Museums come in all sorts of shapes and sizes – but what is a museum? Here, Shannon Bent returns and considers the ‘new’ definition of a museum from the body responsible for defining it - and one glaring omission from their definition.

This follows Shannon’s articles on Berlin’s Checkpoint Charlie (here) and Topography of Terror (here), as well as the UK’s Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker (here).

The British Museum, London, under construction in the 1820s.

The British Museum, London, under construction in the 1820s.

Museums tend to want to do the same things, generally. They do it in different ways, and provide their information in many different manners, but basically most museums are there for the same reasons. If you asked most people, they would probably say that museums are there to educate, give information, and perhaps even preserve historic objects. This is probably a generally agreed remit, and most people would nod along if you were to say it to them. However, when you break it down there are so many elements to museums. Just from my brief time within museums volunteering and working, I’ve learnt that it simply isn’t just about exhibiting objects and writing interpretation panels on them. There’s the learning department, the archives, the preservation of objects, marketing, retail, catering and many more departments that I couldn’t name off the top of my head. Therefore, any definition of a museum must encompass all of these elements to ensure that each department is clear on what is expected of them. 

Of course, there has to be a designated group of people to sort this out and argue about it. It’s like having a board of directors except this is for all museums rather than just one. For this heritage industry, ICOM is this group of people. The International Council of Museums is in charge of overseeing everything to do with museums, holding conferences and workshops all around the world. As a museum you are automatically affiliated with this group, but individuals can join and become members too, for a fee of course. And you have to prove that you are involved in museums in some manner. So really not anyone can join. Anyway, pulling museums together into a common definition is one of their many tasks, and they have recently proposed a new working definition for what museums should be. And it has caused a bit of an argument.


The definition of a museum

There is always going to be someone that isn’t happy with what is said or produced. That’s just the nature of involving so many people, organizations and institutes into one definition. And some of the arguments against this are silly in my opinion. However, I can see where others are coming from. Here’s ICOM’s current proposition:

“Museums are democratising, inclusive and polyphonic spaces for critical dialogue about the pasts and the futures. Acknowledging and addressing the conflicts and challenges of the present, they hold artefacts and specimens in trust for society, safeguard diverse memories for future generations and guarantee equal rights and equal access to heritage for all people. 

“Museums are not for profit. They are participatory and transparent, and work in active partnership with and for diverse communities to collect, preserve, research, interpret, exhibit, and enhance understandings of the world, aiming to contribute to human dignity and social justice, global equality and planetary wellbeing.” 


Firstly, lets talk about why I like it. Well, from the top, it’s diverse. It directly says it should be ‘democratising, inclusive and polyphonic’, a fancy word for saying including many voices and perspectives. It has many other mentions of diversity too, including ‘safeguard diverse memories’, ‘guarantee equal rights’, and ‘equal access to heritage for all people’. I’m up for anything that actually comments on people from every and all backgrounds actually having access to any heritage they wish to observe and learn about. 

The comment ‘work in active partnership with and for diverse communities to collect, preserve, research, and interpret, exhibit and enhance understanding’ is perhaps the moment of gold here. It hits all those points that people traditionally associate with museums that I mentioned at the top of the article, including preservation, exhibiting and researching. ‘Contributing to human dignity and social justice, global equality and planetary wellbeing’ may be very dramatic but it certainly makes the point. It’s nice to see there are other people that believe museums are important to planetary wellbeing… even if it is very theatrical. Perhaps if this perspective is more widely held, all the funding that is being pulled from the heritage sector may slow down and perhaps we can keep these museums and heritage sites afloat. But that’s another argument for another time. 


What’s missing?

So far, it doesn’t seem like this missed anything, right? Seems to hit most important points, seems to be fairly inclusive and understanding. Mostly. But here’s the biggest issue. This working definition misses one very important word: education. Yes, that’s right. Not once does that definition talk about education, passing on knowledge and allowing people to learn from the collections of the museums. Whoops. Yes, ‘enhance understanding of the world’ I guess is a broad way of saying educate, but if there is one thing we know about these kind of definitions, it is all about the ‘buzz words’. If you don’t use the actual word ‘educate’, or ‘learning’ then any learning and education departments in museums are going to immediately struggle to justify their requests for funding because it can be argued that museums are not required to educate. This may seem a little far-fetched but in a sector that is rather tight on money as it is, and yes it all comes down to money, I could image any excuse being used to not grant funding. Anyone in this industry has probably seen this happen. Even I have been told within my roles ‘change the wording of that to this. We’re guaranteed more funding if you say it is for this rather than that’. Appalling, I know, but that’s the way the world works unfortunately.

This has been the biggest issue for most people within ICOM and other organizations. It is a vital word, and when I saw the article headline saying that people were arguing about it, I thought it would be over some silly and insignificant word that really didn’t matter. Upon reflection, this is actually rather important and I find myself completely behind the group of people saying the word ‘education’ or ‘learning’ is needed within this new definition. I have recently started a new job within a museum in which I am an ‘Education Facilitator’, essentially delivering education sessions to visiting school groups. When you break it down and look at the different departments of a museum, as I have mentioned before, the education side of a museum, be it visiting schools or the general public, is one of the most important parts. A lot of large museums’ profit comes from their education departments. They need to be able to justify their existence, and show how important and integral they are into the wider machine of their museum.



As yet there has been no suggestions made for changes. I’m sure they will come soon before it is voted on again. I found it very interesting; when I first saw that people were arguing about it, I rolled my eyes and thought ‘leave it alone, it can’t be that bad’. But upon reflection, and now coming from an education department of a museum myself, I can see why this would be a negative game changer for many museums across the globe. I hope this maybe opens peoples’ eyes to the various elements of museums and how just one word can impact this sector. I hope they can come to a new definition, encompassing all the things I love about it, the inclusivity and diversity, while being aware that every single person and department in a museum is a vital part of the overall apparatus that makes this sector as important as it is. We don’t need a definition that I don’t dispute. Let’s just make it the best we can.


How would you define a museum? Let us know below.

AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

The Nazis treated many groups they saw as different terribly – and the LGBTI community was no exception. Here, Kim Barrett starts by considering Dr Magnus Hirschfield, who founded the world’s first gay rights organization in the decades prior to the Nazis taking power in Germany, and then looks at how the Nazis treated the LGBTI community.

Students organized by the Nazi Party parade in front of the Institute for Sexual research in Berlin in 1933.

Students organized by the Nazi Party parade in front of the Institute for Sexual research in Berlin in 1933.

Beneath the paving stones in Bebelplatz in Berlin is an inaccessible, empty library with enough space on its shelves for 20,000 books. At this site at the start of May 1933, those symbolically missing books were burnt by the Nazis. Among them were books by Jewish people, socialist and communist writings, as well as works advocating for women and disabled rights.

The fire also consumed the entire library and archives of the Institute for Sexual Research (Institut für Sexualwissenschaft): the pinnacle of Magnus Hirschfeld’s life’s work.


Dr Magnus Hirschfeld

Dr Magnus Hirschfeld was a prominent gay Jewish man born in Poland in 1868. He founded the world’s first gay rights organization in 1897, the Scientific Humanitarian Committee (Wissenschaftlich-humanitäres Komitee). He moved to Berlin at the end of the 19th century and, in 1904, he wrote Berlin’s Third Sex (Berlin’s Drittes Geschlecht), a book about LGBTI people. He also co-wrote and appeared in the silent film Different From the Others(Anders als die Andern) released in June 1919. The film was the first to positively portray same-sex relationships but also addresses some of the problems gay men faced: the main character is blackmailed and arrested as a result of his sexuality.

Specific sex acts between men had been illegal since the unification of Germany in 1871, under a provision in the German Criminal Code known as Paragraph 175. Magnus Hirschfeld opposed and campaigned against this law. He believed that same-sex attraction was a natural variation. He considered it a mild form of “sexual intermediary” or “third sex”, which also included cross-dressing, intersex and transgender people. He thought up to 20% of people were “third sex”.

In Weimar-era Berlin, Paragraph 175 was only sporadically enforced and there were bars, clubs and balls where “third sex” people could socialize (mostly) safe from the law. However, the police often arrested people who cross-dressed, although cross-dressing itself was not specifically illegal. Magnus Hirschfeld lobbied the police to stop this practice and, in 1909, “transvestite passes” were created. The police could issue a pass to someone if a doctor believed they would be at risk of harm if they were not allowed to cross-dress.


The Institute for Sexual Research

In July 1919, Magnus Hirschfeld founded the Institute for Sexual Research (Institut für Sexualwissenschaft) in Berlin, which researched gender and sexuality. It also provided sexual health clinics and offered marriage and sex counseling. In its heyday, the Institute employed over 40 people, many of them “third sex” themselves.

Magnus Hirschfeld coined the term “transsexualism” to refer to people who would now be called transgender. He provided some primitive hormone therapies, which changed people’s bodies to align with their genders.

The Institute also performed some of the first gender reassignment surgeries. Karl Baer was a women’s rights activist, who was probably born intersex but assigned female at birth. In 1906, he medically transitioned with the help of Magnus Hirschfeld. The following year he received an updated birth certificate that designated him as a man, which allowed him to marry his girlfriend. Lili Elbe was a Danish painter, who Magnus Hirschfeld assisted in the removal of her testes in 1930. She died the following year from complications from a uterine transplant.

On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany. In February 1933, three decrees were enacted forcing most of the LGBT-friendly bars and publications in Germany to close. In March 1933, the first Nazi concentration camp was opened.

Kurt Hiller, a gay socialist writer who worked closely with Magnus Hirschfeld, was arrested in Berlin in April 1933 and later sent to a concentration camp. The Institute for Sexual Research was attacked in May 1933 by a Nazi student group assisted by the SA. Its books, journals, images and museum of sexual artifacts were all destroyed in a ceremonial book burning attended by 40,000 people.

Magnus Hirschfeld was lecturing abroad at the time and never returned to Germany. Two years later he died of a heart attack. His peers continued researching the spectrum of sexuality and gender. The Institute for Sex Research in Indiana, USA was opened in 1947 by Alfred Kinsey, the creator of the Kinsey Scale used to describe sexual orientation.


Under Nazi rule

In 1935, Paragraph 175, the law criminalizing sex between men, was extended to include any action between men intended to “excite sexual desire”. Those convicted were sent to prison or to a concentration camp for up to five years. 

In the concentration camps, a system of symbols was used to identify groups of people. Men who were attracted to men (as well as people who would likely now identify as transwomen) wore a down-facing pink triangle. This symbol has since been reclaimed in its inverted form by gay men. Women who were attracted to women wore a black triangle used to denote asocial (asozial) people, a group that also included prostitutes, pacifists and mentally ill people.

As well as being forced to perform hard labor (known as “extermination through labor”), some LGBTI people were shot as target practice or given dangerous jobs working with explosives. They were also tortured and “experiments” were performed on them, including castration and implanting testosterone devices in their testes.

The Nazis believed that same-sex attraction could be spread to other people, so anyone wearing a pink triangle was kept separate from other prisoners. It was seen as preferable to execute people rather than house them with the gay men in case they also “turned gay”.

Unlike Jewish people or others targeted by the Nazis because of their race, same-sex attraction or cross-dressing was seen by some Nazis as something to be “cured”. Men arrested under Paragraph 175 could sometimes convince their guards to release them by being observed having sex with women prostitutes.

Towards the end of the war, concentration camp detainees wearing a pink triangle were given minimal military training and sent into battle as cannon fodder. An estimated 60% of prisoners wearing a pink triangle died before their release.


Paragraph 175

At the end of the war, some of the LGBTI people who were freed from the concentration camps were sent to prison to complete their sentences, and many were convicted again later under the same law.

In East Germany, the extended version of Paragraph 175 was removed in 1950 and sex between men was decriminalized in 1957. However, in West Germany, the Nazi-era version of Paragraph 175 remained on the books until 1969.

LGBTI people were not officially considered victims of the Nazis until May 2002 when Nazi-era convictions under Paragraph 175 were pardoned and compensation was offered. In June 2017, everyone ever convicted under Paragraph 175 had their convictions annulled.

Everyone who was sent to a concentration camp because of their sexuality is believed to have now died. The last known person was Rudolf Brazda, who died in 2011 aged 98.

Berlin has now reclaimed its title as one of the most LGBTI-friendly cities in Europe, boasting several gay districts. Its annual Pride march, commemorating the Stonewall Riots in New York, USA, is one of the largest in the world. It also houses a memorial to the gay and lesbian victims of the Nazis.



Kim Barrett is a freelance writer – more information is available here.

The French and Indian War (1754-1763) was fought in the modern-day USA between British America, France, and their Native American allies. It was truly a war for control of what was to become America, but its effects were longer lasting. Here, Ian Craig explains the importance of the war for the birth of the American nation.

A depiction of George Washington during the French and Indian War. By Charles Willson Peale.

A depiction of George Washington during the French and Indian War. By Charles Willson Peale.

It is hard to overlook how one war essentially led to the birth of a new nation.  However, the French and Indian War did just that.  Since the founding of the first permanent settlement of Jamestown in 1607, the British colonies in America were left to govern themselves with little interference from the British crown.  This continued even as the Pilgrims landed in New England in 1620.  The Mayflower Compact then symbolized America’s earliest form of democracy.  As more came to America to pursue a new life, the original thirteen colonies began to form stretching along the entire east coast of North America except for Florida and Canada.  For their part, the British government demanded very little from the American Colonies.  They wished only for the resources that America had to offer and spent little time in directly governing the colonies.  This concept has come to be known as salutary neglect.  Because of this, the American Colonies were left to create governments of their own which seemingly allowed for more participation and rights for their citizens.      

Then in 1651, Britain passed the Navigation Acts that forbade the American Colonies from trading with other nations besides Britain.  Goods exported from America were to be on British ships only.  However, the earliest versions of the Acts were not heavily enforced allowing trade to continue as it had for decades. Representing early attempts of Britain to exert its rule over the American Colonies, the Navigation Acts would not be fully enforced until 1750 when it became clear that large-scale smuggling had occurred.  In 1764, the year after the French and Indian War ended, the Navigation Acts were enforced even further.  Revisions of these acts represented early examples of how the British would impose their will on their colonies but demonstrates how this was not enforced until after the French and Indian War came to an end.  What would follow would be a series of tax acts designed to pay off the debt from the war at the expense of the American Colonies.[1]


The French in America

In 1754, when the war began, colonists in America demanded that the British government send troops to protect them. For years, their growth west had interfered with not just the Native Americans, but also the French who had laid claim to most of the interior.  The constant clash between these groups along the frontier led to war, one that would determine control of most of North America.  That same year, the colonial governor of Virginia sent a young George Washington to secure an area on land at the junction of the Ohio River.  His orders were to build a fort that could serve as a deterrent to the French.  However, when Washington arrived, he realized that the French had beat him to it and that he was vastly outnumbered.  Washington then took a calculated risk - although small in number, he attacked the French fort and retreated to build a makeshift fort called Fort Necessity. When the French counterattacked, Washington was forced to surrender but was later released as a warning to the British. This small skirmish made the British government realize the full threat of the French in America.

In 1755, the British sent Major General Edward Braddock to America in an effort to put a stop to French expansion. Braddock was appointed as commander-in-chief of all British forces in America with the sole mission of securing British dominance.  Although supported by the colonists, this action brought a considerable number of British soldiers to America.  This was only the beginning of British military expansion in the American Colonies. Braddock and the British government led by Prime Minister Thomas Pelham-Holles, the Duke of Newcastle, believed that a quick and swift attack on the French holdings along the Ohio Valley would prevent French reinforcements and end any future skirmishes.[2]  But, this would not be the case.  Braddock arrived in Virginia determined to take direct control of operations with the cooperation of the colonial governors.  He called for a meeting of the governors of New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.  This was a point in which British dominance began to reign over the American Colonies. Instead of asking for the governors’ cooperation he demanded their assistance and did not take their consul.  Instead, Braddock was infuriated with their continuing to trade with French Canada and their lack of true in interest in the military campaign.  He also opposed a plan by Massachusetts’ governor William Shirley that would have helped his cause greatly.[3]



When Braddock left Virginia in the summer that same year, he had some 2,000 British regulars along with provincials from the colonies.[4]  His direct mission was to capture Fort Duquesne which was built on the same spot that George Washington had been the previous year, at the junction of the Ohio and Monongahela Rivers.  In addition, Braddock was to use the same path that Washington used along with Washington himself as his aide-de-camp.  Washington was there to provide guidance, as he knew the land and what to expect from the French and their Native allies.  However, Braddock ignored most of the advice that Washington gave and proceeded through the route cautiously, but also made too much noise.  The falling of trees for bridges and the clearing of forest gave notice to the French.  On the afternoon of July 9, 1755, Braddock’s army fell into an ambush of a combined French, Canadian, and Indian force.[5]  The battle that ensued was almost complete chaos.  Braddock’s troops were not prepared for the guerilla tactics of the French and her native allies.  Troops fired in all directions in an effort to gain control, Braddock himself tried in vain to control the situation, but was fatally shot.  Despite trying to hold their ground, the British troops, although greater in number, were forced to retreat.  General Braddock was buried in an unmarked grave in the mists of the retreat as to not allow the Natives to rob his grave.  The survivors of the battle hurried back towards Fort Cumberland. Some 500 British soldiers were killed while only a small number of the French force was.  Braddock’s defeat left a large stain on Britain’s attempt to eliminate French control in the American frontier.  It also led to a new British policy which would bring further government control to America.[6]   

Realizing that Britain had fallen into an all-out war with France over control of North America, the Duke of Newcastle’s government along with King George II needed time to build up their forces.  Britain underestimated the French resolve and the type of warfare demanded in North America. It wasn’t until 1757 under the direction of a new Prime Minister, William Pitt, did Britain’s strategy in America change.  All the while, under the direction of Lord Loudoun, the new commander in America, troops and supplies were steadily increasing in America.[7]This led to further tensions between the colonies and the British.  For his part, Loudoun established an embargo in trade between the individual colonies. His reasons were to prevent trade with Canada, however it backfired, and he was forced to lift the embargo.  But the damage had already been done as it hurt American commerce.[8]


Lasting Effects

As the war continued despite several setbacks in the British strategy, America felt the power of the British government.  In 1761, the Writs of Assistance case was presented to the Massachusetts Supreme Court. During the 17thcentury, Britain had allowed its courts to issue writs in order to search merchant vessels.  During the height of the war, British officials began to suspect smuggling from many colonial merchants.  With that, under the law, Writs of Assistance could be issued to search a ship’s cargo. This only angered the colonists further as many believed that once the war was over, the British would leave and everything would return to normal.[9]When the war came to an end in 1763 with the Treaty of Paris, Britain was proclaimed the victor gaining much of the land once controlled by the French.  Britain was also the dominant power in all of North America.  Despite the colonists’ wish that the British would leave, troops remained in the major cities and along the frontier.  

After winning such a costly war, Britain wanted to capitalize on its newfound conquest.  It had no intention of letting the colonies be alone again.  Later in 1763, after Pontiac’s War (a skirmish with the Ottawa chief Pontiac which left the British surprised again) King George III issued the Proclamation of 1763.  It barred colonists from moving west across the Appalachian Mountains to end confrontations with the Native Americans.[10]This single act was one of the causes of the American Revolution.  This was because many colonists were upset that they had fought for the right to colonize that land only be told that they could not by their own government.  At the same time, the British government had assumed a considerable debt in protecting the American colonies.  It was decided that the American colonies should help pay for the debt and in 1764, the first tax was passed.  The Sugar Act essentially took away the right of trial by jury if a merchant failed to pay the tax.[11]In addition, the government prevented the colonies from printing or coining their own money.  This was done to standardize the system, but in reality it led to colonial trade becoming stagnant as money was taken out of circulation. These efforts were opposed by the colonies because they believed that the British government did not have the right to tax them without their consent.  Due to the fact that they did not vote for Members of Parliament, it did not have the right to tax them.  This became the standard defense as many saw themselves slaves to the taxes of Parliament.



In 1765, when the Stamp Act was passed, the colonists began to see the true intentions of the British government. After protesting the Act which led to riots in August of that year, the Stamp Act was repealed in 1766.[12]  However, in the years that would follow, several other Acts were passed and impressed upon the American Colonies including the Townshend Acts.  By 1776, the American Colonies had had enough of British control and declared independence.  Despite this, without the French and Indian War and its outcome, American independence might not have come.  The increased number of troops and supplies sent to America, along with British generals who refused to collaborate with the colonial assemblies, helped to spark an American hatred for its own government.  When the war ended, Britain severely underestimated America in thinking that it could tax them as it did the other colonies without conflict.  Its policy was no different than what it had done throughout the empire; however, its long absence in American affairs weakened its ability to truly govern the colonies.  So when the war came and ended, America was given a dose of reality to the true nature of the British Crown allowing it to seek independence and to be born as a new nation.


What do you think the most important reason was for the American Revolution? Let us know below.

[1]The American Revolution, “The Navigation Acts.” Our American Revolution, Sept. 29, 2019). 

[2]Walter R. Borneman, The French and Indian War: Deciding the Fate of North America (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006), 40-41. 

[3]Ibid, 47. 

[4]Ibid, 48. 

[5]Ibid, 51. 

[6]Ibid, 55. 

[7]Ibid, 84. 

[8]Ibid, 85.

[9]Robert J. Allison, The American Revolution: A Concise History(New York: Oxford University Press, 2011). 

[10]Ibid, 5. 

[11]Ibid, 6. 

[12]Ibid 8. 

The Salem witch trials are one of the most infamous events of 17th century America, ultimately leading to the death of many women in Salem. But what were the events that caused the trials? Here Kaitlyn Beck explores the history of Salem, and how the quest for power, medicine, and religion all had their influences on the witch-hunt.

An image of the Salem witch trials by Frank O. Small.

An image of the Salem witch trials by Frank O. Small.

In January of 1692, nine-year-old Betty Parris began to exhibit unusual behavior including loud cries and convulsions. By mid-February, her cousin Abigail began to exhibit the same symptoms and Pastor Parris decided to consult with the Dr. William Griggs, the town physician. After weeks of observation, Griggs concluded that “the evil hand is upon them”, known by the people as a diagnosis of witchcraft (Dashiell). This was the beginning of the Salem Witch Trials.

In the midst of political and cultural unrest, Dr. William Griggs’ medical diagnosis of witchcraft became the catalyst that started the Salem Witchcraft trials of 1692. Before the start of these infamous witch trials, Salem was veering away from its ‘City on a Hill’ ideals. With divided loyalties and slow retraction from the Puritan faith that the town was founded upon, prominent members of its society were concerned of what would become of their town.  When young girls began to show signs of unnatural behavior that none could explain, the town was distraught. Such circumstances created a powder keg, needing only an official word to create the explosion that was the Salem Witch trials. 


The 1680s in Salem

During the 1680s, Salem was going through a period of political unrest. Two families were battling for control: the Putnams and the Porters. The Putnams arrived in the early 1640s and were successful in acquiring large amounts of land. However by the late 1680s, their wealth and political influence were on the decline. In contrast, the Porters were, according to the 1680s census, wealthier and more affluent. The two families vied for control and had different plans for Salem’s future. The Putnams wanted to separate the village from the rest of Salem while the Porters wished to keep it unified. Each family had certain factions of control. For the Putnams, they had allies amongst the oldest families who knew them in their more affluent years. The Porters controlled the council and made friends with those who wished for a change in Salem’s priorities. As a result of rising tensions, many (but not all) members of Salem began to align themselves with one of these families. This was certainly the case with Dr. Griggs, who was connected to the Putnams by marriage(Hoffer 39-45). During the trials, Dr. Griggs fervently supported the “afflicted” girls, who included Ann Putnam and his own great-niece Elizabeth Hubbard (Dashiell). Another supporter of the Putnams was Pastor Samuel Parris who was at odds with the town committee, which was controlled by the Porters (Hoffer 53). With such powerful friends vying for control of both town and church, Dr. Griggs certainly felt pressure to make a diagnosis that would be beneficial to the Putnams which, by extension, would benefit him as well. 

The diagnosis of witchcraft would not have been as powerful if not for the influence of medicine in colonial America. When illness arose, women were commonly in charge of caring for the sick except when the illness was long lasting or too intense for basic herbal remedies. The study of formal medical practice had its roots in Europe, in particular the University of Edinburgh (Twiss). Far from Europe and its schools, many colonial doctors were not formally trained (Mann). At best, they worked as apprentices under formally trained doctors from England (Twiss 541). In addition, colonial doctors also battled lack of sanitation laws, shortage of drugs, and outdated medical knowledge (Twiss 541). Of Dr. Griggs, not much is known about his training as a physician. He originally came from Boston and was the first doctor to practice in Salem (Robinson 117). Most likely, he had little to no training in formal medicine (Dashiell). In fact, some historians believe that Dr. Griggs combined his limited medical knowledge with folk magic. In fact, ‘folk’ magic was had its origins in England and was used in the colonies on many occasions. Shortly after Griggs made his diagnosis but before any formal accusations, a form of folk magic, termed ‘white magic’ was attempted to discover the one responsible for the girls’ illness. Titubia and her husband John Indian baked a ‘witch cake’; this was fed to the dog of a suspected witch (a witch’s familiar). If successful, this mixture of ordinary meal and victim’s urine would reveal and hurt the witch (Konig 169). When Dr. Griggs’ diagnosis was known throughout Salem, such practices went under fire as being pure witchcraft. As a result, people looked even more towards medicine and the Puritan faith to guide them.


Religion and Medicine

Colonial Medicine was not only based on pure science; in fact, medicine often intertwined with religion, especially in a town founded on strict Puritanism. As a result, Reverend Parris and Dr. Griggs were two of the most powerful men in Salem (Robinson 136). When Betty first began to exhibit her unusual behavior, Parris and other ministers tried to invoke the power of prayer to heal her. When this failed to work, Parris called in the next highest power, a male physician, to make Betty better (Hoffer 62-63). When Dr. Griggs could find no physical explanations for the girls’ ailments, he put the blame on witchcraft. This was a serious accusation for at the time, English law (as of 1641) stated witchcraft was a capital offense (Krystek). Though serious, witchcraft was a common diagnosis for unexplainable illnesses; it was sometimes believed to be punishment from an angry God (Dashiell). Dr. Griggs’ initial diagnosis would not be the last; in fact records show Dr. Griggs repeating this diagnosis; in May of 1692, he accounted witchcraft as the cause of illness for Daniel Wilkin, Elizabeth Hubbard, Anne Putnam Jr., and Mary Walcott (Robinson 184&190). Though the people of Salem knew of witchcraft, it took an official diagnosis from a doctor for others to take action.  


Change in Salem

Life in Salem had always been difficult. The winters were very cold, the land was rocky and hard to farm, and the threat of disease and illness was constant (Krystek). King Phillip’s War was still fresh in the memories of the town people. They knew about the hundreds of men, women, and children killed in Native American raids. The town was kept in a constant state of fear, frightened by their close proximity to Native American settlements and at the possibilities of renewed attacks (Hoffer 55-56). As the external forces grew more threatening, the internal structure began to crumble. Salem was built on the ideas of harmony and the importance of a cooperative community. Puritanism was the glue that held this community together. The Bible was taken as a guide to life, down to the smallest details. To them, the Word of God was clarity, making a clear division of right and wrong, all in black and white terms (Erikson 47). But in the late 1600s, townspeople were drifting from the original principles of this community. The younger generations were less keen on spiritual matters, resulting in decreased church attendance and membership (Hoffer 53). Others turned their focus from a church centered life to one of worldly pursuits, delving into practices such as mercantilism and fulfilling individualistic needs and wants over those of the group (Hoffer 40). This drive towards mercantilism was propelled by one of the most prominent families in Salem: the Porters. They desired to unify the town not by a common belief but by a common market (Hoffer 45). For the other prominent, male members of the town (especially the Putnams and their supporters, including Dr. Griggs), there was a need for extreme reformation.


Witchcraft to bring Salem together?

The many who were unsatisfied with their way of life, particularly the women, were seen as a threat to their male driven society. This would become a prevalent fact when accusations began; women who did not follow the traditional role were often the first to be accused (Erikson 143). The clearest example was the first three women brought to court (accused of bewitching Betty and Abigail Paris), an action immediately influenced by Dr. Griggs’ diagnosis. Each woman exemplified qualities the leaders of Salem wished to eradicate. Tituba was a woman of color who dabbled in voodoo and was considered an unsavory influence on the younger girls. Sarah Good was an older woman with a sour disposition, creating discord with her neighbors. Sarah Osbourne did not attend church and was the center of a social scandal where it was rumored that she moved in with a man before marriage (Erikson 143). Getting rid of such independent and un-conforming women was made easier by the traditions known of witchcraft, the main one being that, more often than not, witchcraft was practiced primarily by women (Karlsen 39). Once the diagnosis was made public and the young girls began naming witches, women such as these, who did not follow the traditional roles that had been abided by for decades, would be cleansed from Salem.

The diagnosis of witchcraft was the perfect opportunity to bring Salem together. The word of witchcraft quickly spread amongst the small village and people began to come together in order to accuse/bear witness to the ‘witches’ plaguing their town. The hysteria created by these trials did not create total disorder. In fact, witchcraft became so imbedded in their society during this time that it highlighted the significance of the community. For many years prior, people had lost sight of the relevance of Puritanism in an increasingly economic driven world. So when a ‘professional’ medical verdict was announced, citizens responded to the validity but looked back to their Puritan roots. It reminded the Puritans of their participation in the cosmic struggle between good and evil (Demos 309-310). Finally, restoring the community under faith brought the control and conformity back to the church and the men who controlled it.



By the time the witch trials were ended in May of 1693, 141 people had been accused, 19 had been hung as witches, and 4 had died in jail (Krystek). The backdrop for these trials was made years before the first accusations. Struggles for power in the government were reaching their peak and the people were becoming increasingly dissatisfied with their life. Worse, people were drifting away from the faith that had kept them together since its founding. Dr. Griggs’ diagnosis of witchcraft was powerful enough to start such a radical movement because of the influence of medicine that was closely intertwined with religion and, in his case, powerful friends. His diagnosis was the real push that Salem needed to begin a Witch Hunt that would shake the town at its core and leave repercussions for years to come.


What do you think caused the Salem witch trials? Let us know below.


Dashiell, Beckie. Dr. William Griggs. Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project. University of Virginia, 2006. Web. 10 February 2014.

Demos, John Putnam. Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early England. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982. Print.

Erikson, Kai T. Wayward Puritans: A Study in the Sociology of Deviance. New York: John Wiley & Sons Inc., 1966. Print. 

Hoffer, Peter Charles. The Devil’s Disciples: Makers of the Salem Witchcraft Trials. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1996. Print. 

Karlsen, Carol F. The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1987. Print.

Konig, David Thomas. Law and Society in Puritan Massachusetts: Essex County 1629-1692. University of North Carolina Press, 1979. Print.

Krystek, Lee. The Witches of Salem: The Events of 1692. The Museum of Unnatural History, 2006. Web. 11 February 2014. 

Mann, Laurie. Changing Medical Practices in Early America. Changing of Mapscape of West Boylston, 2013. Web. 15 March 2014. 

Robinson, Enders A. The Devil Discovered: Salem Witchcraft of 1692. Prospect Heights: Wavelands Press, 1991. Print. 

Twiss, J.R. “Medical Practice in Colonial America”. New York Academy of Medicine(1960) 533-551. Web. 16 March 2014. 

In October of 1760, a young King George III of England’s reign began, marking a new birth for England and her colonies. One month later, a more humble figure, Joseph Plumb Martin, was born. Here Elizabeth Jones tells the story of Joseph Plumb Martin, the author of a very famous book about the American Revolution.

Jospeh Martin Plumb and his wife in the 19th century.

Jospeh Martin Plumb and his wife in the 19th century.

“Alexander never could have conquered the world without private soldiers. “ - Joseph Plumb Martin

Joseph Plumb Martin was born on November 21, 1760. He was raised by his grandparents in Connecticut. He lived the complicated life of a boy growing up in the storm brewing in colonial America. And like many other American boys in 1776, he enlisted in the militia following the battles of Lexington and Concord.

What makes Private Joseph Plumb Martin stand out in history?

For well over a hundred years, nothing. But in 1962, an obscure memoir of the experiences of an enlisted soldier in the Revolutionary War was republished as Yankee Doodle Dandy, and the world noticed.

Martin first published his account in 1830, titling it Narrative of Some of the Adventures, Dangers, and Sufferings of a Revolutionary Soldier, Interspersed with Anecdotes of Incidents that Occurred Within His Own Observations. It didn’t sell well. It probably had something to do with the title.

Whatever the case, the rebrand was successful, and history took notice. Martin’s narrative has since taken its place as one of the key primary sources of information about the Revolutionary War.

So what?

Private Martin carried around a quill and journal and, between arduous marches and ear-splitting cannon fire, kept a log of his experiences in Washington’s Continental Army. His memoir provides a unique perspective on the everyday life of an enlisted soldier.


Insights from Yankee Doodle Dandy

But how much insight can the dusty writings of a long-dead, stocking-wearing patriot provide? As it turns out, plenty. Below are some musings of a teenager coming of age during one of the most turbulent periods of history.


On martial life:

Enlisting at the start of the war and serving until after the Treaty of Paris was signed ending the war in 1783, Joseph Plumb Martin was a veteran of several major engagements that occurred during the Revolution. He served during battles and sieges, such as the inconclusive Battle of Monmouth and the climactic Siege of Yorktown. He describes his experiences as a Continental soldier in detail.

“As there was no cessation of duty in the army, I must commence another campaign as soon as the succeeding one is ended. There was no going home and spending the winter season among friends, and procuring a new recruit of strength and spirits. No—it was one constant drill, summer and winter, like an old horse in a mill, it was a continual routine.”


On Fort Mifflin:

In 1777, Private Joseph Plumb Martin was stationed at Fort Mifflin on the Delaware River just outside of British-occupied Philadelphia. The fort was under intense fire from the guns of massive ships, and Martin describes it in excruciating detail. The uncomfortable intensity with which he describes his experience makes it unflinchingly real.

“I was … sent to reinforce those in the fort [Mifflin], which was then besieged by the British. Here I endured hardships sufficient to kill half a dozen horses. Let the reader only consider for a moment and he will still be satisfied if not sickened. In the cold month of November, without provisions, without clothing, not a scrap of either shoes or stockings to my feet or legs, and in this condition to endure a siege in such a place as that was appalling in the highest degree.”

Martin adds:

“During the whole night, at intervals of a quarter or half an hour, the enemy would let off all their pieces, and although we had sentinels to watch them and at every flash of their guns to cry, "a shot," upon hearing which everyone endeavored to take care of himself, yet they would ever and anon, in spite of all our precaution, cut up some of us.”


On Valley Forge:

When Martin initially joined the fight for independence, he enlisted in the Connecticut militia for a short stint.

“I wished only to take a priming before I took upon me the whole coat of paint for a soldier,” Martin wrote prior to his first enlistment.


Martin’s Service

He served in the militia for the better part of a year until his term of service expired and he was discharged on Christmas Day of 1776 - the same day that the Continental Army was preparing to cross the Delaware and surprise the Hessians at Trenton.

But in 1777 he reenlisted, serving as a private in General George Washington’s Continental Army. The conditions were miserable and the pay, if it arrived at all, was laughable. So why did Martin reenlist?

“If I once undertake, thought I, I must stick to it, there will be no receding,” he wrote. Martin marched with Washington’s Army to Valley Forge, where they encamped for the winter of 1777-78.

 At times and in places in his memoirs he is dark about the war, its leaders, and the overall cause, but he stays true and is insightful when he talks about how important he feels that the war is:

"Our prospect was indeed dreary. In our miserable condition, to go into the wild woods and build us habitations to stay (not to live) in, in such a weak, starved and naked condition, was appalling in the highest degree. But dispersion, I believe, was not thought of, at least, I did not think of it. We had engaged in the defense of our injured country and were willing, nay, we were determined to persevere as long as such hardships were not altogether intolerable."



Joseph Plumb Martin’s account of his time in the Revolutionary Army has helped historians gain a clearer picture of the everyday drudgeries of a Continental Soldier, bringing to light details that had long been lost to history. The importance of Martin’s impact on the study of the American Revolution for both the professional and hobby historian cannot be overstated.


Find out more about Elizabeth and her work at


1776by David McCullough

The Adventures of a Revolutionary Soldier by Joseph Plumb Martin

The source of the world’s longest river, the River Nile, had intrigued people for millennia. From the Egyptians onwards, the source remained a mystery, leading to be called “the problem of the ages”. In fact, it wasn’t until the nineteenth century when some extraordinary explorers found the great river’s source. Victor Gamma explains.

A portrait of John Hanning Speke, the man who played such a key role in the discovery of the source of the River Nile.

A portrait of John Hanning Speke, the man who played such a key role in the discovery of the source of the River Nile.

John Hanning Speke stared at the foamy torrents pouring out of the lake he had just named Victoria after his beloved queen. Speke smiled in triumph, and no wonder, the date was July, 28, 1862 and Speke, along with his companion James Augustus Grant was about to solve a riddle that had bedeviled the world for 2,000 years; the source of the world's greatest river, the Nile: "Here at last I stood on the brink of the Nile!", he later wrote in his journal. 

It might seem strange that finding the place where a river begins would be that hard, but it was not called 'The Problem of the Ages' for nothing!  In fact, the headwaters of the Nile River system have such a complicated geology that even today geographers and other scientists continue to study its labyrinth-like network of physical features and debate its source. Technically, that prize goes to a tiny spring in the hills of Burundi. This spring is amongst the headwaters that nourish Lake Victoria. 

If complex geography weren't enough of a problem, think of how challenging it would be to explore that same system without the sophisticated technology and transportation that today's explorers enjoy. Traveling in that part of Africa in the mid-nineteenth century was not easy; fever, attacks by hostile locals, and desertions were only some of the problems encountered. When you realize that almost every rugged, hot, wet, scratchy, insect-infested mile was a struggle, you will understand why the discovery took so long. 

Why was it so important to discover the source of the Nile anyway? The Nile River has always held a special place in humankind's imagination. To the Egyptians it was the divine basis of life itself, for without it, life was unthinkable. To them, its beginnings were lost in mystery, flowing from a land far beyond where they dared to venture, and they simply worshiped it as a god. Many later civilizations held the beautiful and marvelous culture of Egypt in wonder and could point to the Egyptians as the originators of civilized life. It is not hard to see then why, starting with the ever-curious Greeks, a quest for the source of the fabled Nile became an on-going obsession. 


From Myth to Science

By the time Richard Burton and his partner Speke began their quest, two thousand years of failed attempts stretched before them. Both the Greeks and the Romans, unable to penetrate to the upper reaches of the Nile, fell back on speculation or hearsay as to the great river's ultimate origin. Puzzled Romans represented the Nile as a male god with his face and head obscured by drapery. To be fair, though, the Greek merchant Diogenes and the mathematician Eratosthenes both correctly identified lakes inland from the east coast of Africa as the Nile's source. This knowledge was noted by the great Ptolemy. But to make mention of something is one thing, to see it for oneself is quite another! For centuries after Ptolemy, the question was relegated to the realm of fable and speculation. These included the myth of Prester John and the idea that a branch of the Nile flowed into the Atlantic. 

The mists of speculation began to clear up as the light of modern science and discovery shone on the question. By the mid-18th century the connection of the Blue and White Nile had been identified as well as a river meandering into Lake Tana, which we now know is the source of the Blue Nile. But it was to the Victorians that the honor of settling the "Great Question" was to be given; specifically Burton, Speke and Grant. 

It would take a determined fellow to solve a 2,000-year-old riddle and these three men certainly fit the description. Speke was an officer in the Indian Army. After strenuous months of training and fighting Speke spent his furloughs not in relaxation but exploring the Himalayas and Tibet. Burton was already famous as a traveler, linguist and, shall we say, "eccentric?" Unlike the disciplined and well-mannered Speke, Burton was known to be irascible and difficult to deal with. Burton was one of those men who placed obedience to his own convictions above societal convention. His method of travel was to meld with the local population so as to be indistinguishable from them. His facility with five languages was another unusual distinction. What these two men shared, though, was an obsession for exploration and their combined talents attained one the great feats in the history of discovery.

It was Burton who invited Speke to join him in exploring east Africa. That was in 1854. Two years later, sponsored by the Royal Geographical Society, an expedition began into the interior of east Africa to locate a series of great lakes said to exist. They also, of course, were hoping to find the source of the Nile. 


A Prize Gained but a Friend Lost

Their final attempt began in June 1857. This 500-mile trek was slowed not only with fever but the never-ending complications of local politics. As the expedition passed from the realm of one ruler to another great caution and skill were needed to secure permission and protection as well as to recruit guides. This involved so much gift giving and bribery that the expedition was well fleeced by the time Speke made his great discovery. Burton became so ill that he was eventually forced to stay behind while Speke forged ahead to a lake the locals called Ukerewe. This separation was to prove ominous to the two adventurers, for it meant that when Speke beheld what he believed was the source of the Nile, Burton was not there to see for himself. Burton would refuse to accept Speke's opinion. This led to a disagreement between the two men that quickly became very public and bitter. 

Nonetheless, the parting of two great men of exploration did not stop the march of geographical progress. Leaving Burton behind in the Arab settlement of Ujiji, near the lake of the same name, Speke set out across this lake, now known as Lake Tanganyika, hoping it was the source of the Nile. Unable to obtain an adequate boat, Speke was forced to abandon the quest and rejoined Burton. While recuperating at Kaze, in the land of the Unyamwezi where they had stayed earlier, the locals related more tales of Lake Ukerewe to the two explorers. Illness sapped the interest that Burton would normally have had, but the stories fired Speke's imagination. With a hurriedly gathered force of men and supplies Speke set off for the fabled lake. On July 30, 1858 he reached the shores of the lake. He bestowed the name Victoria on the lake in honor of his queen. But lack of provisions and equipment forced Speke to content himself with a rough sketch of the lake and a burning conviction that he had the solution to a 2,000 year-old riddle.  He returned to Kaze and presented his case to his colleague. The fever-stricken Burton, however, refused to accept Speke's conclusion. An on-going debate ensued in which the two men failed to agree. The discussion became exceedingly lively. Illness, exhaustion and divergence of temperament all played their part. The final fallout occurred when Speke, back in England, made his case to the Royal Geographical Society. Burton had remained in Zanzibar, too sick to travel but expecting that Speke would delay his announcement until Burton could be present to argue his side of the issue. Although Speke could hardly ask his sponsors to wait to hear the results of their investment, Burton saw Speke's actions as a mortal sin and never forgave him. 


The Puzzle Unraveled at Last

To confirm the epic discovery, Speke returned to Africa, this time in the company of an old companion from his India days, James Augustus Grant. Having learned his lesson from earlier attempts, Speke and Grant assembled a well-provisioned expedition of 200 men before setting out in 1860. Nonetheless, the usual delays of travel in Africa at that time caused interminable delays. It would in fact be two years before Speke arrived at his longed-for destination. But when Speke heard of a river that flowed out of Lake Victoria, nothing could stop him from reaching for what men had dreamed of so long. Leaving the fever-stricken Grant behind to rest, he explored Lake Victoria and found the rapids where a river left the lake and fed the Nile. 

Rejoined by Grant and accompanied by another associate from the Indian service, hunting-enthusiast Samuel Baker, Speke then began a descent of the Nile. Upon reaching Khartoum, Speke wasted no time in sending a now famous telegram to London. The terse but momentous message read simply, "The Nile is settled." Upon his return to England, Speke received full credit and plaudits for his accomplishments. Like Columbus, John Hanning Speke's moment of triumph was short-lived. Only two years later, in a tragic postscript, and on the day before he was to face his old colleague and enemy Burton in a debate over the Nile question, Speke was killed in a hunting accident. He was 37. 

Final confirmation of the source of the Nile was to wait until 1875. It was then that Henry Morton Stanley, of "Dr. Livingstone I presume" fame, circled Lake Victoria and confirmed Speke's claim. Grueling determination, suffering and imagination had solved another age-old mystery.


What do you think of the explorers who confirmed the source of the Nile River? Let us know below.


Southwaite, Leonard, Unrollingthe Map: The Story of Exploration,The Junior Literary                    Guild, New York, 1930, pages 253-8

(February 4, 2010) "Speke and the Discovery of the Source of the Nile: An Introduction." [Web blog post],

The leaked British government plans for a no-deal Brexit show a Britain in peril. In the past, as in the case of preparations for the event of a Soviet nuclear attack, the government has been well advised to keep secrets from the public lest they expose the true extent of the inadequacy of their plans.

Here, Jack Howarth looks at Brexit planning in the context of government planning for a nuclear attack in the Cold War.

There was frequent guidance in the Cold War related to what to do in the event of a nuclear attack, such as this US Government booklet.

There was frequent guidance in the Cold War related to what to do in the event of a nuclear attack, such as this US Government booklet.

The leaked Operation Yellowhammer document, outlining the British government’s planning for a no-deal Brexit, paints a grim picture of Britain’s future. It shows planners preparing for food shortages, economic disruption, and civil unrest; ‘wartime implications, in peacetime’, according to one MP.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government claims the consequences shown are merely a worst-case scenario, not a prediction. Still, one imagines the government would rather these plans have remained secret. 

After all, why scare the public with what only might happen?


Planning for a Soviet nuclear strike

This line of argument has a history. Decades ago, the British government was similarly engaged with planning for full-scale disaster: economic collapse, unprecedented health crises, and public disturbances threatening the rule of law. 

Then, the preparations being made behind closed doors were for how Britain might look after an expected nuclear strike by the Soviet Union. Strategic exercises, devised at the behest of the Callaghan and Thatcher governments, were role played to ensure a future for the British state in the event of a catastrophe. 

It was widely known that entertaining any hope for the survival of the public-at-large was futile. The advice given to the populationwas usually ill-considered, sometimes grimly amusingand, scoring points for some contemporary politicians, flew in the face of all guidance given by the experts.

The decimation of the population, though, was not seen as good reason to not ensure the continuity of government.

While it was assumed the Cabinet would either be preoccupied in scrabbling for a retaliation, or be entirely obliterated, declassified civil service records show plans being laid out for the proposed structure of the rest of the state infrastructure after an attack.

In order to avoid anarchy, disorder and delays, officials planned a new, regionally devolved government. County council chief executives would become substantially empowered. A Britain divided into twelve regional zones would emerge, each being ruled essentially as their new leader saw fit.

As the test runs played as war games by civil servants, military officials, and those who would ultimately take up power progressed, many bemoaned the lack of clarity of government figures. Confusion reigned, with the only agreement amongst the players tending to arise around the need for the future leaders to ‘virtually have life and death authority over the people of the county’. In this, at least, the government was obliging: an emergency powers bill was prepared ready to be pushed through Parliament at a moment’s notice.

None of those involved in the actual work of the exercises was under any delusion of bravado; none imagined they could actually face down the threat. Even those who were to be given the role of ruling their region knew they were planning for the impossible. 

Fortunately for the government of the day, the scenarios envisaged by these plans remained largely unknown to the public. Attempts to publish them led to criminal prosecution. Awareness of them might compromise Britain’s power abroad, or embarrass the nation in front of the enemy, it was said. 


Planning in perspective

Reading the correspondence involved now, one might agree that the government was sensible to not disclose its plans. Obvious wartime disadvantages aside, civil defense planners already faced staunch opposition from local government and resurgent protest movements. Had the public known the depth of inadequacy of the government’s plans, the support for the enshrined policy of mutually assured destruction may have ebbed to the extent of requiring reconsideration.

To protect government policy, the officials responsible for contingency planning decided that the ‘balance of advantage’ weighed against any public disclosure, lest they alarm the public. There was, they reasoned, always the possibility that their work may be unnecessary, that disaster may be averted. 



What do you think of Cold War nuclear planning? Let us know below.


Jack Howarth is a graduate of the University of Exeter and is currently a postgraduate student at Oxford Brookes University, having been awarded the de Rohan Scholarship to continue his research into contemporary history. 

During the seventeenth-century, almost every European polity with a warm water port tried to colonize some portion of the New World. And, despite their status as a newly independent state, the Netherlands proved no exception as they went on to colonize a part of modern-day America that includes New York. Jordan Baker explains.

You can read Jordan’s previous article on the role of Black Haitian Soldiers in the Siege of Savannah during the American Revolution here.

A painting of New Amsterdam (later New York) from 1664, the year the English took possession from the Dutch. By Johannes Vingboons.

A painting of New Amsterdam (later New York) from 1664, the year the English took possession from the Dutch. By Johannes Vingboons.


If, like me, you grew up in the United States, the history classes you took may well have given you the impression that England, Spain, and Portugal were the only European powers that attempted to colonize the Americas. This couldn’t be farther from the truth!


The Beginnings of New Netherland

The story of New Netherland starts with the beginning of the Netherlands itself. Up until 1581, the Netherlands was controlled by the Habsburg family, first under the auspices of the Holy Roman Empire, then under the Spanish crown. Beginning in 1568, however, the Dutch revolted, beginning the conflict known as both the Eighty Years’ War and the Dutch Revolt. Though the Dutch did not gain de jureindependence from Spain until 1648, they secured de factoindependence in 1581. 

No longer part of the Habsburg Empire, the Dutch quickly set out making an Empire of their own. Unlike other European powers of the day, however, the Dutch Empire was based on trade rather than the acquisition of mass amounts of territory. Though Henry Hudson explored the area that became New Netherland in 1609, during the first few decades of the seventeenth-century the Dutch focused more on the Asian and African sections of their empire, capturing valuable trading ports from the Portuguese. This changed in 1621 when the Dutch Republic granted the West India Company (WIC) a charter and 24 year trading monopoly as a way to both take advantage of North American trade and challenge Spanish hegemony in the Atlantic.

Due to several factors, the European population of New Netherland remained rather low throughout the first decade of its existence. One major reason for this was the WIC’s monopoly. The controlled all trade in the colony and thus any immigrant to New Netherland was a WIC employee. And, the chances of this small population reproducing was null, as a majority of settlers brought to the area by WIC were farmers, craftsmen, hunters, and traders — all men. With Fort Orange, the Dutch were perfectly positioned to take advantage of Europeans’ growing desire for beaver pelts and they acquired these in mass trading with Iroquoian and Algonquian speaking peoples. Their settlement on Manhattan Island, New Amsterdam, also became a major Atlantic trade port, with ships arriving from all over the Americas, Caribbean, Africa, and Europe. 


Attempts at Populating New Netherland: Patroonships

By 1630, New Netherland’s European population was 300. For a territory that stretched 145 miles up the Hudson from Manhattan Island, that’s pretty sparse. In order to increase their profit and population while lowering their costs, the WIC implemented the Patroonship plan. Under this plan, a settler would be given a large tract of land, thus becoming a Patroon, and were given full rights to the land and legal rights to settle non-capital court cases - almost like a manorial lord in the Middle Ages. Though the plans for Patroonship were modified after their implementation, the overall program proved successful at bringing more European settlers to New Netherland, who the WIC could then tax to make their profit. 

Kiliaen van Rensselear, already a principal shareholder in the WIC, became the most successful of the Patroons, establishing Rensselaerswyck near the Dutch settlement of Fort Orange. Under this Patroonship, Rensselear controlled the largest fur trading territory in New Netherland, taking advantage of his new found ability to deal with the neighboring New England colonies and Native Nations. 

While the Patroonship model for colonization did help increase the numbers of Europeans immigrating to New Netherland, most of the people making the journey weren’t Dutch. Many colonists in New Netherland were actually Walloons - French speakers from what is now southern Belgium. In fact, colonists from Wallonia became the first permanent settlers in New Netherland.

By the time the Dutch Republic ceded New Netherland to England in 1664, the colony boasted a diverse population of Swedes, Finns, Germans, English, Walloon Belgians, and Dutch, whose numbers topped out somewhere around 9,000.  


The Final Years of New Netherland 

The end of New Netherland began in another hemisphere altogether. The Dutch established a powerful, world-wide trading empire in the seventeenth-century, but their territories in the Western Hemisphere proved difficult to maintain. From 1630-1654, the Dutch and WIC controlled part of Portuguese Brazil, which they called New Holland. After Portugal regained independence from Spain in 1640, Brazilian planters began rebelling against their Dutch rulers. Eventually, the Dutch and WIC were forced to concede their Brazilian territory to Portugal. 


Many of the colonists from New Holland made their way to other Dutch colonies in the Americas, like New Netherland. This collapse of New Holland caused the population of New Netherland to grow dramatically, helping reach the numbers mentioned earlier. A year after losing the rich sugar producing territory of New Holland, the Dutch gained control of New Sweden, a stretch of small colonies located primarily in Delaware, which lead to the incorporation of many of the Swedish and Finnish inhabitants of New Netherland.

Despite its growth in both population and territory, however, New Netherland wasn’t long for the world. The Netherlands ceded control of the colony to England in 1654. Though the Dutch did briefly regain control in 1673-1674, the territory was ostensibly English until the Treaty of Paris ended the American Revolution in 1783. Once in control, the colony’s new rulers changed the name of Fort Orange to Albany and the booming trading port on Manhattan Island from New Amsterdam to New York.


Jordan Baker writes at the East India Blogging Company here.

Operation Overlord and the D-Day landings were a huge Allied undertaking in June 1944 during World War Two that opened up the Western European Theater of Operations. Here, Robert Tremblay considers the operation in the context of the differing leaderships: the Allies led by General Eisenhower and the Nazis led by Erwin Rommel.

General Eisenhower addresses American troops on June 5, 1944, the day before D-Day.

General Eisenhower addresses American troops on June 5, 1944, the day before D-Day.


During General Eisenhower’s message to the Allied Forces, the day of June 6, 1944, he communicated intent and insight to the forces by stating they are “about to embark upon the Great Crusade”.[1]  General (GEN) Eisenhower’s engaged and responsive decision making, through his experience and leadership attributes, accounted for the success in defeating Field Marshal Erwin Rommel and the Germans in Operation Overlord.  Operation Overlord became the catalyst for the future Allied victory in the European Theater of Operations for WWII.  Operation Overlord was to open-up a third war front through Western Europe, within the European Theater of Operations, in order serve as a theater opening for a line communication to liberate Western Europe. Then, the Allied forces would have the ability to create an envelopment of Nazi Germany, leading to their occupation and surrender.  The mission consisted of a multinational invasion using air power, sea power, and land power.  Operation Overlord forces comprised of 5,000 landing vessels (security provided from 700 naval boats) transporting 175,000 (numbers vary) from five multi-lateral divisions with three Allied airborne divisions by 1,000 personnel transport aircraft and gliders, which were supported by 4,000 fighter and bomber airplanes.[2]  Operational Overlord consisted of soldiers, airmen, sailors, and marines coming from seven nations coming together for a common cause.[3]  


Root Cause Analysis for Operation Overlord

The root cause for the execution of Operation Overlord and the occupation of Omaha Beach was a result from three critical factors.  The first factor was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s (FDR’s) decisions to formally support the “Europe First” policy over the Pacific campaign.  The reason is that the Americans and the British made a mutual judgement that Germany was rapidly becoming a bigger risk than Japan and the Allies needed to concentrate first on Europe.  FDR and Churchill’s objective was to destroy Hitler’s aggression across Europe and North Africa.  The Americans and the British used the “Europe First” policy as an advantage for development of its readiness through the Southern European and North African campaign.  FDR used military, as an instrument of power to reach a political objective of legitimizing the “Europe First” policy.  This policy led to the planning and preparation for Operation Overlord.  

The second critical factor was the concept of operations development amongst the Allied leaders for Operation Overlord.  The Allied leaders initially discussed the concept of operations in May 1943 at the Trident Conference.  During the conference, the senior Allied leaders discussed the organization, training, and equipment for the U.S. Military and Allied Forces going into Great Britain.[4]  Then, at the Quadrant Conference in August 1943, the Allied military leaders discussed the concept of Operation Overlord.[5]   This stated three conditions that needed to be met before the execution of Operation Overlord.  The first condition was that there needed to be exhaustion in the German military resources before the Allies executed D-Day.  The second condition was that the Allies needed to strain the German resources though the depletion of their logistical base by sustaining two areas of operations within the war.  The third condition was that the Allied forces were to use opportunities to advance their readiness through mission-related experiences.   

The last factor was the selection of GEN Dwight Eisenhower.  FDR officially designated GEN Eisenhower as the Supreme Commander on his weekly address. Before he did the address, FDR told GEN Eisenhower “Well, Ike, you are going to command Overlord”.[6][7]  GEN Eisenhower took all responsibility for Operation Overlord.  After his appointment of responsibilities, GEN Eisenhower empowered the Allied forces with loyalty and conviction so they could plan and prepare for this complex operation.  He stated that he had “full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle”.[8]  


Conflicting Personalities of Generalship

The German and American generalship was the decisive reason as to whom would be victorious in Normandy.  There were conflicting personalities operating within different forms of nationalism and ideology.  Soldiers witnessed GEN Eisenhower being an engaged general based on wanting to know each soldier’s emotions before the invasion.  For example, during Operation Overlord, this is where the famous picture was taken in front of the 101st ABN DIV Soldiers before they did their jump behind enemy lines.[9]  Additionally, once he provided the decision for Overlord, he was as anxious for the soldiers as the general officers and the division commanders as it was the soldiers that put the plans into action.[10]GEN Eisenhower had the personal courage to take all of the responsibility of any failure.  For example, with respect to Operation Overlord, GEN Eisenhower wrote a letter claiming all responsibility if the Normandy Invasion was a failure.[11]  Now, he was able to lead an organizational culture with full freedom and empowerment. GEN Eisenhower made it clear with Churchill and FDR that he needed the responsibility and empowerment to be able to make and execute decisions and actions freely.  This generalship and climate was all the way down to the lieutenant and sergeant.  These lieutenants and sergeants had the empowerment to decide and execute the tactical decisions and actions required for all operations to become a success.  

Referencing the Germans’ generalship, it was the total contrary.  Hitler and his Generals micromanaged down to the lieutenant and sergeant.  For example, during the invasion, the German Commanding Generals had to seek authorization from Hitler to get a Panzer Division from the reserve.  The German Generals could not wake Hitler until noon, while the first land forces started to come aboard around 0600 hrs on June 6, 1944 and Airborne operations came the night prior.[12]  Once the German Generals received clearance, the Panzer division could not start moving until night so that they could be under darkness for concealment.[13]  Therefore, this Panzer Division did not arrive until 0930 hrs June 7, after a 75-mile march.[14]  The impact was drastic for not having the Panzer division in an expeditious matter of time.  Guderian stated in his memoirs that the best opportunity for a counterattack on the British airborne forces was lost due to not receiving orders from higher command.[15]   Furthermore, to make matters worse, Rommel was not at Normandy.  Hitler gave Rommel the operational command of securing the Atlantic and Normandy front, but Rommel was far away and tried to get to Normandy. However, since the Allies had air superiority, Rommel could not fly and had to drive.[16]  The result was multiple blunders that led to German failures and Allied successes during the invasion.  



In conclusion, historical analysis substantiates that American Forces were successful in accomplishing their objectives in Operation Overlord. This was done through their maneuvers that resulted in the opening up of – and eventual envelopment of – the Western European Theater of Operations. Operation Overlord had lasting impacts within World War II.  Therefore, one of the main conclusions from Murray and Millet’s analysis was that World War II was one of the biggest destroyers of human life and material that we have encountered in world history.[17] The amount of human life lost to Operation Overlord (and especially at the Battle of Omaha Beach) was and is still unthinkable.  Then, with the amount of money and material destroyed, that loss was even greater.  The Overlord Allied casualties totaled 60,771 with 8,975 killed in action.[18]  Historians believe that Hitler wanted to conquer the world at any cost.  Hitler and the Nazis proved this point on many occasions.  For example, Hitler and his Nazis committed unthinkable acts within the Holocaust, Polish and French Campaigns, and several other Eastern European campaigns.  The Allies needed to hold the Nazis accountable and so defeat them. The process of defeating the Nazis came at a very high cost, with the destruction of material and human lives. The means were the destruction of the Nazis and ends were eliminating their evil from the world. Therefore, it is my belief that the ends outweighed the means.  In conclusion, GEN Eisenhower summarized that “Operation Overlord was at once a singular military expedition and fearsome risk”.[19]


What do you think of the article? Let us know below.

[1]Dwight Eisenhower. Message from General Dwight Eisenhower to the Allied Forces, Eisenhower Archives Website (6 June 1944).

[2]John J. Marr. “Designing the Victory in Europe.” Military Review July-August 2011 (2011): 64.

[3]John J. Marr. “Designing the Victory in Europe.”, 64.

[4]Max Hastings. Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy. (New York: Vintage Books, 1984), 21.


[6]Dwight D. Eisenhower. Crusade in Europe  (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company INC, 1952), 211

[7]Dwight Eisenhower. The Eisenhower Diaries.Edited by Robert H. Ferrell (New York: WW Norton and Company, 1981), 107.


[9]Eisenhower. Crusade in Europe, 251-252.

[10]Dwight D. Eisenhower.At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends(Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company INC, 1967), 271-275.

[11]Stephen Ambrose. D-Day: June 6, 1944: The Battle for the Normandy Beaches(London: Simon Schuster, 1994), 190.  

[12]Ibid, 567-575.  

[13] Williamson Murray and Allan R. Millett. A War to be Won: Fighting the Second World War.  (Cambridge, MS and London, England: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2000), 412.   

[14]Rommel, Rommel Papers, 483.

[15]Heinz Guderian. Panzer Leader.  (New York: Dell, 1989), 184.

[16]Ambrose. D-Day: June 6, 1944: The Battle for the Normandy Beaches, 567-575.  

[17]Murray and Millett, A War to be Won: Fighting the Second World War, 554-557.   

[18]Dwight D Eisenhower.  In Review.(Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company INC, 1969), 69.  

[19]Dwight D Eisenhower. At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends, 273.

It was political and religious turmoil at its worst on St. Bartholomew’s Day in 1572. The French crown massacred over 30,000 Protestant Huguenots. The Papacy in Rome was influencing and exercising the French and Spanish monarchy’s political will over the regions’ loyal Catholic followers and even the religion itself. It was such a divided and violent religious context that drove people to want liberty for their religious views – and that led to more battles. In 1588 that Philip II of Spain (under pressure from the Pope) would send the renowned Spanish Armada to forcefully bring England under the dominion of Rome and the Papacy. Here Daniel L. Smith explains how many at the time thought that providence was the reason behind the Spanish defeat.

You can read Daniel’s past articles on California in the US Civil War (here), Medieval Jesters (here), How American Colonial Law Justified the Settlement of Native American Territories (here), and Spanish Colonial Influence on Native Americans in Northern California (here), and Christian ideology in history (here).

Defeat of the Spanish Armada  by Philip James de Loutherbourg.

Defeat of the Spanish Armada by Philip James de Loutherbourg.

The four Spanish problems

It is apparent that there were four problem precursors to the main event that disrupted and dissolved the mighty Spanish Armada from invading England.Problem one: Sir Francis Drake attacked the Spanish controlled Cadiz harbor in 1587. During the siege, his massive fleet damaged or destroyed many partially built ships that were being constructed by the Spanish crown for the Armada.

Problem two: The Spanish crews within the fleet were quickly demoralized by rotten food and water. The new wood barrels acquired for the fleet’s food-stores were still quite damp from being made. When barrels are produced, they need certain drying times for a completely finished product, such as a food or water barrel. These still dampened barrels quickly rotted out the food and water supplied for the entirety of the Spanish fleet. Just a few examples of ration losses: 11 million pounds (in weight) of ship biscuits, 40,000 gallons of olive oil, 14,000 barrels of wine, and 600,000 pounds of salted pork.[1]

On to problem three: The plan required logistical support from the Dutch crown to pick up Spanish soldiers in the Netherlands and invade England’s southern counties. The issue here was that there was no such treaty or support structure to allow for such massive military movements.

Problem four: Spain’s Admiral Santa Cruz, who was a respected and successful admiral, died in 1586. The admiral chosen by King Philip II to lead the massive Armada after Cruz’s death was a very rich and successful general called the Duke of Medina Sidonia. Duke Sidonia had never been to sea before. The question lies in this; why charge a man to lead to largest most powerful squadron in the world, who carried absolutely no working or academic knowledge on seamanship? Duke Sidonia even got violently seasick while underway![2]


The invasion – and the storm

The Armada set out to complete their English invasion on July 19, 1588. The fleet of 130 ships – including 22 fighting galleons – sailed in a crescent shape towards the English Channel. As the Spanish Armada sailed through the channel, they were met in force by a much smaller Royal English Navy. The English felt outmatched and quickly demoralized, with no chance of hope. It was during this time of hopelessness that all of England had been fasting and praying. A huge storm arose without any notice whatsoever and pushed the Spanish ships away from Britain’s coast towards the rocky shoals of Holland. This sank a majority of the Spanish Armada, but oddly enough, the smaller English ships were not affected by the wild storm. The English navy managed to maneuver their vessels through the rough seas and next to the Spanish ships. The hardy seamen were able to successfully set fire to the enemy vessels. The English loss of life was minimal. The Spanish lost both massive amounts of both life and property. The inexperienced and disheveled commanders only good option was to return to Spain in tatters. 

The weather battered down on the Armada, and the English were left to control the Channel. In their slow retreat, only one-way out was available: A 1,500-mile journey back around the entire British Isles. A powerful storm, which came in from the north of Scotland, hit that caused havoc over the whole region. On August 22, this storm hit the remaining 112 ships in the fleet—which left the Spanish fleet completely broken. Twenty-four of the unfortunate ships to survive the storm washed up on the jagged coast of Ireland. Lots of other ships ended up breaking apart near the battered shores. Hundreds of Spanish drowned in the cold waters. Some survivors swam and struggled to land. When they did reach land, they were beaten and stripped of all their belongings by local Irish residents. Only a couple of units were able to repair their ships and return to Spain.

In late September, what was left of the Armada's battered-up ships crawled into Spanish ports.Philip II would later state publicly, "I sent my fleet against men, not against the wind and the waves."[3]Philip was in terrible personal torment over the terrible loss of life in private. In fact, some 20,000 Spanish soldiers, sailors, merchants, and officials had died during or soon after the grand Armada’s capitulation.Only a handful of ships were able to limp back to Spain - without ever getting a chance to touch English soil. It seems as though God had providentially intervened to ensure that England would fulfill its purpose as a nation for the rest of the world.


The reckoning

In the end, King Philip II of Spain accepted (like Elizabeth of England) that, “…God's winds had blown against his fleet.”[4]A joyful Queen Elizabeth ordered a medallion struck to honor the victory she believed God had provided. Its inscription read, "He breathed and they were scattered." Further, even the nation of Holland acknowledged the hand of God in all of this. In commemoration of the historical and seemingly divine event, they minted a memorable coin. On one side was the Armada sinking; on the other, men on their knees in prayer with the inscription: “Man Proposeth, God Disposeth,” and the date, “1588”.[5]A famous historian of the era, Richard Hakluyt, would end up writing about this event:

It is most apparent, that God miraculously preserved the English nation. For the L. Admiral wrote unto her Majestie that in all humane reason, and according to the judgement of all men (every circumstance being duly considered) the English men were not of any such force. whereby they might, without a miracle dare once to approach within sight of the Spanish Fleet: insomuch that they freely ascribed all the honour of their victory unto God, who had confounded the enemy, and had brought his counsels to none effect… While this wonderful and puissant navy was styling along the English coastes,… all people throut England prostrated themselves with humble prayers and supplications unto God: but especially the outlandish churches (who had greatest cause to feare, and against whom by name the Spaniards had threatened most grievous torments) enjoyned to their people continual fastings and supplications… knowing right well, that prayer was the onely refuge against all enemies, calamities, and  necessities, and that it was the onely solace and reliefe for mankind, being visited with afflictions and misery.[6]


All parties involved—from France, to England, to Spain, to the Papacy, Protestants, Catholics, and the Armada—all agreed in unison that it was the “guiding Providence of God” who stepped into intervene in men’s affairs. It was evidential that political and military oriented circumstances spiraled out of the immediate control of the Spanish crown; including its governing officers, military officials, and even the Pope himself. In mathematical sequence, dilemma after dilemma plagued the Spanish. While the Armada was in full view of the southern coastal towns of England, English families and individuals were noted as solemnly praying for their immediate safety from the impending conquest on their livelihoods. 

The rest of the story is history.


Why do you think the Spanish Armada was defeated in 1588 – was it divine providence, the English being lucky, or something not explored in the article? Let us know below.

Finally, Daniel Smith writes at

[1]Trueman, C. N. "The Spanish Armada." History Learning Site. Last modified March 17, 2015. 2ndBoxed Item)

[2]Ibid, Trueman, C.N., (3rdPara. 1stBoxed Item)

[3]Andrews, Evan. "Was This the Most Ambitious'and Disastrous Campaign in Military History?" HISTORY. Last modified November 4, 2015.

[4]Williams, Patrick. “The ‘Chief Business’: The Spanish Armada, 1588.” In History Review, 09629610, Dec. 2009, Issue 65.

[5]Beliles, Mark A., and Stephen K. McDowell. "The Chain of Liberty: Preparation for America." In America's Providential History, 3rd ed., Charlottesville: Providence Foundation, 2010. p. 58.

[6]W. Cleon Skousen, The Making of America(Washington D.C., 1985), p. 32.


C. N. Trueman, "The Spanish Armada." History Learning Site. Last modified March 17, 2015. (5thPara. 2ndBoxed Item)

-- Ibid, (3rdPara. 1stBoxed Item)

Evan Andrews, "Was This the Most Ambitious' and Disastrous' Campaign in Military History?" HISTORY. Last modified November 4, 2015.

Mark A Beliles, and Stephen K. McDowell. "The Chain of Liberty: Preparation for America." In America's Providential History, 3rd ed., Charlottesville: Providence Foundation, 2010. 

Patrick Williams, “The ‘Chief Business’: The Spanish Armada, 1588.” In History Review,09629610, Dec. 2009, Issue 65.

W. Cleon Skousen, The Making of America(Washington D.C., 1985)

AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones
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