The Bay of Pigs Invasion (1961) 

In April 1961, an American-sponsored contingent of 1500 Cuban exiles landed at the Bay of Pigs, intent on overthrowing Cuban leader Fidel Castro.  The attempt failed miserably.  Most invaders were captured and imprisoned.  The invasion further undermined U.S.-Cuban relations and heightened Cold War tensions, particularly Soviet-American relations.  It also stands as a conspicuous blemish on President Kennedy’s presidency. 

Historian Andrew Preston calls it the “biggest failure of his [Kennedy’s]  Presidency.” (89). Other scholars like John Rasenberger refer to the invasion as the “fiasco.” (xvii). What compelled the United States to organize and sponsor such an invasion? How did Cuban-American relations deteriorate to the point where Washington would risk political humiliation and cold war conflict to depose Fidel Castro?

Cuba and the United States

Some background history of Cuban-American relations helps us contextualize the Bay of Pigs invasion.  Cuba, located 90 miles south of Florida, had been a Spanish colony coveted for its natural resources – particularly sugar.  In 1808, Spain refused U.S. President Thomas Jefferson’s offer to purchase.  However, Spain was a declining power, and as Spanish influence receded from the Americas during the 19th century, the U.S. became increasingly involved in Cuba’s sugar, fruit, and molasses production.” (7)  In 1898, the United States defeated Spain and annexed Cuba as a colony. 

Washington promoted a Cuban resource-based economy dependent on US investments and buyers and sponsored successive Cuban governments who supported its broader Latin American policies. This arrangement continued throughout the 1950s as successive Eisenhower administrations backed Fulgencio Batista, the Cuban leader from 1952-1958.  A dictator, Batista fostered domestic discontent through corruption and repressing political opposition. Americans continued to control Cuban finances, rail, electricity, and sugar, while many Cubans lived in poverty and lacked access to education, healthcare and decent incomes.  

Cuban people resented Batista’s pandering to American commercial interests while callously ignoring Cuban people’s welfare.  

The groundswell of discontent fed Fidel Castro’s revolution that overthrew Batista in 1959. The new leader “nationalized” the economy by imposing widespread government controls. Castro also “invested in housing, schools and public works.  Salaries were raised, electric rates were cut, and rents reduced by half.” (Rodriguez, 25)

These changes reflected Castro’s goal of replacing an American-controlled Cuba with an independent regime.  On May 17, 1959, Cuba implemented the Agrarian Reform Law, which drastically reduced American ownership of Cuban land.  As Christina Fisanick points out, Castro’s reforms reduced American-controlled land from over 2 million to 1,000 acres.” (8). A charismatic speaker, Castro publicly identified as a revolutionary nationalist taking Cuba from imperialist America and giving it back to the Cuban people.  His actions backed his words.

Washington Responds

Not surprisingly, Washington did not welcome Castro’s rise to power or nationalist policies. Castro presented unprecedented challenges, at least in Latin America.  Historian Louis A. Perez Jr. writes that the most immediate was “the Cuban leader’s unprecedented and unrelenting condemnation of the United States for nearly sixty years of deeds and misdeeds in Cuba.” (229).  Some state officials dismissed Castro’s vitriol as the ravings of a mad dictator, while others saw him as a motivated communist.  Most seemed to settle on the latter explanation and framed Castro’s victory as a “Cold War problem.” 

Cold War

Washington’s assessment of Cuba grew out of the Cold War that evolved after World War Two (1939-1945) and centred on a global conflict between communism and democracy.  This bipolar view saw the Soviet Union leading the communists against the American-led democratic powers in a battle for international dominance.  While this paradigm didn’t give due justice to the complexities of the global environment, it still informed foreign policy. 

In 1947, only two years after the end of World War Two, the United States established the Truman Doctrine, which committed the U.S. to assist any country threatened by Communism. Washington showed further commitment by adopting the policy of “containment” that would compel American intervention in places like Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba, to stave the spread of communism. 

For his part, Castro denied being part of a global communist movement.  However, he turned to Moscow for economic and political support as Cuban-American relations deteriorated. Cuba signed a trade agreement with the Soviet Union in February 1960, and Moscow agreed to exchange the oil for sugar no longer purchased by the US.   By January 1961, Cuba established formal diplomatic ties with Moscow and “in early January 1961; the US terminated formal diplomatic relations with Cuba.” (Rodriguez, 26)

Washington saw Castro’s ties with Moscow as a serious threat to American security goals in the Americas and the world. Washington officials feared that the Cuban revolution offered the rest of Latin America an example that could undermine American hegemony in the region.  Eisenhower’s domino analogy now seemed applicable to Latin America. In a broader sense, Castro’s presence and aggressive reforms undermined American status at home and abroad.    As Perez Jr. writes, “if the United States could not contain the expansion of communism 90 miles from its shores, how could it be expected to resist communism in Europe, Asia, and Africa?” (239)

It can be argued that the American isolation of Castro and its history of exploiting the island and its people encouraged a nationalist revolution and an alliance with Moscow.  Some Americans acknowledged these factors, but regional security and Cold War priorities would prevail.  

Washington Plans

In his 1996 book, Confessions of a Cold Warrior, former CIA Deputy Director Richard Bissell writes that “A Communist government in Cuba, ninety miles from the US mainland, was unacceptable.” (Bissell, 152) Accordingly, American officials grappled with how to undermine Castro’s influence and, ultimately, oust him from power.  Some options were untenable. Washington dismissed calls for an open American military invasion of Cuba.  Such an overt act would escalate Soviet-American tensions and undermine Washington’s image as a promoter of freedom and self-determination. 

Instead, Washington chose political isolation, economic sanctions and covert sabotage.  As already mentioned, Washington set about isolating Castro diplomatically and economically by severing diplomatic relations and imposing a trade embargo on Cuba.  Besides these public tactics, President Eisenhower ordered the newfound Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to create a covert plan to invade Cuba by arming, training, and transporting anti-Castro exiles. Historian Raul Rodriguez writes that if all went to plan, “the invading exiles would be greeted as heroes when they landed” and “all private sector assets would be returned,” as a US friendly replaced an ousted Castro. (Rodriguez, 26).  

However, Eisenhower would not remain in power long enough to see the plan through. His second presidential term was coming to an end, so it would be up to his Vice-President Richard Nixon to win the upcoming election and deal with the Cuba problem.   In Nixon’s way stood a formidable political challenger.

John F. Kennedy. (1961-1963)

The 1960 U.S. presidential election saw Republican Richard Nixon pitted against up-and-comer Democratic Senator John F. Kennedy, and Cuba was one of the election’s main issues.  Kennedy campaigned on a hard stance against communism and criticized the Eisenhower government for being “soft” on Cuba.  The Democratic candidate went so far as to publicly insist that Castro be removed.  As historian Howard Jones points out, Nixon had to “remain silent on the invasion plan and thereby unable to counter his adversary’s charge that the administration was soft on Castro.” (Jones, 36).

Kennedy won the election and was inaugurated in 1961. He immediately set about making an impression as an action-oriented President.  By this time, Castro had been in power for a year and had implemented many changes to Cuba that Washington perceived as reflecting Communist ideals.  On January 28th, CIA Director Allen Dulles formally briefed Kennedy and his senior advisors, warning that “Castro was converting Cuba into a Communist state,” and detailed the American plan to topple Castro’s government. (Jones, 46)

Kennedy knew the plan held profound risks, and some of his senior advisors rigorously opposed it.  Chester Bowles and William Fulbright, for instance, both stressed “the invasion pitfalls,” including the potential impact on Soviet-American relations and Washington’s claim as a promoter of political self-determination. (Rasenberger, 394) However, a strong lobby of American officials wanted to follow through, and as historian Mark J. White points out, Kennedy’s campaign promises “delimited his policies as president.” (Fisanick, 10). Besides reneging on a campaign promise, White adds, “Cuba would have exposed him to Republican accusations of “softness” of communism.” (Fisanick, 10). In short, the new President’s public and private commitments to topple Castro compelled him forward.  Once he committed, a core challenge involved executing the invasion in a manner that disguised American involvement. 

Fallout.

The plan failed.  Most of the invading Cuban exiles were captured and imprisoned.  Some historians suggest that American air cover could have swayed the results, but Kennedy did not want to expose Washington’s involvement.  It didn’t work.  Despite the denials, the American government’s involvement was exposed.   Cuban-American relations continued to deteriorate as Soviet-Cuban ties strengthened.

Interestingly, the Bay of Pigs debacle did not deter Kennedy from Washington’s overarching Cold War agenda. After the invasion failed, President Kennedy reinforced the need to respond to communism.  As Rodriguez writes, “The lesson he drew from the Bay of Pigs was the need for escalated adventurism, not caution.” (Rodriguez, 27)

Historical Interpretations.

Historians continue to study the Bay of Pigs invasions to understand what happened and why.  Various interpretations abound, and new evidence offers opportunities for fresh insights.  Some scholars focus their criticism on the CIA, suggesting the agency pushed a misleading agenda on the President.  Others point to anti-communist fervour in Washington as the main culprit. In his excellent book, Brilliant Disaster: JFK, Castro, and America’s Doomed Invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs (2011), John Rasenberger acknowledges Washington’s “nearly hysterical” approach to containing Communism while challenging claims that the CIA pulled the strings.   The Bay of Pigs, he writes, “was a collaboration of both Presidential administrations, numerous legislators and the CIA, who “either did know or should have known, what they were agreeing to.” (xv)

Recent scholarship pushes beyond the bounds of American foreign policy to explore the broader context of the Americas. Rodriquez and Trog, for instance, present the Cuban-American conflict as a “fundamental contradiction between Cuba’s revolutionary ferment in search of national realization and the US hegemonic quest for maintaining a status quo throughout the Western Hemisphere. (17)

The Bay of Pigs invasion fascinates us, and future studies will offer fresh and exciting insights. 

Bibliography

Bissell, Richard M. Reflections of a Cold Warrior: From Yalta to the Bay of Pigs. Neultaven, 1996.

Fisanick, Christina. Ed.   The Bay of Pigs.  Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven Press, 2004.

Friedman, Rebecca R. “Crisis Management at the Dead Center: The 1960-1961 Presidential Transition and the Bay of Pigs Fiasco.” Presidential Studies Quarterly, vol. 41, no. 2, 2011, pp. 307–33. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/23884834. Accessed 22 Aug. 2022.

Gleijeses, Piero. “Ships in the Night: The CIA, the White House and the Bay of Pigs.” Journal of Latin American Studies, vol. 27, no. 1, 1995, pp. 1–42. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/158201. Accessed 22 Aug. 2022.

Gott, Richard. Cuba: A New History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004.

Jones, Howard. Bay of Pigs.  New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.  

Oakes, James.   Of the People: A History of the United States Since 1865. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.

Pérez Jr., Louis A. “Fear and Loathing of Fidel Castro: Sources of US Policy toward Cuba.” Journal of Latin American Studies, vol. 34, no. 2, 2002, pp. 227–54. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3875788. Accessed 22 Aug. 2022.

Preston, Andrew. “Kennedy, the Cold War, and the National Security State.” in Andrew Hoberek ed. The Cambridge Companion to John F. Kennedy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015. 89-102. 

Rasenberger, Jim.  Brilliant Disaster: JFK, Castro, and America’s Doomed Invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs. New York: Scribner, 2011.

Rodríguez, Raul and Harry Targ. “US Foreign Policy towards Cuba: Historical Roots, Traditional Explanations and Alternative Perspectives.” International Journal of Cuban Studies, vol. 7, no. 1, 2015, pp. 16–37. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.13169/intejcubastud.7.1.0016. Accessed 22 Aug. 2022.

Samson, Anna. “A History of the Soviet-Cuban Alliance (1960-1991).” Politeja, no. 10/2, 2008, pp. 89–108. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/24919326. Accessed 22 Aug. 2022.

Stern, Sheldon M. The Week the World Stood: Inside the Secret Cuban Missile Crisis. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005.

The Origins of American Slavery

In 1619 twenty Africans landed in Jamestown, Virginia, a budding British colony of the Americas focused on the growing and exporting of tobacco. Tobacco plantations required labour and until 1700, white indentured servants, mainly from Britain, provided most of the work. But various factors would lead plantation owners to replace indentured servitude with slavery and by the American Revolution (1776), all the British colonies practiced permanent chattel slavery. How and why did this transition happen? 

Colonial Plantations and Labour. Historian Peter Kolchin writes, “Almost from the beginning, America was heavily dependent on coerced labour… (3) Before slavery, British colonists utilized two other sources of unfree labour – Native American slavery and Indentured Servants. Native American slavery comprised a relatively small portion of colonial workers. Historians point to various reasons for this. First, diseases had severely decimated the Native American population since Europeans arrived in the late 1400s. Estimates vary, but there is a growing consensus that between 70 and 90 percent of indigenous Americans (North, Central and South America) died from European-borne diseases such as smallpox and measles. A decimated population could not meet growing plantation labour demands.   Also, familiar with local environments, Native Americans could escape, survive, and rejoin their communities.  

Indentured Servitude. Indentured servitude provided a better option and became the primary source of unfree labour during the 17th century. The arrangement ostensibly met the needs of both the servant and plantation owner. Indentured servants often left England to escape poverty, persecution and political instability. Without resources to traverse the Atlantic, they “sold themselves into temporary slavery in exchange for free transatlantic transportation… (Kolkin, 8). A steady supply of indentured servants pre-empted the need to seek alternative sources of labour – including slavery. As Kolkin writes,

so long as a ready supply of indentured labor continued to exist, colonists saw little reason to go to the expense of importing large numbers of Africans, who, unlike English labourers, had to undergo prolonged adjustment to alien conditions – strange masters had unusual customs, spoke an unintelligible language before becoming productive members of the workforce. (11)

Various factors made slavery less viable during most of the 17th century. Slavery at this time involved more risk and expense. Especially during the early 17th century, plantation labourer life expectancy was low. James Oakes estimates that “90% of those who migrated to the Chesapeake in the seventeenth century came as servants, and half died before completing the term of service.” (68). Plantation working conditions were brutal, and workers had less protection than in England. As Oakes points out, “As long as life expectancy was low, it was generally more profitable for a planter to purchase an indentured servant for seven years than a slave for life.” (10) Also, the immense crossing distance from Africa to North America – much further than Africa to Brazil, for instance) led to high slave fatalities and reduced profitability. 

The Transition to Slavery.  An interplay of factors encouraged the transition from indentured servitude to slavery. First, colonial demand for labour began outpacing the labour supply of indentured servants. Virginia’s growing tobacco plantations required more work, and from the 1690s, Carolina evolved into a significant producer and exporter of labour-intensive crops, rice and indigo. (Black,88) Carolina planters would benefit from enslaved Africans already well-versed in rice production. 

Factors on the supply side also encouraged the transition to slavery. Kolchin points out that “at the same time that colonial demand for labor was surging, a sharp decrease occurred in the number of English migrants arriving in America under indenture.” (11) Various factors contributed to this decrease. The monarchy’s restoration in England facilitated “both political stabilization and an economic upturn” that encouraged labourers to stay in Europe. (Kolchin, 12). Also, less arduous opportunities in American colonies like New York and Pennsylvania attracted immigrants, effectively siphoning potential plantation labourers.  

Essentially, the indentured labour supply could not keep up with the growing demand for labour. Slavery became an increasingly viable choice. 

Slavery Becomes More Viable.  Various factors mitigated the high initial costs of slavery for wealthy planters who benefitted from slavery as a long-term investment. In the 1680s, England’s Royal African Company broke the Dutch monopoly on the slave trade, significantly reducing the cost of slave transport. Also, enslaved Africans proved very capable and resilient. Many had engaged in agricultural labour and, unlike Native Americans, had been exposed to European diseases, developing immune systems more adept to colonial life. 

Unlike indentured servants, Africans remained slaves for life. In 1662, Virginia made slavery a hereditary condition by declaring that “all children born in this country shall be held bond or free according to the conditions of the mother.” (Berkin, 70) In other words, permanent slave status passed from the mother to her children. This law drastically favoured plantation owners. As Kolchin writes, “…whereas in the seventeenth century the slave population failed to reproduce itself and had to be replenished in much the same way the servant population did, in the eighteenth century, it became a self-perpetuating labor force.” (13)

Native Americans and English indentured servants also presented higher flight risks from the brutal conditions of plantation labour. European indentured servants could leave and readily blend into other communities. Native Americans often knew the environment and could escape and even return to their people. On the other hand, enslaved Africans landed in a foreign setting that offered no friendly escape destinations. Moreover, due to skin colour, Africans fleeing a plantation were more visible and less able to blend into free communities. As Kolchin writes, “Racial distinction, in short, facilitated enslavement. (13).

Slave Codes. Plantation owners also benefitted from slave codes. As Carol Berkin points out, the “legal difference between black and white servants was vague until the 1660s. As previously mentioned, in 1662, Virginia legislated that all children of slave mothers inherited her slave status. Other colonies followed suit. Slave codes legally entrenched racial differences while imposing various restrictions such as banning enslaved people from holding meetings, owning property, getting married, possessing guns or inflammatory literature. 

Conclusion. The transition to slavery happened relatively quickly – less than one hundred years. The estimates vary, but according to James Oakes, the number of African or African-descended inhabitants of the mainland colonies” increased from 2920 in 1660 to more than 300, 000 a century later. (126).  By this time slavery had become the labour system of the Southern colonies and was legally recognized in the Northern colonies.  

Slavery had been firmly entrenched in American society by the middle of the 18th century.    

Bibliography.

Berkin, Carol. Making America. A History of the United States. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001. 

Black, Jeremy. A Brief History of Slavery: A New Global History. London: Constable and Robinson, 2011.

Foner, Eric. Give Me Liberty: An American History. Volume 1. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2017

Hine, Darlene and William C. Hine.  African Americans: A Concise History. New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc. 2014.

Kolchin, Peter. American Slavery. 1619-1877.  New York: Hill and Wang, 1993.

Oakes, James. Of the People. A History of the United States. Volume 1: To 1877. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.

Origins of Monotheism and World History

World History devotes much attention to the world’s belief systems and religions that shaped our past. One integral theme is the development and impact of monotheist religions, particularly the “Abrahamic traditions” -Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Polytheism (multiple gods) preceded these “One-God” religions that eventually came to predominance in much of the world. Historians, anthropologists, and archaeologists seek to understand how and why monotheism happened. Recent studies over the last thirty years suggest that the three monotheistic religions evolved slowly from various historical circumstances. This evolutionary view challenges the traditional idea of monotheism as revolutionary insights from the likes of Abraham, Jesus, and Muhammed.    

Polytheism

Polytheism predated monotheism and resided in the earliest civilizations, linking gods to various phenomena. Gods inhabited or controlled the forces of nature or more minute aspects of life. Historian Greg Woolf writes that Mesopotamians “recognized thousands of different divinities, each associated with a different aspect of the universal, from the sky and the sea to humbler implements such as the plow and the hoe – there was even a god of brick-moulds.” (Woolf, 84). Polytheistic deities possessed supernatural but not unlimited powers and displayed human foibles. Sumerian gods for instance, “ate, drank, lusted, quarrelled and intervened in earthly affairs.” (Woolf, 8). In the Greek pantheon, Zeus’s philandering evoked Hera’s jealousy, and various gods vied for power. Polytheistic systems also tended to be linked to localities – a stark contrast to the universal God espoused by later monotheistic traditions. 

Polytheism pervades most of human history, but at some point, monotheism evolved, espousing the belief that one uncreated, all-powerful, and all-knowing God created everything. How did monotheism evolve and grow? The answers remain elusive, but scholars generally began with Judaism. 

Judaism.

There is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a saviour; there is none besides me. Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth. For I am God, and there is no other.” Isaiah 45: 21-3

The Old Testament of the Bible identifies Abraham (born.c.1800 BCE) as the first Hebrew and the first monotheist.   Abraham left Ur (Mesopotamia) and travelled west to Canaan (modern Israel) after God promised him a “land of milk and honey.” In Canaan, Abraham received the covenant from God on Mt. Sinai, the written and oral law established between God and the Jewish people. God, often referred to as Yahweh (by scholars but not believers), later led Moses and his chosen people out of enslavement in Egypt (an event known as the Exodus) and back to Canaan. In Canaan, Moses climbed to the top of Mount Sinai, and God gave him the Ten Commandments. The First Commandment specified, “You shall have no other gods before me.” However, some Israelites continued to worship other deities, but over time an increasing number established a covenant with the One God.

This God fundamentally differed from gods previous. Religious scholar Karen Armstrong writes, “Unlike the pagan deities, Yahweh was not in any of the forces of nature but a realm apart” (99). In other words, God transcended the limited role ascribed to geography or function (e.g. Ares, God of War). As Robert Wright writes, Yahweh “was Lord of nothing in particular and everything.” (100) 

Interestingly, recent scholarship suggests that forms of monotheism, such as that espoused by the Egyptian Pharoah Akhenaten (c. 1353-1335 BCE), predated Judaism but did not survive. On the other hand, Judaism demonstrated incredible resilience as it spread with Jewish merchants to various communities and trading centres in Europe and Southwest Asia. As Christine Hayes writes, “Judeans survived even after the more numerous and powerful people like the Sumerians and Babylon and Hittites and “carried with them new ideas, a sacred scripture, a set of tradition that would lay the foundations for the major religion of the western world: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.” (2)

Almost 2000 years after Abraham left Ur, a Jewish prophet would inspire what eventually became the most widespread religion in history – Christianity. 

Christianity.

For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth – as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords” – yet for us there is one God. Paul, Corinthians. 8: 5-6.

Christianity evolved from the Jewish notion of a “messiah,” foretold in the Old Testament. Christians identify Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God. Christ is the Greek word for messiah. This belief fundamentally differs from Judaism and Islam; both recognize Jesus as a prophet but not as a divinity.

A Jew born in or near Nazareth, Jesus continued the Jewish tradition of prophets who mediated the earthly world with the spiritual. A “charismatic faith healer,” Jesus offered his teaching in Roman-controlled Palestine and attracted devoted followers until Romans crucified him (around 29 BCE) – an event Christians believe was a sacrifice of God’s son for the sake of humanity. After his death, Jesus’s followers recorded his teachings in the Bible’s New Testament Gospels. Christian missionaries and merchants spread these teachings via a vast network of Roman roads and overseas trading routes. “Jesus groups” and prophets like St. Paul gain coverts by offering an inclusive religion that promised salvation through faith in Jesus.   Christianity, as Huston Smith points out, “sought converts more provocatively than Judaism and would rapidly spread over the following centuries.  

This rapid spread, as Karen Armstrong writes, “certainly would not have succeeded without the Roman Empire.” (106). Rome initially persecuted Christians, who they saw as an obscure Jewish cult, as disloyal to the emperor but legally recognized Christianity in 313 CE, allowing Christians to own property and worship freely. In 325 CE, Roman Emperor Constantine (c. 272-337 CE) organized the first ecumenical council of bishops of the Roman Empire ” to unify canons of doctrinal orthodoxy and define a common creed for the Church.” As Scott Vitkovic points out, this step offered the first uniform Christian doctrine” that would bind Christians and foster Christianity’s growth. (5) By 380 BCE, Christianity became the Roman Empire’s official religion, a status that allowed Christians a significant advantage over competing belief systems.

When the Roman Empire fell in 476 CE, the Christian Church filled the power vacuum, ostensibly providing political stability, social order, faith, and hope. The Pope became the spiritual and political leader of much of Europe. The Church established a hierarchy of regional bishops overseeing more local priests administer this growing influence.   Christianity continued to grow into the next millennium until 1054 when it split into the Western Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox. A more profound split occurred with the Protestant Reformation, encouraged by Martin Luther in 1517. Numerous Christian denominations evolved, but scholars tend to identify three main groups – Orthodox, Protestant, and Roman Catholic. 

Christianity’s meteoric rise as a global religion would foreshadow the rapid rise of another monotheistic religion centuries after Christ’s death– Islam. 

Islam.

He is the One God; God, the Eternal, the Uncaused Cause of all being. Koran 112.

More than 500 years after the death of Jesus Christ came Muhammed (570-632), the prophet of Islam, who lived in Mecca, a commercial center in the interior of the Arabian Peninsula. Polytheism still predominated Arabic society, but by this time, Judaism and Christianity had developed well-established traditions and a growing influence. As historian Ira M. Lepidus points out, monotheistic religion was “introduced into Arabia by foreign influences: Jewish and Christian settlements” and “travelling preachers and merchants…” (19). Accordingly, by “the sixth century, monotheism had a certain vogue.” (19)

At 40, Muhammed experienced a series of revelations through Allah’s angel Gabriel. Through these revelations, he identified himself as the last in a line of prophets, including Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. Muhammed saw these revelations as the completion of Judaism and Christianity that had lost their way. According to Islam, Muhammed and all prophets possessed no divine qualities but were mere messengers of God. In this sense, Islam agrees with Judaism by denying Christ’s divinity as the Son of God and the Messiah. Muslims see the period before Muhammed, including the polytheist and monotheistic religions, as a period of ignorance. Islam, in short, is a pristine monotheism.    

When he died in 632 BCE, Karen Armstrong writes, Muhammed “had managed to bring nearly all the tribes of Arabia into a new united community, or ummah” – an incredible feat. (135). He did not leave any writings, but his successors recorded his teachings in the Qur’an (Koran). Two main groups, the Sunni and the Shiite, evolved from disputes over the rightful successors to Mohammed. By the end of the 7th century, despite divisions, Muhammed’s followers had conquered Armenia, Persia, Syria, Palestine, Isreal, North Africa, and Spain. Today, it stands as the world’s second-largest religion.    

How did monotheism happen? Traditional religion asserts that monotheism began before history and the creation, with God the uncreated and that God (or Allah) first revealed himself to Abraham. However, historical evidence suggests that monotheism did not begin with Abraham of Ur. Scholars of the Ancient Near East generally agree that monotheism grew out of various historical processes but dispute how this happened. Biblical scholar Yehezkeh Kaufman sees the Hebrew God as more revolutionary than evolutionary, rejecting monotheism as “an organic outgrowth of the religious milieu” of the Middle East. Instead, he sees “an original creation of the people of Israel…absolutely different from anything the pagan world ever knew.” (Wright, 100)

Kaufman published his works in the middle of the 20th century. Since then, new scripture analysis and archaeological finds seem to reveal a more evolutionary process. Regarding the more traditional view that identifies monotheism as early as Abraham, scholars such as Karen Armstrong suggest that “we tend to project our knowledge of late Jewish religion back onto these early historical personages.” (14). Evidence indicates that Abraham and other biblical figures – Isaac and Moses – likely recognized multiple gods. Ancient Hebrew scripture refers to many Gods before gradually focusing on one God – Yahweh. Initially, Yahweh faced competition from the gods such as Baal, Enlil, Mardele and Amon-Re. Over time the Hebrews came to regard Yahweh as the only God, thus laying the foundations for a monotheistic religion.  

While the precise reasons for this evolution to monotheism remain elusive, scholars suggest various reasons. Historian Ira M. Lapidus links the development of monotheism to a growing and increasingly connected Middle Eastern population that could see a larger world beyond their local experience. So, instead of a god for a small community, why not gods (and eventual God) for the vaster world? (19?) Lapidus suggests that these religions, Judaism (and later Christianity and Islam), offered salvation and a sense of universal order in an often-unstable world.     Scholar Reuven Firestone reinforces this view, suggesting that monotheism “removed the universe and all its people from the fractions and uncertain rule of often bickering deities and placed them under the grace of One Great God. (20). 

Besides monotheism’s appeal for some, scholars point to the persecution of polytheists, later labelled as “pagans.” The term “pagans,” writes Jonathan Kirsch, “is a word invented by early Christians to describe anyone who refused to recognize the One True God.” (19).   Some monotheistic believers actively sought to rid the world of pagans. In 529 BCE, for instance, the Roman Emperor Justinian closed the school of philosophy in Athens, what Karen Armstrong calls “the last bastion of intellectual paganism.” (125).   Some nine centuries later, the Renaissance would see the revival of classical Greek and Roman philosophical works in Europe.  

Exploring the reasons for the growth of monotheism requires more space than we have with this blog which outlines the origins of the three Abrahamic monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. All three claim to follow the only God, a claim that has led to many conflicts among monotheistic religions (e.g. The Crusades) and against “pagans”. Historical and archaeological evidence suggests that monotheism evolved very gradually after Abraham. The scholarship also presents evidence that even with their monotheistic foundations, these religions evolved much slower than we once believed. Scholars such as Karen Armstrong argue that Christianity, for instance, grew out of disparate Jesus groups and did not consolidate until centuries after the death of Jesus. 

What is certain is that these monotheistic religions profoundly impact our past and our present. Future blogs will further explore these belief systems and others such as Buddhism, Confucianism, and Hinduism. 

Bibliography.

Armstrong, Karen. A History of God. The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc, 1993.  

Bauer, Susan Wise. The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome. W.W. Norton, 2007.

Bowker, David et al. World Religions: The Great Faiths explored and explained. New York: Penguin Random House, 2021.

Firestone, Reuven. “A Problem With Monotheism: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in Dialogue and Dissent.” Heirs of Abraham: The Future of Muslim, Jewish and Christian Relations. New York: Orbis, 2005 20-54.

Hayes, Christine. Introduction to the Bible. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012. 

Kagan, Neil ed. Concise History of the World. An Illustrated Timeline. Washington, D.C. National Geographic, 2006.

Kirsch, Jonathan. God Against the Gods: The History of the War between Monotheism and Polytheism. New York: Penguin Group, 2004.

Lapidus. Ira M.  A History of Islamic Societies. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Oxtoby, William M. and Alan G. Segal. A Concise Introduction to World Religions. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Perry, Marvin. ed. Western Civilization: Ideas, Politics and Society. Volume II, From the 1600s. Sixth Edition. 2000. 

Rosenberg, David.   Abraham: The First Historical Biography. New York: Basic Books, 2006. 

Sayem, Md. “The Monotheistic Concept of Judaism and Islam in the Light of their Basic Creeds: A Comparative Analysis.” The Dhaka University Studies. June 2012. p. 127-137.

Smith, Huston. The World’s Religions. Our Great Wisdom Traditions. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991

Vitkovic, Scott. (2018). The Similarities and Differences Between Abrahamic Religions. IJASOS- International E-journal of Advances in Social Sciences. 4. 2018, 455-462. 10.18769/ijasos.455673.

Woolf, Greg. Ancient Civilizations: The Illustrated Guide to Beliefs, Mythology, and Art. London: Duncan Baird Publishers, 2005. 

Wright, Robert. The Evolution of God. New York: Little Brown and Company, 2009.

China’s Cultural Revolution (1966-1976)

From 1966 to 1976, Communist leader Mao Zedong led a “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution” that renewed the Chinese Revolution that Mao felt had lost its way. Mao and his followers drastically altered the country’s political, economic, and social structure.   Historian Paul Clark calls it “the biggest non-wartime, concentrated social upheaval in world history. (1). Rhoads Murphey and Kirsten Stapleton describe it as “perhaps the great cataclysm in world history, measured by the hundreds of millions of people in mass persecution and suffering. (377).

During this period, Mao used strong imagery to promote himself as the “father” of the people and China as the world’s communist leader. By 1976, and after Mao’s death, moderates like Deng began to guide the country down a different path that invited economic incentives, western technology, education, and industrialization.

The Great Leap Forward and Soviet “revisionism.” A series of events leading to 1966 undermined Mao’s position in the Chinese Communist Party. First, his “Great Leap Forward” (beginning in 1958) was a disaster. Proclaiming that China would exceed British industrial production, Mao abolished private ownership and established communes throughout China to focus on manufacturing and bring industrialization to China’s rural areas. These peoples’ communes lacked organization and adequate equipment, expertise, and resources to succeed. Peasant resistance, administrative problems and bad weather also lead to unproductive food production. As many as 30 million starved or died from malnutrition in what Murphy and Stapleton describe as the “worst famine in world history.” (376). The program undermined Mao’s credibility and opened more opportunities to the moderate elements of the Communist Party, such as Lin Shaoquoi, who wanted to invite foreign technology and reinstate profit incentives.

Foreign developments also undermined Mao’s status. Mao had “portrayed Soviet policy-makers as ‘capitalist roaders’ and as betrayers of Marxism for seeking to cooperate with the West. (Rossabi, 386) The subsequent break with Moscow led to increasing political isolation and the withdrawal of much-needed Soviet technical support and economic assistance. In short, Mao’s zealous ideology furthered China’s isolation.   

Mao “revives” the revolution. Mao Zedong lost his position as head of state but somehow remained the most powerful and popular leader of the Communist party. He wanted to renew a revolution he felt had lost its vision and integrity. He insisted that China would fall into the complacency and Westernization he believed was happening in the Soviet Union without drastic changes. The Chinese revolution needed a revival.

Persecution. Supported by ideologically driven Party members and youth movements, Mao set about to “cleanse” Chinese society by targeting those deemed enemies of the campaign. The list of enemies proved long, but Mao and his supporters began with moderate party members like Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping (1904-1997). A Red Guard Student Brigade ridiculed and abused Mao’s political rivals such as Liu Shou (killed), Deng Xiaoping (imprisoned), and Zhou Enlai (driven to seclusion).  

Mao closed China’s schools and universities, labelling them as breeding grounds for rightist dissenters. Intellectuals, including writers, educators, and academics who criticized Party policies, were removed or detained, sentenced to forced manual labour or killed. Persecutors identified these targets as “rightists,” “enemies of the revolution,” or people of “bourgeoisie” inclination. In 1968, Zhou Enlai finally convinced Mao to bring in the army to suppress the Red Guards, many of whom felt betrayed by Mao, who had encouraged their radical actions. 

Mao’s Economic Revolution. Mao and his supporters altered the economy to reflect their ideological goals. They criticized Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiangping’s welcoming of foreign technology to grow the economy. Mao preferred to depend on labour rather than machinery and favoured the competence and dedication of the proletariat over capital investment in technology. In other words, China would achieve progress and prosperity through domestic efforts without foreign inspiration or assistance. Like the Great Leap Forward, rural communes produced mediocre and low-quality items such as iron, steel, and agricultural goods.  Once again, the economy faltered.

The Moderates Regain Power. By the 1970s, the revolution lost momentum, mainly under the weight of its extremism and archaic economic policies. The violence of the Red Guard and other groups had gone further than even Mao saw fit. People coveted stability. Not surprisingly, Mao’s economic policies did not revive the economy, and China seemed again immersed in a weakening economy inspired by ideology rather than practical guidance. 

The Cultural Revolution received its final blow when Mao died on September 9, 1976. Again, the moderates moved to consolidate control. One of the first steps was to purge the Gang of Four from the Party and sentence them to life imprisonment. Deng Xiaoping would lead the moderates to shift China away from Mao’s ideologically driven plan to a more pragmatic approach that blended modernization and capitalist ingenuity into the Party’s communist agenda.

In future blogs, we will take a closer look at various elements of the Cultural Revolution and the preceding Great Leap Forward. As always, feel welcome to contact us with ideas about future blog topics you would like to see.

Bibliography

Clark, Paul. The Chinese Cultural Revolution. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Dikoter, Frank. The Cultural Revolution: A People’s History, 1962-1976. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2016.

MacFaquahar, Roderick and Michael Schoenhals.  Mao’s Last Revolution.  Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2006.

Murphey, Rhoads and Kristen Stapleton. A History of Asia. Eighth Edition, New York: Routledge, 2019.

Rossabi, Morris. A History of China. West Sussex, Blackwell Publishing, 2014.

Oceans, Seas, and World History: An Introduction

Oceans and seas make up about two-thirds of our planet, yet historical attention to such bodies has been minimal at best. Rainer F. Buschman.

With the rise of world history, more people view the past through a lens that brings a broader range of global interconnections to light. Essential to these linkages are geographical features such as waterways (oceans, seas, and rivers) and landforms (e.g. mountains, deserts, and forests) that help shape the formations of societies and their interactions and exchanges, including trade, culture, flora and fauna, and disease. Understanding these geographical features is critical to understanding our past.  

Traditional world history tends to be “terrestrial-focused,” but this is changing as historians display an increasing tendency to study the world’s waterways. Maritime history enriches our understanding by highlighting world history trends and patterns in unique ways. As Eric Kjellgren writes, “favorable prevailing winds and fish suddenly seem as influential as access to fresh water and arable land. Shipbuilding and skillful navigation challenge the prominence of building roads and canals. (1)  World history returns the favour by encouraging maritime history into a global approach that moves away from seeing oceans as barriers to human interaction to conceiving them as important interconnected regions. In short, a blending of maritime and world history can lead to more sophisticated understandings.  

Oceans. It would be a severe understatement to say that the world’s oceans and seas that comprise about two-thirds of the planet play an essential role in unfolding world history. Oceans and seas facilitated the migration of people, animals, flora, disease, culture and technologies. As maritime historian Lincoln Paine writes, “Before the locomotive in the nineteenth century, culture, commerce, contagion, and conflict generally moved faster by sea than by land. Besides transport, people used oceans and seas to provide food and other vital goods. Whale blubber, for instance, served as lamp fuel, lighting a growing world population. Waterways have imbued culture. Poseidon and Neptune, Moby Dick, the Ancient Mariner, various folk songs, and countless varieties of seafood reveal how waterways help shape the world’s cultures.

Beyond a Eurocentric Focus. World history encourages maritime history to move beyond a Eurocentric approach. As S. Arasaratnam points out, world history fosters a move “away from a view of the ocean as primarily the playground of European naval and commercial powers with indigenous actors providing minor roles for the lead up to the period of empire in the nineteenth century. (246)  Of course, studying the European powers remains vital to our understanding of the unfolding of global history. How, for instance, could we understand the monumental developments in the Atlantic community without carefully studying its most impactful player – Europe? But an exclusive focus on these players can limit our understanding. David Abulafin argues that “the European presence around the shores of the oceans can only be understood by taking into account the less well-documented activities of non-European merchants and sailors, some of whom were indigenous to land in which they lived.” (xx) For instance, the “Silk Road of the Sea” that connected people as far as China and the Roman Empire involved a blended relay of major powers such as Rome and China with more local merchants indigenous to the shores of the Pacific and Indian oceans. 

Conclusion. As Lincoln Paine writes, “maritime history offers an invaluable perspective on the world and ourselves. (599). Waterways such as the world’s oceans, seas, and rivers are integral to our past. Interestingly, recent historiography has questioned whether we can consider the oceans as separate entities. As David Armitage writes, “the oceanographic connections among the oceans ensure that any attempt to separate them will be artificial and constraining.” (359). This is particularly true after developments such as da Gama’s navigation around the Cape of Good Hope, and later, the Suez and Panama canals connected major bodies of water. 

We are writing four upcoming blogs, each focusing on one of the world’s four oceans – the Pacific, Indian, Atlantic, and the Arctic. The first focuses on the world’s largest, the Pacific, but will include its relationship to other bodies of water, including the Indian Ocean. These blogs will reflect the fruitful mingling of maritime and world history that highlights regional and global connections.  

Stay tuned. 

Bibliography

Abulafin, David. The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Ocean. London: Oxford University Press, 2019.

Arasaratnam, S. “Recent Trends in the Historiography of the Indian Ocean, 1500 to 1800.” Journal of World History 1, no. 2    (1990): 225–48.                            

Armitage, D. (2019). World History as Oceanic History: Beyond Braudel. The Historical Review/La Revue Historique, 15(1), 341-361.

Ashin Das Gupta and M.N. Pearson eds. India and the Indian Ocean 1500 to 1800. New Dehli, 1987.

Bailyn, Bernard. Atlantic History: Concepts and Contours. Cambridge, Mass, 2005.

Benjamin, Thomas. The Atlantic World: Europeans, Africans, and Their Shared History, 1400-1900. Cambridge University Press, 2009. 

Buschman, Rainer F. “Oceans of World History: Delineating Aquacentric Notions in the Global Past.” History Compass 2 (2004) WO o68, 1-10. 

Crosby, Alfred. The Columbine Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492. Westpoint; Conn, 1973.

Duiker, William J. Twentieth Century World History. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth, 2007.

Martin J. Peggy, Beth Bartolini-Salimbini, Wendy Peterson. 5 Steps to a 5: AP World History 2019. McGraw-Hill Education, 2018

Mukherjee, Rita. “Escape from Terracentrism: Writing a Water History,” Indian Historical Review 41 (2014), 87-101.

Paine, Lincoln. The Sea and Civilization: A Maritime History of the World. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013.

Cleopatra VII

Cleopatra VII (69- 30 BC) ruled Egypt for twenty-two years and is one of the most recognizable figures in world history. Numerous movies, articles and books explore her life and legacy. Yet, we know very little about her. Contemporary accounts of her life, many from Roman officials who despised her, offer less than reliable information. She is primarily known as Egypt’s last Queen and the lover of two powerful and famous Roman leaders – Julius Caesar and Marc Antony. These liaisons and her dramatic death – alleged suicide by snake bit – tend to overshadow a woman who displayed competent leadership, extraordinary intelligence, bravery, and resolve. 

Early Years. Born in 69 BC, Cleopatra hailed from a long line of the Ptolemaic dynasty that began when Ptolemy I of Macedonia took control of Egypt shortly after the death of his friend and leader – Alexander the Great. (d. 323 BC)The legitimacy of the Ptolemaic line would rely, to a large degree, on this link to Ptolemy I.

Egyptian women (especially royal women) enjoyed high status relative to other countries. Women were educated, held property, and could initiate divorces. Cleopatra, as biographer Stacy Schiff points out, “enjoyed the best education available in the Hellenistic world” (28). She studied literary greats, especially Homer, math and science, and rhetoric and public speaking. An avid learner, Cleopatra spoke many languages, including Egyptian, which allowed her to converse directly with her people. Perhaps the only Ptolemaic leader to do so.

Sibling Rivalry. Cleopatra’s father, Ptolemy XII (117-51 BC), ruled Egypt until his death from natural causes in 51 BC. The Ptolemy tradition promoted domestic unions, so Cleopatra (age 18) and her younger brother Ptolemy XIII (age 10) wed and succeeded their father. Domestic competition for power pervaded a Ptolemaic history littered with betrayal and murder. Soon after their father’s death, the ruling siblings fell into conflict. Both signed documents without the signature of the other and conspired with advisors to out the other. Buoyed by influential advisors led by the cunning Pothinus, Ptolemy XIII got the upper hand, and Cleopatra left Alexandria (or was exiled) in 49 BC. Now recognized by the Ptolemaic court as “leading dynast,” Ptolemy had the upper hand. However, events to the west would offer Cleopatra a political opportunity.

The Encroaching Shadow of Rome. By this time, the Republic of Rome had taken significant steps toward becoming a great empire, steadily extending its territory and influence.   Egypt, acutely aware of Roman ambitions, knew the budding empire required careful diplomacy. Allying with influential Roman leaders became essential for Egyptian survival. Cleopatra’s father, Ptolemy, paid a vast amount to retain status as a friend and ally of the Roman people. As biographer Stacy Schiff writes, “it was essential to befriend the most powerful Roman of the day.” (3)  

Not an easy task with Rome embroiled in a civil war between rival factions that threatened to tear the budding empire apart. Two Roman leaders, Pompey (106-48 BC) and Julius Caesar (100-44 BC) fought for competing visions of Rome. Both Romans had ties to Egypt. Caesar recognized Cleopatra’s father as a friend to Rome and loaned the Egyptian king a considerable and still outstanding sum of money. However, Ptolemy XIII decided on Pompey, the Ptolemy family’s longstanding benefactor and provided him with ships, wheat and other provisions in exchange for Pompey recognizing Ptolemy as sole ruler of Egypt. It seemed that a Pompey victory would guarantee Cleopatra’s permanent exile or execution. 

Julius Caesar arrives in Alexandria. But Caesar prevailed. In 48 BC, he defeated Pompey, who fled to Egypt seeking refuge. Not wanting to offend the victorious Caesar, Ptolemy VIII watched as his men killed Pompey, beheaded him, and presented Caesar with the gory proof of Ptolemaic loyalty. The gesture failed. Caesar backed Cleopatra after she smuggled herself into Alexandria and his temporary quarters. Why? Caesar could have readily turned Cleopatra over to her brother. The answer lies far beyond the simple and sexist versions that insist Cleopatra seduced him. There were more significant issues at hand. Perhaps, as some suggest, Caesar did not want to associate the murderer of Pompey, a respected Roman leader. Historian Barry Strauss believes Caesar resented Ptolemy for robbing him of Ptolemy’s surrender and refusing to pay Caesar’s troops. “Sound political reasoning,” Strauss argues, led Caesar to the more politically vulnerable Cleopatra, who offered financial backing in exchange for supporting her claim to the throne. (Strauss, 35) 

Coveting a stable Egypt, Caesar demanded that brother and sister reconcile as co-regents as stated in their father’s will. Ptolemy XIII initially complied but soon resisted and died in the ensuing skirmishes in Alexandria. In 46 BC, buoyed by Caesar’s support, Cleopatra secured Rome’s recognition as an allied monarch, helping to solidify her rule. (Roller 4)

A Capable Leader. To appease public opinion, Cleopatra married her remaining brother, Ptolemy XIV. With Caesar’s backing, they set about stabilizing Ptolemaic rule. Some critics note how Cleopatra invited spectacle. She identified – at least publicly – as a deity, often Isis, goddess of fertility, and in Ptolemaic tradition, styled herself as Egyptian royalty. But these efforts promoted her legitimacy in the public eye – a vital sign of stability during unstable times.

Cleopatra offered much more than pageantry. As Stacey Schiff writes, Cleopatra was a “capable, clear-eyed sovereign. She knew how to build a fleet, suppress an insurrection, control a currency, and alleviate famine. (2)  For instance, when faced with longstanding drought and famine through much of the 40s, Cleopatra distributed grain from the royal warehouses. Besides staving off starvation, she offered political security associated with the longstanding Ptolemaic dynasty. Roman politics, however, would again test Cleopatra’s resolve and political skill.   

Fall of Julius Caesar. Within a year of meeting Caesar, Cleopatra bore a son, claiming him as father and naming him Ptolemy XV Caesarion (b. 47 BC). By most accounts, Romans did not approve of Caesar’s relationship with a foreign woman, especially a wealthy and influential Queen. Their association, some scholars suggest, contributed to his demise. However, the overarching issue was a growing senatorial concern that Caesar had become a dictator and a threat to the Republic. 

Julius Caesar died in 44BC during one of history’s most famous assassinations. The implications for Cleopatra and Egypt were dire. Caesar stood as a powerful ally who could protect Egypt from annexation. In Rome at the time of the assassination, Cleopatra left after failing to secure Roman recognition of Caesarion as Julius Caesar’s heir. Returning to Alexandria, she arranged her brother’s assassination and named her son co-regent. Cleopatra had lost a vital ally in Rome, but another opportunity would soon arrive.  

Marc Antony. As one of Caesar’s generals and supporters, Marc Antony teamedwithOctavian (Caesar’s nephew)and Marcus Lepidus (another Caesar general) to create a triumvirate that defeated Caesar’s assassins – Brutus and Caesar –in 42BC. After this victory, Octavia established himself in Rome and “Antony obtained a commission to settle the East.” (Green, 128) One of Antony’s primary goals: conquer the Parthian Empire, “the only border state that threatened Rome.” (Strauss, 54) To do this, he needed Egypt as a base and supplies ships and provisions. Cleopatra agreed in exchange for Antony’s support for her status as Queen of Egypt and to arrange for the death of her sister, Arsinoe. They both fulfilled their obligations, became lovers, and conceived male twins (b. 39 BC). Antony missed their birth as he returned to Rome between 40 and 37BC and married Octavian’s sister, Octavia. Octavia bore him children in 39 and 36 BC – both daughters. The marriage solidified Antony and Octavian’s East-West alliance. Both unions, however, would be short-lived.

The Tide Turns. Antony returned to Egypt in 37 BC to extend Rome’s eastern territories. However, he experienced a humiliating defeat by the Parthian Empire in 36 BC. To make matters worse, his support in Rome began to wane. Antony’s ambitions and personal and political connection with Cleopatra did not sit well with some in Rome.   Seeing Antony as a rival, Octavian portrayed Antony as dependent on Cleopatra and a man of the East. Some historians claim that Octavian went so far as to read a copy of Antony’s will that he requested his burial in Egypt and placed his children with Cleopatra on equal status with his children with Octavia’s. Conflict deepened when Antony divorced Octavia in 32 BC and placed Cleopatra’s image on his official coinage. Seizing the political advantage, Octavian portrayed his sister as the spurned wife of a man who succumbed to the Egyptian Queen’s wiles. Antony’s credibility in Rome plummeted.

A Dramatic End. By late 32 BC, the Roman Senate stripped Antony of all titles. Soon after, Octavian declared war on Egypt, partly on the pretense of retrieving Egypt’s outstanding debts to Rome. In 31 BC. Octavian and Agrippa defeated Antony and Cleopatra in a naval battle. Antony and Cleopatra escaped to Alexandria. Utterly defeated, Antony and Cleopatra completed suicide in 30 BC. Versions of their suicide vary. Some suggest they died together, while others, like Duane Roller, assert that Cleopatra tricked Antony into suicide, hoping that his death might save her and Egypt. (6). Octavian, however, had no intention of preserving either, and Cleopatra decided her fate. Her death hailed the end of the almost 300-year Ptolemaic dynasty. Rome would annex Egypt and Octavian became August Caesar in 27 BC, Rome’s first emperor of the Roman Empire.  

Conclusion. Traditional portrayals of Cleopatra VII have focused on her alleged seduction of Roman leaders and her opportunism. However, these descriptions overlook and belittle her legacy. It is impossible not to be impressed. She played a crucial role in events that would alter world history, standing as the last Ptolemaic leader of Egypt before becoming a Roman province. As a ruler, she used her negotiating skills to navigate Egypt through formidable challenges, including an unstable but growing Rome, competitive siblings, drought and famine. Historian Duane Roller adeptly summarizes traditional misrepresentations. He writes, “Like all woman, she suffered from male-dominated historiography in both ancient and modern times and was often seen merely as an appendage of the men in her life and was stereotyped into typical chauvinistic female roles as seductress or sorceress.” (Roller, 2) 

Cleopatra, as we can see, was much more. 

Bibliography.

Cooney, Kara. When Women Ruled the World. Six Queens of Egypt. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Partners, 2018.

Green, Peter. The Hellenistic Age: A Short History. New York: Modern Library, 2007.

Roller, Duane W.  Cleopatra: A Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Schiff, Stacy. Cleopatra, A Life. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2010.  

Strauss, Barry. The Death of Caesar: The Story of History’s Most Famous Assassination. Toronto: Simon and Shuster, 2015.

Tyldesley, Joyce. Cleopatra: Last Queen of Egypt. New York: Basic Books, 2008.

Disease and European Expansion to the Americas 

After Christopher Columbus landed in San Salvador in 1492, Europeans settled and eventually conquered the Americas. How did Europeans overwhelm an Indigenous population that scholars have estimated to be between 60 and 100 million? An essential factor involves the drastic population decrease of Native Americans over the following two centuries. The estimated numbers are staggering, ranging between 70 to 95%!

Scholars cite numerous reasons for this devastation, including superior European technology (e.g., weapons), brutal European tactics, and disease.  Of these factors, diseases carried by Europeans stand as the main culprit of the Native American decimation. Europeans also succumbed to illness but not nearly to the extent of the Indigenous population.

Why did the exchange of germs between Europeans and Native Americans lead to such lopsided results? What gave Europeans a more resilient immune system? To find answers, we need to venture back thousands of years.

Farming and Livestock. Scholars like Alfred Crosby and Jared Diamond argue that Europe’s biological advantage stemmed from the Agricultural Revolution that scholars estimate began c 8000 BC. This gradual transition from hunting and gathering to farming led to significant changes that would facilitate European expansion many centuries later.

Two overarching factors come into play. The first is the domestication of diverse animal species. Alfred Crosby points out that the Old World domesticated a wider range of animals than New World communities. Compare, he writes, “the American assemblage of livestock (dog, lamas, guinea pigs, and some fowl), with that of the Old World: (dogs, cats, cattle, horses, pigs, sheep, goat, reindeer, water buffalo, chickens, geese, ducks, horses and more.” (19)

Ancient Sumerians (c4500-1900BC), residing in the southern part of Mesopotamia, in the flatlands between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (now south-central Iraq), stood as the eminent domesticators of animals in their time. Animal power allowed people to farm more land than human muscle could muster. Livestock provided a consistent food source – meat and milk – essential during poor cop seasons. Both factors yielded more food, more surplus and facilitated population growth.

More livestock also meant more interspecies exchange of a broader range of microbes. Animals and people died or became quite sick, but sustained contact gradually led to immunity to a comprehensive range of diseases. Smallpox, the flu, influenza, measles, and other ailments evolved from human and livestock interactions. Poxviruses, Crosby points out by way of example, “oscillated back and forth between humans and cattle to produce smallpox and cowpox.” (Crosby, 31) 

Population and “Crowd Disease” Secondly, higher and denser populations exacerbated this interplay of livestock and human. As technologies improved, more people (and animals) could live in smaller areas and encouraged greater microbial spread. The rise of cities further encouraged the spread of germs. More people breathe the same air, spend more time in proximity and are more likely to contact human waste and disease carriers like rodents and insects that thrived in dense human populations.

Of course, these increasingly immunized people from cities and large villages did not stay put. Sumerians and subsequent civilizations traded, travelled, moved, and fought battles and wars, leading to contact with other peoples, including hunter-gathers who lacked sophisticated immune systems. 

Centuries later, when Columbus reached the Americas, Europeans had developed an incredibly resilient immune system that could withstand the likes of smallpox, yellow fever, diphtheria, influenza, chickenpox, and a host of other diseases bred over centuries. Native Americans lacked the immune systems to cope with the microbial onslaught. American populations, new studies show, were higher and denser than previously assumed but still not comparable to European ones. As previously mentioned, a less diverse American livestock inventory meant a narrower field of microbial exchange.  

Disease alone did not decimate America’s Indigenous population, but it seems to be the main culprit. “Far more Americans died,” Jared Diamond writes, “in bed from European germs than on the battlefield from European guns and swords.” (201). Other factors certain exacerbated their impact. Thomas Benjamin points out that diseases “were accompanied and made more deadly by war, exploitation, slavery, and missionaries who brought dispersed people together in a large community.” (321). We must also note that diseases did not uniformly impact the Americas. Denser and higher populations saw higher mortalities. Some Native communities in the northern reaches of Canada did not feel the impact of Old World disease until the 19th and 20th centuries.    

Scholars still debate the topics such as population numbers and whether Europeans, at times, intentionally infected Native people. However, there is a growing consensus that Old World diseases led to the European conquest of the Americas more than any other factor. 

Glossary

Columbian Exchange. Alfred Crosby coined this term to describe the transcontinental transport and exchange of plants, animals, and diseases. 

Crowd Disease. A disease that can only be exchanged from person to person and therefore thrive in crowded populations.

Influenza. Flu, contagious respiratory disease.

Measles. A viral disease marked by red spots on the skin.

Microbes. A microorganism. Often referring to bacterium causing disease.

Pathogen. An agent that causes disease.

Smallpox. Viral disease became more virulent during the Renaissance (coinciding with Columbus’s voyage to the Americas). Arguably the most devasting disease to Native Americans. 

Selected Bibliography.

Benjamin, Thomas. The Atlantic World: Europeans, Africans, Indians, and Their Shared History, 1400-1900. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Crawford, Dorothy H. Deadly Companions: How Microbes Shaped our History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.

Crosby, Alfred W. Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900. New Edition. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Diamond, Jared. Guns, Germs, and Steel. The Fates of Human Societies. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2017.

Hopkins, Donald R.  The Greatest Killer: Smallpox in History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.

Kiple, Kenneth F. ed. The Cambridge World History of Human Disease. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Martin, Charles. A Short History of Disease: Plagues, Poxes and Civilizations. Harpenden, Herts: Pocket Essentials, 2015. 

Watts, Sheldon. Epidemics and History: Disease, Power, and Imperialism. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997.

The Reductive Fallacy

  • Serbian nationalist Gavril Princip assassinated Austria-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and started World War One. (1914-1918)
  • The Illuminati orchestrated the French Revolution (1789).
  • COVID-19 is a conspiracy facilitated by a secret society determined to create a “New Order.” 

What do these claims have in common?  For starters, they all identify a cause of a major event – a war, a revolution, and a pandemic.  They also commit the “reductive fallacy,” what David Hackett Fischer describes in Historians’ Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought (1970), as a causal explanation that “reduces complexity to simplicity, or diversity to uniformity.” (172)  

Our first example states that Serbian nationalist Gavril Princip’s assassination of the Archduke caused World War One. This event contributed to the ensuing war, but many other factors were at play.  The Archduke’s murder, for instance, must be considered in the context of the longstanding and growing tensions between Austria-Hungary and Serbia.  Also relevant is Germany’s support for Austria-Hungary.  Austria-Hungary would not risk Great Power (mainly Russian) retaliation without Germany’s backing.  Historians identify many other factors, including imperial rivalry, nationalism, militarism and various economic factors.  Political leaders, we cannot forget, could have made different decisions after the assassination.   In short, Princip’s actions did not initiate an irreversible course and cannot be identified as the cause of World War One.  

Reductive explanations reflect particular historical contexts.  When the Black Death (1347-51) spread through Europe, killing 50% of Europe’s population, many of the continent’s predominantly Christian population saw the plague as God’s punishment for sin.   Only centuries later did we learn that fleas, infected by rats’ blood, carried the disease.  Other causes for its pervasive spread include dense urban population, growing trade, and famine. However, when most people interpreted events as the expression of God’s will, the Black Death as divine punishment made sense.   

Conspiracy Theories. Conspiracy theorists are especially prone to committing the reductive fallacy.  These days some have reduced COVID-19’s conception, global spread, government-mandated lockdowns, masks and vaccinations as the workings of an elite group striving to bring about the “Great Reset” and a “New World Order.” Besides failing to present compelling evidence, the assertion that an elite group could manage the innumerable variables to pull off such a feat is untenable.  Such theories, however, offer a very appealing simplistic version of how pandemics begin and play out—reducing complexity to simplicity. 

COVID-19, of course, is not the first pandemic to attract reductive explanations and conspiracy theories.  Some insisted that widespread deaths resulted from Jews poisoning wells during the Black Death.  Again, reducing a complex series of events to the doings of a particular group.   Somehow, these accusers overlooked that Jews were also dying in astounding numbers

Conclusion. All in all, the reductive fallacy reflects a failure to appreciate the complexity of events.  As Peter Stearns and Marc Collins point out, the problem is that “most major developments respond to several factors, that is to multiple causations.” (34). Why does this happen?   The reasons, of course, are complex.  There is certainly an appeal to reductive explanations.  We like to “know” what is happening.  There is particular security or comfort in this.  However, as the abovementioned conspiracy examples indicate, reductive thinking can be misleading, divisive and dangerous. 

Selected Bibliography

Fischer, David Hackett. Historians’ Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought. New York: Harper Perennial, 1970.

Collins, Marc and Peter N. Stearns.  Why Study History? London: London Publishing Partnership, 2020.

Germans and the Nazi Persecutions (1933-45): Coercion or Complicity?

Complicity. Partnership in a crime or wrongdoing.

Coercion. Persuade or restrain (an unwilling person) by force or threat of punishment.

Introduction. Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist Party gained power in 1933 and would govern Germany until the end of World War Two (1945). By 1934, his Nazi government had become a dictatorship, with Hitler as the Fuhrer. With bolstered state powers, they persecuted  “enemies of Germany,” such as Communist Party members, Social Democrats, and labour groups. Hitler also targeted those deemed unfit according to the Nazi racial hygiene agenda – people of colour, gypsies, criminals, the mentally and physically challenged and above all, Jews. The Nazis dismissed people from their jobs, confiscated property, locked people in prisons and concentration camps, sterilized the “unfit,” and executed millions. 

A Debate. How was it possible for the Nazis to persecute various groups – especially- Jews without significant resistance from German citizens? Many historians have addressed this question. Some scholars argue that German citizens complied with and supported and even initiated the persecution and slaughter of Jews and other groups. Others insist that most Germans disapproved of Nazi domestic persecution and terror but did not speak out for fear of Nazi retribution, including loss of property or career, imprisonment, and execution. 

Nazi Terror and Retribution. When Hitler and the National Socialist Party took power in 1933, they began centralizing control of Germany. According to Richard Evans, the main instrument of coercion was the law. The Nazis passed laws and decrees that broadened what constituted treason and people’s options for freedom of expression. For instance, it became legal to ridicule Hitler, to make derogatory remarks against the Nazi party, or to “discuss alternatives to the political status quo.” (Evans,101)  

Speaking out against Nazi policies or assisting the persecuted could result in severe retribution. In Why? Explaining the Holocaust (2017),  Peter Hayes points out that “overt assistance to Jews constituted sabotage punishable by death”  and cites the example of Nazi Anton Schmidt, who facilitated the escape of at least 100 Jews after witnessing the execution of Jewish infants. After being exposed, he was court-martialed and executed. (145-146).   

Surveillance and intimidation proved effective deterrents to dissent. The Nazi secret police (Gestapo) did not have many men at their disposal but still “infiltrated people’s lives – directly, indirectly and psychologically.”  (Childress, 319).   Gestapo agents performed late-night arrests and interrogations. Germans were encouraged to report transgressions of Nazi law by their peers, neighbours and even family. Those charged faced a dubious legal process through what Richard Evans describes as a “whole system of regional Special Courts, crowned by the National People’s Court, the Volkgerichlen, was created to implement these and similar laws. (Evans, 101)

These historians argue that the Nazis organized an effective program of intimidation and coercion that effectively discouraged Germans from resisting the Nazi racial hygiene program.  

Citizen Complicity. Other scholars believe such interpretations overstate the extent of Nazi control while neglecting the willingness of German citizens to facilitate and even initiate the persecutions. In Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (1997), Daniel Goldhagen acknowledges Nazi government coercion but argues that the main driving force behind the Holocaust was deep-seated, specifically German antisemitism.  

Goldhagen relates a story about Captain Wolfgang Hoffman, “a zealous executioner of Jews” who led “ordinary men” to slaughter tens of thousands of Jews in Poland. (3). Hoffman, he points out, refused to sign a declaration that his group would not plunder and steal from the persecuted Jews. Why did he refuse? Hoffman took offence that he and the men under his charge would steal. Besides the irony that Hoffman enthusiastically killed people, Goldhagen points out that Hoffman was not punished for refusing a direct order. In order words, Hoffman had a choice. By extension, his persecution of Jews came not from fear of retribution but from personal conviction—a willing executioner. 

Goldhagen goes on to argue that historians have focused on the leaders of the Nazi regime while neglecting people like Hoffman who facilitated the execution not from fear of Nazi retribution but out of a conviction that stemmed from “a particular type of antisemitism that led them to conclude that the Jews ought to die.”

Goldhagen’s thesis hinges on pervasive  German-specific antisemitism – a point of controversy among historians.   In Hitler and the Holocaust (2001), Robert S. Wistrich argues that Goldhagen overstates the role of German eliminationist antisemitism in the Holocaust. Germans certainly facilitated the killings, but this didn’t stem from a longstanding eliminationist mindset in the mid 19th century. Before Hitler, Wistrich argues, “racist antisemitism had not made great inroads in Germany” and was “still a state based on the rule of law, where Jews achieved remarkable economic success, were well integrated into society, and enjoyed equal rights.” (4)  

Selective Nazi Terror. In Nazi Terror: The Gestapo, Jews and Ordinary Germans (1999), Eric Johnson agrees with Goldhagen that many ordinary Germans willingly facilitated terror campaigns, persecutions and genocide. He also acknowledges the role of Nazi coercion but disagrees with Evans on the extent of Nazi coercion. He argues that Hitler’s government did not terrorize most Germans but instead focused the terror against “enemies of the state” – especially Jews. Most German citizens were not directly impacted by Nazi terror and “enjoyed considerable space to vent their everyday frustration with Nazi policies and leaders without inordinate fear of arrest or prosecution. (19)

Richard Evans disagrees with Johnson’s presentation of selective Nazi coercion and persecution. Nazi violence focused more on particular groups but “operated across the board.”(199). In 1933-4, for instance, the Nazis targeted the political leaders of the Social Democratic and Communist parties, such as Social Democrat Johann Steller, who “was tortured to death. (93).   Together, Evans notes, “the Social Democrats and Communists had won 131 million votes in the Reichstag election of 1932.” (94). “Hardly,” he points out, “members of a despised minority of social outcasts.”(94)

Self Interest and Opportunism Another historian who does not see antisemitism as the main factor in Holocaust is Joseph D. Bendersky. In A Concise History of Nazi Germany (2014), Bendersky argues that “the Jewish question had not been important to most German” who were more concerned with “moral degeneracy, crime, political subversion, and public order.” (139). Accordingly, the persecution of Communists, sexual deviants, and violent criminals received public support. He places more weight on other factors, including economic self-interest and the “terror of the police state.” (141)  Regarding self-interest, Bendersky notes how although a “Large segment” of German were shocked by Nazi violence, many opportunistically filled the Jewish vacancies in various professions, civil service positions, and businesses as Nazis pushed Jews out of their jobs. “Profit at the expense of the Jews was a temptation too many could not resist.” (139). Like Evans and Hayes, he adds that the Nazi use of terror deterred resistance and many who persisted paid the price. “Countless individuals,” Bendersky writes, paid with their lives for speaking out or for attempting to save others from Nazi tyranny. (141)

Conclusion. The role of German citizens in Nazi persecution, and particularly the Holocaust, remains a contentious topic and one that scholars will grapple with for many years to come. Hitler’s Nazi regime indeed used terror and reward to encourage German complicity. Some Germans, of course, engaged in the persecutions of “German enemies” with horrific enthusiasm. The longstanding question remains. Which factored more, coercion or complicity?

Bibliography

Aly Gotz, Peter Chrousti and Christine Ross. Cleansing the Fatherland: Nazi Medicine and Racial Hygiene. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994.

Barnet, Victoria J. Bystander: Conscience and Complicity During the Holocaust. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1999

Bendersky, Joseph W. A Concise History of Nazi Germany. New York: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 2014.

Benz, Wolfgang. A Concise History of the Third Reich. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006

Bergen, Doris L.  Twisted Cross. The German Christian Movement in the Third Reich. Chapel Hill, 1996.

Childress, Thomas. The Third Reich. A History of Nazi Germany. New York: Simon Shuster, 2017.

Marc Dewey, Udo Schagen, Wolfgang U. Eckart & Eva Schoenenberger, “Ernst Ferdinand Sauerbruch and His Ambiguous Role in the Period of National Socialism”, in Annals of Surgery 244 (2006), pp. 315- 321.

Friedlander, Saul. Nazi Germany and the Jews, Vol. 1 The Years of Persecution, 1933-1939. New York: 1997.

Goldhagen, Daniel Jonah.  Hitler’s Willing Executioners. Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust. New York: Random House Inc., 1997.  

Hamerow, Theodore S. On the Road to the Wolf’s Lair. German Resistance to Hitler. London, 1999

Hayes, Peter. Why? Explaining the Holocaust. New York: W.W. Norton Inc. 2017.

Johnson, Eric A. Nazi Terror: The Gestapo, Jews, and Ordinary Germans. New York: Basic Books, 1999.

Lifton, Robert J. The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide. New York, 1986.

Kershaw, Ian. The Nazi Dictators: Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation. (London, 1993).

Proctor, Robert N. Racial Hygiene: Medicine Under the Nazis. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1998. 

Schmidt. U.H. Karl Brandt: The Nazi Doctor. New York: Continuum, 2007

Shirer, William. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. New York: Simon and Shuster, 1960.

Stern, Fritz. Five Germans I have Known. New York: Farar, Straus, and Giroux, 2006. 

Thomas, Gordon and Gary Lewis. Defying Hitler: The German Who Resisted Nazi Rule. New York: Random House, 2019. 

Wistrich, Robert S. Hitler and the Holocaust. London, The Orion Publishing Group, 2001. 

Wistrich, Robert. Who’s Who in Nazi Germany. London, 1995.

Eugenics: An Introduction

Eugenics. The science of improving the population by controlled breeding for desirable inherited traits. From the Greek eugenes, meaning well-born.

Animal Husbandry.  The science of breeding.

In 1883, Francis Galton, first cousin to Charles Darwin, coined “eugenics”, a pseudoscience that advocated controlled reproduction to ensure the healthy evolution of human societies.  Eugenics became increasingly popular in the early 20th century, solidifying racial hierarchies and categories of the unfit – criminals, the mentally ill, and the feebleminded.  Programs in various countries encouraged the “fit” to reproduce while discouraging the unfit through measures ranging from segregation to elimination.

Francis Galton (1822-1911) Francis Galton grew up in England and inherited a significant fortune after his father died.  His extensive travels to places like Africa reinforced his sense of a rigid hierarchy of human categories.  He was not alone in this thinking as racial and ethnic determinism pervaded Western thought during the 19th century.  Darwin’s publication of the Origin of Species (1859) further inspired Galton to pursue social betterment through selective breeding. Galton believed that humans evolved through the natural selection of inborn traits, and parents transmitted intellectual and moral qualities to their children. He acknowledged social factors but insisted that inherited talent (or lack of) persevered.  

Turn of the Century:  Eugenics takes off. Various factors played into eugenics growing popularity into the 20th century.  The “rediscovery” of Gregor Mendel’s claims of heredity as the dominant determinant in human life bolstered eugenic claims of biological determinism.  Visible signs of poverty, crime, and mental illness accompanied urban growth evoked concerns about societal “degeneration” – an oft-used term at the time.  As Diane B. Paul writes, “Middle-class people of every political persuasion – conservatives, liberals, and socialists, were alarmed by the apparent profligate breeding of what in Britain was called the “social residue.” (Paul, 235)

Alarmed by these developments and confident in their theories of selective reproduction, eugenics advocates began implementing practices to realize their visions.  Scholars have identified these practices as “positive” and “negative” eugenics. 

Positive Eugenics. Positive eugenics involved the promotion and practice of the selective breeding of the “fit.”  He pointed to the example of animal husbandry as a model to follow.  “If a twentieth part of the cost and pains,” he said, “were spent in measures for the improvement of the human race that is spent on the improvement of the breeding of horses and cattle, what a galaxy of geniuses might we create!  (Larson 180).

Negative Eugenics in Practice. The early focus on positive eugenics would give way to prohibitive measures in the twentieth century.  In the United States, Canada, and much of Northern Europe, as well as Britain, the central question was how best to discourage breeding by moral and mental defectives.” (Crook, 235)  The practice of eugenics ranged from segregation to extermination.  Practices also varied over time and from country to country.  Generally, the initial approach involved the segregation of male and female “defectives”. Some feared another option, sterilization, would promote images of extremism—however, institutional expenses coupled with improved sterilization technology made this alternative a more popular choice.  Accordingly, governments legalized the practice. Sterilization laws, for instance, had been passed in 30 American states and 3 Canadian provinces. (Paul, 236) 

Not surprisingly, the worst expression of eugenics occurred in Nazi Germany.  The Aktion T-4 programme and subsequent programs “euthanized” up to 200,000 of the country’s institutionalized mentally and physically disabled, some with the tacit consent of the families. (Paul, 236)  

Opposition.  Predicably, eugenics attracted virulent opposition from the Catholic Church, labour groups, liberal politicians, and scientific community members. The Catholic Church, already opposed to abortion and contraception, vehemently opposed sterilization. Labour groups spoke out against eugenics, knowing that many working and lower classes, especially immigrants, fell into eugenic categories of unfit.  Scientists readily challenged eugenic claims and the Mendelian foundation by highlighting the nurture side of the nature vs nurture debates of the time. 

Conclusion.  Blatant Nazi atrocities in the name of racial hygiene, coupled with scientific exposures of its falsities, undermined eugenic claims.  However, it did become one of the most influential and devastating of the broader social Darwinist movement.

This blog offers a rudimentary introduction to eugenics.  Future blogs will address more specific aspects of this topic.

Selected Bibliography

Cowan, Ruth Schwartz. Francis Galton and the Study of Heredity in the Nineteenth Century. New York: Garland, 1985.

Crook, Paul. Darwin’s Coat-Tails: Essays on Social Darwinism.  New York: Peter Lang Publishing Inc., 2007.

Larson, Edward J.  Evolution: The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory.  New York: Modern Library, 2006. .

Paul, Diane B. “Darwin, Social Darwinism, and Eugenics.”  Jonathan Hodge and Gregory Radick eds.  The Cambridge Companion to Darwin.  New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009