Monthly Archives: October 2018

Today in History: October 31

The ancient origins of werewolves

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In Ancient Greek texts, the king Lycaon is punished for misdeeds by being turned into a wolf.

Tanika Koosmen, University of Newcastle

The werewolf is a staple of supernatural fiction, whether it be film, television, or literature. You might think this snarling creature is a creation of the Medieval and Early Modern periods, a result of the superstitions surrounding magic and witchcraft.

In reality, the werewolf is far older than that. The earliest surviving example of man-to-wolf transformation is found in The Epic of Gilgamesh from around 2,100 BC. However, the werewolf as we now know it first appeared in ancient Greece and Rome, in ethnographic, poetic and philosophical texts.

These stories of the transformed beast are usually mythological, although some have a basis in local histories, religions and cults. In 425 BC, Greek historian Herodotus described the Neuri, a nomadic tribe of magical men who changed into wolf shapes for several days of the year. The Neuri were from Scythia, land that is now part of Russia. Using wolf skins for warmth is not outside the realm of possibility for inhabitants of such a harsh climate: this is likely the reason Herodotus described their practice as “transformation”.

A werewolf in a German woodcut, circa 1512.

The werewolf myth became integrated with the local history of Arcadia, a region of Greece. Here, Zeus was worshipped as Lycaean Zeus (“Wolf Zeus”). In 380 BC, Greek philosopher Plato told a story in the Republic about the “protector-turned-tyrant” of the shrine of Lycaean Zeus. In this short passage, the character Socrates remarks: “The story goes that he who tastes of the one bit of human entrails minced up with those of other victims is inevitably transformed into a wolf.”

Literary evidence suggests cult members mixed human flesh into their ritual sacrifice to Zeus. Both Pliny the Elder and Pausanias discuss the participation of a young athlete, Damarchus, in the Arcadian sacrifice of an adolescent boy: when Damarchus was compelled to taste the entrails of the young boy, he was transformed into a wolf for nine years. Recent archaeological evidence suggests that human sacrifice may have been practised at this site.

Read more:
Friday essay: the female werewolf and her shaggy suffragette sisters

Monsters and men

The most interesting aspect of Plato’s passage concerns the “protector-turned-tyrant”, also known as the mythical king, Lycaon. Expanded further in Latin texts, most notably Hyginus’s Fabulae and Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Lycaon’s story contains all the elements of a modern werewolf tale: immoral behaviour, murder and cannibalism.

An Athenian vase depicting a man in a wolf skin, circa 460 BC.

In Fabulae, the sons of Lycaon sacrificed their youngest brother to prove Zeus’s weakness. They served the corpse as a pseudo-feast and attempting to trick the god into eating it. A furious Zeus slayed the sons with a lightning bolt and transformed their father into a wolf. In Ovid’s version, Lycaon murdered and mutilated a protected hostage of Zeus, but suffered the same consequences.

Ovid’s passage is one of the only ancient sources that goes into detail on the act of transformation. His description of the metamorphosis uses haunting language that creates a correlation between Lycaon’s behaviour and the physical manipulation of his body:

…He tried to speak, but his voice broke into

an echoing howl. His ravening soul infected his jaws;

his murderous longings were turned on the cattle; he still was possessed

by bloodlust. His garments were changed to a shaggy coat and his arms

into legs. He was now transformed into a wolf.

Ovid’s Lycaon is the origin of the modern werewolf, as the physical manipulation of his body hinges on his prior immoral behaviour. It is this that has contributed to the establishment of the “monstrous werewolf” trope of modern fiction.

Lycaon’s character defects are physically grafted onto his body, manipulating his human form until he becomes that which his behaviour suggests. And, perhaps most importantly, Lycaon begins the idea that to transform into a werewolf you must first be a monster.

The idea that there was a link between biology (i.e. appearance) and “immoral” behaviour developed fully in the late 20th century. However, minority groups were more often the target than mythical kings. Law enforcement, scientists and the medical community joined forces to find “cures” for socially deviant behaviour such as criminality, violence and even homosexuality. Science and medicine were used as a vehicle through which bigotry and fear could be maintained, as shown by the treatment of HIV-affected men throughout the 1980s.

However, werewolf stories show the idea has ancient origins. For as long as authors have been changing bad men into wolves, we have been looking for the biological link between man and action.The Conversation

Tanika Koosmen, PhD Candidate, University of Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Columbus believed he would find ‘blemmyes’ and ‘sciapods’ – not people – in the New World

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The statue of Christopher Columbus in Columbus Circle, New York City.
Zoltan Tarlacz/

Peter C. Mancall, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

In 1492, when Christopher Columbus crossed the Atlantic Ocean in search of a fast route to East Asia and the southwest Pacific, he landed in a place that was unknown to him. There he found treasures – extraordinary trees, birds and gold.

But there was one thing that Columbus expected to find that he didn’t.

Upon his return, in his official report, Columbus noted that he had “discovered a great many islands inhabited by people without number.” He praised the natural wonders of the islands.

But, he added, “I have not found any monstrous men in these islands, as many had thought.”

Why, one might ask, had he expected to find monsters?

My research and that of other historians reveal that Columbus’ views were far from abnormal. For centuries, European intellectuals had imagined a world beyond their borders populated by “monstrous races.”

Of course the ‘monstrous races’ exist

One of the earliest accounts of these non-human beings was written by the Roman natural historian Pliny the Elder in 77 A.D. In a massive treatise, he told his readers about dog-headed people, known as cynocephalus, and astoni, creatures with no mouth and no need to eat.

Across medieval Europe, tales of marvelous and inhuman creatures – of cyclops, blemmyes, creatures with heads in their chests, and sciapods, who had a single leg with a giant foot – circulated in manuscripts hand-copied by scribes who often embellished their treatises with illustrations of these fantastic creatures.

A 1544 woodcut by Sebastian Münster depicts, from left to right, a sciapod, a cyclops, conjoined twins, a blemmye and a cynocephaly.
Wikimedia Commons

Though there were always some skeptics, most Europeans believed that distant lands would be populated by these monsters, and stories of monsters traveled far beyond the rarefied libraries of elite readers.

For example, churchgoers in Fréjus, an ancient market town in the south of France, could wander into the cloister of the Cathédrale Saint-Léonce and study monsters on the more than 1,200 painted wooden ceiling panels. Some panels portrayed scenes of daily life – local monks, a man riding a pig and contorted acrobats. Many others depicted monstrous hybrids, dog-headed people, blemmyes and other fearsome wretches.

The ceiling of the Cathédrale Saint-Léonce depicts an array of monstrous creatures.
Peter C. Mancall, Author provided

Perhaps no one did more to spread news of monsters’ existence than a 14th-century English knight named John Mandeville, who, in his account of his travels to faraway lands, claimed to have seen people with the ears of an elephant, one group of creatures who had flat faces with two holes, and another that had the head of a man and the body of a goat.

Scholars debate whether Mandeville could have ventured far enough to see the places that he described, and whether he was even a real person. But his book was copied time and again, and likely translated into every known European language.

Leonardo da Vinci had a copy. So did Columbus.

Old beliefs die hard

Even though Columbus didn’t see monsters, his report wasn’t enough to dislodge prevailing ideas about the creatures Europeans expected to find in parts unknown.

In 1493 – around the time Columbus’ first report began to circulate – printers of the “Nuremberg Chronicle,” a massive volume of history, included images and descriptions of monsters. And soon after the explorer’s return, an Italian poet offered a verse translation describing Columbus’ journey, which its printer illustrated with monsters, including a sciapod and a blemmye.

Indeed, the belief that monsters lived at the Earth’s edge remained for generations.

In the 1590s, the English explorer Sir Walter Raleigh told readers about the American monsters he heard about in his travels to Guiana, some of which had “their eyes in their shoulders, and their mouths in the middle of their breasts, & that a long train of haire groweth backward between their shoulders.”

Soon after, the English natural historian Edward Topsell translated a mid-16th-century treatise of the various animals of the world, a book that appeared in London in 1607, the same year that colonists established a small community at Jamestown, Virginia. Topsell was eager to integrate descriptions of American animals in his book.
But alongside chapters on Old World horses, pigs and beavers, readers learned about the “Norwegian monster” and a “very deformed beast” that Americans called an “haut.” Another, known as a “su,” had “a very deformed shape, and monstrous presence” and was “cruell, untamable, impatient, violent, [and] ravening.”

Of course, in the New World, the gains for Europeans came at a terrifying cost for Native Americans: The newcomers stole their land and treasures, enslaved them, introduced Old World diseases and spurred long-term environmental change.

In the end, perhaps these indigenous Americans saw the invaders of their homelands as a ‘monstrous race’ of its own – creatures who destabilized their communities, took their possessions and threatened their lives.The Conversation

Peter C. Mancall, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Today in History: October 29

World politics explainer: the Russian revolution

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To try and understand the Russian revolution outside of the broader social context of the time is to neglect the development of nationhood in the region.

Mark Edele, University of Melbourne

This article is part of our series of explainers on key moments in the past 100 years of world political history. In it, our authors examine how and why an event unfolded, its impact at the time, and its relevance to politics today.

For most people, the term “Russian Revolution” conjures up a popular set of images: demonstrations in Petrograd’s cold February of 1917, greatcoated men in the Petrograd Soviet, Vladimir Lenin addressing the crowds in front of the Finland station, demonstrators dispersed during the July days and the storming of the Winter Palace in October.

What happened?

These were all important events that forced the Tsar to abdicate, brought the Bolsheviks to power, took Russia out of the first world war, prompted British, American, and Japanese interventions, and careened the Romanov empire towards years of bloody civil war.

Among revolutionary socialists, they still inspire daydreams of future revolutions. Historians on the political right, by contrast, promote them as warnings of what happens if you try to change the world. In Russia, meanwhile, they pose complex challenges for constructing a past that can inspire the present.

The standard story summarised by these pictures goes something like this:

Demonstrations in Petrograd, February 1917.
Riot on Nevsky Prospekt, July 1917.
Viktor Bulla/Wikicommons
Storming of the Winter Palace, October 1917.

The Russian empire, already under severe political and social strain in 1914, broke apart under the pressures of modern warfare. In 1916, a massive uprising against conscription to work shook central Asia.

In 1917, it was the turn of the Russian heartland. Industrial strikes, protests over food shortages, and women’s demonstrations combined to create a revolutionary crisis in Petrograd, the capital of the empire.

Eventually, this crisis convinced both the political and the military elites to pressure the Tsar to abdicate. These events are known as the February revolution.

They turned out to be only the first step. Throughout 1917, the revolution radicalised until in October, the most radical wing of the Russian Social Democrats – Lenin’s Bolsheviks – took power in the name of the revolutionary working class. The October revolution, in turn, triggered the Russian Civil War which was eventually won by the Bolsheviks.

But this focus on events in Petrograd in 1917 is misleading. If we want to understand the significance of the Russian revolution for today’s world, we need to understand both its position in a wider historical process and its very complexity.

Read more:
Friday essay: Putin, memory wars and the 100th anniversary of the Russian revolution

The larger context

What happened in 1917 was not just a beginning. It was also a moment in the larger trajectory of the Romanov empire (the pre-Soviet Russian Empire) embroiled in a world war it was poorly prepared to fight.

1917 is part of the story of how an empire, built between the 15th and the 18th century on the basis of peasants tied to the land of their master (serfdom) and the indisputable power of the Tsar (autocracy) tried to come to grips with a changing world in the 19th and early 20th centuries filled with overseas empires, industrialisation, and the emerging mass society.

It is but a snapshot in the history of imperialism, economic and social change, and decolonisation. These are all ongoing processes that still trouble the region today.

This sequence of events began with the lost Crimean War of 1853-56, which triggered the Great Reforms of the 1860s and 1870s.

Together with a determined push in the 1890s to industrialise the country, these reforms brought a new, more modern, more urban, and more educated society into being.

This more complex society then faced its first test in 1904-05. A disastrous war against Japan destabilised the empire enough to trigger a first revolution in 1905. It forced the Tsar to make concessions towards modern politics through the creation of a pseudo-parliament, legal parties, and decreased control of the media.

Then came the first world war. The military campaign went poorly, disgruntling the elites with an obviously incompetent regime, dislocating populations on a massive scale, intensifying national feelings in this multi-ethic empire, triggering an economic crisis of immense proportions, and further polarising social divisions between the haves and have-nots.

The result was a cluster of wars, revolutions, and civil wars that dragged on to the early 1920s. The Union of Soviet Socialist republics that emerged from this catastrophe united most of the lands the Romanovs had ruled. Finland, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, and Poland went their own way, meanwhile, at least until the second world war.

Map of former USSR States.
Wikicommons, CC BY-SA

Contemporary relevance

The “Russian revolution”, then, was not just Russian and not just a revolution. It was also a moment when modern nations were born.

Notwithstanding earlier histories, today’s Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia began their lives in the crucible of war and revolution. Independent Finland and Poland, too, saw the light of day in 1917.

As one historian has pointed out in a compressed overview over events in Ukraine, “the Ukrainian revolution is not the Russian revolution.” Neither were the more democratic revolutions in Omsk, Samara, and Ufa, the same as the Bolshevik revolution in Petrograd, to say nothing of those beyond the peaks of the Caucasus, or the grassroots rural revolutions all over the empire. These other revolutions, often forgotten but as much part of the process as the iconic events in Petrograd, amounted to the catastrophic breakdown of the empire in 1918.

But the revolutionary period saw more than just the replacement of one empire by another. It also changed matters decisively. For one, the Soviet empire was not capitalist, notwithstanding the limited market mechanisms allowed under the New Economic Policy (NEP), introduced in 1921 to deal with the catastrophic economic crisis engendered by war, revolution, and civil war.

The new empire was also much more national in form than its Romanov predecessor had been. The aspirations of the non-Russian peoples had to be accommodated in some way and hence a pseudo-federal state was erected, where “Union republics” (such as Ukraine, Belarus, or Russia) were joined together in a Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (or USSR). In 1991, it would break apart along the borders of these Union republics, lines drawn, by and large, as a result of the reconquest of the Romanov lands by the revolutionary Red Army.

These lines became more significant over time, because of a second far reaching aspect of the national transformation of the multi-ethnic Romanov empire in the crucible of the “Russian” revolution. In order to deal with the threat of nationalism, the Soviet Union became an “affirmative action empire”, which gave non-Russian minorities space and resources to develop their languages and cultures. This affirmation of the national principle was meant to disarm nationalism and help the development of socialism. Instead, it inadvertently “promoted ethnic particularism”.

As a result, many of the nationalisms we encounter in the region today are to a considerable degree a result of this paradoxical Soviet nation making.The Conversation

Mark Edele, Hansen Chair in History, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The road to here: rivers were the highways of Australia’s colonial history

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A river in Van Diemen’s Land, charted during Nicolas Baudin’s 1802 journey.
National Library of Australia, CC BY-NC

Imogen Wegman, University of Tasmania

On November 2, 1816, Charles Repeat, “a poor old man”, was driving his master’s cart along the short route between Hobart and New Town in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania). He accidentally drove over a small tree stump, and was thrown from the cart and killed immediately.

By that time the British had been established in New Town for about 12 years, and this road was part of the route to several settlements further out of town. It was not an unused back street but a main road, and yet drivers still had to avoid the deadly perils of tree stumps.

Even main roads could be in poor condition. Macquarie Street in Hobart, 1833.
State Library Victoria

It was not that roads were not important – a network of overland routes was quickly spreading to connect the growing colony – but they were not the only transport routes. Waterways were also vital to transport systems, as overland routes were rough and slow. In Australia, rivers played a pivotal role in giving European settlers access to the land beyond the immediate coastlines, and shaped the modern cities we know today.

Charts of Van Diemen’s Land from expeditions by Abel Tasman, James Cook, and Nicolas Baudin reveal the extent to which these colonial explorers relied on rivers. The maps show water depths, fresh water supplies, and sources of timber for ship repairs. Mountain ranges are depicted as lines of peaks, as they would have appeared from the deck of a ship following the coastline. The world beyond navigable waterways was a place for speculation, not exploration.

Read more:
New law finally gives voice to the Yarra River’s traditional owners

Once the British arrived in Australia, one of their main concerns was finding sites for further expansion. Surveyors and adventurers recorded the landscape around the primary settlements, sometimes combining them together as in the case of one chart, described as “A map of all those parts of … New South Wales which have been seen by any person belonging to the settlement”. Other charts were surveyed and drafted by one person, such as James Meehan’s 1804 chart of the land alongside Hobart’s River Derwent.

Chart showing exploration route along the Upper Derwent River, 1828.
Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office

In Tasmania’s hilly landscape, valleys were often more accessible than the scrub-covered hills. Rivers also served as stable landmarks to identify important points in the environment, and were useful for retracing steps. Even some 30 years after the British were firmly settled in Tasmania, rivers remained the starting point for pushing out into areas they had not yet explored.

River reasons

There were plenty more sensible reasons for concentrating on rivers, besides ease of access. They also provided the necessities of daily life: drinking water, irrigation for kitchen gardens, and a sewer for removing the less picturesque elements. This preoccupation with waterways is captured on charts showing the Tasmanian colony throughout the early 19th century, where all the settlements are based on the banks of rivers.

Settlements around Hobart, based along the waterways.
Reconstructed by Imogen Wegman, original from Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office

Even places that could not be reached by river, such as Bothwell, 60km north of Hobart, needed fresh water. Settlements like New Norfolk, 20km from Hobart, were used as transport hubs between Bothwell and the colony’s governing centre. Goods could move between river and road along these routes, depending on the infrastructure, urgency and weather.

Individual properties could be focused on the rivers as well, with houses facing their front doors toward the main thoroughfare – the river. Tour guides at Woolmers Estate in northern Tasmania will tell you that the house was originally orientated towards the river. This was common among grand houses and small cottages alike. It was not until roads became more reliable that new properties began facing them instead.

The Archer family at Woolmers renovated and built a grand new entrance, now facing an overland access route. This was a power move, as it made sure that guests approaching the house would pass through the most impressive land, and their first sighting of the house would be the entrance. They would be duly awestruck by the grandeur (and therefore wealth) of their hosts.

Read more:
A home for everyone? Property ownership has been about status and wealth since our convict days

The site of today’s Hobart central business district was chosen largely because of the waterways. The River Derwent was deep and suitable for ships, while the Hobart Rivulet (and others) provided fresh water for daily life and industry. Priorities change, however, and the rivulet has now been “all but obliterated from the city centre”, squashed into a series of culverts and tunnels.

The history of Australia’s colonial-era reliance on waterways will not be so easily buried, however. In May 2018, Hobart was hit by storms that brought 100mm of rain in a few hours. Hobart’s rivulets and streams broke their banks with spectacular vigour, washing over streets and into buildings. This was not the first time the Hobart Rivulet has brought the city to a standstill, and it will doubtless not be the last.

Floodwaters in Hobart, 10 May 2018 (ABC News)

For those of us who live in today’s Australian cities, waterways can be easy to dismiss as simply picturesque places to paddle a kayak or have a swim. But historically they were so much more. In fact, without rivers, the people who sowed the seeds of our modern cities would not have got very far at all.The Conversation

Imogen Wegman, Project officer, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Remembering Sidney Jeffryes and the darker side of our tales of Antarctic heroism

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The Aurora lying at anchor in Commonwealth Bay, Antarctica in 1913.
National Library of Australia

Elizabeth Leane, University of Tasmania and Kimberley Norris, University of Tasmania

Antarctica is famous for its survival stories, but one of the most compelling has languished in the shadows for over a century. An unmarked grave in the public cemetery at Ararat has been the resting place of Sidney Jeffryes, the remarkable radio operator of Douglas Mawson’s Australasian Antarctic Expedition.

Sidney Jeffryes photographed between 1912 and 1914.
Wikimedia Commons

In 1913, Jeffryes achieved a world first when he made ongoing two-way wireless contact between Antarctica and Australia. However, his mental illness during the expedition, and his subsequent committal to a high-security asylum, meant his contribution was swept under the carpet.

Only now has his important role in Australian Antarctic history been recognised with the laying of a plaque on his grave.

A Queenslander, Jeffryes was working as a shipboard radio operator and already making claims to long-distance telegraphy records when in 1911 he applied for a position on Mawson’s expedition. Although another applicant was selected, Mawson considered Jeffryes a “very good man”.

It is unsurprising, then, that the following year, when the expedition vessel, the Aurora, left Hobart to bring the expeditioners back from Antarctica, Jeffryes was offered a place as its wireless operator. What he didn’t realise was that he would end up spending an unexpected year in the far south.

Mawson’s Australasian Antarctic Expedition in polar seas, 1912.
E.W Searle, National Library of Australia

When the Aurora arrived at the expedition hut in Commonwealth Bay to take all the men home, three were missing: a sledging party led by Mawson had failed to return. With the season growing late, the ship’s captain had to leave to collect a group of men at another continental base. So he took most of the expeditioners with him, leaving five behind to wait for the missing party. Jeffryes agreed to stay behind and take the place of the original radio operator, Walter Hannam.

When Mawson returned to the hut, he was alone. His two companions had perished during the journey. Thus began a very trying year. Mawson was recovering from an extremely arduous journey, and he and the five men from the original expedition were mourning the loss of two beloved friends. As the only newcomer to the hut, unused to the extreme conditions, and under pressure to make the wireless work better than it had, Jeffryes was in a difficult position.

Despite these pressures, he made a success of his unanticipated role. In March 1913 the Australian press celebrated the establishment of wireless contact with Australia. The expeditioners were delighted to be able to communicate with their loved ones, although there was tension over whose messages would get priority. Jeffryes had to operate under testing circumstances, working late into the night, when reception was best, to try to pick up the faint and noisy messages.

Read more:
Sledging songs, penguins and melting ice: how Antarctica has inspired Australian composers

In June 1913, after a particularly strong gale, the always troublesome wireless mast blew down, making it impossible to send or receive messages. Shortly afterwards, Jeffryes began exhibiting unusual behaviour, at one point challenging another man to a fight.

‘Delusional insanity’

Over the next few weeks he exhibited a series of symptoms – including delusions of persecution, paranoia and decline in hygiene – that are consistent with what we now classify as schizophrenia. The expedition doctor, Archie McLean, diagnosed “delusional insanity”. With none of the men able to leave the hut in the freezing, dark winter, the situation became very trying for all.

Mawson’s hut at main base, 1911.
Wikimedia Commons

Believing his companions were trying to murder him, Jeffryes began sending out messages secretly on the wireless, including one saying that five others were “unwell” and he and Mawson would have to escape. Luckily, it was never received, but Mawson eventually dismissed Jeffryes – a strange situation given he was unable to leave his workplace.

Jeffryes’ cell in J-ward, Ararat Hospital for the Insane.
Elizabeth Leane

The seven men struggled through the next few months, and were relieved when the Aurora arrived to pick them up towards the end of 1913. Jeffryes’ behaviour remained erratic and he took no part in the celebrations that greeted the expedition on its arrival in Adelaide in February 1914.

Nonetheless, he was allowed to board a train alone, presumably headed home to distant Toowoomba. The next that was heard of him was media reports that he had been found wandering in the bush in regional Victoria, starving despite the money in his pocket, and saying Mawson had hypnotised him.

Jeffryes was quickly committed to Ararat Hospital for the Insane (as it was then called). Initially his prognosis was hopeful, and he was transferred to Royal Park and Sunbury asylums in the hope a change of scenery would help. In Sunbury, however, he attacked a staff member, which landed him back in Ararat, this time in “J-Ward”, the facility for the criminally insane.

Life in the high-security ward was notoriously hard and the temperatures could be very low; a cell in J-Ward must have made the hut in Antarctica look like a picnic. Yet Jeffryes survived for another 28 years, until his death from a cerebral haemorrhage in 1942.

The plaque unveiled on October 16 2018 in Ararat.
Elizabeth Leane

With mental illness highly stigmatized in the early 20th century, and incongruous with the heroic framework within which Antarctic explorers were viewed, Jeffryes’ part in the expedition was deliberately downplayed. He gradually vanished from exploration history, his impressive achievement largely forgotten.

This changed today (Tuesday), when Mawson’s Huts Foundation chairman David Jensen unveiled a plaque on Jeffyres’ grave, officially marking his contribution to wireless history and Australian Antarctic history.

We are moving beyond our obsession with heroes and now telling richer, more complex accounts of human presence in the far south.

This article was co-authored by Ben Maddison.The Conversation

Elizabeth Leane, Associate Professor of English and ARC Future Fellow, University of Tasmania and Kimberley Norris, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Peloponnesian War

Today in History: October 22

World politics explainer: the end of Apartheid

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Anti-Apartheid protest in the 1980s are mere snapshots of time in the long journey towards equality, paved by the sweat and blood of those in the African National Congress and beyond.
Paul Weinberg/Wikicommons, CC BY-SA

David Robinson, Edith Cowan University

This article is part of our series of explainers on key moments in the past 100 years of world political history. In it, our authors examine how and why an event unfolded, its impact at the time, and its relevance to politics today.

Racial divisions emerged in South Africa as early as the 1600s, due to Dutch settlement. It began with the Europeans maintaining segregation and hierarchy between themselves, their slaves (many from Asia), and local African populations.

Once the Cape of Good Hope was seized by the British during the Napoleonic period, race-based policies in the colony became increasingly formalised.

The 1806 Cape Articles of Capitulation, which secured the Dutch settlers’ surrender in exchange for the protection of their existing rights and privileges, bound the British to respect prior Dutch legislation and gave segregation an enduring place within the legal system of the South African colonies.

What happened?

Under British control during the 1800s, various laws were passed to limit the political, civil and economic rights of non-whites in South Africa.

This included denying them the right to vote, limiting their right to own land, and requiring the carrying of passes for movement within colonies.

Despite resistance to discriminatory laws in the first half of the 20th century by groups like the African National Congress (ANC), these laws persisted over the decades.

Signage in Durban reflecting apartheid values, 1989.
Guinnog/Wikicommons, CC BY-SA

However, social change accelerated in South Africa during the second world war, with African labourers increasingly drawn to urban areas. This was due to industrial production increasing to service Europe’s wartime demands for minerals and local manufacturing replacing imports, empowering rebellious workers and ANC activists in the process.

The threat of social change was palpable, leading South Africa’s white population to elect the Afrikaner-dominated Herenigde Nasionale Party (National Party) in 1948, over the more progressive United Party.

The National Party, which then ruled South Africa until 1994, offered white South Africans a new programme of segregation called Apartheid – which translates to “separateness”, or “apart-hood”.

Apartheid was based on a series of laws and regulations that formalised identities, divisions, and differential rights within South Africa. The system classified all South Africans as “White”, “Coloured”, “Indian”, and “African” – with Africans classified into 10 tribal groups.

From 1950, the Population Registration Act and the Group Areas Act assigned all South African citizens a racial status, and determined in which physical areas of South Africa different races could live.

Future legislation would embed these regional divisions, and provide a façade of self-government for the African regions.

The 1949 Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act and 1950 Immorality Act outlawed interracial romantic relationships, and by 1953 the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act and Bantu Education Act segregated all kinds of public spaces, services and amenities.

Sign erected during the apartheid era.

Racial policies also intermingled with rhetoric against communism. The 1950 Suppression of Communism Act was central to banning any party advocating a subversive ideology. Virtually any progressive opponent of the National Party regime could be defined as communist, particularly if they disrupted “racial harmony”, which severely limited anti-Apartheid activists’ ability to organise.

More generally, the government also maintained very socially conservative laws for all citizens regarding sexuality, reproductive health, and vices like gambling and alcohol.

The impact of and response to apartheid policies

In this context, the ANC youth wing (including a young lawyer by the name of Nelson Mandela) came to dominate the party and adopt a confrontational black nationalist programme. This group advocated strikes, boycotts and civil disobedience.

In March 1960, police attacked a demonstration against Apartheid’s racial pass system in the Sharpeville township. They killed 69 people, arrested over 18,000 more, and implemented a ban of the ANC and the smaller Pan-Africanist Congress.

Painting of the Sharpeville massacre in 1960.
Godfrey Rubens/Wikicommons, CC BY-SA

This pushed resistance towards more radical, underground tactics. Following authorities’ further brutal treatment of a 1961 labour strike, the ANC launched armed struggle against Apartheid through a military wing: Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK). As a leader of MK, Nelson Mandela was arrested in 1962 and subsequently sentenced to life in jail.

Anti-Apartheid resistance dimmed during the 1960s due to the harsh repression of activist activities and the arrests of many anti-Apartheid leaders. But in the 1970s, it was revitalised by a growing Black Consciousness Movement.

The independence of nearby Angola and Mozambique from Portugal, and discriminatory education policies that led to the 1976 Soweto Uprising, were hopeful examples of change. By the 1980s, township rebellions, boycotts, union militancy, and growing political organisations pushed South Africa’s Botha government into a state of emergency, forcing dramatic concessions that escalated to negotiations with Mandela.

Despite the British and American governments classifying the ANC as a terrorist organisation during the 1980s, the growing international criticism of Apartheid, spurred by disruptive resistance in South Africa, and the undermining of the anti-Communist imperative due to the end of the Cold War, also moved those states to finally implement trade sanctions against Apartheid.

In 1990, President Frederik de Klerk freed Mandela and unbanned anti-Apartheid political parties, to allow negotiations for a path to majority-rule democracy.

Frederik de Klerk (left with Nelson Mandela, 1992.
World Economic Forum/Wikicommons, CC BY-SA

Despite right-wing backlash and outbreaks of violence, the white minority did overwhelmingly approve negotiations for democratic transition. Mandela sought peaceful racial reconciliation, through a negotiated process of transition to free, inclusive elections, and the post-Apartheid operations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Receiving the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize and then winning South Africa’s 1994 elections, Mandela was thus personally integral to the peaceful transition from Apartheid to multiracial democracy.

Contemporary relevance

What legacy has the end of Apartheid thus left?

Globally, Mandela became an icon, associated with resistance, justice, and Christ-like self-sacrifice. The popular perception of Mandela and the anti-Apartheid movement, though acknowledging some elements of the struggle’s history, generally demonstrates a shallow understanding of what actually occurred.

These narratives predominantly fail to engage with Mandela’s leadership of military struggle, and the widespread militant, and violent, action that forced the Apartheid regime to negotiate. They often highlight international campaigns against Apartheid, but are mute on the strong military and financial support for Apartheid South Africa by western states throughout the Cold War.

While leaving a general message that opposition to injustice can win, the anti-Apartheid movement’s history encapsulated by Mandela is probably as well understood as the iconic image of Che Guevara printed on t-shirts.


Regionally, the end of Apartheid ended much of Southern Africa’s conflict, and allowed black-ruled states to unite in far greater cooperation for social and economic development.

The intervention of South African troops (and mercenaries) throughout Africa was also greatly reduced. However, conflict has continued in many areas of Africa, as have operations of the African Union and increasingly the United States’ Africa Command.

Meanwhile, though still a regional hegemon, post-Apartheid South Africa failed to effectively support neighbouring democracies, allowing questionable regimes such as Mugabe’s ZANU-PF in Zimbabwe to persist without adequate intervention. Newly stable southern Africa was also increasingly open to trade and investment from China – their enhanced global reach and influence an unforeseen result of freedom in many developing countries.

Nationally, though entering power with principles seeking redistribution of wealth and a general raising of living standards, the ANC gradually embraced neoliberal policies that have only led to an increase in poverty and inequality in South Africa over the past two decades.

The ANC’s overwhelming dominance of government throughout this period – with an absolute majority – has stifled development of effective parliamentary democracy (though South African civil society remains vibrant and active). And corruption throughout the ANC and the South African state has become endemic. Though narratives of “white genocide” in South Africa are not supported by facts, although crime and racial enmity remain virulent in South African society. But, South Africa also persists as one of the world’s most multicultural and inclusive countries.

Despite its troubles, South Africa is a nation with an inspiring story of struggle – even though an accurate vision of the country’s past and present requires engagement with many complexities.

The South African example shines a light on sometimes unpleasant realities of history, as well as enduring aspects of human nature. For those who are willing to seek out the details and contemplate the contradictions, the end of Apartheid leaves a legacy of insight most valuable in our turbulent age.The Conversation

David Robinson, Lecturer of History, Edith Cowan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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