The rise of the Maurya Empire 322BCE-232BCE

As part of this month’s challenge to write about a period or place that is out of our comfort zone, I have chosen to write about the rise of the Maurya Empire in ancient India. As I predominantly write about British or American history, the researching and writing of this post was something completely new to me. Therefore, I hope that you enjoy this post and that it gives you an insight into a fascinating period of history.

The Maurya Empire (322BCE-185BCE) began under the Maurya dynasty and would in a time, cover modern-day India and parts of modern-day Pakistan and modern-day Afghanistan. Also, apart from the extreme south, the Maurya Empire was the first empire to unite India under a single dynasty, thereby making this a very important period when looking at the history of India. Rising soon after the withdrawal of Alexander the Great’s troops from the Indus Valley in 325BCE, the small kingdom of Magadha in north-eastern India (modern-day Bihar and Bengal) was a part of the much larger Nanda Empire to the west. The first ruler of the Maurya Empire was Chandragupta Maurya, who from 322/1BCE waged guerrilla war against the Nanda Empire. The Nanda Empire ranged from north-east India at Pundravardhana to Bharkaccha on the north-west coast, essentially the northern part of India reaching the Himalayan mountain range. The Nanda Empire ended with the capture of the Nanda capital at Pataliputra in 321BCE and the succession of Chandragupta Maurya after the submission of the king of Nanda, Dhana.

The next phase of the empire’s rise was the conflict between the newly formed Maurya Empire and the Greek kingdoms/empires left by Alexander the Great. In 317BCE Maurya conquered Taxila, the capital of Punjab from the satrap of Media, Piethon, bringing him to the attention of other Greek generals further west. The next test for the Maurya Empire was the stable Greek kingdom under General Seleucus I as he tried to re-conquer the territory that Alexander had held west of the Indus Valley. The brief war in 305-303/2BCE ended in a peace treaty between the two powers, though Chandragupta Maurya was able to gain large areas of territory in what is now modern-day Afghanistan and Pakistan. Maurya also married a Greek general’s daughter as a sign of the alliance. This peace treaty allowed Chandragupta to unite the Indus Valley and Ganges Valley under the Maurya dynasty.

The conquest of central of India would be left to Chandragupta’s son and grandson. Bindusara inherited his father’s empire in 298BCE and set about conquering central India, expanding as far south as Karnataka. Bindusara’s son Ashoka continued the expansion with the addition of Kalinga in 261BCE and put down many of the revolts that had started under Bindusara. Whilst the reigns of Chandragupta and Bindusara had been about conquest and expansion, (Ashoka reign was also partially filled with some of the worst fighting and civilian deaths at Kalinga 262-261BCE) Ashako’s reign ushered in 40 years of peace. Therefore, the conquest of India was complete and the empire survived until the long decline after Ashako’s death in 232BCE.

Whilst it would appear that the Maurya Empire was formed by conquest and destruction, the empire also ushered in many changes for Indian history. Firstly, Buddhism flourished under the reign of the Maurya dynasty, particularly under Ashoka and missionaries were sent to the regions in south India and across ancient Asia. Trade routes within India also improved and agriculture became the main economic factor in the wealth of the Maurya administration. Furthermore, the empire built an effective military and civil administration under Chanakya, the tutor and prime minister of Chandragupta and unified India under one dynasty. Therefore, the Maurya Empire has a prominent place in the history of India and is still part of the cultural traditions of modern-day India today.

Portraits of Native Americans by George Catlin

In this week’s blog post I am going to look at the work of George Catlin, a nineteenth century artist and writer who painted and interacted with Native Americans along the advancing American frontier. I want to establish how easy or difficult the task was, how events and opinions forming in the background affected the response and overall meaning of the Native American portraits and what legacy he left to contemporary Native Americans and historians. Firstly though I will provide some context as to who George Catlin was and investigate his aims and personal feelings in his travels.

George Catlin (1796-1872) was an American-born artist from Pennsylvania. He had originally begun training to become a lawyer in 1817 but soon became interested in being an artist through meeting Thomas Sully, a prominent American portraitist during this period. During the 1830s, Catlin undertook five trips beyond the western frontier in land that was influenced by American/European culture but had yet to become American territory. The aim of George Catlin’s work, and the later touring exhibitions, was to record the daily lives, rituals, and social dynamics of the various Native American groups across central and western North America. Catlin wanted to do this by painting the portraits of Native American individuals and groups, by collecting different artefacts and by publishing his writing on his interaction with those individuals he observed. Catlin assembled his collection for his “Indian Gallery” exhibition that toured in the eastern states from 1833 to 1839. The exhibition contained over 500 portraits of cultural activity and items used in daily life and ritual.

Painting and collecting was no easy task and from the beginning there were issues that had to be taken into account. Firstly, whilst the Native Americans that Catlin met were not in American territory, they would have more than likely had met Christian missionaries and traders as well as land speculators. As Stephanie Pratt and Joan Carpenter Troccoli suggest; ‘It is important that we remember the context, for Catlin’s desire to record Native American culture before it was contaminated or destroyed was inevitably too ambitious.’ [1] By collecting and presenting these portraits and artefacts, Catlin would have also had made a name for himself. However, his fame and career did not always pick up, as what began as a success slowly turned in debt and bankruptcy. Catlin’s time touring in Europe from 1840 to 1855 and then 1860 to 1871 did bring a measure of success and his work was shown to various important figures of the time such as Queen Victoria in 1843 and King Louis-Philippe in 1845. It is also worth noting that during his European tours, a group of Ojibwa Indians also joined Catlin’ tour and performed for audiences across England, France and Belgium. It would seem therefore that it was very difficult venture to pursue though Catlin appears to have made a good attempt at it.

This is not to say that the Native American people who Catlin painted and observed did not want to be recorded, it is just that many historians and Native Americans do not like the way and the reasons that it occurred. One of the main reasons for Catlin going on the trips was to record what he thought was the vanishing culture of North America. The cliché of the ‘Dying Indian’ was prominent during this period and Catlin appears to have been part of this opinion but rather than accept it, he in some sense wanted to save what he saw as a vanishing peoples. Literary works such as James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans (1826) is a good example of the idea of disappearing Indians from North America as seen in popular literature. Catlin’s work also had a place in the wider colonial narrative of the Euro-American world. As American colonists and Native Americans increasingly came into conflict with one another across the Great Plains, it could be said that many Americans only saw the warlike side of the Native Americans and nothing else.

So what was George Catlin’s legacy? After investigating his life and art work there seems to be various conclusions that we can make. On the one hand, the portraits and images created by Catlin produced many of the images and stereotypes that persist today about the vanishing native peoples of North America. By portraying the Native Americans as a lost culture, Catlin and many others were pushing the Indians from historical knowledge which put them in the past as opposed to the United States push west and into the future. On the other hand, Catlin’s desire to record what he saw before it vanished was a worthy goal, even if it was to a degree career and fame orientated. Catlin also looked past the popular stereotypes and saw a culture being destroyed by American contact, which he felt needed recording before it disappeared. Indeed, many of the portraits and paintings have also been useful to contemporary Native American tribes who use his work to further their understanding of their ancestors if it is needed. Therefore, whilst the portraits and writings of George Catlin have contributed to the image of a vanishing people, they also helped produce a visual history of the Native Americans that might not had existed without Catlin.

[1] S, Pratt and J, Troccoli., George Catlin, American Indian Portraits (London, 2013), 25.

Link below to the Smithsonian American Art Museum which holds the collection:

Recruitment to the British army during the First World War

As part of the First World War themed month here at WUHstry, I will be exploring recruitment to the British army during the First World War. The British army at the outbreak of the war numbered 700,000 whereas the German wartime army was over 3.7 million strong. To fight such a large-scale modern war Britain needed more men to stand and fight on the frontline and it was through recruitment that this was achieved. This post will explore the different methods of recruitment and ask why it appealed to so many on the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.

The first method of recruitment to the British army in the early months of the war was through voluntary recruitment. Many who volunteered saw it as their duty to enlist and defend the nation against the threat of invasion. This belief originated in the 19th century when the threat of invasion was present and volunteer forces were formed as home defence forces, ready to be mobilised at seconds notice. These home defence groups were primarily filled by middle-class men who were part of local groups and lived in the same counties. It was not just those in the volunteer forces that enlisted but also the general public. Between August 1914 and December 1915 over 2,400,000 men had voluntarily enlisted in the army. There were many reasons why so many men, both young and old joined the armed forces. Firstly, there was a degree of patriotic optimism that made many believe that the war would be over by Christmas and that they would be doing their duty for King and Country. Service in the army also brought new opportunities for those volunteering such regular pay, military standard living quarters and new travel experiences.

It was not just men aged between 19 and 65 that signed up to the army, indeed many under-aged boys also were recruited to the army. 250,000 young men volunteered for army service, all under the legal age of 19, this being the minimum age that a man could serve abroad. They joined for many of the same reasons that the rest of the volunteer forces did and in many cases they were allowed to do their patriotic duty. The boys would also lie about their age and recruitment officers did not always check for identification. Increasingly age checks were ignored as recruitment officers were paid based on how many men they recruited and many in British society were willing to allow the boys to fight and not stand in their way of doing their duty. The assumption was that the war would be over before any of them were to be sent into combat. It wasn’t until 1916 that the government allowed boys to come home if the parents proved that their son was under the age of 19.

However, by the beginning of 1915 the realities of war were setting in and the notion of total war was being applied to the conflict in Europe. As trench-based warfare turned the war into a conflict of attrition, the numbers of volunteers began to decline. Though the recruiting numbers were not what they were in 1914, just 100,000 recruits up till April 1915, conscription was still an idea that many, both politicians and the public did not want to see. Volunteering was still the main input into the army and continued through 1915 though with increasing calls for compulsive service as losses on the battlefield mounted up. Whilst the patriotic optimism present from the war’s outset was disappearing, peer pressure and patriotic posters and media continued to drive men to recruit. The various posters that were produced to get men to sign up both enforced their patriotic duty and made them question why they had not already volunteered.

As the war raged on, conscription increasingly began to be called for. The Derby Scheme in autumn 1915 was the last attempt to make recruitment to the armed forces voluntary. However, in July 1915 the wheels were already beginning to turn in conscription favour as the National Register revealed that 5,000,000 men aged between 15 and 65 were not in the forces, of which over 2,000,000 were single. By the end of the Derby Scheme the majority of single men had not signed up voluntarily to the armed forces making conscription inevitable. The Military Service Bill for compulsive service was passed through government on March 1916 allowing for conscription across the country. This first bill was aimed at single men aged between 18 and 41 though in May 1916 married men between the same ages were also conscripted to fight. Between March 1916 and March 1917 some 350,000 men were conscripted to the army and over 770,000 were granted exemption from conscription. Those exempted from service included those unfit for military service, the clergy, teachers and those working in heavy industry jobs. A man could also be exempt for moral reasons though they could be put in non-combat roles on the front line to deal with this. In total over 2,500,000 men had been conscripted to the army by the time of the end of the war, many never returning home.

Therefore, recruitment to the British Army for the frontline in Europe came in two stages, the voluntary period (1914-1916) and the conscription period (1916-1920). For many, military service was a new chapter in their lives though as most came to realise, war was not entirely about duty and patriotism but also death and destruction. Though conscription was brought in, both those who volunteered and those who were conscripted fought for our future and that is something that we should all be thankful for.

Edward Oxford, the man who almost killed Queen Victoria

As Britain longest reigning monarch, who would have thought that Queen Victoria’s life could have been ended so early in her reign in 1840? Only three years before had she been announced Queen on the turn of her eighteenth birthday, freeing herself from the control of her Controller of her household Sir John Conway. However one event in 1840 brought the prospect of an early death to Queen Victoria as this was the year that the first of eight assassination attempts was put on her life.

The assassination attempt that I am going to look at in this blog update is the attempt by Edward Oxford (later known as John Freeman) conducted on 10 June 1840. The main focus of this update is to look at the man at the centre of the event, Edward Oxford and understand why he did it and what happened next.

Edward came from a family where there were problems in the family dynamic. Born in 1822, Edward was born in Birmingham and was the third of seven children. His mother was Hannah Marklew, a daughter of a respectable family from the Midlands, whilst his father George Oxford was from less known roots. George Oxford was employed as a gold-chaser, one of the best according to the sources and in 1818 married Hannah. The issue was that he convinced Hannah to marry him by saying that he would shoot himself if she didn’t. They married in secret and had their first child soon after. However, like his father John, George was prone to fits of anger and spent the family’s money whenever he wanted including a four-month trip to Dublin where he wasted his money in pubs. Edwards father died in 1829, leaving Edward in the care of his maternal grandfather, though he was back with his mother soon enough. He moved about a lot during his childhood, often changing schools in succession as teachers grew more frustrated with his behaviour. It was also at this point that he began displaying the same mood swings as his father and grandfather, particularly in regard to his attitude towards life. Some historians have commented that this attitude and his belief that people saw him as less than others contributed to him attempting to assassinate the Queen. One possible reason for the attempt is believed to be to so that he could gain attention for himself, which he certainly did, and to become a person whom society would remember.

The attempt on Victoria’s life ended as soon as it began. Edward fired two shots, both which missed the Queen and Prince Albert whilst they were travelling through Constitution Hill near Hyde Park and had been disarmed immediately, surrendering to the police to face the consequence of his actions. After multiple interviews, while also uncovering his place in a secret society called the ‘Young England’, Edward was to be tried under the Treason Act of 1351. His trial was set for 9 July 1840 with Edwards’s defence being led by Mr Sydney Taylor with the aim of defeating the treason charge. After much deliberation and witness interviewing, the jury found Edward not guilty on the grounds of insanity. On 18 July Edward was moved from Newgate Gaol to Bethlem Hospital in Southwark and secured in the criminally insane wing, which at the time had around 400 inmates. Whilst the conditions were poor by today’s standards, Edward quickly understood his environment and set out to make the most of it. He took opportunities to learn new languages and skills that would serve him well in his later life. However, when the criminal wing in Bethlem was closed in 1864 Edward was moved to Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum in Berkshire.

The next stage of his life began three years later when Edward was released on the condition that he never return to England and live out the rest of his days in the colonies. Arriving in Melbourne, Australia in February 1868, Edward changed his name to John Freeman and quickly set about making a new life for himself. Using the skills learnt at Bethlem, Edward began as a house painter though shortly rose within the ranks of society taking every new opportunity for better jobs and meeting in the process many important friends. Edward married a young woman in 1881, Miss Jane Bowen and together they lived in multiple classy homes in some of the best areas of Melbourne. During this time Edwards learning skills also improved and as a result of this, his wrote a book Lights and Shadows of Melbourne Life in 1888. John Freeman died in 1900 at the age of 78, with no one the wiser as to whom he really was and what he had almost done.

To summarise, Edward Oxford’s attempt on Queen Victoria’s life was to first of many assassination attempt and like the rest failed to kill the monarch. Barrie Charles concludes that Edward was a genius in the way that he managed to cleverly do the things he did and survive to live a relatively good life in Australia. I think that though Edwards’s upbringing certainly played a part in the affair, it seems that Edward knew what he was doing and knew the consequences for himself had he succeeded.


Barrie Charles., Kill the Queen!, The Eight Assassination Attempts on Queen Victoria (2012)
Antonia Fraser., The Lives of the Kings & Queens of England (2000).

Saburo Ienaga and the fight against Textbook Censorship

For this week’s blog update I am going to talk about the Japanese historian and educator Saburo Ienaga (1913-2002) and his lawsuits against the Japanese Ministry of Education (MOE) from 1965 to their climax in 1997. His struggle against textbook censorship was one of the most important social and political struggles in Post-war Japan and helped to introduce many post-war students and more widely, the Japanese public to the events and horrors committed by the Japanese military during the war. Therefore, in this post I will look at each of the three lawsuits and explain what each of them meant and examine whether they were successful in their aims and then finish with a conclusion.

To understand the textbook trials, I will firstly reveal a bit about Ienaga’s upbringing and his life before and during World War II. Ienaga was born in 1913 into a family of near poverty with his father serving as an officer in the army whilst Ienaga was growing up. Ienaga’s experience of school education left him firmly believing in democracy and world peace rather than Japan’s ‘uniqueness’. Ienaga did not speak out against the Japanese Government during the war as he felt that it would make the deaths of the Japanese soldiers meaningless. As for political stance, Ienaga was a Progressive or leaned more to the left side of politics and he also stood against state intervention in individual’s cultural and spiritual work. He summed up his position in a letter in March 1966; “I believe in the pride of Japan. But unlike some of the people in the Ministry of Education, I absolutely cannot endorse Emperor Jimmu, the Korean annexation and the Greater East Asia War as the “positive side” of Japanese history.” [1] Whilst Ienaga was part of the wider progressive movement it was through him that the Ministry of Education was challenged.

Ienaga’s history textbook the Shin Nihonshi (revised edition, first submitted in 1952) was rejected and revised over three times between 1955 and 1964. Because of this Ienaga was convinced that the textbook screening was a form of censorship so he took the case to court against the Ministry of Education in 1965. The screening process, after the American Occupation ended in 1952 was controlled by the Conservative backed Ministry of Education. The textbooks were produced by publishing companies and the content was not prescribed but screened for factual accuracy by the Ministry of Education. The system was in many ways supporting the Conservatives and nationalists as ‘by screening out what cannot be said (“factually inaccurate statements”) rather than stating what should be said, the screening process effectively allows conservatives and nationalists to limit the contents of textbooks by continually challenging the “factual accuracy” of the numbers killed in the Nanking massacre or by simply dropping “masochistic” topics.’ [2]

The First lawsuit began in 1964, with the primary objective being to demonstrate that state screening of textbooks was unconstitutional (e.g. a violation of the freedom of expression and scholarship) and that it was contrary to the Fundamental Education Law of 1947 (i.e. a violation of the principle protecting education from improper control). In the then current edition, Ienaga had highlighted the ‘reckless war’ in the depiction of the Asia-Pacific War and had shown the darker side of the conflict. This perspective on Japanese war history highlighted Japan’s role as a victimizer and aggressor in the war rather than as a victim. The victim narrative was the perspective that the MOE wanted to show to the students in their textbooks and also what the Japanese government wanted to portray to the public. As Ienaga set about with his sixth revision of Shin Nihonshi (1967 edition) the Ministry screened the edition but could find no improvements. It is also worth noting that each of the lawsuits stayed dormant in the court process and in the public eye, long after they had begun.

The chief objective of the second lawsuit (1967) was the same as the first but its advantages were that it was an administrative suit, the legal procedure was less complicated than that of the earlier “damage claim” suit. By the end of 1967, because of the first suit, details of the textbook screening process and the exact reasons for the rejection of Ienaga’s textbook were emerging, despite government resistance. The second suit was ruled in Ienaga’s favour in 1970 at the Tokyo District Court, where it was then passed up to the Tokyo High Court where it won again. The first lawsuit however didn’t do as well as the Tokyo District Court agreed there had been some ‘abuses of power but that the state had the right to regulate the content of education and declared state textbook screening constitutional.’ [3] Ienaga’s victories as well as the mild public attention that the cases were getting allowed the system to become relaxed allowing more material concerning Japanese war atrocities could be included. In 1973 for example, Ienaga’s revised Shin Nihonshi passed the screening process even though it included more detailed passages about Japan’s invasion of China and Japanese colonial policy in Korea.

However things began to change after the Liberal Democrat Party (LDP) won a majority in both Houses in 1980, and continued stressing a need for a more nationalist curriculum. The LDP had significant of support from Right-Wing intellectuals, economists and big businesses who agreed the need for a more patriotic history. Even against this, the highly public battles and media attention showed how state control over education had strengthened and how Japanese wartime atrocities were becoming water-down in textbooks.

The third lawsuit’s goal in 1982 ‘was still to demonstrate the unconstitutionally of state textbooks screening. In the third suit, however, he and his counsel challenged the Ministry’s “abuses of power” in requesting or suggesting changes of textbook descriptions concerning specific historical events.’ [4] Ienaga also challenged eight specific points in ‘arena of historical truths’ – 4 on the Japanese invasion of China, 1 concerned with Japanese colonisation of Korea, another involved the battle of Okinawa and two cover domestic protests against imperial power. In 1989 the third lawsuit passed the Tokyo District Court and was appealed to the High Court. Ienaga wanted to win the main point that state textbook screening was unconstitutional. In 1993 the Tokyo High Court ruled that Ienaga’s contention regarding the Nanjing massacre had, through the Ministry’s screening process, been excessive and unlawful but ruled against Ienaga on Unit 731. It finally reached the Supreme Court after an appeal from Ienaga in 1997 and reached a conclusion that allowed Ienaga to mention Unit 731. The Supreme Court deemed in 1989 that the second suit had no benefit because Ienaga’s 1969 book was no longer in use anyway. The first lawsuit was dismissed in 1993 as the court claimed that the Ministry had not been excessively unreasonable. ‘Although Ienaga lost his attempt to ban government textbook screening as unconstitutional, the court held that the Ministry’s requests for revision must be based on views, verified or commonly accepted in the field of history.’ [5]

To conclude, the textbook trials undertaken by Ienaga were a long and difficult process, in which he faced an influential foe in the form of the Ministry of Education. The trials showed to the people of Japan and the World the dangers of covering up history as it is very difficult to move into the future without solving the problems of the past. The screening process stills goes on today, every three years or so a new or revised Conservative and Progressive textbook is screened and then it is decided whether they it is suitable for release. Ienaga’s efforts and successes should not be forgotten as they represent an important turning point in the memorialisation of Japanese war history in Japan. The trials therefore, reflect the growing need in Japanese society for a national history and identity that incorporates both a victim and victimizer narrative.

References and sources

[1] R, Huntsberry., ‘“Suffering History”: the textbook trial of Ienaga Saburo’, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 44 (1976), 253.
[2] Philip Seaton., Japan’s Contested War Memories: The ‘memory rifts’ in historical consciousness of World War II (London, 2007), 145.
[3] Yoshiko, Nozaki & Hiromitsu, Inokuchi., ’Japanese Education, Nationalism, and Ienaga Saburō’s Textbook Lawsuits’, in Laura Hein and Mark Selden (ed.), Censoring History, Citizenship and Memory in Japan, Germany and the United States (New York, 2000), 109.
[4] Ibid., 114
[5] Ibid., 119

The Occupation of Alcatraz Island: November 1969- June 1971

For this week’s blog post I am going to be talking about the occupation of the Island of Alcatraz in 1969 by group of Native American Indians known collectively as the Indians of All Tribes. Located offshore from San Francisco Bay California, this historical island is most recognised as a dangerous and tough prison for inmates to complete their sentences in. As a result of the nineteen months that the occupation lasted from November 1969, the Island’s history would change dramatically as the Island quickly became the centre of American and international news. I therefore aim to cover the events of the 1969 occupation and the two earlier short occupations on March 1964 and November 9th 1969, and to put the occupations into context of both wider Native American issues and the American political and social scene during the mid-twentieth century.

We can almost see a build up to events of November 20th 1969 during the events of the same decade. The first occupation of Alcatraz Island, carried out by five Sioux American Indians led by Richard McKenzie began on March 9th 1964 and only lasted four hours. The penitentiary had been closed since 1963 and the Federal Government was in the process of transferring the island to the city of San Francisco for development. The Sioux Indians leading the occupation believed that they had found a provision within the 1868 Sioux Treaty that stated that all Federal land which became unused would revert back to the ownership of the Sioux people. As Alcatraz was one such site, the Native Indians saw they had a right to the land. However, after four hours the five Sioux Indians left the island peacefully. As a result of the 1964 occupation, the island was re-occupied briefly again on November 9th 1969 for one night. For the occupation a boat carried Richard Oakes (Mohawk), Jim Vaughn (Cherokee), Joe Bill (Eskimo), Ross Harden (Ho-Chunk) and Jerry Hatch close to the island. Then the men jumped overboard, swam to shore, and claimed the island by right of discovery. Despite the Coast Guard quickly removing the five men, later on that day, a larger group of fourteen people made their way to the island. The next day, the group proclaimed the island by right of discovery and then they left the island. Plans were set and on November 20th 1969 the major occupation began under the unofficial leadership of Richard Oakes and his family.

Around 79 American Indians landed on the Island on the 20th, passing an attempted Coast Guard blockade and set about forming councils within the group to decide their next move. The group consisted mainly of students but also included families with children. The Indians, represented increasingly in the media by Richard Oakes also release the Alcatraz Proclamation, stating the terms to which they would buy the island and use it as a symbol for the world to see how the American Indian had suffered. (A Link to the Proclamation is at the end of the blog). By the end of 1969 however, the organisation on the island was in disarray, as two groups rose in opposition against Richard Oakes and there was also the issue that many students left to return to school. As support grew for the American Indians on the island, non-Indians, mainly part of the hippie culture, move onto the island bringing with them alcohol and drugs. The Oakes family also left during this time as they suffered a terrible tragedy as their daughter, whilst playing in one the prison structures, fell to her death.

The departure of the Oakes family however did not diminish the resistance of the occupying group. The Indians received a great deal of support from both on a local level and a national level. The occupation brought together Indian people from across the United States, Canada, Alaska, Mexico and South America. During 1970 the Indian of All Tribes (IAT) were entrenched on the island and demanded nothing less than the full title to the island, the establishment of a university and the construction of a cultural centre on the island from the government. In response to this, the government proposed a $50,000 urban planning grant as an enticement for leaving the island. The Indians refused and negotiations broke down. It is worth noting that the money was given to the Bay Area Native American Council after the negotiations broke down. [1] On the island in the meanwhile, the government shut off the electrical power and removed the water barge which had provided fresh water to the occupiers. A fire too broke out and destroyed the warden’s home, the lighthouse and the doctor’s home. ‘The occupation continued at a slow pace, both sides now in a retrenched position, the Indians living a harsh life, no heat or electrical power … Alcatraz Island reminded them of a reservation.’ [2] As the government became increasingly frustrated by the occupation and public support decline, it came the time on June 10th 1971 to end the occupation. Federal agents, FBI agents and Special Forces police swarmed the island and peacefully removed five women, four children and six unarmed Indian men. The occupation had ended.

In context, the occupation of Alcatraz Island can undoubtedly be seen as justified because of the treatment of Native American Indians over the course of a 300-400 year period. From the beginning of early European and American colonisation of America, Native American Indians had slowly been pushed westwards as land was needed for the white settlers. It had got to the point where Indians were forced onto reserves of land and forced to live on the margins of society. Arriving into the twentieth century the reservation policy was changed to a policy of relocation. During the 1950s 100,000 American Indians were moved into urban areas as the reserve land (under House Resolution 108 Bill) was made available for development. The government promised a better life that never arrived. Employment help never came and racism against American Indians became more evident and dangerous. In the wider context the rise of the Native American voice also came as many other groups, force to the edge and bottom of society, increasing protested and fought for equal rights. The Civil Rights Movement, Black Power, and the rise of LaRaza (a Hispanic Movement) to name a few were also sweeping the American nation, particularly at colleges.

To conclude, whilst the occupation did not fulfil its main aims presented to the government it was not a total failure. In many respects it allowed the underlying goal to be established and worked towards over the future. The goal was to ‘awaken the American public to the reality of the plight of the First Americans and to assert the need for Indian Self-determination.’ [3] As a result of the occupation, the American Government ended the policy of termination and Indians found themselves increasingly involved in government departments that affected American Indians. Indian education was also expanded, the notable example being Navajo Community College the first college in America planned, developed and operated by and for Indians was established. Though the occupation of Alcatraz Island was a key historic moment for Native American activism and self-determination, there were still battles that needed to be fought if American Indians were to truly be equal.

[1] Troy Johnson., ‘The Occupation of Alcatraz Island: Roots of American Indian Activism’ Wicazzo Sa Review, 10 (1994), 71.
[2]Ibid., 73.
[3]Ibid., 75.

-Troy Johnson., ‘The Occupation of Alcatraz Island: Roots of American Indian Activism’ Wicazzo Sa Review, 10 (1994).
-Clara Sue Kidwell & Alan Velie., Native American Studies (Edinburgh, 2005).
-This site has the Alcatraz Proclamation on and is defiantly worth a read;

American land policy on the American-Indian Frontier

In this week’s blog update I am going to discuss the policy of the United States towards the Indians of North America in the years around and after the American Revolution or American War of Independence 1775-1783. America by this stage was made up of colonies belonging to various European states such Great Britain, Spain, and France neighboured by numerous Indian Tribes that generally had a good, if at times unstable relationship. As the Anglo-American colonies started to break away and revolt against the British, the Indians were also brought increasingly into conflict with the two sides. Whilst the American’s wanted the tribes to stay neutral, the British were actively encouraging tribes to raid settlements along the American Frontier.  Most tribes joined the British as they saw the Empire as a lesser of two evils, who could hold back the growing tide of settlement advances on Indian land. However the American’s won their independence and as a result the Indians would need to deal with the new American government in the hope of controlling the settlement plan.

The settlement policy for American Indian land had for the previous century been that of purchase by the imperial government for the land from the Indian nation that it belonged to. It was generally agreed that the land in North America was held by the American Indians and only to be acquired if the it was rightfully sold to a buyer. However there were ways around this such as private land buying that went past the government and went directly to the Indian land seller. In 1763 under the British represented government a law had been brought through that banned the purchasing of land by private buyers. This view was held until the ending of the American War of Independence when it became a symbol of British oppression and halted the expansion of settlement into west America. In the eyes of the American colonies the American Indians were defeated alongside the British and their land would be taken as reparations. As the colonists were no longer bound by the 1763 proclamation they could buy land privately, though the ideas concerning the Indian land ownership were being hotly debated. It was stated that if the land became government held then the speculators (private buyers) would have nothing to buy. Whereas if the land could be directly bought from the Indians, it could be bought cheaper and quicker than if the government intervened.

This pattern continued through most of the 1780s due to the political climate and speculators high influence within the various states government. The first few years after the Revolution would proof difficult for the various Indian tribes who saw their land confiscated for their part in a war that they wanted no part of. The land had been confiscated but still needed to be bought to claim ownership. The settlers had to an extent always wanted to take the land from the Indians and the result of the American war could justify the taking of land as compensation. The war against the British had been, if not more so a war against the American Indians and the ‘goal of freedom from British rule could be superseded by the goal of freedom to settle on Indian land.’ [1] The push for more land and expansion in the American west was pressuring many to follow the needs of speculators to buy up land at cheap prices and then resell it to settlers at a profit. The pre-constitution government was too weak to stop any of the private buying from going ahead; ‘The Revolution contributed to the new land policy … by giving birth to new units of American government that were desperately short of cash, by increasing the political power of land speculators and western settlers, and by removing the restraining hand of the imperial government’. [2]

This is not to say that the Indians did not want to sell parts of their land. For many the trade of parts of their land in exchange for supplies and mechanical and agricultural expertise was a fair one. In most exchanges however this was not the case. Indians were often left without their goods or were undervalued hugely for how much the land was actually worth. The aggressive land policy from 1784 to 1786 did not help the relations between the colonists and the American Indians. For example the treaties for the land were often forcibly signed and in many cases the private buyers would seek out any member of the tribe and buy the land, regardless of the position in the American Indian nation’s hierarchy. It was near impossible for the boundaries between the American settlers and the American Indian nations to be kept to as settlers moved in Indian lands without permission and caused further problems.

There was an attempt in 1787 to again remove the private buyers from the equation as the expansion into Indian lands was gaining the attention of the government. As they saw it, it would be both cheaper and safer to buy the lands gradually from the Indians than expand quickly and risk open war. The British were still present in America (mainly in Canada) and should the American Indians head for war, the British would surely join in. The 1787 proclamation therefore made it law that land could only be purchased from the American Indians through the American government. However again the western advancement took priority and the American Indian’s land was slowly but surely bought by the settlers. In the 1790s it would seem that the new American government was doing what the speculators were doing but on a larger scale. Land was being bought up quickly by the American settlers, with the American Indians being forced into tighter spaces with less useable land and less hunting space.

The American land policy towards the American Indian’s can therefore be seen as a continuous westward expansion that took into regard the ownership of land but not its value or worth to the native population. Laws and proclamations were passed with little effect as land was being sold quickly to feed the settlement that moved further west from the eastern states. The land purchases appear to have been successful despite all the damage that they caused. There were just enough land purchases at a time to keep most settlers content whilst not causing war with the American Indians. However, ultimately the American Indians were the groups to lose in the long run, not only did they find themselves being forced out of their lands but there appeared to be no solution to stop the growing tide of American and European settlement.

[1] Stuart Banner How the Indians lost their land (Harvard, 2005) p122

[2] Ibid., 113


Stuart Banner How the Indians lost their land (Harvard, 2005)

Angie Debo A History of the Indians of the United States (Oklahoma Press, 1970)

The Imperial frontiers of the Roman Empire

In this week’s blog post I will be investigating the Imperial frontiers of the Roman Empire from the first to fifth centuries AD. I will be looking at the placing of the frontiers, what constituted a frontier and how successful they were at keeping the enemies of Rome at bay. The Roman Empire expanded from western and central Europe in the North West to the lands in the east of Egypt and Parthia. These territories, built up over hundreds of years needed protecting and a well placed natural or man-made bounder was the most efficient solution compared with the large costs of a standing army. Though first we must ask what it is meant by a frontier in general terms. On the one hand they kept the Empire together and ensure the protection of its citizen in the event of an attack. However they also kept ‘others’ out both physically and psychologically. A wall, a hedge or even lines painted on the ground can be a boundary intending to keep someone out and asserting ownership over an area of land. Simply, a boundary told a person where their land stopped and where someone else’s began. These boundaries also needed to be visible and to have a meaning in their construction. The construction and impression of a boundary presents an image of power and security, one such picture that the Roman Empire achieved in their control of the lands in the Empire.

Firstly, where were these frontiers placed? The most impressive and well-known Roman frontier lies in the north of the Empire at Hadrian’s Wall. The Emperor Hadrian ascended to the Imperial seat in 117 AD, with the death of his predecessor Emperor Trajan. It was under Trajan that the Empire’s expansion reached its height and it was Hadrian’s decision to begin consolidating these areas. Whilst the Britons had largely been subdued over the last century of Roman conquest, the Celtic people still fought with Rome in northern England. Raids by the Picts presented a constant danger to the Roman citizens and legions based in Britain and therefore it was decided that a wall should be built to consolidate the edge of the Roman World. Running for 80 Roman or 73 British miles (117 km) and with a height of 7-10 ft, Hadrian’s Wall was finished in 124 AD with various forts and stations soon built afterwards to bolster its defence. From this example it is clear that the frontiers, at least in the north of the Empire, were built at the limits of Roman control. Supported by varied and uneven terrain the Wall in the north served as boundary for the Empire until Rome’s retreat from Britain.

Frontiers could also be placed where no artificial boundaries could be placed and the natural elements and landscape could serve as a defence. In the south-east of the Empire, the deserts of Africa served as the limits of the Roman Empire. With Egypt annexed under the reign of Emperor Augustus around 30 BC, the Empire now controlled a vast wealthy area of land with the Nile River at its centre. However apart from a few cohorts and forts inside Egypt, the province was lightly guarded. As it was mainly accessible through the Mediterranean and up the Nile, its protection handled by the Imperial Navy, and surrounded on land on most sides by the Sahara desert, Egypt and the rest of Africa was well defended in the south. Whilst I have only briefly looked at Egypt, the desert frontier protected the Roman Empire’s African interests without much difficulty. Derek Williams hints at another reason why the edges of the Roman Empire were loosely defended, that of internal dangers. The Empire had been wrecked beyond counting from civil wars and by placing fewer soldiers and their commanders at their limits; they could hope to limit the number men seeking to elevate themselves when not under the eyes of their superiors.

Therefore both natural and artificial defences constituted a frontier for the Roman Empire and they both served as a way of controlling who entered and left the Imperial territories. Depending on the time period and the political setting, the Roman frontiers generally held against those who would seek to attack Rome. What was crucial to the frontiers success however, was for the Empire and those who administrated it to remain focused on its defence. This was a difficult motion to continuously follow as the various civil wars were played out, with one emperor replacing another prove. Whilst the frontiers held the Roman Empire together another process was occurring that in many ways secured, not just the Roman world but the Latin world, when the Empire eventually fell. Romanization unified the cultures and peoples within the Roman Empire under central laws, religions etc and served to protect the ideas that held Rome up for over five centuries. The frontiers were a success because they allowed this process to flourish as each border was a meeting point between one culture and another. Alongside this boundaries trade flourished and the Roman way of life was spread further than any frontier could hope to extend to. Therefore, whilst the frontiers served as images of power and spectacle for the Roman Empire, they really stood and represented the very limits of Roman control. As a cost-effective means of protecting an incredibly large and culturally diverse Empire, the Roman frontiers serve their purpose to maintain the Empire’s coherence. The extent of the Roman Empire, roughly 4,000 miles, means that there was more than I could handle in this blog post so my apologies but I hope this has been interesting for our blog readers.


Derek Williams, The Reach of Rome, A History of the Roman Imperial Frontier 1st-5th Centuries AD (London, 1996).

Stephen Johnson, Hadrian’s Wall (London, 1989).

A brief look at the history of the toothbrush

In this blog update I will be briefly looking at an ordinary object that all of us use on a daily basis, usually two to three times a day (at least that’s what we’re told to do) can you guess it? It’s the toothbrush! This invention left everyone smiling with amazement and this will be the theme for my blog post.

Whilst many people associate toothbrushes with the modern-day supermarket versions, toothbrushes began early in history as nothing more than the end of twig. Indeed around 3,500 to 3,000 years ago Ancient Egyptians and Babylonians were using the ends of twigs as toothbrushes with evidence of this shown alongside their remains in their tombs. To many these early forms of toothbrushes have been termed chew sticks.  The Chinese too had a similar method of cleaning their teeth and created the first bristle toothbrush in the late fifteenth century. These were created by using bristles from the necks of pigs and attaching them to a bone or bamboo handle thus creating a pre- teeth cleaning device. This idea was adapted by Europeans when contact became more fluid between China and the Middle East and then Europe though the Europeans replaced the pigs bristles with the softer horse hairs and occasionally used feathers.

The modern versions of toothbrushes started to take form in the following centuries. Whilst France took the lead in promoting the use of the toothbrush in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Englishmen, William Addis of Clerkenwald, created the first mass-produced toothbrush in about 1780. The design at this point was very similar as it was still constructed from pig’s neck bristles and the handle was still made from animal bone, though in 1844 the toothbrush evolved with the first 3-row brush. An American company called H. N. Wadsworth also began mass producing toothbrushes in 1885. Another American company, the Florence Manufacturing Company of Massachusetts was the first to box up toothbrushes. Up to this point, the toothbrush had relatively few changes it would not be until the twentieth century that the device would become beyond doubt modern.

The next stage of toothbrush development was in 1938 when the old style of brush was replaced by first nylon bristle toothbrushes. Nylon toothbrushes were invented by Dupont de Nemours and were quickly replaced as people preferred the new models and by the 1950s softer nylon bristles were being made. Electric toothbrushes were just round the corner as in 1939 they were developed in Switzerland and Broxodent, the first electric toothbrush in the US was unveiled in 1960 by the Squib Company. Toothbrushes have changed very little over the past centuries, apart from in colour and design (brush size and design) as the idea behind them stays the same. The toothbrush of today shows the same characteristics of those from Ancient Egypt and China. This concludes my very brief look at the history of toothbrushes.


William the Conqueror’s England and its relations with the Papacy

In this blog update I am going to talk about William the Conqueror and his relation with the Papacy concerning the Post-Conquest English church. As everyone knows William the Conqueror invaded England in 1066 and defeated King Harold at the Battle of Hastings leaving the kingdom under Norman rule. This famous period in English history has often been remembered solely because of the landmark battle but not so much in regards to what came after, particularly the religious aspects.  Therefore I aim to look at the approaches by both the Papacy and the Normans to reach an agreement over how the church will be controlled.

The Papacy had begun a series of reforms to the European churches under its influence in the eleventh century and the Pope wanted to bring these reforms into the newly conquered English kingdom with the support of King William. These reforms were concerned with morality and practice within the church and from the 1040s onwards there were attempts to suppress the customs that many of the higher clergy thought unfit for their flock. Therefore in the eyes of the Papacy the English church was in need of reform. As it would soon be seen in England, William was not against removing church figures from their posts if needed; in the mid-1050s William deposed his uncle Malgar as Archbishop of Rouen and Primate of Normandy for simony.

Upon entering the English kingdom, both William and a group of papal legates removed another individual from office due to his corruption; the Archbishop of Canterbury Stigand. Stigand faced three charges when the papal legates arrived in 1070 to crown William king and bring England back into the influence of the Roman church. At the Winchester Council he was charged with; continuing to hold the see of Winchester whilst being Archbishop of Canterbury, taking the archbishopric whilst Robert of Jumiege was still alive and using in mass the pallium (a woollen cloak bestowed by the Pope to those with jurisdiction over bishoprics and archbishoprics) that belonged to Jumiege. With Stigand deposed, the church could be reformed alongside the standards of the Continent.

Clerical marriage was also a problem for the Papacy when renewing their influence over the English churches. However at the Council at Winchester in 1076 the new Archbishop of Canterbury Lanfranc shrewdly avoided a general condemnation of the practice and contended himself with legislation to make clerical marriages impossible in the future. Therefore the Conqueror and the Papacy indeed followed some of the same policies towards the English church when it would suit both sides. Reforming the English church gave the Normans a further degree of legitimacy in their conquest whilst the Papacy reformed its link with England.

However there were also some occasions when the relations between the Conqueror and the Papacy were strained. To secure further ties between the Papacy and William, the Pope in 1080 asked for fealty from the England and the continuation of Peter’s Pence. However William response, that he will not pay fealty to Rome, shows the limits of papal authority. Though William agrees to pay the Peter’s Pence, England is being brought into a conflict between two Popes in Europe; the debate between the Pope and the anti-Pope had begun with the pope in Rome calling for English support. Both William and Lanfranc stay neutral and refuse to get involved with William ordering that no pope should be recognised and that no papal letters should be received in England.

With the papal crisis continuing in Europe, papal influence in England was stalled and the Norman kings were able to regain some of their lost influence over the church. This end the part that the papacy plays in the reign of William the Conqueror and during the reigns of his sons, the papacy and the kings of England do clash again. I hope this blog update has given you an insight into the Post-Conquest English church and how the Papacy used its influence to reform the religious structure.


G, Slocombe., William the Conqueror (1959)

E, Van-Houts and  C, Harper-Bill, (ed.) A companion to the Anglo-Norman world (2003)

B, Golding., Conquest and Colonisation, the Normans in Britain: 1066-1100 (1994)