Wednesday, 22 May 2013

The Most Famous Impostor

A family marches down to the basement of a grand house with dread on their faces. In this basement, a man, his wife and their five children (four daughters and one son) were shot along with their servants. In case you have not guessed by now, I am referring to the execution of the Romanov family. On the 17th July 1918, Tsar Nicolas II, Tsarina Alexandra and their children: Olga Nikolaevna, Tatiana Nikolaevna, Maria Nikolaevna, Alexei Nikolaevich and Anastasia Nikolaevna were shot by communist revolutionaries.

However, almost five years after this tragic event, there was a ray of light through the clouds. A woman, under the name of Anna Anderson, revealed herself as the daughter of the Tsar- Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia. Alas, this was not actually the case, after relatively recent research and discoveries, Anna Anderson was uncovered as a fake- the most famous impostor.

Anna Anderson, born on the 16 December 1896 under the name Franziska Schanzkowska, was a mentally ill Polish factory worker. After a suicide attempt in the 1920, she was put in an asylum in Berlin where she refused to give her name. Then, during March 1922, it was claimed in the press that Anderson was the Duchess of Russia, Anastasia. Although this was contested by the majority of Anastasia’s family, Anna Anderson gained much support and spent the rest of her life moving between Germany and the USA staying in many nursing homes and asylums. She married a professor of history from Virginia, called Jack Manahan during 1968. Then, Anna Anderson stayed in the America until 1984 when she died of pneumonia.

It was only in 2007 that it was confirmed that all four daughters of Tsar Nicolas II had been shot on the 17th July 1918. While the bodies of the Tsar, Tsarina and three of the daughters were found in 1991 and had their identities certified, the bodies of Alexei and the final daughter were found in 2007 thus ruling out all possibility of Anna Anderson being the Duchess of Russia.

Thus, the trickery of Anna Anderson was discovered and finally put to rest after many decades of speculation and uncertainty.


Tuesday, 21 May 2013

What is History?

It will soon be the time of year when Year 12s start thinking about what to put in their personal statements. This site (from International School History) has some interesting thoughts on what History is (and what it isn't) and the value of History. It also has a section on the "epistemological weaknesses of History" which is a long winded way of talking about the problems of studying the subject.

The image comes from the famous book on the subject by E H Carr. You can find more about his work and much more here at the excellent website from the Institute of Historical Research.

Let us know if you find any other interesting sites like this and we will add them to the post. Here are a few others we know of:
What is History? (Durham University)
A couple of mind maps (from Hong Kong)

Sunday, 19 May 2013

The Reichstag Fire: Who dun nit?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a match must be in want of something to set fire to. But was it really a single handed man who set the Reichstag building on fire? Could it really have been that a young, innocent Dutch Communist, Marinus van der Lubbe, set it ablaze on the 27th February 1933? Let’s break it down. Nazis hate Communists. Communists are easy targets. The Reichstag building is alight. A Communist happens to walk by. The Communist is culpable. Communists are vice: Nazis are virtue. My opinion on the Reichstag fire: a fool proof premeditated Nazi conspiracy. It is easy to dismiss Van der Lubbe as a culprit as he himself ‘was charged with the crime and later confessed’. He was found guilty at his trial and then ‘executed’. Of course, this is what the ‘textbook’ says, but you’re more educated than that. We know that Van der Lubbe was known to be limited in his intelligence, and the Nazis had found their scapegoat in him and placed him right where they wanted to. To be honest, anyone would have confessed to any crime under a Nazi interrogation, and this is what many historians firmly believe till this day.

The Nazis had their plan under control. Hitler’s private army, The Storm troopers (SA) had offices that granted an underground route into the Reichstag building. So access to the Reichstag was in the bag for the Nazis. Days before the fire the SA said that they overheard Van der Lubbe boasting about planning to set fire to the Reichstag. Thus Van der Lubbe was an easy target to pin the blame on. All this was stuff of fantasies for Hitler, because if it transpired that the Reichstag fire was a Communist plot, he could easily brainwash everyone by claiming that it was a conspiracy to seize control of the government. And that was exactly what he did. Hitler was the type of person that could sell ice to an Eskimo, so once he had spoken everyone was convinced and he was in gear to take control of the government himself. Soon enough, President Hindenburg signed the Law for the Protection of the People and the State, under the persuasion of Hitler. This gave police their desired prerogative: total control. The police alongside the SA could arrest Communist leaders, and also broke up their meetings and closed down their newspapers. Furthermore, the Nazi propaganda meant that they were gaining increasing momentum at the expense of their political opponents - and the rest is history.

As for our Van der Lubbe, he was beheaded on the 10th January 1934, and on that note: Hitler was home and dry. The responsibility for the Reichstag Fire is highly debatable and, very clearly, remains an on going topic of debate. Van der Lubbe was known for admitting to deeds he didn’t know of, and many believed that he was going through a mental illness at the time. Nevertheless, Van der Lubbe is, on paper, the arsonist behind the Reichstag fire. But whether he genuinely was guilty is a fact that lies with him at this moment. It is a historian’s duty to clear the clouds of the past, but I believe; only time will pass the decree of history on this particular Communist man. By MD

Some useful links (Please let us know if you find any others)

The Reichstag Fire (Spartacus)
Reichstag Fire (United States Holocaust Museum)
Eyewitness to History

The History of Chocolate

Rich, smooth and decadent: desired by almost everyone. Yes, one is referring to chocolate! Little did you know while you were tucking into your bar of Dairy Milk that you were eating something with a rich and delicious history, although chocolate has not always been just for eating... in fact, for the majority of its past, it was a drink! In the 16th Century Aztec society, cacao beans were valuable and used as money with 100 beans being worth the equivalent of a good turkey hen. They were also thought to have magical properties by the Mayans as wells as the Aztecs. This meant that they would often be used in ceremonies and rituals for birth, death and marriage. However, the uses of cacao beans date back later than that. Cacao residue was found in pottery which dated back to 1400 BC. The flesh of the cacao plants were believed to have been fermented and turned into alcohol. It was only during the end of the 16th Century when Europeans tasted and adapted the traditional cacao that it morphed into the sweeter version that we know today. By the 17th Century it was a popular drink which was seen to be very nutritious. Then in 1828, a Dutch chemist came up with the solid chocolate which is so widely loved in modern society. All things considered, without the discoveries of the Mayans and Aztecs, the adventurous Europeans and the innovative Dutch chemist, we would not have delicious chocolate. So, when you are feeling sad and using that bar of chocolate to cheer you up, just save a moment to thank these people as had they not been so inventive and inquisitive, you would be chocolateless. JG

Monday, 13 May 2013

Superwomen of yesteryears: Benazir Bhutto

25 years ago on the 16th November, a woman became the first female prime minister of the Islamic state of Pakistan. That woman was none other than Bhutto, yes, Benazir Bhutto. The daughter of the eminent politician: Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Bhutto lived out her formative years in Karachi, Pakistan and was fortunate enough to be sent to Harvard University in the USA. After studying for a politics degree, Benazir had come to Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, as a postgraduate student. Of course, by then she was known as the Pakistani prime minister’s daughter, so she didn’t go unnoticed by any means. She was known around Oxford for driving her then-fashionable MGB through the streets. Her open-top sports car became her signature item and before you know it, she was elected as president of the reputable Oxford Union Society. She was already showing signs of following her father’s footsteps! But she wasn’t to bask in her luxuries for too long.

In 1977, her father was hanged as part of a military coup and after her returning to Pakistan; Bhutto was placed under house arrest subsequently. Benazir Bhutto’s life had taken a massive turn and from then on she devoted her life to her father’s memory. However, simultaneously she had manifested her first political achievement, by becoming the leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) - slowly eroding the image of the subservient Pakistani woman in Muslim societies. She spent seven whole years in exile in London, and only returned to her country to stand as a candidate for the Pakistan elections. Despite the patriarchal Islamic society, Bhutto proved herself by winning the general elections and garnering the votes of Pakistani men.

This was a milestone for her and a certain reason for why she stands as one of the most notable Muslim women of history. She held the office for two terms: one from 1988 to 1990 and the other from 1993 to 1996. At this point, to neighbouring India she was the ‘Iron Lady’: resilient and still standing for yet another term in the office. Nevertheless, Bhutto’s political career wasn’t all sun and roses, and to be honest, who’s political career is? Bhutto achieving the highest office in a Muslim country was undoubtedly a turning stone in history, but she failed to impress the people of her country. Under her lead, Pakistan was associated with vast foreign debts and her government was soon dismissed by Pakistan’s president with labels such as ‘incompetence’ and even ‘corruption’. It also didn’t help that her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, was accused of corruption. Her second attempt in the office was again unsuccessful, and it was dismissed again due to several renewed allegations of corruption.

Despite facing countless charges of corruption, in exile in Dubai, she continued leading the PPP with Western governments for support. She has achieved a heroic status to every Western feminist, in her trials and her tribulations. In 2007, President Musharraf allowed her to return to Pakistan, though she was greeted with a detonation of two bombs, finishing 140 of her supporters. She didn’t relent and instead held election rallies to fight back. But this wouldn’t stop her fate addressing her. On the 27th December, she was assassinated by a suicide bomber in Rawalpindi- ceasing her political comeback in Pakistan. Some may say she was a failing political figure, but I believe she fought for the natural rights of everyday Pakistanis, and is an inspiration to women across the globe for surviving in a man’s world. And just maybe, that is why now a Pakistani woman is able to vote in the Pakistan elections today. By MD

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Nonsuch is 75!

Nonsuch: a science and language specialist school; an all-girls school; and the only place in the world where multiple lanyard jokes can be made in almost every assembly. Established in 1938 under the name 'Nonsuch County School for Girls', Nonsuch has survived World War Two and evolved to see its 75th Anniversary. The first students arrived on the 3rd May with the school being officially opened by James Stanhope- the 7th Earl of Stanhope- on the 20th June. However, in the lead up to this long-awaited moment, the idea of putting a school in the middle of a park with historic links caused a lot of controversy. Our very own Nonsuch was mentioned in ‘The Times’ and was gradually becoming known in Surrey with its newspaper fame in the borough and local council. Eventually, after questions about the scheme had been raised in Parliament, the first turf was cut on the 30th December 1936. Nonsuch was actually planned a century ago, and without those 25 years of planning, Nonsuch might just have been a vast patch of green land. The school aimed to have around 490 girls, just over a third of the amount which is here today. Nevertheless, in a similar way to the students of today, the former students had to take an 11+ exam to enter. On the other hand, the uniforms are another matter. Every modern-day Nonsuch girl (and teacher) has heard about the numerous uniform complaints among which are: the style of the skirt which flaps open in the wind; the length of the skirts which many students must roll up as high as they can; and let's not forget everyone's favourite school coat. This is a vast contrast to the original Nonsuch girls. They were thrilled to be part of a school which had such a fashionable uniform- including brown shoes and a pinafore. On speaking with Ms Jeanne Paramor (who was a student in 1938) and Ms Ruby Smith (a student in 1941), it soon became evident that these were not the only differences. An example is the fact that the school hall used to be used as a canteen. Every day at lunchtime, the hall would be filled with girls eating stewed cabbage, potatoes and mince meat. At the end of each table would be a teacher craning their necks to ensure that all the girls were behaving themselves. On the stage at the front of the hall sat the headmistress (Miss Marion Dickie, succeeded by Miss Mathews in 1964) accompanied by the remainder of the teachers. Ms Paramor recalls that once she found a slug in her lettuce and was put off eating school dinners. After that, she and a friend decided to sneak out and eat at a restaurant until they were caught by a teacher and forced to have packed lunches at school, thus preventing them from sneaking out again. So in effect, lunchtimes at Nonsuch were slightly like a scene from a school feast in the Harry Potter movies! However, the actual building is still very similar to the one made 75 years ago, only with a few differences. The exams office that we know today was actually the ground floor, and the room 301 was originally an art room! Moreover, the quad hasn’t changed at all- it really still is exactly how everyone remembers it. Overall, listening to the stories of these two women was very enlightening and entertaining and we would just like to take this opportunity to thank them for their time. Furthermore, Sports days were grand occasions, and Nonsuch held its first one on 6th July 1938. Events included: skipping relays, ball team games and hoop team games as well as three-legged races. Additionally, in the late 1940s the war period affected the school. The school had periods where it was closed and in 1948 there were food shortages. In the same year, Nonsuch received food parcels from the USA, and the pupils with the help of the teachers grew potatoes on the premises of the school. Nonsuch continues to be a leading grammar school for girls and is a school that has been long missed by former pupils. It’s not long now before Nonsuch celebrates its 100th anniversary, making a century of existence... Taken as a whole, Nonsuch has seen many students come and go. Although fashions may change and technology may improve, this school is fundamentally a place where teenage girls can come to get an education while making fond memories. It is unique in many ways and generally a place close to each Nonsuch girl's heart. Ultimately, our time at Nonsuch is an important milestone in our lives with the 75th Anniversary being a reminder that we should treasure every moment. By JG and MD