Welcome to History Carnival 31! Mr Wells' celebrated Time Traveller voyaged into the distant future, but we will have the levers on our time machine set firmly in the reverse position — less chance of running into a Morlock that way. To help us navigate the currents and eddies of the historical ether, we read the latest bulletins from the Time Transit Authority before we set out: one on the need to respect privacy, and another on the world-historical significance of 26 April. Our perusals of historical mystery novels may or may not prepare us for our possible encounters with crime throughout history, but they are entertaining. Finally, we are ready; we seat ourselves on the saddle, and depress the lever; night and day blur into one, and a strange din fills our ears …
Our first encounter with the past is in South Korea in the mid-1970s, where we learn of the reasons for a dictatorship's intolerance of popular narcotics. Otherwise, we quickly pass through the late 20th century, hoping to avoid the shoals of Franco-German anti-Americanism, but instead are drawn into the complex timestreams of the Middle-East. We observe the difficulties of Arab liberalism, but find cause for hope. Trying to skirt the clouded issue of the relative importance of realism and idealism in the US recognition of Israel, however, only leads us into one of the key topographical features of the 20th century timescape, anti-Semitism. Indeed, it appears to be a recurring feature at this time, in both Germany and the Arab world. We observe the death of the individual most responsible for this, Adolf Hitler but also note the strange post-1945 rumours of his survival, as though his death was somehow insufficient in light of his effect upon history. Lingering in 1943, we examine the evidence for one of his extermination units (and it is amazing that there are those who can deny the reality of such evil, even those with no apparent ideological axe to grind), when our attention is diverted by a somehow airminded flavour to the time continuum: it appears that there is to be a cinematographical remake of the story of the RAF's breaching of the Ruhr dams. (We earnestly hope that Mr Jackson retains the music of the original.) But perhaps Guy Gibson et al not need have done it all, were it not for the support of German nobility for the Nazis from the 1920s onwards.
We finally break free of the Second World War, hoping to find happier timelines. Instead, we are witness to the misery of the American dustbowl in the 1930s. We are distressed to observe that Mr Gandhi's powerful philosophy is being misrepresented; and regret the missed opportunity for a meeting of the minds between Mr Tagore and Mr Einstein. But at least the Powerpoint edition of the history of contraceptives relieves the gloom! We barely have time to wonder if the US government's war on rats inspired noted thespian Mr James Cagney before a sudden gust of the time-winds sends us hurtling back past the Great War altogether and into another century …
The 19th century is as war-ridden as the 20th, at least in later memory. Grierson's Raid, in the American Civil War, has been re-presented in many different forms in subsequent years, while the battle of Pueblo in 1862 is celebrated by Mexicans to this day — not without reason, as the invading French army was defeated, to the surprise of all. Also surprising, perhaps, is the relative lack of present-day remembrance of the censure of US President James Polk for engineering a war he had long desired. History may not actually repeat, but on occasion it does seem that we have been this way before.
It is at this point in time that we relive the ghastly story of the anthropophagous Donner party, but more particularly how its Wikipedian retelling holds lessons for the modern student. But it is time for a rest in our chronological journey. We adjust the levers, braking our progress. We barely have time to register the War of 1812 and the salutory story behind the US national anthem before we come to a complete halt. We now stand on the threshold of the 18th century, where the modern shades into the early modern. Looking backwards (or is it forwards?), we wonder if there are new ways to frame the American 19th century, and are surprised to learn of the different interpretations of public morality in the northern and the southern United States.
We have come far, over two centuries. But there is much more history yet to be explored: we therefore make certain adjustments to the mechanism, so as to accelerate the rate of our travel down the river of time. And so on to early modern England! We indulge in the rowdy revelries of London's May Days before examining the significance of 1688. We also discern, around the turn of the 17th century, some of the political theologies which perhaps played a part in eventually bringing the Glorious Revolution about. The flow of time confines us to England, for the moment. We note how the transition was made between medieval plays and their early modern successors (such as Shakespeare's Coriolanus), and the introduction of finest china into England. And from on high we observe where Henry VIII's six wives lived. But here is an anomaly — Chaucer suggesting pickup lines for medieval historians in the 21st-century (some of which, it may be suggested, could have broader appeal — Baroness Thatcher might warm to the line 'Art thou a disastrous poll tax? Bycause I feele a risynge comynge on.') A 14th-century chrononaut, perhaps?
The pace of our temporal journey continues to quicken. We find ourselves drawn to smaller, hitherto neglected medieval sites, full of interest for the curious time traveler — a Byzantine church, for example, or a Swedish manor house. The years pass like minutes now, the centuries like hours. The stroboscopic flickers of light from the Sun's daily journeys are mesmerising. We have come 20 or so centuries from our starting point; yet we are not so far distant that we cannot discern correspondences with our own time. The uses of fear in Roman politics should sound a warning to the free peoples of the 21st century. Less threatening, perhaps, are the reverberations and reflections of ancient religions back to our own century. But debating who were the four greatest ancient Greeks, and reflecting upon the dignity of immigrants from the Polynesians onwards puts our own meagre claims to historical significance to shame. We gaze upon the works of Imhotep, and despair.
And so we resolve to push on. We depress the lever still further, and hurtle back into realms of time beyond the knowledge of historians — first into the domain of archaeologists, then those of geologists, astronomers and finally cosmologists. There is a pervasive heat, a thickening and a constriction of space, an implosion of light … oh! the singularity!
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