Dec 02 2018182 Atlantropa, the Plan to Drain the Mediterranean

In the 1920s German architect Herman Sorgel had a plan: Solve nearly all of Europe’s social, economic, and environmental problems by partially draining the Mediterranean. He called the project “Atlantropa,” and it would have been a massive environmental disaster.

View a 1951 clip outlining the plan (in German) here. Below is an image of Sorgel’s plan for a mssive dam across the strait of Gibraltar, which would have dwarfed even the Three Gorges Dam.

Sep 30 2018176 The Cadaver Synod

In 897 Pope Stephen VI put the corpse of one of his predecessors, Formosus, on trial. The current pope ordered that the former pope’s dead body be dressed in papal finery and put on a throne to stand trial. Stephen VI acted as prosecutor, accusing his predecessor of attempting to have two bishoprics at once and coveting the papacy. The current pope then ordered the Formosus’ body stripped of its finery, the fingers on his right hand be cut off, and his body thrown into the Tiber.

The painting below, Pope Formosus and Stephen VII, is the work of French artist Jean-Paul Laurens and painted in 1870.

Nov 11 2017143 Brandon Seifert on Werewolves

Brandon Seifert has written horror comics such as Witch Doctor, Hellraiser, and The Fly. Lately, he’s been studying werewolf folklore. We talked about the history of werewolf stories, werewolf witch trials, why people believed in werewolves, and what to do if you live in the 1500s and someone accuses you of werewolfism.

Oct 24 2017141 How Dracula Was Dracula?

Dracula, anymore, is as much of a character type and a trope as he is a single character. Different takes on Dracula abound, from Bela Lugosi to Sesame Street’s Count to numerous other media. There was also, though, a historical Dracula. Vlad the Impaler was a prince of Wallachia in the 1400s, and is often cited as the inspiration for Stoker’s Vampire. But, was he? Was the real Dracula anything like the character type we know now?

 

 

Mar 27 2017121 Italian Fascism Part Ten, Mussolini and Hitler

Hitler and Mussolini never had a great relationship. The German dictator modeled his career on the Italian fascist, imitating Mussolini’s speech and mannerisms, and unsuccessfully tried to replicate the March on Rome with the Beerhall Putsch. Mussolini, for his part, didn’t pay Hitler much mind until 1930, much to the Furher’s chagrin. When the men first met in 1934 they got into a horrible argument about the fate of Austria, and Hitler later sent some material aide to Ethiopia during Italy’s conquest. However, the to fascists would eventually find themselves isolated from Europe’s liberal democracies, and by 1938 it was almost as if they were natural allies.

Jan 26 2017114 Italian Fascism Part Three, The March on Rome

The March on Rome is often cited as the beginning of Italian fascism. However, there was a fair amount of a run-up to the actual blackshirt invasion of the capital. Right-wing violence ravaged the Italian provinces for years before the actual march and, when Mussolini came to power, he formed a coalition government with conservative liberals and Catholics. In the coming years, Italy’s liberal democracy would be gradually dismantled. Nevertheless, the march was a turning point, and it introduced fascist elements into the Italian governmental leadership.

Oct 13 2016101 Kara Helgren on Witches, Puritans, and the Salem Tourist Experience

Kara Helgren has previously worked for the city of Salem, Massachusetts as a tour guide, leading visitors through the ominously-named Witch House. According to Helgren tourist expectations veered toward the lurid and macabre. Visitors expected tales of ghosts, black magic, and torture. Helgren (whose thesis was about the witch trials) gave them none of that. Instead, she crushed their dreams and broke their hearts with a bunch of historical accuracy.

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Aug 18 201694 The Know-Nothings, Part Two

In 1854 the anti-immigrant Know-Nothings made their debut into American politics. They ran candidates in 76 of the 82 available House of Representatives races, and won 35 of those seats. At the same time, they also became a force to be reckoned with in state and local governments. After their initial success, the Know-Nothings installed one of their own as the Speaker of the House and, at the local level, began passing laws and ordinances that restricted the rights of immigrants.

In 1856 they made a play for the Oval Office, nominating former president Millard Fillmore. As president, Fillmore signed the Fugitive Slave Act that led to the dissolution of the Whig party and (indirectly) to the power vacuum that allowed for the Know-Nothings’ ascendancy. Fillmore did not identify with the Know-Nothings, but saw the nomination as a chance to form a national party that was untroubled by the issue of slaver.

Unfortunately for Fillmore and the Know-Nothings, slavery is possibly the most contentious and important political issue in American history. The issue of slavery (and secession and disunion) dominated the 1856 election. The anti-immigrant Know-Nothings continued to ignore the issue, and after 1856 the momentarily successful party slid into irrelevance.

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Aug 11 201693 The Know-Nothings, Part One

Decades before the modern versions of the Democratic and Republican parties formed, the US also had a few other major political parties. One was the Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton and John Adams. Another was the Whigs, who had intermittent success before collapsing in the middle 1800s. Out of the ashes of the Whig party two other parties rose to take its place: The anti-slavery Republican party, and the anti-immigrant American Party, better known as the Know-Nothings.

The Know-Nothings opposed immigration to the United States, particularly from Catholics. Anti-Catholic paranoia has a long history in the US. Catholics (the thinking went) were more likely to be loyal to the pope than the country they lived in, were unable to work with people whom they deemed to be “heretics” and were, in general, less hardworking and virtuous than their fellow Protestants. This xenophobia, paranoia, and bigotry was prevalent enough that in the election of 1856 the Know-Nothings would contend as a major political party, albeit a failed one.

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Mar 17 201672 There’s No Such Thing As Lemuria

You’ve probably heard to Atlantis, but that’s not the hypothetical lost continent out there. There’s a whole subgenre of supposed submerged continents, with Atlantis being only the most prominent example. Other mythical lands include Mu and Lemuria.

Anymore, Lemuria is now associated with new age pseudohistory, but as an idea it was first posited by an actual scientist. In 1864 Philip Sclater was trying to puzzle out why there were lemurs in both Madagascar and India, but not in Africa or the Middle East. If the animals had migrated from one of those regions to the next, then it stood to reason that there would also be lemur populations between them. To solve this problem, Sclater proposed that there was once a large mass of land in the India Ocean he called “Lemuria” that would have allowed lemurs (and, presumably, other fauna) to migrate from India to Madagascar and back again.

Sclater’s idea was eventually rendered obsolete by plate tectonics, but the idea of a lost continent was seized upon by occultists such as Helena Blavatsky. Charlatans such as Blavatsky claimed to have received special knowledge of humanity’s origin from the lost continent, and a whole subgenre of fake history was born.

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