recognition as “real” Americans.   It became so popular that Amerindian activists now use it to stake their claim for redress of the  grievances of conquest.  Politics is noisy and messy and groups that enlist holidays to enhance their message may or may not carry their point.

A right-wing group has attempted to appropriate Patriots Day by inverting the nature of the American Revolution, particularly the role of the minute men at Lexington and Concord.

Far from being a set of rugged individualists, the men who stood up to the British Army at Lexington Green were the democratically organized male population of the town of Lexington.   And Lexington was not unique.   In Massachusetts a political consensus was reached long before anyone picked up a musket.    A decade of intense political debate, rallies, marches, Liberty Trees, lithographs, and provocations like the Boston Massacre and Boston Tea Party had resulted in a population democratically committed to standing up to the Crown in defense of their right to self-government.

Gun powder was stored in church towers at a time when the congregation and the citizenry in most Massachusetts towns were virtually identical, the citizen militia of the Commonwealth was  pledged to act together should the British attempt to impose the imperial will by armed force, and  almost the entire membership of the Massachusetts legislature had convened in Concord, not in the capital at Boston.  Moving the Massachusetts legislature to Concord was not exactly secret, it was clandestine, against the will of the Crown, and done with the full backing of the great majority of the citizens.    The battle, when it came, was not an act of  individuals, it was the consensus decision of the people and government of Massachusetts.

If the modern movement that calls itself a militia and claims to stand on Patriots Day in the footsteps of the men on Lexington Green  really believe that they know how America should be governed, they should do what Sam Adams did and devote themselves to the hard, political  work of persuading their fellow citizens to agree with them.





Nazis and the Greek Revival in Munich

Posted by dianamuir on March 18, 2013
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An odd thing happened to the Kings of Bavaria in 1832.   Greece had just won a war of national liberation from the Ottoman Empire with a major assist form the British and French navies, and both Britain and France felt that providing the new nation state with a  constitutional monarchy would be the best way to ensure stability.   But where to find a King?   The King of Bavaria, Ludwig I, happened to have both an extra son and ancestors who belonged to Byzantine imperial families.   And so Prince Otto of Bavaria became King of Greece, and the Kingdom of Bavaria became the European state with the greatest enthusiasm for  Greek Revival architecture.

Visitors to Munich can see the Bavarian enthusiasm for  the idea that a local boy had become King of Greece on display in the Neue Pinakothek, (museum for nineteenth century art) where entire rooms are filled with views of Greece; in the Bavaria National Museum (a decorative arts museum), where a model of Otto stands in full costume tsolias; at the enormous  Hall of Fame that Ludwig built in Greek Revival style featuring a monumental statue of Bavaria cast from Turkish bronze cannon captured at Navarino (the battle that liberated Greece); and – this is the segue to Nazis –  at the Koenigsplatz (Royal Square).   Here Ludwig built a large plaza  with a monumental ceremonial arch in the style of the entrance to the Acropolis at one end, and two, grand, Greek Revival buildings facing one another across the broad plaza, one designed  to hold Ludwig’s genuinely spectacular collection of Greek antiquities.

This is how the plaza stood in 1933, three monumental sides; the fourth, an unfinished canvas when Adolph Hitler decided that he was an Aryan, somehow a descendant of the ancient Greeks.   He finished the Koenigsplatz by filling the fourth side with a pair of Ehrentempels (Honor Temples), edifices in an Art Deco version of Greek Revival dedicated to the worship of the Nazi spirit, represented by sarcophagi containing the bodies of the Nazis who died in the Party’s failed 1923 attempt to take over the government (the Beer Hall Putsch).   Flanking the Ehrentempels were a pair of large office buildings known as the Fuhrer Buildings housing Nazi Party operations,  and beyond them,  an entire neighborhood of buildings that housed Party operations.  The most notorious was the Braunes Haus (Brown House), the building that became Nazi Party headquarters in 1930.     The old Konigsplatz had become the heart of darkness, the center of National Socialism, the place where the great Nazi rallies were held.

The Baunes Haus was destroyed by war.   In 1947 the American Army of Occupation dynamited the Ehrentempels.   The art deco columns are gone, but the solid, stone foundations remain, covered by weeds.

The post-War German government altered the Konigsplatz by planting grass in place of the pavements where the Hitler Youth had marched.   The Fuhrer Buildings still look much as they did when Hitler knew them, both are still in use,  one as an art school.

Sixty years passed and the question of what to do about the foundations of the Ehrentempels remained.   To many, the best solution seemed to be to root them out of the ground and build something new in their stead.   But as time passed a consensus grew around the idea of treating them as Germany has treated its Nazi past.   That is, to admit that it happened, that Germans once enthusiastically built and worshiped at these shrines of race-hatred, face the past, and build a better future.

That future is now rising beside the overgrown foundations of the old Ehrentempels, on the site of the Braunes Haus where Hitler once had his office.   The building of the NS Dokumentationszentrum München (Documentation Center of National Socialism, Munich), a new museum of the Nazi period, is under construction.