It’s become a tradition here on the Margins that I use my first blog post of the year to share the historical topics that I plan on spending time with in the coming year. It’s a way to put my thoughts in order, not quite as grand as setting goals but more involved that setting up the next month in my bullet journal.* I hope it piques your interest or starts you thinking about the direction your own history-nerdery may take in 2020.
The last two years brought no surprises: I was focused on Women Warriors.** And I will continue to spend time on Women Warriors. The paperback edition is coming out at the end of February, which will generate a certain amount of “My Book!” here and there. And I have some related events already on my calendar.***
But much as I love Women Warriors, it’s time to broaden my history-nerd horizons. Here are some of the topics I expect to spend time on in the coming year:
- It seems like every week or so reports about new archaeological discoveries of what appear to be women warriors—or at least new interpretations of old discoveries—show up in my email in-box. I want to spend some time with this. (Does this surprise you?)
- I’m wading into Weimar Germany, which was much more complicated than the popular image of it as bawdy, creative, and decadent. (Thought it was all those things.) It was also marked by a growing economic crisis and a series of violent political conflicts including the Sparticist revolt of 1919, the unsuccessful Kapp Putsch of 1920, and Hitler’s equally unsuccessful Beer Hall Putsch in 1923. This is new territory for me. I look forward to having you keep me company as I explore it.
- Women’ history in general. I’m doing a second round of mini-interviews with people who are doing exciting work in the field for Women’s History Month in March. It’s going to be Big Fun.
- The suffragist movement in particular, because we’re coming up on the big anniversary of American women getting the right to vote. With perhaps a look at some of the other ways women pushed through closed doors in the early nineteenth century. For instance, the fight to make American women’s citizenship independent from that of their fathers or husbands. (That sounds like it would be obvious, right?)
If I’m lucky, something totally unexpected will catch my attention. Or maybe I’ll figure out what I wanted to know about the development of the toy industry. I’ll keep you posted.
As far as the next decade goes, who knows. I hope to travel with My Own True Love and write blog posts about those travels, write a few more books, and talk to a lot of history buffs in real life and on podcasts. That’s enough of a plan for now.
What historical rabbit holes are on your list for 2020?
*I came to the bullet journal concept reluctantly, but now I’m a convert. After decades of trying to force my thoughts about time organization onto to pre-printed planners, I can now build a page that does exactly what I need/want it to do. Heaven! But I digress.
**Though I will admit that I am baffled by the fact that I expected to spend time on the development of the toy industry in 2019. I have no idea what I had in mind. Whatever it was, it clearly didn’t happen.
***For that matter, I’m also still doing speaking gigs related to Heroines of Mercy Street. Like it or not, book promotion is part of a writers’ job these days. Because people can’t read a book they don’t know exists.
You can find details about where I’ll be and when on the events page of this blog. (If you’re reading this as an email, click the heading and it will take you to the browser.) I also list coming events on each edition of my newsletter, which comes out twice a month and has different content than the blog. You can sign up for it here: http://eepurl.com/dIft-b
My Own True Love and I are setting off on another holiday adventure. I don’t plan on writing blog posts while I’m away. (Unless I come across something that you need to know RIGHT NOW! Which is always possible. There is a lot of history out there.) But I’ll be back on January 3 with more historical stuff for your amazement and amusement.
In the meantime, have a merry/jolly/happy/blessed time as you celebrate the victory of light over darkness in the tradition of your choice.
Now if you’ll excuse me I need to make a list and check it twice. (Actually, I have three lists, but who’s counting?)
I almost decided not to do a podcast looking at 1919, even though it has been on my editorial calendar* since roughly this time last year. My friend Elizabeth Lunday is doing an amazing job looking at 1919 in detail and from many different directions on her podcast The Year That Was. It is living up to my expectations, which were high indeed.
In the end, however, I couldn’t quite walk away from it. I had so many notes. And it was such a critical year. Instead of bringing peace, the end of the war to end all wars left unresolved conflict in many forms its wake. This is probably true of all wars, now that I think about it, but it happened on an unprecedented scale after World War In the aftermath of the war, people attempted to rebuild the world, and tore it apart in the process.
The most obvious example of this was the Versailles Peace Conference, which began in January 1919 and officially ended in 1920. The treaty produced at the conference:
- Gutted Germany economically and emotionally, contributing to the rise of the Nazi party and the violence of World War II
- Dismembered the the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires
- Divided up the Middle East, creating a political puzzle that continues to baffle diplomats
(It is worth remembering that the United States did not sign the Versailles Treaty. Instead we signed a separate treaty with Berlin because the Senate would not ratify our inclusion in the League of Nations, which was also a product of the peace conference.)
In addition to a seriously flawed peace treaty, the end of the war left many people with unrealized expectations about social changes. The failure of those expectations to materialize resulted in violence, often at the hands of those who did not want social change to occur. Some examples:
- Indian nationalists expected to received self-rule on the dominion model in recognition for their support of the British empire in the war. Instead they got repressive laws and the Amritsar Massacre at the hands of a twitchy British brigadier-general
- A similar combination of high hopes and toxic backlash resulted in the Red Summer of 1919 in the United States. Black soldiers came home to an atmosphere of increased racial tension fueled by competition for jobs and housing, white fears of black upward mobility and black discontent with the state of civil rights. Face with anti-Black race riots, they fought back.
- Uprisings began in Germany in November, 1918, just as the war ended. Sailors mutinied at Kiel. The army’s brutal suppression of the mutiny set off a series of strikes and military rebellions that spread across the country, culminating in the left-wing Spartacist uprising in January 1919. The revolution was put down by force with the help of Freikorps volunteer militias, which had been formed by returning soldiers with support from the army. Heavily armed militia units retook the public buildings that the revolutionaries and previously seized and shot hundred of the demonstrators, including those who had already surrendered.
Here are a few other high or low points from 1919 that I’ve spent some time thinking about:
- • The Great Boston Molasses Flood occurred on January 15. It sounds funny, until you picture the reality of 2 million tons of molasses pouring at 35 miles an hour through a busy commercial district in Boston in the middle of the day. The fifteen-foot high wave killed 21 people, injured 150 more, snapped supports that held up an elevated train and smashed buildings. The company that owned the faulty molasses tank tried to blame anarchists—the early twentieth century equivalent of blaming terrorists. In fact, it turned out that shoddy construction was to blame—leading many states to pass laws requiring that engineers and architects approve plans for major construction projects. Building permits have a purpose beyond plumping up municipal coffers.
- On January 16, Nebraska ratified the 18th Amendment, prohibiting the sale of “intoxicating liquors” , completing the ratification process. The Amendment didn’t include a process for implementing the ban: that came with the passage of the Volstead Act on October 28, 1919. Prohibition went into effect with a roar on January 17, 1920, and stayed in effect until the amendment was repealed in 1933.
- On June 4, 1919, Congress approved the 19th amendment for women’s suffrage—something I guarantee you’ll be hearing more about here on the Margins throughout 2020.
- Walter Gropius established the Weimar School of Design in Weimar, later known as the Bauhaus School, laying the foundation for the International Style of architecture, described as “less is more” or “less is bore” depending on your personal taste.
Obviously this isn’t a comprehensive list. Do you have a “favorite” event from 1919 that I’ve left out?
*Editorial calendar is a rather grand term for a rough list of ideas and where they might fit. But it is useful. In the case of today’s blog post, for example, I have been making notes on my Scrivener document as and when things cross my path.