Apr 10 2017123 Italian Fascism Part Twelve, Eve of Destruction

Italy was not well-positioned going into World War II. The Italian economy was still largely agricultural, and its industrial output was small compared with every other European great power. Also, Mussolini felt himself more and more unable to control Hitler. At the 1938 Munich conference Mussolini brokered a deal between Nazi Germany and the other European powers that gave Hitler the Sudetenland in return for not invading Czechoslovakia. A few months later, Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia anyway. Mussolini’s deal was kaput, and the Italian dictator was revealed to be powerless over Hitler.

Despite being a regime birthed in martial rhetoric and symbolism, fascist Italy was in no shape, economically or diplomatically at the start of World War II. Instead of leaping into the conflict alongside it’s ally, Germany, Italy wouldn’t join the war until 1940.

Mar 31 201674 The Wizard of Oz, Populism, and Dubious Fan Theories

You can be forgiven for thinking that L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz is all about monetary policy and populism. More than a few scholars, critics, academics, and teachers, have reiterated that line, and found parallels in the narrative between Baum’s fairy tale and the state of American politics at the end of the 1800s. The Scarecrow (the theory goes) is the agrarian worker, the Tin Man (or Tin Woodman, if you’re going by the book’s terminology) is the industrial laborer, and the Cowardly Lion is… Democratic candidate William Jennings Bryan. For some reason. Other perceived equivalencies include the Yellow Brick Road as the gold standard, and Dorothy’s silver slippers (they were changed to ruby in the Judy Garland film) as silver coinage.

This theory began in 1964 with an article titled The Wizard of Oz: Parable on Populism by high school history teacher Henry¬†Littlefield. It has since taken on a life of its own, to the point where this podcaster first heard this theory from his freshman history teacher. However, there is no real basis for The Wizard of Oz being a satire, parody, fable, or any other kind of tale about populism. Baum’s own biography and a closer reading of the text do not support that oft-repeated theory.

Image via.


Mar 12 201521 Shanghaied!

In the late 1800s countless men were exploited by a system that used debt and indentured servitude to keep them tied to the shipping industry. The process of getting sailors into debt was called “crimping,” and it was practiced throughout the US and Britain, but was particularly prominent on the American West Coast. Quite a lot of mythology, folklore, and pseudohistory has grown up around the subject, most of it with no basis in the actual historical record. Nevertheless, Shanghaiing and crimping were very real, and until approximately 1915 the process of acquiring sailors looked almost nothing like how one would expect to hire labor on an open, fair market.

Pictured below are shipping papers from 1786. Possibly the most important part of the text is the following: In case they should, on any account whatsoever, leave or desert the said sloop without the Master’s consent, till the abovesaid voyage is ended, and the said sloop discharged of her loading, be liable to forfeit and lose what wages may at such time of their desertion be due to them, together with every their goods, chattels, &c. on board; renouncing, by these presents, all title, right, demand and pretensions thereunto for ever, for them, their heirs, executors and administrators. And it is further agreed by both parties, that eight and forty hours absence without leave, shall be deemed a total desertion, and render such Seamen and Mariners liable to the penalties abovementioned.


Related Links:

Shanghaiing Days by Richard H Dillion is a comprehensive, albeit dated, book on the subject, covering crimping throughout the US in the 1800s.

The Oregon Shanghaiers by Barney Blalock  deals specifically with Portland and Astoria crimps.

For an Oregon-centric view of Shanghaiing, check out Kick-Ass Oregon History’s two podcasts on the subject here and here.

Feb 26 201519 Hey Big Spender

You can do a lot of things with wealth. You can buy stuff, make things happen, bribe officials, give to the poor… Or, if you’re Mansa Musa of Mali (one of the richest people in the history of the world) you can give away so much gold that you single-handedly cause inflation in Cairo.

The small image below is a detail from the Catalan Atlas, a 1375 Spanish map with a small detail that depicts Mansa Musa in the approximate location of Mali.

Mansa Musa

Related Links:

A Huffington Post article declaring Mansa Musa the “richest man of all time.”

Mansa Musa on Crash Course World History.

More images from the Catalan Atlas, which shows the best-known image of Mansa Musa.