Thursday, 29 November 2012


Following today's debate about press freedom, where Cameron rejected the proposal by the Leveson Inquiry to oversee the new independent press regulator, as opposed to Miliband and Clegg who supported it, I have decided to write a short blog on the history of censorship.

platoWhilst books and other pieces of literature have been destroyed as an act of war throughout recorded history, one of the earliest acts of censorship for the 'supposed' common good of the people occurred in 339 BC, with the execution of Socrates. Socrates was a philosopher and teacher in ancient Greece, and was charged with corrupting the youth of Athens by teaching against the Greek religion. Plato, one of Socrates students, became an advocate against censorship, following his  teacher's death.

In China, 213 BC, the emperor Qin Shi Haung ordered the burning of all books, except ones that dealt with agriculture, medicine or prophecy. In the ancient Roman Empire, censorship became an official duty, and is where the word 'censor' was first introduced. An official was given the title of censor, and existed from 443 to 22 BC.

Indoctrination of documents to 'make them more Christian' may have happened as early as AD 325. In 1559 the Roman Catholic Church published a list of books that were banned for their 'ideologically dangerous' content. In 1542 the Church issued a decree that no book could be published without it's permission. In 1563, Charles IX of Frances borrowed the idea and ordered that no book could be published without special permission from the King. Other rulers throughout Europe soon followed suit, banning all materials they deemed dangerous and threatening to the morals of society.
The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Europe, commonly known as the Age of Enlightenment, saw more freedom in the laws that governed censorship as people began to become more and more aware of human rights. Sweden was the first country to officially abolish censorship in 1766, and in 1790 amendments were made to the United States Constitution.
However censorship soon appeared again in the form of  banning of “inappropriate” books by public librarians and teachers, in order to supposedly protect the innocence of children. In 1683 the University of Oxford's library was completely destroyed, under the orders of the King of England. In the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany burning libraries became common practice. From 1917 to the end of the 1980s, Russia and the other socialist republics included within the Soviet Union were governed under a strict rule of censorship enforced by a central censorship office, commonly known as Glavlit
Under the Nazi regime of 1933 to 1945, Germany also experienced a period of strict censorship where all media, public events, and even private communications were censored by the government, primarily by Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda. An example of this is the massive burning of over 20,000 offensive books in 1933, where Goebbels declared, “From these ashes will rise the phoenix of the new spirit”.
Prior to the beginning of World War II, tens of thousands of books written by Jewish authors, communists, or any other author unsympathetic to the Nazi regime were thrown into the flames as a means of destroying critical viewpoints. As World War II commenced and the German stronghold spread throughout the European continent, censorship was also implemented in the occupied nations. All national newspapers, radios, and publishers were taken over or shut down completely upon the Nazis' arrival, and listening to foreign radio or reading illegal newspapers could be punishable by death. Despite the strict censorship, however, the illegal press continued to flourish in many occupied nations, making a firm stand against the brainwashing that Nazi censorship desired.
Censorship was also a key weapon used by the Apartheid regime of South Africa, which governed the nation from 1950 to 1994.
iran protest
Modern-day censorship in Iran has aroused a number of protests and public demonstrations, with many protesters expressing anger at the government's policies through graffiti
Even nowadays, censorship still occurs in one form or another throughout every country in the world. In Iran, the Supreme National Security Council has explicitly banned discussion in the media of any topics that might allow citizens to discover failures and abuses of the government. Attacks against journalists also continue to occur in many other countries throughout the world, and nearly half of the world’s population still lacks an independent press.In China, since the beginning of the twenty-first century, the internet is still officially censored by the government.
I hope this has enlightened you to the fight against censorship through time, and made you appreciate the fact that you can read this blog post, not because an official in the government decided you could, but because you want to!

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

A tipping point in the fight against slavery?

I recently read an interesting article about slavery, which truly shocked me. There are more people in slavery today, then in any other time in history. In the US, there are more slaves then homicides. There is an estimated 27 million people in slavery today, double the number of people taken from Africa during the transatlantic slave trade. About 12.5 million men, women and children were taken from Africa and shipped to America and the Caribbean from the C.16th, until slave trade was banned in 1807.

Not all slaves were from Africa. Slavery existed among some Native American groups and in some Asian countries, and Europeans were sometimes enslaved by the Ottoman Empire. Russian serfdom is also a variety of slavery. In 1861 when they were emancipated, there were more than 22 million serfs. Slaves were also common in the ancient world - the Greeks, Romans and, Egyptians all held slaves.

Slavery nowadays exists in many forms, from labour and sex trafficking to debt bondage where people are forced to work off small loads. The British Empire outlawed slavery in 1833, but it never really went away, emerging in different forms such as child labour. In the early 1840s, the British declared that slavery in India was over as part of the 'kindness' of British rule, but actually, the definitions were just changed - people were called labourers or servants rather than slaves. Obama recently said about slavery "It's the migrant worker unable to pay off the debt to his trafficker," he said. "The man, lured here with the promise of a job, his documents then taken, and forced to work endless hours in a kitchen. The teenage girl, beaten, forced to walk the streets."

An average slave today costs around $90 (£56) according to a charity, Free the Slaves. In 1850 a slave cost the equivalent of £25,000 in today's money. In the 18th Century, metal bracelets called manilas were brought to West Africa. They were used to barter for slaves and are now only worth around £5 each.

It is now estimated that in 30 years time, slavery could be completely eradicated from society, with the help of governmental and non-governmental organisations and their dedicated work. However  it will cost around £6.8bn  to get everyone out of slavery and keep them "slave proof".

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Important dates in November's History

As we near the end of the month, and get closer and closer to Christmas (yay!) I thought I would brighten your November with some interesting dates of events that happened on November, as well as why November is actually called November, a question I bet you've never asked yourself before.

November is the penultimate month of the year in the Gregorian calendar, which is used throughout most of the world. The Gregorian calendar  replaced the Julian calendar in 1582, because the Julian Calendar had an error; it added a leap year every four years with no exceptions, adding about eleven extra minutes to the calendar annually. This made the seasons get out of track, and so a Neapolitan doctor named Aloysiuis Lilius suggested a new calendar should be implemented. This new calendar was made official by Pope Gregory XIII, after whom it was named on February 24, 1582.

November is called November because it stems from the Latin word novem, meaning 'nine'. As I am currently studying Nazi Germany at school, its seems appropriate to mention a few hugely important dates that occurred in November, many of which occurred during the Nazi regime and WWII.

On the night of November 9th and 10th, 1938, the windows in all of the Jewish stores in Germany and Austria were smashed and merchandise was thrown into the street. Over 300 Synagogues were burnt to the ground, and hundreds of the thousands of Jews were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. The name given by the Nazis to this destruction is Kristallnacht or Night of Broken Glass.

Another date which you ought to know is November 9th 1918 when the German Kaiser was forced to  abdicate and the German government was taken over by the SPD (Social Democrats).  Friedrich Ebert, the leader of the Social Democrats, was subsequently installed as the first president of the new Republic, which became known as the Weimar Republic because a German Constitution, modelled after the American Constitution, was written by the Social Democrats in the city of Weimar.

After World War II ended, German was divided into East and West Germany; the eastern half was Communist.  The city of Berlin, which was in Eastern Germany, was divided into zones and the Berlin wall separated the American zone and the Communist Soviet zone.  It was on November 9, 1989 that the wall came down and Germany was once again united.

The Armistice which ended World War I was signed by Matthias Erzberger, a representative of the Ebert government, on November 11, 1918, an event which is now celebrated in America as Veterans Day.  This holiday was formerly called Armistice Day. The Nazis would later call the Social Democrats “the November criminals” and characterize the signing of the Armistice as a “stab in the back” for the German people. For the next 20 years, a controversy would rage between the liberal left and the Nazis over whether or not the German army had been defeated on the battlefield, a claim which Hitler called the "Big Lie".

The final important event in German history that I am going to tell you about also happened on November 9, 1923 was that Hitler’s attempt to overthrow the German government was stopped. On the evening of November 8, 1923, Adolf Hitler announced the start of “the people’s revolution” in the Bürgerbräukeller, a Munich beer hall. Hitler and his supporters then marched through the streets of Munich in an attempt to seize power. This unsuccessful revolution became known as Hitler’s Beer-hall Putsch. The next day, on November 9th, Hitler and two thousand of his followers were stopped by the Munich police on Residenzstrasse in front of the Feldherrenhalle; four policemen and 16 of Hitler’s supporters were killed in the fighting. Hitler fled from the scene, but was later arrested and imprisoned at Landsberg am Lech after a trial in which he was convicted of treason.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Hanging chads and Obama's victory in Florida

President Barack Obama was declared the winner of Florida's 29 electoral votes on Saturday, ending a four-day count with a margin so small that it narrowly avoided a recount that would echo that events of 2000. No matter the outcome, Obama had already won re-election, but he now has 332 electoral votes to Romney's 206. The win gave Obama victories in eight of the nine swing states, losing only North Carolina. In addition to Florida, he won Ohio, Iowa, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Virginia, Colorado and Nevada.

However the election has highlighted some major issues in voting, such as was seen in the UK, where more people watched the X Factor then voted in the 2010 general election. In Miami-Dade, so many people were in line at 7 pm that some people didn't vote until after midnight. Some people are now criticizing Florida's voting process due to the hours-long wait at the polls in some areas, a lengthy ballot and the fact that Governor Rick Scott refused to extend early voting hours.Some officials have vowed to investigate why there were problems at the polls and how that led to a lengthy vote count.  

If there had been a recount, it would not be as difficult as the lengthy one in 2000. The state no longer uses punch-card ballots, which became known for their hanging chads. All 67 counties now use optical scan ballots where voters mark their selections manually. A hanging chad is when the voter fails to fully punch a hole in the punch-card ballot. In the presidential election of 2000 between Bush and Al Gore, the vote tally in the Sunshine State was so close that manual counting had to be used. Photos showed counters holding punch-card ballots up to the light to try and determine if a voter had meant to poke a chad through or not. But 2000 wasn't the only time when the election results came down to counters inspecting ballots to try and decipher voter intent. In 1996 a Democratic primary for a house seat in Massachusetts was settled by carefully inspecting ballots. In 1990 and 1981 there were court cases in Illinois over whether counting hanging chads was an appropriate method of deciding who wins the election.

In 2000 the Florida recount ended with a tally of 2,909,176 votes for Bush and 2,907,451 for Gore. In winning Florida, the national electoral vote swung in Bush's favour. Though Gore won the popular vote with a national total of 51,003,894 votes to Bush's 50,459,211, Bush still won the presidency. 

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Remembrance Day

So, as I'm sure most of you will already know, Sunday 11th November was Remembrance Day (also known as Poppy or Armistice Day). Remembrance Day is a memorial day observed in Commonwealth countries to honour the members of the armed forces who have fought for us to live the lives we do.

It was specifically dedicated by King George V, by the suggested of Edward George Honey, on 7th November 1919 as a day of remembrance for the soldiers killed in WWI. Honey also established two ceremonial periods of remembrance based on events in 1917. 

The 11th November at 11am signifies the end of WWI, which ended on that date in 1918. Hostilities formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, according to the Armistice, signed by representatives of twenty seven different countries. ("At the 11th hour" refers to the passing of the 11th hour, or 11:00 a.m.) World War I officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on 28 June 1919. 

The red remembrance poppy has become a familiar symbol of Remembrance Day due to the poem "In Flanders Fields". These poppies bloomed across some of the worst battlefields of Flanders in World War I, their brilliant red colour an appropriate symbol for the blood spilled in the war.

However since then Remembrance Day is used as a day of respect for all soldiers who have lost their lives in  battle for our country, from WWI and WWII to the more recent fighting in Afghanistan.

Although the two minutes of silence are observed on 11th November, in the UK it is Remembrance Sunday where the ceremonies at local war memorials are held. The start and end of the silence are often marked by the firing of an artillery piece. The first two minute silence in London (11th November 1919) was reported in the Manchester Guardian on 12th November 1919:
"The first stroke of eleven produced a magical effect. The tram cars glided into stillness, motors ceased to cough and fume, and stopped dead, and the mighty-limbed dray horses hunched back upon their loads and stopped also, seeming to do it of their own volition. Someone took off his hat, and with a nervous hesitancy the rest of the men bowed their heads also. Here and there an old soldier could be detected slipping unconsciously into the posture of 'attention'. An elderly woman, not far away, wiped her eyes, and the man beside her looked white and stern. Everyone stood very still ... The hush deepened. It had spread over the whole city and become so pronounced as to impress one with a sense of audibility. It was a silence which was almost pain ... And the spirit of memory brooded over it all."

Saturday, 10 November 2012


Congratulates to Obama on winning the Presidential Election! However now he has secured the role, Obama has a long and difficult road ahead of him. I have collected a nice list of the four main problems the president faces, which are;

1. A still-struggling economy
Unemployment remains at 7.9%, and hiring is too slow to adsorb the millions on unemployed Americans. Economic growth is down to only 2%, and the US is slowly crawling out of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. 

2. The fiscal cliff and budget deficit
On the 1st January a volley of tax-rises and spending cuts will hit nearly every American in the USA, and could potentially cause devastation to the already weak economy, unless Congress takes action to cancel them. 

3. Iran
Iran is another source of headache for the president, ensuring stability in Iraq and promoting a solution to the Israel/Palestine situation, fighting terrorism, ensuring open access to energy and preventing a nuclear war are also all on Obama's to-do list. The US remains determined to prevent Iran gaining a nuclear weapon, however Iran maintains its nuclear program is solely peaceful and its leaders refuse to back down.

4. Medicare costs

In 2011, Medicare provided healthcare to 48.7m Americans. However, Medicare, the enormous government healthcare program for over-65s and disabled Americans, is projected soon to run out of money. Medicare's hospital insurance program is currently projected to run out of money in 2024. The doctor visit and prescription drug programs, which have an unlimited pot of money, will rise to 3.4% of GDP in 2035 from 2% last year.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

A short history of elections

Today sees the end of months worth of debates, tours, TV appearances,  rallys and campaigning by Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, who are both battling it out to be President of the United States. 

Have you ever wondered why election day is always a Tuesday? 
Even though America's voter turnout is among the lowest in developed democracies and more than a quarter of people who do not vote claim they are too busy, efforts to move elections to weekends have failed. The Tuesday after the first Monday in November was set as presidential election day in 1845. In the mid-19th Century, the US was an agrarian nation and it took a lot of time for farmers travel to the nearest polling station on horse back or in a horse-driven cart. Saturday was a workday on the farm, travel on Sunday was out, and Wednesday was a market day. That left Tuesday.

Another interesting fact I recently came across is that the US state of Nevada allows voters to mark "None of these candidates" on the ballot. The option has been on the ballot since 1976 and plenty of voters have used it. In 2010 after a particularly tight campaign for a US Senate seat, 2.25% of voters chose "None" rather than pick Democrat Harry Reid or Republican challenger Sharron Angle. Reid won.
Did you know that the candidate who loses the election can still win the White House? Four times in American history, the candidate with fewer votes has wound up with the presidency. This is because the winner of the presidential election needs to capture a majority of electoral votes, which are apportioned to the states by population and for the most part awarded in winner-take-all state contests. Most recently, in 2000 George Bush won half a million votes fewer than Al Gore but took 271 electoral votes for the victory.
And one final funny fact which you probably didn't know before is that in North Dakota, you can vote without registering to vote. Although it was of the first states to adopt voter registration in the 19th Century, North Dakota abolished it in 1951. Voters must be US citizens over the age of 18 who have lived in the state for at least 30 days, and must provide identification, but they do not need to register. Who knew?
Here is an excellent web page on the history of close elections that is worth taking a look at;
I hope tonight many of you will be staying up to watch the election tonight along with me, and good luck to both Obama and Romney!

Monday, 5 November 2012

All about Guy Fawkes!

Happy 5th of November! Today is Guy Fawkes Day, also known as Bonfire Night and Firework Night, an annual commemoration of when Guy Fawkes, a member of the Gunpowder Plot, was arrested on the 5th November 1605, whilst guarding explosives his fellow plotters had placed beneath the House of Lords. 
Celebrating the fact that King James I survived the attempt on his life, people lit bonfires all over London, and months later the Observance of 5th November Act was passed, to mark the day as an annual public day of thanksgiving for the plot's failure. 
The English, among other talents, are adept at nurturing their grudges. This explains the prolonged hatred of Guy Fawkes; over four hundred years after Fawkes was caught, tortured and executed for his role in the scheme the British are still celebrating his death. One of the ironies of Fawkes' legacy is that he was actually a late addition to the Gunpowder Plot. Fawkes was born a Protestant in 1570, fought in the Spanish army in the Netherlands in 1593, and at around the same time converted to Catholicism. The founders of the Gunpowder Plot brought Fawkes in to the plot because they thought his military background and anonymity would be helpful.
Things didn't go according to plan. The plotters started trying to gain more and more followers, and as the story goes, one of the men to whom they reached out for support alerted his brother-in-law, a lord, not to attend Parliament on 5th November.The building was searched, and Fawkes was caught along with his stockpile of gunpowder. Tortured on the rack, he revealed the names of his co-conspirators. Some of them were killed while resisting arrest; others, including Fawkes, pled not guilty and went to trial, where they were convicted of high treason. In January, 1606, the remaining conspirators were hung, drawn and quartered. Parliament immediately established Nov. 5 as a day of celebration.
In recent years, Fawkes' legacy has become less well known, to my disappointment  Whilst children all over the country have spent the last week setting off fireworks and dancing around bonfires, I wonder how many of them actually know why we celebrate Guy Fawkes Day every year. However Fawkes has provided the inspiration for the tile character in the Wachowski brothers' V for Vendetta, in which a masked crusader embarks on a terrorist campaign against a totalitarian British dystopia. Fawkes also proved an effective fundraising rally for U.S. presidential candidate Ron Paul, who made more than $4 million on the holiday in 2007 from a website commemorating Fawkes. 
An interesting fact which I did not know before researching this topic is that guards will also perform an annual search tonight —more for tradition than precaution— of the Houses of Parliament to ensure no would-be Fawkes is trying to replicate the Gunpowder Plot. Though the celebrations and rituals are mostly symbolic nowadays, Guy Fawkes Day is still a great way to spend some time with family and friends and enjoy the fireworks, bonfires and food.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Skyfall and the history of James Bond

Today I watched Skyfall, the latest installment in the James Bond franchise. Whilst I have never been a huge Bond fan, I must admit it was a fantastic film, and got me thinking about the history of Bond. Bond was created by Ian Fleming in 1953, and is based on Fleming's experience during his time in the Naval Intelligence Division during World War II.

The NID was established in 1882, originally responsible for fleet mobilization, war plans and foreign intelligence collection. However in 1900 another division was added; dealing with strategy and defence during war. Two years later the NID grew again, to take control of trade, port and coastal defence. Since then the NID has played a huge role in British history, taking some of the responsibility for Britain's success in both WWI and WWII. Members of the 30th Assault Unit in WWII, which Fleming belonged to, are inspirations for the creation of 007 spy, Bond.

So I guess in a way we have the NID and Fleming's work during WWII to thank for the birth of James Bond.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

It's a blog. About history.

Hello, I'm Amelia Sinclair, a 16 year old girl from North London who goes to Haberdasher's Askes School for Girls and is passionate about history. I have recently decided to write down all my history-related thoughts, in the form of a blog. I was inspired to start my blog by fact that I recently discovered (upon research) that there are very few accessible blogs for teenagers interested in History, such as myself. Whilst sifting through Google looking for interesting history websites, I was slightly annoyed that there weren't more nice handy blogs that had already done all the sifting for me. 
I spent a couple of days wondering around trying to come up with an amusing and witty blog title. But eventually I gave into the cliche and named it after one of all time favorite films; 'History Boys'. (If you haven't watched it then you definitely need to). 
I am currently studying Nazi Germany and the History of Medicine through time, however I'll be writing posts about pretty much anything that interests me and catches my eye.