Fireside Friday, January 22, 2021

It’s the first week of classes, so fireside this week. Next week, we’ll dive into a short series looking at the question of the ‘universal warrior,’ the idea – too often repeated – that there is either a single consistent experience or personality true to all combatants to the present day. Also, for those who want a bit more of my ramblings but may not watch my twitter, I should note that I have been slowly (multiple threads: 1, 2, 3) live-tweeting my way through the really quite flawed ‘Warrior Archetype’ videos by author Steven Pressfield, since it espouses one such version of the ‘universal warrior’ ideal.

The small wooden box behind the plushie zergling and under the toy tank is my dice box.

I also want to briefly address some concerns, voiced by a few people, that the blog seems to be veering into becoming more politics focused. Worry not! This is going to remain a history-and-popular-culture blog. I had intended the October fireside on stasis to be a one-off thing, and while that intent was somewhat foiled by events earlier in January, that won’t be a continued pattern. So no more politics, hopefully for a good long time. In the meantime I have a number of things in the works: the aforementioned series on the ‘universal warrior,’ the long promised series on textile production, along with (further out) hopefully a longer discussion of the concept of doctrine (I’m thinking of anchoring it, pun intended, around Master and Commander (2003) and Greyhound (2020)), a look at the dynamics of trench warfare and some of its common misconceptions (using the ‘trench scene’ from Wonder Woman (2017) as a starting point) and a discussion of the gulf between how diversity in the Roman Empire is popularly understood and how it actually functioned.

So fear not, we’re going back to our regularly scheduled programming!

(Also, if for some absolutely inconceivable reason you actually want my policy hot-takes – which understandably tend towards geopolitics and nat.-sec. rather than domestic, at least in normal times – you can follow me on Twitter (@BretDevereaux).)

If you want to support that regularly intended programming, please share it; if you really like it, you can support me on Patreon. And if you want updates whenever a new post appears, you can click below for email updates or follow me on twitter (@BretDevereaux) for updates as to new posts as well as my occasional ancient history, foreign policy or military history musings.

For this week’s musing, I want to actually talk a bit about the craft of history. In the mess of my above-mentioned twittering about Pressfield’s videos, someone asked, quite reasonably, how a historian knows which sources to put more trust in and which sources to put less trust in. So I thought I’d speak on that briefly. Learning to read primary sources (and secondary scholarship) critically is an important part of the historian’s training. It’s something I get my students to work at in all levels of courses.

Now I should note at the outset that we should understand ‘doing history’ as consisting of functionally three core tasks: selection, evaluation, and interpretation (this is my own labeling of the tasks, but I think any historian will recognize them). In the first step, selection, the historian formulates a topic or question (note: not an argument, not yet) and then gathers relevant evidence. I call this ‘selection’ because, even in fields with very limited evidence, this is still fundamentally an exercise in selection: based on the question I have, what sources should I investigate and consider?

Next, the historian evaluates that body of evidence. We’ll talk about what that looks like in a moment, but we’re generally evaluating for how reliable a source is, what their particular viewpoint is, and based on that, how useful they are for illuminating our topic or question. Finally we move on to interpretation, where we take our pile of now evaluated evidence and form an answer to our question or an interesting conclusion about our topic (what would be, when we write this all out, our argument or thesis). Of course for a complex project, chances are the historian is engaged in all three of these processes at once, on different fronts, but the basic cycle remains the same: select a question, select evidence for that question, evaluate that evidence, then draw interpretive conclusions from that evidence.

(By the by, part of what I think befuddles students is that history is not written this way because the best way to communicate historical research is not how it is conducted. An article, paper or book written by a historian generally leads with its argument and then proceeds to prove that argument, point by point, until all points are proved with evidence, almost the opposite order in which the research was done)

So how does the evaluation step work? When dealing with a source, there are two main questions a historian is thinking about, as mentioned before: how reliable is the source, and what is the source’s viewpoint. Those hoping for some sort of rubric of mathematical proof for either of these will be disappointed; as we’ve discussed before, the humanities are a field of words more than math and many things in them cannot be reduced to numbers.

Now when I say ‘sources’ fundamentally, I mean texts, although as we’ll see considering a text typically means considering the text’s author or authors (for the historian; the literature critic may disagree for their authors are figuratively dead, whereas my authors are only literally dead). Most of the evidence that a historian works with comes in the forms of text; even what we might think of as physical evidence (like archaeological artifacts, or – where relevant – scientific data and studies) comes to the historian mediated by texts (like an archaeologist’s site report, or a scientist’s peer-reviewed paper).

Second, I should note here that while I am speaking of ‘sources’ generally, the historian is always conscious that functionally all of our sources are produced by people and reflect their knowledge, condition and worldview. Even apparently ‘objective’ data, like a census return or a scientific study is, in the end, a text produced by a particular person or group of people to a particular purpose and infused with their worldview and assumptions. Of course there is, at the root of this, a real world in which events really happened and the historian tries frequently to reach that real world, but we have to always be aware that the objective world is entirely mediated to us by subjective things.

Consequently, considering reliability in this case means asking how likely what a source is telling you is to be a true statement. To be clear, even a source that is clearly lying can be useful! One of the common misconceptions beginner history students have is to assume that sources come in either ‘unbiased’ or ‘biased’ types and that the former are to be trusted and the latter discarded in all cases. The world is more complex than that, and all sources are biased, the question is merely how. Nevertheless, having a sense of how likely a source is to be relating reliable information is a crucial first step to interpreting what that source is telling you.

There are a few standard questions for establishing reliability. The first and most obvious is to ask, ‘is this source in a position to know?’ Thus we ask, ‘how close to the events is this source?’ Greater distance, through either the number of witnesses (generally first-hand accounts are more reliable than third-hand accounts) or chronological distance (generally a report written at the time is more reliable than one written ten years later is more reliable than one written a century later) generally reduces reliability. For older periods of history, where good eyewitness reports are rare, we often ask questions about where a source got their information – do they have access to (now lost) records? Access to eyewitnesses?

(For those older sources this can get really complex because while we still call, say, Herodotus or Polybius a ‘primary source,’ they are actually essentially secondary or even tertiary sources. So we have to ask these questions about them and about their sources.)

Of course then we have to ask questions about their viewpoint. What are the incentives and motivations the source has in writing? Might the source be mistaken or simply lying about what they are saying? What are the constraints of the genre the source is working in (for instance, ancient royal Egyptian inscriptions, as a genre, are constrained to say positive things about the Pharaoh who has commissioned them; factual accurate is less valued in poetry, etc). How does that viewpoint influence the testimony the source gives?

Now, here’s the tricky curve-ball. So far, I’ve been talking about sources as in terms of being evidence for things that happen in the real world. But sources are also evidence for their own viewpoint (and indirectly, evidence for the general viewpoints of people who think like the source or have similar experiences). So a source that is mistaken about a fact (you may know this because you have far stronger evidence contradicting them) can still tell you important things about what people believed about a fact or what was commonly thought! A source that is straight up lying to you can tell you things are their state of mind, their viewpoints and agenda.

For instance, note above where I casually note that ancient Egyptian inscriptions are constrained to be positive – to the point of lying – about the Pharaoh? How do we know that? We might easily guess, but in practice there are enough points of fairly obvious falsehood that we can use those data-points to better understand the constraints of the entire genre. Of course that doesn’t make pharaonic inscriptions useless – they may not be good evidence for events (although they still have to have some connection to events; a lie has to be at least a little connected to the truth, typically, to have any power), but they are good evidence for how Egyptian rulers presented themselves and their accomplishments, what things they thought were worth bragging about (which is to say, what things would increase their legitimacy and power).

Looping back to the original question asked in the Twitter, we have two figures recorded in our sources for the size of the Greek coalition army at Thermopylae; which is correct? There is, of course, a true answer here (although the precise correct answer is a ‘dark figure’ that we no longer possess the evidence to find). But Herodotus tells us 5,200 and Diodorus tells us c. 7,700. How do we evaluate these?

Well, on the one hand, Herodotus is writing far closer to the event. The Histories of Herodotus were probably composed c. 430 BC, 50 years after the battle; that puts them (barely) within living memory, meaning that Herodotus may well have some of those numbers from eyewitnesses (or alternately, from records and reliable reports of the events made shortly after them). Diodorus, by contrast, is writing in the first century BC, more than 400 years after the event; he cannot possible have eyewitness access and even many first-hand records (like inscriptions or state documents like muster-rolls) will have been lost by then.

Moreover, there is the concern of genre: Diodorus is writing a ‘universal history,’ running from when he places the age of myths down to his present. For him, then, Thermopylae is merely one event among many, albeit a significant one. It is thus doubtful that he took the time to, for instance, comb Greece for evidence like muster-rolls or inscriptions. Instead, it is nearly certain that Diodorus had to rely on other, intermediate sources (including, quite possibly, Herodotus) and so his reliability can be no greater than these intervening sources.

But that’s not quite the end of it. Herodotus has one clear error – he lists no non-Spartiates from Laconia. But Diodorus does and it is clear from even Herodotus’ own narrative (what we’d call ‘internal evidence,’ in this case Hdt. 8.25) that there were non-Spartiates in the Spartan contingent, alongside the famous 300 Spartiates. Here we get into viewpoint, because we know that Herodotus has his reasons to try to amplify the heroics of the 300 Spartiates, given the particular argument he is making. We also know, from comparing other things in Herodotus to stronger evidence (typically archaeological or geographic) that he is not entirely averse to fudging the details if it would make for a better story.

Herodotus also has reason to exaggerate the small size of the Greek force so as to make its stand more impressive. Openly lying about the size of the contingents might well be detected; a Corinthian upon reading less than the correct number of Corinthians at the battle might well call Herodotus on his deception. But simply leaving out some non-citizen Spartans (along with summing up the Locrians with “all they had” without estimating that number) lets Herodotus shrink the apparent size of the force with less risk of detection (Herodotus does not add his figures up at the end of recounting them, so creates no obvious inconsistency).

Meanwhile, Diodorus lists 1,000 men from the Malians, which Herodotus does not. ANd now we ask questions about Diodorus’ sources. After the defeat of the Persian army at Plataea, Thermopylae became a pan-Hellenic culture touchstone (which it still is, often with less than great justification); Greek communities would want to represent themselves as having been associated with it and so it is not hard to imagine communities which were not there claiming to have been there anyway. One of Diodorus’ intervening sources might well have picked that up and carried it forward; Diodorus is no position to be any the wiser and in any event Diodorus (unlike say, Livy or Polybius) is not so critical of his sources generally.

And so most historians have tended to take Herodotus’ numbers on the whole (for the reasons of proximity noted above), but added back in the c. 1,000 perioikoi and 1,000 Locrians (replacing the ‘all they had’ non-number in Herodotus) as reported by Diodorus. Diodorus’ report of the Malians is generally dropped on the assumption that it represents a later, opportunistic addition made in the decades after Herodotus when the dimming of memory would permit such fabrication. Doing that gives us a figure of 7,200 (conveniently close to Diodorus’ total, but differently comprised).

The final step in assessing that figure would be plausibility – after all, we are trying to get as close as we can to a real number in the real world which would have had to obey the real physical laws of the real world. As it stands, an army of c. 7,000 (for by this method we cannot be meaningfully more precise than this) is plausible (unlike Herodotus’ figure for the Persian army, which is ludicrously too large). It is on the right scale for the known capabilities of the communities in question (smaller, because many were still mustering) and well within the capabilities of being supported in the physical space.

Of course the historian’s work is hardly done in reaching that number. From there the work of interpreting that number – what does it mean that the number is about 7,000 – begins. But that’s a discussion for another time.

On to the recommendations!

For those looking for naval nerdery, mostly focused from the Age of Steam to the Second World War, check out the videos on Drachinifel’s youtube channel. I stumbled across his series (as yet still unfinished) on the Guadalcanal campaign (1, 2, and 3) and as quite impressed by the level of detail and care, along with an amusing dry Commonwealth wit. While I’m on the topic, if your tastes run more towards text-based naval nerdery, there is a lot of good interesting stuff on the blog Naval Gazing.

Meanwhile, over at Tod’s Workshop – because it wouldn’t be a Fireside, I guess, without a Tod experimental archaeology test – Tod has run some really interesting tests on the Late Roman plumbata, a weighted war dart. In the two videos (1, 2), he looks at lethality and the throwing pattern and his tests suggest a range of at least 50m, possibly further. The historian in me is somewhat cautious with Tod’s suggestion, in the second video, that we ought to think a throwing string was sometimes used because the technology was known, even though we have no evidence of it – it is certainly possible, but it would hardly be the first case where an extant technology like that didn’t pass into general use.

Because the plumbata is weighted – with a lead weight in the center which gives the dart it’s name – it can really do some damage if it strikes flesh or armor (though unlike the pilum, it does not have a long shaft to wound someone behind a shield). I tend to think he is probably right that the underhanded throw is how the weapon was used. The big advantage of a weighted dart like this is that it is going to fall point-first every time and the weight of that lead ball is going to drive the weapon in. We know that the plumbata is in use at least as early as c. 400 (as Vegetius refers to them) and probably earlier and they were used at least as late as 600 (because they are mentioned in Maurice’s Strategikon).

Finally, I think the latest Net Assessment Podcast is a great listen on the United States military budget and the hard choices that so far don’t seem to be being made. The fact is there are real tradeoffs both in terms of the scope of military spending and also how that is distributed. As Zack Cooper notes, if the United States really wants to pivot to China, that ought to mean significantly cutting spending on the U.S. Army – which has relatively little role in an East Asian conflict – and instead directing those funds to the Navy (and I suppose the Air Force if we must). Making that budget stretch to cover essential security needs means potentially dialing back other commitments.

I do like that they get into some of the direct tradeoffs: nuclear vs. conventional modernization, readiness vs. designing a ‘future force,’ naval vs. land capabilities, and so on (for my own part, my answers to those questions are ‘conventional,’ ‘future’ and ‘naval’ but I am hardly an expert).

But simply pretending there are no compromises to be made with an endlessly inflating military budget is poor planning and not likely to be sustainable in the long run. In all of this, I am reminded of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s ‘Chance for Peace’ in 1953, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.” We should be more careful in what we spend.

For the book recommendation, I first want to note that I have put together a page compiling all of my book recommendations to date, which will go up on the top bar of the front page.

But for the recommendation itself, I was surprised in putting that list together to find that I never recommended Isabel Hull, Absolute Destruction: Military Culture and the Practices of War in Imperial Germany (2006). Hull takes an institutional or ‘strategic culture’ framework in analyzing the behavior of the German army from 1871 through the end of the First World War (1914-1919), though the most sustained analysis is on the German ‘suppression’ campaigns in Southwest Africa (1904-1907). Hull argues that the military culture that the Imperial German Army developed during its creation, informed by the values of its society, its own doctrine and the political structures it was embedded into, encouraged commanders at all levels to proceed through a spiral of escalating violence that predictably led into atrocity.

As the clever reader will swiftly note, Hull’s book is a book about the Nazi regime and the Holocaust, in which neither appear save for in the conclusion. (her end-date being squarely in 1920); Hull openly frames her argument around the idea that “the victory of annihilation, the tendency to “final” solutions, was so predominant in pre-war [WWI] German military culture.” Consequently, the book fits into the debate about the sonderweg – the idea before WWII that Germany had a ‘special path’ to nationhood which after WWII became a touchstone for arguments as to if Germany was uniquely positioned for authoritarianism and the horrors of Nazism, including the holocaust. Hull quite clearly argues in the affirmative, Germany did have elements that made it more disposed to escalating violence and cruelty of that sort. This naturally makes the book controversial among specialists in German history, where the sonderweg is still very much a hot debate.

Regardless of where one falls in that argument (I find myself largely convinced by Hull; institutional culture matters and while no European – or American – military has anything remotely close to a spotless record, the scale of the systemic dysfunction of the Deutsches Heer is remarkable), Hull is equally valuable as a primer on how to think about institutional culture in militaries and how doctrine, training, political systems and cultural attitudes influence the behavior of an army. And then, of course, should you process half of an entire society through that army, as Imperial Germany did, how those values will replicate throughout the society at large.

139 thoughts on “Fireside Friday, January 22, 2021

  1. Possible typo:

    “It’s something get my students to work at in all levels of courses.”

    Did you mean something like “It’s something I try to get my students to work at in all levels of courses.”?

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    1. Hey, if two from each class actually do it successfully, that still counts as “students”.

      More seriously, “work at” is not the same as “understand on a deep level”. Simply giving a related assignment counts as making them work at it.

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      1. Morganna edited your mind to erase the memory. Hey, at least you aren’t comatose and kept your gender. Count your blessings.

        (I chose Bear as an avatar because I identify with him as an old fart gamer surrounded by young punk gamers. Despite this, I have so far neglected to adopt any comatose teenagers.)

        ((Firefox thinks gamer is a real word but gamers isn’t?))

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    1. Annoyingly that tends to not be how universities tend to formulate their work, students are usually taught to come up with a thesis first and then test it against evidence

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  2. By the by, part of what I think befuddles students is that history is not written this way because the best way to communicate historical research is not how it is conducted.

    There’s an interesting parallel in software development. Over in that world, work is clustered into blocks called “changesets” or “pull requests”, composed of a series of “commits” (added/removed lines of code, plus a description of the change). When training new coders, it takes time to train into them the concept that a good pull request does not reflect the actual development process; it reflects an imaginary process which is constructed for ease of understanding after the fact. Usually the phrase I use is “write your changeset as if you were the perfect coder and knew from the start exactly how things would end up”.

    For example, one might submit a few of commits with no-op changes to existing code that make the following stuff neater, then one that adds a feature on the server side, and finally one that uses the new server functionality to do something user-facing and useful. In the real-world timeline all these things were interleaved messily with each other, with false starts and experiments and the like; but the changeset is meant to describe the outcome in a legible way, not to describe the process.

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  3. > Drachinifel … amusing dry British wit

    I know nothing about Drachinifel except his youtube channel and his participation in the Bilge Pumps podcast – also worth looking up – but I am a native speaker of British English and he *most certainly is not*.

    He has some kind of antipodean accent, although I’m not familiar enough with those to be able to localise any more than “somewhere down there”

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      1. I think the original “British” usage was correct.

        While Drachinifel hasn’t revealed a lot about himself, IIRC he has said/written that his family has European and South American ancestory. But he lives in Britain and has done so for many years.

        As an Australian of English descent I can say that Drachinifel does not have an Australian or New Zealand (Antipodean) accent – at least what might be considered typical. To me, he sounds “BBC British”!

        Britain already had different sounding accents in Cornwall, Kent, Yorkshire, Wales, Scotland, … even before waves of immigration post WW2. Australia is undergoing a similar transformation in how the English language is spoken.

        He lives in Britain, isn’t trying AFAIK to disguise his voice or speaking style or personality. I suggest “British” is the most accurate.

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        1. Seconded. As a native RP speaker, he sounds to me like someone from a working or lower middle class background in Southern England who’s acquired an RP accent through education, or perhaps just a native RP speaker with a slightly unusual vocal quality.

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        2. Yes, I got this one wrong & owe Bret an apology. I was confusing Drach with Jamie of Armoured Carriers, who is Australian, with a strong accent – they do the Bilge Pumps podcast together. Drachinifel has said on twitter iirc that he actually has some Cornish ancestry, and he lives in London.

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  4. This naturally makes the book controversial among specialists in German history, where the sonderweg is still very much a hot debate.

    I will note that this somewhat sidesteps the traditional Sonderweg debate, as far as I understand it from my studies. Usually the affirmative side of that debate focuses on unique factors in civilian political culture, specifically in the late establishment of the German state by a reactionary monarchy. This is held in contrast to other major powers established by a liberal or liberal-monarchist nationalist movement (as in most of Southern Europe) or by liberalization or revolution in an ancien regime state (as in France, the UK, or the Scandinavian monarchies).

    Of course, in doing so, it gets into a confrontation with the (now mostly debunked) “clean Wehrmacht” narrative, which sees atrocity as something imposed by the NSDAP externally onto a professional and ethical military. (Said narrative being debunked not by study of institutional culture, but by observed behavior in WWII.)

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    1. The Sonderweg school also tended to focus on german nation-formation no? While this more institutional bit focus on the army *after* the formation of the german empire.

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      1. From my understanding of Brett’s summary of the original text (yes, it’s a very indirect contact), this similarly focuses on the formation of the German Army in 1871 and the consequences of that founding.

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  5. Doing history, as you describe it, is much the same as doing intelligence analysis – select, evaluate, interpret – and then report. Intelligence has often recruited from academic history (lots of them at Bletchley Park!), with success. Also from those trained in archaeology, and even literature.

    Disclosure: Trained in history, spent my career in intelligence.

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  6. Small typo:

    As the clever reader will swiftly note, Hull’s book is a book about the Nazi regime and the Holocaust, in which neither appear save for in the conclusion.

    I’m pretty sure you are missing a “not” here.

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      1. Ah yes. That’s what I get for reading a post before having my coffee.

        I started reading the book today and it’s excellent. I do wish Hull had brought in the United States war in the Philippines as a comparison in addition to the Boer
        War. Both because von Trotha mentions the US as an example on how to treat “the natives” (page 30) and because the Nazis were influenced by Jim Crow (Hitler’s American Model, James Whitman).

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    1. Yes, because it makes sense to point out that a book which barely mentions Nazis is not about Nazis. That’s a remarkable claim worth highlighting about any book which isn’t about Nazis.

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  7. hopefully a longer discussion of the concept of doctrine (I’m thinking of anchoring it, pun intended, around Master and Commander (2003) and Greyhound (2020)), a look at the dynamics of trench warfare and some of its common misconceptions (using the ‘trench scene’ from Wonder Woman (2017) as a starting point)

    These sound very interesting! Looking forward to your takes, as always. I haven’t watched Wonder Woman, but may I suggest 1917 too? I cannot comment on the historical accuracy but I found it very enjoyable as a movie, and I think it’s a good showcase of some WWI tropes, e.g. the no-man’s-land moonscape and British vs German trench design.

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  8. Some biases are less interesting than others. Like Hardtack and Coffee or The Unwritten Story of Army Life by John D. Billings, opening with an introduction where he explains that when he and other vets told small boys about their campaigning during the American Civil War, the boys listened with rapt attention, and also when they told about the details of army life. He noticed that all the memoirs being written about the war were about the campaigning. So, for future generations, here was a memoir about the later, which they might find interesting.

    And then there’s Ælfric’s Colloquy, written to improve the novice’s speaking Latin. And being on the subjects of trades.

    I notice that historians who cite either work tend to pretty much take them at face value. People whose biases do not affect what you are interested in are valuable sources.

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  9. Always nice to read, and I just realized a growing tendency of mine to link to your articles more and more…

    Littel addendum to the german Sonderweg:

    Yep, there are clear elemenst that made the german state and military more prone to radical escalation than others – but not strictly perdetermined to that.

    A large chunk is the prussian expericnce of war since Frederick the Great (who was very very often invoked as a kind of genius patron saint for the most extreme radicals in the german military and administration).
    Frederick did nearly gamble away his kingdom and just survived by pure luck and singlemindedness. And he utterly disrespected all moral norms that were established in his time.

    So the lection for Prussia was “Okay, you can ignore any prohibitions of moral kind, attack savagely, as you will succeed by this, and luck is always on our side.” The napoleonic wars should have teached them otherwise (and there were some very liberal tendencies in that time, which people like Stein and , yes, Clausewitz – cheers- represented), but alas, that did not happen.

    You can find all these little steps right into the third Reich – but one should not ignore that there were other tendencies, that also belong to the german history, as the rather benevolent Habsburg regime in the 18th century (that nearly had triumphed over Prussia).

    And even if that now tends to get political: I observe that the same can be said about what happened in the USA in the last 30 years. Here are also two different tendencies, both strongly rooted in the land and his traditions, and one leads to extremist and radical positions, the other one to a more harmonic and (in my eyes) civilized point.

    Whichever end that will have, it would be wrong to declare then by hindsight “that was a clear path and it could only lead to this”.

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    1. There are some issues I have with claims that Germany was uniquely predisposed to fall into fascism. The first is that these claims are superficial, with the differences being more of magnitude than scale. The second is that they can all too easily encourage complacency. If you need the specific circumstances of post-WW1 Germany to birth a fascist movement, then we can safely ignore anything vaguely fascist in our own generation and nation.

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  10. I had an interesting experience underlining the potential unreliability of contemporary sources when reading the entertaining ‘histories’ of Princess Radziwill. The lady’s strong aristocratic bias was a given and her sources seem to have been mainly contemporary gossip. Her portrayals of characters like Wilhelm II, And Nicholas and Alexandra of Russia shift as she lives through the Latter part of the 19th century and first decades of the 20th. She also developed a fondness for conspiracy theories, Bismark made a good bugbear. But we know from other sources, including personal papers that wouldn’t have been accessible to her, that she was more often than not dead wrong.
    Princess Radziwill taught me to look much more critically at earlier sources based on access to gossip where corrective sources are not available. Being a contemporary does not make you reliable!

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  11. Hey Bret,

    I’d say that you did recommend Absolute Destruction a while back, albeit tacitly. I saw the title in the Helm’s Deep series and immediately ordered it. I studied German and some degree of German history for both of my stints in school, but German colonial affairs were always a blind spot that I don’t think I heard much about until a course on international education covered the history of schools in modern Tanzania.

    Anyhow, it’s a great book, and I hope the *official* rec inspires a few more people to pick it up.

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  12. Future topic (assuming it’s not too political for what you want to be doing):

    How do you decide what spellings to use? I noticed this recently with “Chinggis” and ” ‘Antarah”. It seems like these spellings have obvious costs: “Chinggis” is sufficiently different from the traditional “Genghis” that I thought you were talking about some other, later Khan when he first showed up in your Steppe Nomads sequence. Probably more educated people than me aren’t fooled, or figure it out quicker than I did, but it imposes a hard cutoff of “lower than this degree of education you won’t know what I’m talking about”.

    The cost to ‘Antarah is that it makes it very difficult to tell when you are direct quoting, and opens up quotes that are never resolved, which makes it pretty difficult to follow the prose.

    Could you talk a little bit about what your philosophy here is? How do you decide when to use the less familiar forms (Chinggis) vs the more familiar ones (you use “Marc Antony”, for instance)?

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    1. My preference is to hew as closely to the original language as possible, following the practice of the experts in those fields. I’ve been told that Chinggis is really a lot closer to the original sound of the name than Genghis, so that’s what I use. For ‘Antarah, I think the apostrophe is actually part of the spelling – it indicates (if I remember my two semesters of Arabic) that the first letter is an ayn, not an alif in Arabic. In any event, it seemed to me to be the standard spelling from what I saw.

      For Greek and Latin names, I confess I am terribly inconsistent. If I could do away with Marc Antony for Marcus Antonius, I would – but when he’s a brief mention in an aside, clarifying who I meant by Marcus Antonius would just take too long to be worth the effort. I do tend to use the older Greek transliterations, so Corinth not Korinth, Pericles not Perikles, and so on. But I make no great claims to consistency there either.

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      1. fwiw I used to work in a bar years ago with a woman from Mongolia who pronounced the name as Chinggis (and usually rolled her eyes about how he was all most people knew about the country)

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        1. It’s super interesting to me how some names get transliterated into English and some seem to get translated (seems like this happens in other languages too). Place-names are more likely to get translated than transliterated: nobody while speaking English says Wien, or Roma, for instance. A few people might pronounce “Paris” with a more throaty R and a silent S, but it’s a very strange sort of class marker if you do….

          Person-names are less likely to be fully translated, although “Genghis” was probably an exception until “Chinggis” started gaining ground on it. “Caesar” would be another example–although we spell it the same, the pronunciation is wildly different; “Hitler” is a more subtle example, at least in the US, where no one ever makes an attempt at a German final-R.

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          1. It’s super interesting to me how some names get transliterated into English and some seem to get translated (seems like this happens in other languages too).

            I suspect it’s mostly a function of how long they’ve been commonly talked about in English: places in Europe were talked about enough to get their own English names, whereas places in Asia and Subsaharan Africa generally weren’t. The same thing applies to ancient authors — the ones who were staples of the curriculum are generally given Anglicised versions of their names (Homer for Homeros, Ovid for Ovidius, Livy for Livius, Horace for Horatius, etc.; Tully for [M. Tullius] Cicero seems to have largely died out for some reason), whereas those who weren’t, don’t.

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          2. Regarding Cicero, Ovid, etc., it’s also interesting how some classical Romans end up being referred to by their nomen (gens name), such as Ovid or Virgil, some by their cognomen, such as Scipio, and a few by both, such as Julius Caesar and Pontius Pilate. Cicero seemed to have shifted categories, since you often find him referred to as Tully in the 18th century, but never today. In some cases, it may be explicable in that those from families prominent over many generations were referred by their cognomen. There may be, for example, many Cornelii but only notable one with the cognomen Scipio. However, the emperor seems to have achieved ownership of the Claudian gens name to the exclusion of all others. If there is any general rule or set of rules that explains modern usage, I would be interested to know it.

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      2. Funny, my knowledge of Mongolian pronunciation is zero, but I remember John Kerry was mocked for pronouncing the name as “Jenggis” when he was testifying as member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. My own position is that when speaking or writing for popular consumption (I don’t mean popular like this blog, but popular like Congressional testimony), one should use the conventional pronunciation and spelling. That is, assuming your goal is to persuade your listeners, not show off your own erudition (unclear which was Kerry’s goal). My practice is in line with Fowler’s directive, that in matters of morals one should strive to be better than one’s neighbors, but in matters of pronunciation one should strive to be just like one’s neighbors.

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        1. Using established names has also the added communication benefit in making searching for literature easier. It is much easier to search for books on English-language library or web store mentioning Pliny the Younger than, let’s say, Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus.

          However, this is not to say that one can not also educate readers. If there is a new romanization that is becoming established, maybe it makes sense to use the new one, but it helps to mention also the traditional name in parenthesis. (For the record, names in English can be confusing; I am not a native English speaker and had not idea Genghis is pronounced something else than [tsinggis]).

          Liked by 1 person

      3. I find it interesting because Swedish traditionally makes slightly different choices (eg. Marcus Antonius, Platon, and Vergilius)

        OTOH it used to be also quite common to swedify certain foreign monarchs, eg. using “Karl” for english/french monarchs called charles, and “Ludvig” for Louis.

        Chinggis is usually spelled “Djinghis” btw.

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    2. The problem with the Latin alphabet is that it has a quite restricted number of sounds it can represent out of the much larger possible number of sounds humans use for lingual communication, even with all the overloading of various letters we give it in English (especially vowels). If I remember correctly from my limited self-directed Arabic studies years ago, ayn is essentially a glottal stop, which does show up in English, rarely (as the sound between the two parts of uh-oh, for instance), but doesn’t have a dedicated letter; the solution ends up being overloading punctuation marks instead.

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      1. Certainly it’s true that sounds > latin letters! In theory, I’m not really against using punctuation marks as symbols in this case, but the particular punctuation mark that has been chosen is terrible.

        Whoever decided that (some) clicks would be represented by “!” made a much better choice, because it is much less likely to be confusable for a punctuation mark than the ‘ in ‘Antarah. Much better, in my opinion, to use an asterisk, perhaps (*Antarah), or some other punctuation mark that doesn’t commonly appear at the beginning of words.

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  13. In the Pressfield tweets you say “There was no drill or weapon’s training of note in the agoge.” This reminded me of something that jarred when rereading your Sparta series recently: when talking about the krypteia, you ask

    > But why does Leonidas – who has by this point been through a decade of
    > combat training and is armed have to kill an unarmed, untrained, and unwarned
    > enslaved man to become a full Spartiate?

    Where did this “decade of combat training” come from, if not the agoge? Special extra credit classes for children of royalty would seem very contrary to the institutional ethos.

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    1. That’s exactly the point- that the imagined fictional version of the agoge in Movie!300 (which provides combat training, and whose graduates kill fearsome beasts) does not align with the real version (which provides no combat training, but arms its graduates and inculcates them with a *willingness* to kill, then sends them out to go kill a peasant).

      Dr. Devereaux is pointing out that the narrative surrounding the agoge doesn’t add up. Because the narrative says that it’s a long period of combat training designed to produce mighty warriors… And yet in reality we know that the spartiates did not cap this ‘warrior’ training by hunting dangerous beasts, but by hunting unarmed helots. And then that raises the question, if this was about training the boys to be physically strong and skilled in battle, how does killing a helot even *test* that aptitude or relate to it?

      Dr. Devereaux then goes on to point out that it *does not* relate to physical prowess, but instead serves as an initiation into the group via murder, much as is done to child soldiers in the modern day… And that once this is understood, the nature of the agoge snaps into focus in a different way. The agoge is not a boot camp for turning Spartan aristocratic boys into physical supermen, any more than other child soldier indoctrination programs are about turning the recruits into supermen. It’s about, well, indoctrinating them!

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      1. Yes, I understand and 100% accept the overall argument Bret’s making; that’s why the line I quoted stood out. The fact that it describes Leonidas killing a helot rather than a wolf seems to prove that it’s *not* talking about movie-Leonidas, but real-Leonidas wouldn’t have had combat training at the agoge, so what gives? Maybe it’s deliberately mixing movie- and real-Leonidases to try to spark some cognitive dissonance in the reader, but that seems gratuitously confusing.

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  14. Thanks for the book recommendation list. I like the ones I’m already familiar with, so I’ll trust induction enough to check out the ones I’m not familiar with.

    Regarding the War in Human Civilization recommendation, I’d have to respectfully disagree with the suggestion that it’s the “better, more rigorous form of Pinker’s argument (which naturally also means somewhat different, more reserved conclusions).” As for the high quality and rigor of The Better Angels of Our Nature, I’ll cite as an authority none other than Professor Gat himself, who has written:

    Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature (2011) towers above all the other books surveyed here in size, scope, boldness, and scholarly excellence. It has deservedly attracted great public attention and has become a best-seller. Massively documented, this 800-page volume is lavishly furnished with statistics, charts, and diagrams, which are one of the book’s most effective features.

    (In the—characteristically excellent— article “Is War Declining – and Why?”, published in the Journal of Peace Research, vol. 50, issue 2, 2013.)

    As for its overlap with War in Human Civilization, I’d say that both (in my humble opinion, magisterial) books are well worth reading for anyone interested in the history and nature of violence in the long view of human (pre)history. There’s certainly a fair amount of overlap w.r.t. the primatology, anthropology, political science, and military history, but roughly half of Better Angels is devoted to discussing criminology, sociology, psychology, and neuroscience, which you wouldn’t get by reading Professor Gat’s book alone. Furthermore, even in the former areas, I think the emphases of the discussions are often different enough to merit reading both—e.g. Professor Pinker usefully fleshes out several quantitative aspects of the “Long Peace” in Chapter 5 of Better Angels and has an extensive discussion of civil wars, terrorism, and genocide in Chapter 6.

    (I’d also, while we’re on the subject, highly recommend Professor Gat’s recent book The Causes of War and the Spread of Peace—which has the additional advantage of being, at ~300 pages, less of a doorstopper than the aforementioned books.)

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  15. I find it interesting in how the study of history follows the cycle of intelligence analysis, both in the cycle (selection, evaluation, and interpretation – though you skipped _publication_ as the ‘final’ step – versus direction, collection, processing, dissemination in military intelligence). The discussion about evaluating sources also reminds me of considerations in collection of intelligence – the evaluation of the reliability and credibility of sources – and the importance of how this must be re-evaluated for each item that source produces).

    I do wish this was more widely taught (and learnt).

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  16. Aw, I like the political stuff.

    Thank you for compiling your book recommendations in one place! If you ever wanted to add some recs on stasis and/or ancient self-governing communities, I’d be very eager to see them.

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    1. Sure! Some of these will be more or less accessible but:
      A. Wolpert, Remembering Defeat: Civil War and Civic Memory in Ancient Athens (2002) on stasis and recovery from it.

      More broadly, on Greece:
      J. Ober, Mass and Elite in Democratic Athens (1989)
      P.J. Rhodes, Ancient Democracy and Modern Ideology (2003)

      On Rome:
      H. Flowers, Roman Republics (2011)
      F. Millar, The Crows in Rome in the Late Republic (1998)
      H. Mouritsen, Plebs and Politics in the Late Roman Republic (2001), read as a response to Millar.

      On the technical aspects of Roman government, the standard reference in English is A. Lintott, The Constitution of the Roman Republic (1999).

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  17. I also want to briefly address some concerns, voiced by a few people, that the blog seems to be veering into becoming more politics focused. Worry not!

    I’m not worried. I’ve long since realized that the difference between political content and apolitical content is about how obvious (and, sometimes, intentional) the politics are. Some of my favorite series on this blog (especially the Fremen Mirage series) are distinctly political, in that they explicitly argue against a political position allegedly supported by history. The only difference between the pieces on stasis and the Fremen Mirage series, as far as political-ness goes, is how specific and clear the political positions being supported or rebutted are.

    (By the by, part of what I think befuddles students is that history is not written this way because the best way to communicate historical research is not how it is conducted. An article, paper or book written by a historian generally leads with its argument and then proceeds to prove that argument, point by point, until all points are proved with evidence, almost the opposite order in which the research was done)

    And, of course, it’s far from unique to history. The best way to present almost anything is to lead with the conclusion, even though the best way to investigate anything (if you care about truth) is to leave the conclusion until last. This can easily leave people with the impression that you started with your conclusion and searched for evidence to prove it, which is used as a reason for people with strong pre-existing views to dismiss your conclusions in favor of their own (regardless of whether they have any evidence backing them up), but I don’t think that’s a problem with a solution.

    But simply pretending there are no compromises to be made with an endlessly inflating military budget is poor planning and not likely to be sustainable in the long run. In all of this, I am reminded of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s ‘Chance for Peace’ in 1953, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.” We should be more careful in what we spend.

    Quoted for truth. If you’ll permit me to be clear about the political position being rebutted, conservatives love to whinge about where the money for expanded social programs will come from while conveniently ignoring how much more money is being poured into the military.

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    1. Quoted for truth. If you’ll permit me to be clear about the political position being rebutted, conservatives love to whinge about where the money for expanded social programs will come from while conveniently ignoring how much more money is being poured into the military.

      As of 2018, the military accounted for just 12% of the US federal budget. One might even say that liberals love to whinge about the defence budget taking money from social programmes while conveniently ignoring the fact that every Western country already spends significantly more on social programmes than on defence.

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      1. I don’t think any liberal has ever made that kind of critique except A. in response to conservatives whinging about budgets* or B. with regard to programs that are actively underfunded.

        And it’s worth noting that only a few social programs even vaguely compare to the military in budget. The estimated 2021 budget of the US military is $636 billion; social security and medicare cost more, but conservatives don’t ever consider cutting back on social security (which is far larger) and don’t seem to talk much about medicare. They’re focused on cutting benefits which mostly go to the poor and marginalized, rather than demographics more often in their constituencies.

        *And to be clear, the military has a lot more fat that can be cut without causing harm to the American population. In fact, cutting back on the US military would reduce harm that is actively being caused to people in other parts of the world!

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          1. Which doesn’t affect most of my argument.

            My original point was “Hey, conservatives whinge about spending on social programs when there’s so much more money that can be deducted from military spending.” (Especially since, as I’ve implied but perhaps not stated clearly enough, social programs are more important than bombing foreign countries.) I followed that up by pointing out that the social programs they whinge about aren’t even the ones that cost the most money.

            My point, that conservative claims to only want to cut social programs out of fiscal responsibility are BS, is still intact. Just not quite as simple as it was before I double-checked the numbers and had to add social security to the “expensive things conservatives won’t touch” side.

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    2. If you are looking for a rough metric to separate “political” from “non-political” posts, the ones where Prof. Devereux shuts off comments because he knows that there will be hundreds of vituperative responses are the “political” ones.

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        1. I can speak only for myself, but I dislike Prof. Devereux’s political (as I have defined the term objectively and precisely) posts because his politics are run-of-the-mill academic left/liberal, dressed up with unpersuasive illustrations from some very different cultures, and therefore kind of boring. I only read the blog because it entertains me–it certainly doesn’t assist me professionally or financially–so if the proportion of boring posts gets too high, I will stop reading.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. I can speak only for myself, but I dislike Prof. Devereux’s political (as I have defined the term objectively and precisely) posts because his politics are run-of-the-mill academic left/liberal, dressed up with unpersuasive illustrations from some very different cultures, and therefore kind of boring. I only read the blog because it entertains me–it certainly doesn’t assist me professionally or financially–so if the proportion of boring posts gets too high, I will stop reading.

            +1. I’ve spent most of the past decade in academia in some form or another, so I’ve come across plenty of left/liberal academics, and I don’t feel like Bret’s political posts are really saying anything that I haven’t heard many times before. What I haven’t heard many times before is illuminating, insightful, well-written analysis of history and how it’s (mis)represented in pop culture, so I am motivated to come and read Bret’s historical posts.

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          2. My own view is that the political and politics-adjacent content comes from the same brain as the historical content, and is worth a hearing.

            The reason an atmospheric scientist knows how to build models that predict weather and track the progress of hurricanes?

            Is the same reason said atmospheric scientist believes in global warming and is convinced that it’s a dire nation-shaking threat that merits trillion-dollar solutions.

            If some say that the first is “good science” and the second is “just political controversy,” it says more about them and their beliefs than it does about the researcher and *their* beliefs.

            The reason a historian can cut through the propaganda surrounding Fremenized “fierce, virile, warlike barbarians” and “decadent” Romans to observe the real military track record of the Roman state and how the Fremen myth is a myth?

            Is the same reason said historian views certain political developments as alarming, and certain historical trends as being, on the whole, bad for the general public.

            The historical analysis and the political analysis come from the same brain; a man as capable as Dr. Devereaux of questioning received wisdom and providing detailed, fact-based analysis of history does not *usually* become a gullible incompetent who merely parrots the received wisdom on other matters.

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          3. The historical analysis and the political analysis come from the same brain; a man as capable as Dr. Devereaux of questioning received wisdom and providing detailed, fact-based analysis of history does not *usually* become a gullible incompetent who merely parrots the received wisdom on other matters.

            In the first place, pointing out historical errors in films or computer games isn’t the same thing as questioning the moral/political worldview of your colleagues, bosses, and social class, and a willingness to do the former doesn’t equate to a willingness to do the latter.

            In the second place, when it comes to running a society, “received wisdom” often has that status because it’s what works, and rejecting it in favour of supposedly more rational academic understanding has a fairly bad track record:

            Scott starts with the story of “scientific forestry” in 18th century Prussia. Enlightenment rationalists noticed that peasants were just cutting down whatever trees happened to grow in the forests, like a chump. They came up with a better idea: clear all the forests and replace them by planting identical copies of Norway spruce (the highest-lumber-yield-per-unit-time tree) in an evenly-spaced rectangular grid. Then you could just walk in with an axe one day and chop down like a zillion trees an hour and have more timber than you could possibly ever want.

            This went poorly. The impoverished ecosystem couldn’t support the game animals and medicinal herbs that sustained the surrounding peasant villages, and they suffered an economic collapse. The endless rows of identical trees were a perfect breeding ground for plant diseases and forest fires. And the complex ecological processes that sustained the soil stopped working, so after a generation the Norway spruces grew stunted and malnourished. Yet for some reason, everyone involved got promoted, and “scientific forestry” spread across Europe and the world.

            And this pattern repeats with suspicious regularity across history, not just in biological systems but also in social ones.

            Natural organically-evolved cities tend to be densely-packed mixtures of dark alleys, tiny shops, and overcrowded streets. Modern scientific rationalists came up with a better idea: an evenly-spaced rectangular grid of identical giant Brutalist apartment buildings separated by wide boulevards, with everything separated into carefully-zoned districts. Yet for some reason, whenever these new rational cities were built, people hated them and did everything they could to move out into more organic suburbs. And again, for some reason the urban planners got promoted, became famous, and spread their destructive techniques around the world.

            Ye olde organically-evolved peasant villages tended to be complicated confusions of everybody trying to raise fifty different crops at the same time on awkwardly shaped cramped parcels of land. Modern scientific rationalists came up with a better idea: giant collective mechanized farms growing purpose-bred high-yield crops and arranged in (say it with me) evenly-spaced rectangular grids. Yet for some reason, these giant collective farms had lower yields per acre than the old traditional methods, and wherever they arose famine and mass starvation followed. And again, for some reason governments continued to push the more “modern” methods, whether it was socialist collectives in the USSR, big agricultural corporations in the US, or sprawling banana plantations in the Third World.

            Traditional lifestyles of many East African natives were nomadic, involving slash-and-burn agriculture in complicated jungle terrain according to a bewildering variety of ad-hoc rules. Modern scientific rationalists in African governments (both colonial and independent) came up with a better idea – resettlement of the natives into villages, where they could have modern amenities like schools, wells, electricity, and evenly-spaced rectangular grids. Yet for some reason, these villages kept failing: their crops died, their economies collapsed, and their native inhabitants disappeared back into the jungle. And again, for some reason the African governments kept trying to bring the natives back and make them stay, even if they had to blur the lines between villages and concentration camps to make it work.

            https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/03/16/book-review-seeing-like-a-state/

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          4. @theoriginalmrx

            You seem to be curving around on yourself here.

            On the one hand, we have an extended defense of “received wisdom” and quotation of a long passage discussing why a naive rejection of traditional practices can make things worse (see James C. Scott).

            On the other hand, you are coming into this from a position of criticizing Dr. Devereaux for echoing ‘customary academic positions’ on political issues- that’s a paraphrase, but I think it’s a fair summary.

            The unifying idea here, to me, is the metaphor of Chesterton’s Fence: If you do not immediately understand why a thing is the way it is, do not immediately seek to destroy it, because its present state may reflect important truths you do not yet know. Chesterton put it like this:

            “…The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody…”

            But there is a catch that comes with accepting this premise.

            The tendency, which I see replicated here when criticizing academics for expressing “typical left-wing academic political biases,” is to behave as if it we do not need to fully understand why the academics believe these things. As if it is just coincidence that academics hold these views, or the product of some conspiracy. As if these beliefs are entirely uncorrelated with the fact that the people holding them are experts or have training in academic rigor.

            Which is of course a very good way to say “aha, the experts don’t say what I want them to, but that’s because the experts are fools!”

            ….

            But then we come back to Chesterton’s Fence. Because you see, educated people are no more prone to being sleepwalkers or escaped lunatics than anyone else.

            If the people most educated in fields like psychology, history, political science, and so on all turn out to be very concerned at the rise of a violent political movement, maybe there is a reason for that.

            Either their credentials make their opinions at least worthy of a hearing, or they do not.

            If they do, then we must seriously consider the hypothesis that maybe they have arrived at their political views through the sort of analysis and good thinking that they might apply to their work, This then requires us to engage with their thinking on its merits rather than simply dismissing it as “typical academic leftism.”

            If they don’t, then we must question why they should be assumed to know anything about anything, in which case there is very little room left to respect their scholarship more generally.

            For the same reason that if all the Tanzanian farmers tell you not to grow crops a particular way in Tanzania, you should probably listen to them… Well, if all the humanities professors are telling you something about culture or society, you should probably take them seriously. They may be wrong, but they probably didn’t just somehow pick up that opinion through random magical nonsense.

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          5. Chesterton’s Fence is about an existing fence. The academics are people who come along and say that a fence here would be good.

            They lack exactly the real world experience that would give us reason to give credence to their opinions except for the thing they got the credentials for. (And it’s an observation as old as Plato’s Apology of Socrates that people mistake specialist knowledge for general wisdom.)

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          6. On the other hand, you are coming into this from a position of criticizing Dr. Devereaux for echoing ‘customary academic positions’ on political issues- that’s a paraphrase, but I think it’s a fair summary.

            I wasn’t actually criticising him for echoing customary academic positions, just saying that I’ve heard them before and so have no reason to read them again.

            The tendency, which I see replicated here when criticizing academics for expressing “typical left-wing academic political biases,” is to behave as if it we do not need to fully understand why the academics believe these things. As if it is just coincidence that academics hold these views, or the product of some conspiracy. As if these beliefs are entirely uncorrelated with the fact that the people holding them are experts or have training in academic rigor.

            Firstly, the exact same arguments could have been made in favour of the people mentioned in Seeing Like A State — “These people are experts and have training in scientific rigour, if they all think that we should divide our farms into evenly-sized rectangular grids there must be a reason for that, it’s not as if they’re likely to all be in hock to some kind of evenly-sized-rectangular-grids conspiracy.” And yet, these people were wrong.

            Secondly:

            “Participants answered four questions assessing their stated
            willingness to discriminate against conservatives. The first
            two questions asked whether, when a participant was reviewing a grant application or paper, a feeling that it took a “politically conservative perspective” would negatively influence
            the decision to award the grant or accept the paper for publication. The third asked whether the participant would be reluctant to invite “a colleague who is generally know to be
            politically quite conservative” to participate in a symposium
            (on an unspecified topic). The fourth question asked whether,
            in choosing between two equally qualified job candidates for
            one job opening, the participant would be inclined to vote for
            the more liberal candidate (over the conservative). For each of
            these four questions, respondents also indicated whether they
            thought that other members of their department would be willing to discriminate against conservatives. All responses were
            on seven-point scales (1 = Not at all, 4 = Somewhat, 7 = Very
            much). For each question, means differed significantly from 1,
            and a substantial percentage of respondents chose the scale
            midpoint (Somewhat) or above (see Table 2). Furthermore,
            the more liberal respondents were, the more they said they were
            willing to discriminate against conservatives on each question”

            Click to access political_diversity.pdf

            This study looked into psychologists, but nothing I’ve either read about or experienced in person leads me to expect that it would be any different in the humanities. It’s not really surprising that people who are discriminated against in academia should be less well-represented among academics.

            Liked by 1 person

  18. I would say that the Army does have a place in East Asia as you still need them to hold ground. Current emphasis is on longer range artillery (70km+) and combined arms. Briefings I have seen on the theater (a couple years old at this point) always combined China and North Korea. There is definitely a need for the Army from that viewpoint.

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    1. The US is at such a significant disadvantage compared to China in any land war in Asia that trying to establish “ability to hold ground” at their expense by spending on the Army sounds like a good way to pass the point of diminishing returns.

      Eliminating the Army from the picture entirely would be unwise, but historically for the past forty years, it has been the US Navy, Air Force, and nuclear arsenal that are most relevant to American military deployment practices and ambitions in East Asia, whereas the Army and Marines are far more relevant in the Middle East where we show more predisposition to leave ‘boots on the ground’ for long periods of time.

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      1. If you are talking about occupying mainland China then yes we are at a rather large numerical disadvantage. However at point one side or the other will have gone nuclear so it will be a different story.

        In Korea though it is definitely the Army that has the lead. The focus was more on Korea than mainland China though I wouldn’t be surprised if Taiwan is now a major concern. I would expect the Army to play a major roll there as well.

        When the EM railgun was going strong the land based version was slated for Guam as it was the closest we could get it to China. The Army is still focusing on long range artillery with programs such as ERCA and SLRC. Artillery with ranges beyond 70km is almost here.

        There is also a big push for combined arms and automated systems. The lines between one service ends and the next starts is getting more blurred by the day.

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  19. What about history of times and places where there were no humans? I know the techniques have to be pretty different. Are these topics covered entirely outside history departments by a non-overlapping group of researchers?

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    1. Periods where there were no humans–indeed periods where there were no metal-using humans–are mostly covered by paleologists, not historians nor even archaeologists. Oddly, to me, arche in Greek means “beginning,” and “palae” just means “of old,” so you would think archeology covered periods before paleology, but in fact in fact it’s the reverse for the two scholarly disciplines.

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  20. A minor paradox. You’ve now told me that there were about 7,200 in the Greek coalition army at Thermopylae. But you’re writing about 2,500 years after the event and so are even less likely to have accurate first hand account available to you. You’ve helpfully cited your sources and outlined the process you used to gave them, so I do know your immediate sources at least.So let’s consider viewpoint. Your objective is to show how these evaluations are done, so I should expect you to be somewhat critical, and you have multiple sources, so naturally you’re inclined to use all the sources available to you, otherwise your discussion would be less informative. Furthermore, from other writings by the same author I suspect he “hate[s] Sparta. A lot. [He is] on record on this point.” He seems to hate Spartiates especially, so he would find some satisfaction in outnumbering the Spartiate contribution by that of the Perioikoi.

    Please nobody take the above seriously.

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  21. Are you at all considering delving into the books the Master and Commmander film on the topic of doctrine? If I understand doctrine as a concept, there is some of (Patrick O’Brian’s writing perhaps indirectly about) it in all of the books. The one that sticks out to me at the moment is the the battle with Linois in _HMS Suprise_ involving all the Indiamen.

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  22. ‘…Now when I say ‘sources’ fundamentally, I mean texts…’
    So what about Roman settlements like Herculaneum buried by a volcanic eruption, or the extensive interviews men and women who say that they’re historians like Laurence Rees carried out with WW2 veterans and other survivors? Do these not count as sources, because they are not written down?

    (Rather interestingly I think, Laurence Rees mentions in his opening sections to his book ‘Hitler and Stalin’ accounts by men turned over to Tito in 1945 which were contradicted by an Allied report of how they were treated. When Laurence Rees was fortunate enough to track down the writer of the report (still alive, fortunately) and to question him, the writer of the report explained that he had had orders from above to lie about how the men were treated, and that he tried to be as ironic as possible to make it clear what he was doing…)

    Not sure if it’s visible outside the UK, but there was a sample section of the Laurence Rees book available to me here: https://www.google.co.uk/books/edition/Hitler_and_Stalin/21bODwAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&printsec=frontcover#spf=1611370524164

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    1. “even what we might think of as physical evidence (like archaeological artifacts, or – where relevant – scientific data and studies) comes to the historian mediated by texts (like an archaeologist’s site report, or a scientist’s peer-reviewed paper).”

      Most historians on ancient Rome are probably reading the reports on the Herculaneum site rather than personally visiting it and interpreting the physical evidence. Historians on the 20th century are probably more likely to interpret the physical evidence themselves.

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      1. Which comes across to me as ‘NOTHING MATTERS UNLESS IT HAS BEEN WRITTEN BY SOMEONE’.
        It’s late at night here, and I’ll come back and have another look with fresh eyes tomorrow, but I am disturbed by a sense I’m getting (perhaps erroneously) that ‘real’ historians only accept text as materials of any significance to proceed from.

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        1. I read it more as, unless a historian is personally interviewing people (a la WPA historians talking to former slaves), the medium they research in is text. It’s not because things that aren’t written down are unimportant but because historians typically don’t do field work.

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          1. A lot of historians do oral history. We had a whole training course in my PhD program, though obviously not relevant to my subfield. But an interview, once conducted, is also a text. Understand, a text might be writing, but it might also be artwork or a song.

            In practice, we work with texts because texts are the things which remain after a historical period has passed, almost by definition.

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        2. Artifacts require a whole level of reading before they reach the readability of texts.

          Like the Scandanavian ship burial of two women, one with a broken collar bone, which was interpreted as a grave offering up to the day when someone looked at the collar bone and realized that whatever injury had inflicted it, it had been sufficient before death that the bone had had time to start healing

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        3. It’s more that it’s not the job of the historian to interpret that, but to other specialists (archeologists mainly, though there are other disciplines) historains can then take the texts produced by those specialists and interpret them.

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    2. We’re historians, not archaeologists. The evidence from Herculaneum is extremely valuable, but by and large the folks digging it out are archaeologists – that’s a specialized task – and as historians we are reading and processing the data they generate, which comes to us in the form of a site report.

      That said, go to any archaeology conference – I got to the US’s largest one pretty much every year – and you will see any number of papers that are “Reading as a Text” so it is important to keep in mind here that the meaning of ‘text’ in this context is broader than in common usage.

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      1. Thanks for the reply. At this point my instinct is that you seem to me to be saying that real historians do not research; they review and criticise – which is why there is a clear-cut distinction between ‘archaeologist’ (who researches) and ‘historian’ (who reads the archaeologist’s research).

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        1. It’s probably better explained that they work in different mediums: Historians certainly do research, but their research is in texts (widely interpreted) while archeologists deal with artifacts.

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    3. “extensive interviews men and women who say that they’re historians like Laurence Rees carried out with WW2 veterans and other survivors?”

      I can’t speak for how historians think about this, but as a researcher on management and innovation, working mainly qualitatively (that is, I do interviews, documents studies, observational studies) the adage is “it’s not data until its in writing”. The interview I did is not data until I have transcribed it. When I do coding, I code the transcript not the audio/video recording.

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  23. It’s very good to see that political fragmentation has already gotten to this point, am I the only one worried that the BLM “protests” have set a precedent for “acceptable” political violence.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I choose to believe that he is concerned because of the numerous incidents of nonviolent protestors being gassed, beaten, injured by projectile weapons fired by police, or shot or run over with cars by people who disagree with the Black Lives Matter protestors’ message.

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  24. Hey to anyone in the comments knowledgeable on the topic, where knights the mounted soldiers of feudal tenants (barons etc) or where they landed in and of themselves?
    For example William Marshal is considered England’s greatest knight but he’s also the 1st earl of Pembroke, did knight refer to the higher nobility as well?
    Where they maintained by a lord off of his land?
    Or did they manage the land themselves as the lowest form of nobility?

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    1. Originally, a knight was just someone who fought. This is why the Latin term for them was miles.

      As the Dark Ages receded and it became practical for merchants to gain influence through money, they developed a special ceremony, starting with dubbing and evolving into a more complex rite, to make a man a knight.* This is separate from titles of nobility. Princes were routinely knighted, and until they were knighted, they were not knights. Edward the Black Prince was created Duke of Cornwall years before he was knighted.

      On other hand, by the same token, a man who was knighted was not thereby made a noble. There were eras in which knights were granted lands — a knight’s fee, that is, a piece of land so small that its feudal duty was one knight — but others where nobles and knights kept them on as retainers for money or other payments.

      *With the result that a merchant incompetent at fighting could become a knight through the ceremony.

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      1. Honestly, I have some reservations regarding your claim that “a man who was knighted was not thereby made a noble”, as the concept of nobility is so flimsy and uncertain in the Middle Ages, and yet so strongly linked to war and knighthood: just think about Florence’s Ordinances of Justice, which define noble families as the ones who “have or had a knight in the last twenty years”. I don’t think that there could be any doubt about whether any son of the King of England, and especially its heir, was noble or not, regardless of its titles, landed dignity, or knightly status.
        The adoubement ceremony was also fully present in the XI century, certainly not a time where merchants were renowned for their influence…

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        1. “Noble” is even more variable in its meaning from one time and place and context to another than “knight.” Compare words like “gentleman” or, of more recent significance, “professional.”

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          1. Well, the issue here is that nowadays most people mistake the landed nobility for the ONLY kind of nobility.

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        2. When knights without titles were sent to Parliament, the House in which they sat was the House of Commons. They were not noble.

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          1. 1) First, you’re mistaking the landed nobility, i.e. the lay members of the House of Lords, for the only kind of nobility. They were (and are) not.
            2) Second, the “knights without titles” that sat in Parliament were actually called knights of the shire, but, despite their name, they didn’t actually need to be belted, i.e. real, knights, but they could purposedly be esquires or gentlemens. Just to make a very famous example, Chaucer sat in Parliament for Kent, but he was an esquire, not a knight.
            3) Third, the Parliament didn’t even have two Houses until 1341, therefore your logic doesn’t really hold. In fact, the two Houses began to be referred as Lords or Commons only in the reign of Henry VIII.
            4) Fourth and last, you’re making the (wrong) assumption that the House in which the knights of the shire sat in Parliament (after 1341, obviously) somehow constitutes a proof that medieval knights weren’t noble. However, even if it was, it would only be valid for England, in which case I have shocking news for you: England wasn’t the only country in Europe.

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          2. Paolo, you are massively over-expanding the context within which Mary is writing.
            Mary has been careful to specify that her examples are limited to medieval England in a particular period. From my own more limited knowledge, she is quite right.
            You are also quite right that this wasn’t universal across Europe, or even across England throughout the medieval period. But since Mary has never said that it was, I don’t understand why you are responding so forcefully.
            For example, your point 1) that landed nobility were not the only kind of nobility. Er yeah, who said otherwise? And for someone like me, who isn’t a specialist, if you write that there are other kinds of nobility, what are they? In what countries at what times?
            Your point 4) is just .. huh? Medieval knights weren’t noble? No, Medieval knights can be noble, but being knighted doesn’t automatically make you a noble in some countries at some times.Who said otherwise? England wasn’t the only country in Europe? Who claimed it was?

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          3. “When knights without titles were sent to Parliament, the House in which they sat was the House of Commons. They were not noble.”

            However, when you read of the Bonapartes as Corsican “nobility,” the word means more like what in England would be called “gentry.” They certainly did not have a hereditary title. As I said, the word means different things in different times and places and contexts.

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      2. I think there is a specific english tendency here to divide “nobility” into “Nobility” and “Gentry”, which does not hold for much of the rest of europe, and more importantly, was not really treated as anything other than a difference in terms: English gentry were considered members of the (low) nobility when on the continent, continental low-nobility tended to be afforded the status of gentry.

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  25. It takes a pretty heroic level of delusion to look at the past seventy or so years of US history and conclude that “the politics of the American State are not a wheel, but a ratchet, turning only rightwards”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So basically you’re saying that the kleptocrat barons disguised their influence and gave the vessel a pressure valve by… letting themselves *actually* be permanently overthrown?

      You can put bombastic rhetoric on a pig and it’s still a pig.

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    1. Yet it felt no encumberances weighing in when Trump was in power.

      Bret did, what, two political posts during the four years of Trump’s presidency? Not exactly the output of someone who felt “no encumbrance weighing in”.

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  26. Bret Devereaux discusses contemporary politics on his Twitter feed. I’m sure that like many/all of us he also discusses politics with his family, with his friends, with his colleagues.
    But this blog is not about politics, just as the 20th (mostly) C naval YouTube channel he recommends isn’t about politics, just as the forum I visit to discuss Australian tabletop/freeform roleplaying games isn’t about politics.
    It’s not like this is the ONLY discussion forum on the Internet. If you think the commenters (commentatoriat?) here would be interested in your views, an invitation “hey people, over we’re having a discussion you might like” would work.

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  27. scifihughf@

    Honestly, I don’t see where Mary specified that her discourse is limited to England in a particular period, especially as the OP’s question was rather general and not tied to a specific time and place. The only chronological reference she makes, and please feel free to correct me, is ” as the Dark Ages receded”, which is anything but precise.

    Rather than landed nobility, I should have said “titled nobility”: not being a native speaker these slips of the tongue, may happen, I’m sorry. But you can clearly see that Mary seems to consider titled nobility as the ony kind of nobility, as she twice refers to titles as being essential. Which is obviously wrong, given that it is not the case even today in the UK.
    I state my case that in the Middle Ages the concept of nobility was far from being well-defined, even if strongly connected to knighthood, familiy and personal mores; the Emperor Frederick II, asked what nobility was, allegedly gave the rather vague answer that it consisted in “ancient wealth and beautiful manners”.
    Please feel free to correct me if you can find an exact definition of nobility in the Middle Ages, in England or otherwise.

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        1. I think they’d generally be considered nobles. They’re not Peers of the Realm, which is why they don’t sit in the House of Lords, but they’re still members of the (minor) nobility.

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          1. They would have been considered nobles in the 4 estate system of society we had in Sweden from the high Middle Ages until the middle of the 19th century. To say that a knight didn’t belong to the estate of nobles because he wasn’t landed high aristocracy, would be like saying a priest didn’t belong to the estate of clergy because ha wasn’t a bishop.

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          1. My reasoning is as circular as yours is, with the only difference that at least it’s not factually wrong.

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  28. That some people would wrongly consider them to be noble shows people don’t know what “noble” means.

    Then please enlighten us, and give us a clear-cut definition of nobility in the Middle Ages. I made the same request before, but apparently to give non-evasive answers is not in your style.

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    1. By the way, I apologise for my aggressiveness. Sometimes I get carried, and end up being more brusque than I would be in person.

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    2. There is no such as thing as a clear-cut definition of nobility in the Middle Ages, since it covers a large chunk of a continent over several hundred years. (And that’s even assuming you can define what the “Middle Ages” are.)

      However, at most times in most western European countries of this period the people themselves strongly believed that there were “nobles” and “commoners” and it was difficult to change from one to another.

      England had the house of lords and the house of commons within Parliament. The names might change, but there was always a clear distinction between who had the rights to sit in one or the other. The idea that a “noble” might choose to sit in the house of commons instead would have been usually unthinkable.

      France in the 14th century had the Estates General. And nobles had a very clear idea of themselves as distinct. Barbara Tuchman in “A Distant Mirror” gives the example of a noble baby being forced to vomit by the parents after being breastfed by a “commoner” woman.

      So there’s no clear-cut definition that always works, but at any time and place most people would be able to answer “so-and-so is a noble” or “so-and-so is not” quite easily.

      As to “evasive answers”, this is a discussion forum, not an academic paper review. So the style tends to be conversational, with less detail and no references. Not to mention frequently wandering off topic 🙂

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      1. There is no such as thing as a clear-cut definition of nobility in the Middle Ages, since it covers a large chunk of a continent over several hundred years. (And that’s even assuming you can define what the “Middle Ages” are.)

        That’s exactly what I’ve been arguing ! For our purposes though, I’d narrow the options to 1000-1500 CE in Western Europe. Only a trifle, I know 😉

        England had the house of lords and the house of commons within Parliament.

        Not until 1341. What about before then ?

        The names might change, but there was always a clear distinction between who had the rights to sit in one or the other.

        Yes, the titled nobility; but again, titled nobles were (and are) not the only nobles in existence.

        The idea that a “noble” might choose to sit in the house of commons instead would have been usually unthinkable.

        Why ? Knights (and esquires, etc) could sit in the Commons: were they noble or not ? I’d argue that they commonly were held so, and so do all mediaevalists that I could quote on this point (Duby, Flori, Viguer, Barbero, Donati are those which I remember by memory alone). In order to seriously claim that in Late Medieval England knights were not noble, I’d say that at the very least someone should quote a primary source which unequivocally states that.

        at any time and place most people would be able to answer “so-and-so is a noble” or “so-and-so is not” quite easily.

        Yes, but only because they shared an idea of what being noble meant, not because there was a precise definition, legal or otherwise. I cited before Frederick II and the Ordinances of Florence; I’ll also cite Dante, who held himself a noble since one of his ancestors had been knighted by the emperor Konrad II.
        I realise that they’re all examples more or less related to Italy, but hey! that’s obviously the field in whose sources I have first-hand knowledge, plus they do explicitly contradict the previous statements from Mary.

        As to “evasive answers”, this is a discussion forum, not an academic paper review. So the style tends to be conversational, with less detail and no references.

        Forgive me, but there’s a difference between a conversational style and an evasiveness bordering on baiting. If someone makes a claim, even in a discussion forum, I’d expect him/her to back it up with evidence. But I admit that I can be quite polemical…

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        1. I think Paolo is more right here. There were the great landowners, often titled, indisputably noble. Then lesser landowners, and then those with a claim by ancestry or service (was the third son of a minor landowner, in service to a ruler, a noble? He would claim so. His son? Maybe. His grandson? Probably not.) Many French nobles were rich peasants with some claim to the right ancestry, some Polish ‘nobles’ claim to nobility was the right to wear a sword – but they could only afford a wooden one.

          Then there were the service nobility – the technically unfree ministeriales in Germany, or the households of Hungarian or Kievan rulers, and the upper classes of fringe areas (Wales, Ireland, Scandinavia, the Balkans…) who drifted in and made good. At the lower end, ‘noble’ status – whatever thet meant locally – was something you claimed and others acknowledged, and a good pedigree was easy to find if you had the money and connections….

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          1. The HRE is not my field, but I’ve always found the ministeriales to be incredibly fascinating: the idea of unfree knights and lords that were both serfs and nobles is mind-blowing.

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  29. With regard to the promised forthcoming ‘universal warrior’, 2nd edition AD&D had optional rules for weapons and armour where weapons were categorised as ‘slashing’, ‘bludgeoning’, and/or ‘piercing’, and different armour types were more effective against different types of weapon. (I think the Lucerne Hammer looked a good melee option on the weapon tables, at least in terms of it could be used for either piercing or bludgeoning damage, thereby having a good range of different armour types it was effective against.)

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    1. I recall such optional rules even earlier than that, in one of the supplements to the little brown books. And that non one used them because they were considered too much of a pain to use. An early case of the realism versus playability debate.

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      1. Worked a treat in the first PC ‘Baldur’s Gate’ computer game from Black Isle, mind you, where the game did all the combat calculations for you. I had a light-bulb ‘ding’ moment, where I realised I should be using particular weapons against one of the mini-bosses in full plate armour (I think it was the guy in charge in the main Bandit Camp near the bridge into Baldur’s Gate), who was proving a right pain, until I switched to stuff which worked well against full plate armour.

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        1. it’s one of those weird places where it works much better on a computer that can do all the looking up at tables for you automatically :p

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