Monthly Archives: January 2016

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Keep Calm and Carry On

The Guardian has published a very interesting piece by Owen Hatherley on the 'Keep Calm and Carry On' phenomenon, an extract from his new book, The Ministry of Nostalgia: Consuming Austerity. He persuasively locates the poster within the context of an 'austerity nostalgia [...] a yearning for the kind of public modernism that, rightly or wrongly, was seen to have characterised the period from the 1930s to the early 1970s; it could just as easily exemplify a more straightforwardly conservative longing for security and stability in hard times'. I'm not British, but from the outside this seems like a plausible explanation for the renewed interest in the Blitz spirit in recent times.
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In my previous post on the possible airship panic of 1915, I used n-grams for 'Zeppelin' and 'rumour' derived from the British Newspaper Archive to try to work out when exactly it was. The answer was that it began in late December 1914 and finished in early February 1915. But is the answer right? Is the method useful? To test that I switched to close reading and checked whether it does indeed relate to an airship panic. The very preliminary upshot is that the principle seems sound, but its application is difficult, or at least more complicated than I've allowed -- while the signals in the data are more or less real, there are a substantial number of false positives and false negatives. There will always be some of these, due to bad OCR or just chance, but there are a couple of systematic reasons increasing the difficulties.

The first problem, an obvious one, is that a wider range of key terms is needed: 'Zeppelin' is pretty sound for this period (though occasionally 'airship' and 'dirigible' appear in its place), but 'rumour' needs to be supplemented by other terms such as 'panic', 'scare', or even a phrase like 'it is said'. And of course ostensibly sober and objective analysis of the prospects of Zeppelin raids won't get picked up by a search like mine which is looking for discussions of panic. So there are these false negatives (things I've missed) -- such as the claim in early January that Germany was planning to send ten Zeppelins to raid London at the end of the month with 'the task of crippling the British fleet, and also cause a panic', or the story that a 'huge box kite' being used to test London's anti-aircraft defences led to speculation 'as to whether [a?] Zeppelin has arrived at last'.1 The second, and less soluble, problem is that BNA isn't always very good at detecting when one article starts and another one begins. In fact, it's quite common to find a dozen or two short articles joined together. This means that BNA could (say) consider an article mentioning Zeppelin operations over France, and another discussing rumours that the Germans have mined Brussels so that they can destroy the city if forced to evacuate it, to be part of the same article.2 These are false positives.
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  1. Western Times (Exeter), 11 January 1915, 4; Daily Mail (Hull), 19 January 1915, 4

  2. Birmingham Daily Post, 28 December 1914, 4

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My peer-reviewed article 'The phantom airship panic of 1913: imagining aerial warfare in Britain before the Great War' has now been published in the Journal of British Studies, and can be found here (or here, for the free, self-archived version). This is the abstract:

In late 1912 and early 1913, people all over Britain reported seeing airships in the night sky, yet there were none. It was widely assumed that these “phantom airships” were German Zeppelins, testing British defenses in preparation for the next war. The public and press responses to the phantom airship sightings provide a glimpse of the way that aerial warfare was understood before it was ever experienced in Britain. Conservative newspapers and patriotic leagues used the sightings to argue for a massive expansion of Britain’s aerial forces, which were perceived to be completely out-classed by Germany’s in both number and power. In many ways this airship panic was analogous to the much better known 1909 dreadnought panic. The result was the perfect Edwardian panic: the simultaneous culmination of older fears about Germany and the threat of espionage, invasion, and, above all, the loss of Britain’s naval superiority. But, in reality, there was little understanding about the way that Zeppelins would be used against Britain in the First World War—not to attack its arsenals and dockyards, but to bomb its cities.

As I've said a fair bit about this article already, I won't go on about it any further -- except to add that this is my first illustrated article (apart from maps and figures), and a very rare illustration it is too!

Jeremy Black. The Cold War: A Military History. London and New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015. I already have a book with this title (by David Miller) but that was published in 1999, and another half-generation's distant might lend some valuable perspective. The indefatigable Black traces the Cold War all the way back to 1917, perhaps the drawing on the research for his recent book on the interwar period, Avoiding Armageddon (2012).

Michael Bryant. A World History of War Crimes: From Antiquity to the Present. London and New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016. China and India appear a couple of dozen times each in the index, so this is a fair attempt at a world history; but inevitably it's dominated by the evolution of war crimes (and of course the legal systems which defined war crimes) in Europe and its sphere of influence.

T.M. Devine. The Scottish Nation: A Modern History. London: Penguin, 2012. A subject I should know more about (among many others).

Lindsey A. Freeman. Longing for the Bomb: Oak Ridge and Atomic Nostalgia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015. Part history, part sociology of Atomic City -- Oak Ridge, the site of the world's second self-sustaining nuclear reactor as well as the focus of American postwar nuclear utopianism as well as disillusionment. All of that spells: fun!

Terry Moyle. Art Deco Airports: Dream Designs of the 1920s & 1930s.. London, Chatswood and Auckland: New Holland, 2015. Airports and Art Deco grew up together, so it's no surprise that there are Art Deco airports. Quite a few of them, in fact, from Le Bourget at Paris to Shushan at New Orleans. This is a very attractive, well-illustrated book, but while it's not quite an academic work it is more than a coffee table book, and it has a decent bibliography and endnotes section as well.

Robert M. Neer. Napalm: An American Biography. Cambridge and London: The Belknap Press, 2013. If you buy only one book on napalm, this is the one you want (and maybe the only one there is). We tend to associate napalm with Vietnam and maybe Korea, but of course it was born in the Second World War, where it would have incinerated more Japanese than the atomic bombs did.