Banning Maus

A schoolboard in Tennessee has decided to ban the usage Art Spiegelman’s award winning graphic novel Maus while teaching about the Holocaust. Maus is of course, a graphic novel based on the true experiences of Art Spiegelman’s family as told by his father.

The McMinn County School Board voted 10-0 to ban the book in a Jan. 10 meeting, citing concerns over “rough” language and a nude drawing of a woman, according to meeting minutes posted to the district website. The book was part of its eighth-grade English language arts curriculum.

Maus was serialized in 1986 – 1991, and won a Pulitzer Prize  in 1992 (the special award in letter), and is so far the only graphic novel to have won any Pulitzer prize. When arguing whether graphic novels can be literature, Maus is held up as the number one exhibit in favor.

When I was a Danish school kid, back in the Eighties, we would be told stories about the holocaust and the German occupation by people who experienced it. This was incredible impactful. As the people who experienced the Holocaust are dying out, works like Maus becomes more and more important. They tell the stories that otherwise would be lost, allowing us to remember the atrocities, and pushes us to ensure that they never happen again. The US Holocaust Museum states it well:

As news spread about the school board’s decision, the U.S. Holocaust Museum said, “Maus has played a vital role in educating students about the Holocaust through sharing detailed and personal experiences of victims and survivors.”

“On the eve of International #HolocaustRemembranceDay, it is more important than ever for students to learn this history,” the museum said Wednesday on Twitter without mentioning the district. “Teaching about the Holocaust using books like Maus can inspire students to think critically about the past and their own roles and responsibilities today.”

Of course, the ban on Maus is just part of a larger culture war, as Art Spiegelman himself points out:

While it’s not the first time “Maus” has been the subject of controversy, Spiegelman said he is alarmed by school boards nationwide banning books amid tense debates over the teaching of race, slavery and oppression.

“This is not about left versus right,” Spiegelman told The Tennessean, part of the USA TODAY Network. “This is about a culture war that’s gotten totally out of control.”

When start to ban books, especially books like Maus, the rest of us should take note, and speak out. This is the first step towards a very dark path.

Danish slavery

A bunch of bloggers on FreethoughtBlogs have decided to write blogs somewhat related to slavery or social justice on Juneteenth. This is my entry.

Growing up in Denmark, slavery as a subject was never really addressed much, and if it was, it was treated as something that either happened a long time ago, or happened outside Denmark, or was spun in such a way to show how progressive Denmark was – e.g. Denmark was the first country in Europe to ban the slave trade (more on that later).

The truth is, of course, that Denmark has a long history of slavery. During the Viking age, slavery was widespread, and historical records show that Vikings did heavy slave trading at especially the markets at Hedeby and Bolghar, near the Volga River. While Christianity reduced slavery, the Code of Jutland, from 1241 still contained rules about slaves. In order to downplay the slavery part of the Viking ages, we were taught to call them ‘thralls’ rather than slaves, and made to believe that they were more like indentured labour, which they of course weren’t (this is similar to when Southern racists try to pretend that slaves that served in mansions were treated as “part of the family”).

After the Viking ages, there was a long time where Denmark had nothing directly to do with slavery. That is, until the 17th century, where Denmark became a (minor) colonial power.

This adventure started in November 19 1620, when Tranquebar (now Tharangambadi) became a Danish trading post and fort. After this, from 1659 forward, Denmark created several trading posts and forts in what was called the Gold Coast in Africa (now part of Ghana), and between 1672 and 1733 Denmark, took over, what was know as Danish West Indies, – Saint Thomas, St. John and Saint Croix.

Together these colonies formed the backbone of the Danish involvement in slavery.

Tranquebar was a modest trading post, which doesn’t seem to have been used during slave trade, but the forts on the Gold Coast, on the other hand, were major ports and trading posts for slaves, going to the West Indies. It is estimated that 100,000 slaves passed through these forts, and on to the Caribbean. Before anyone tries to downplay the Danish involvement in the actual slave transportation, it is estimated that 80,000 of those people were transported on Danish merchant ships.

When it became clear that England was heading towards a ban of slave trading (it came in 1807), Denmark decided to give the Danish plantation owners time to prepare, and in March 1792 it was decided to ban slave trading in Danish territories – but not until 1803, and in the mean time, the slavery trade was intensified in order to bring over enough slaves, in order to create a large enough population to keep up with the needs of the plantations. Also, worth noting, the slavery trade ban only banned selling new people into slavery, it didn’t ban plantation owners from selling their current slaves, and their descendants.

In 1847, the Danish king declared that people born after July 28, 1847, were free, while people born before that date, had to serve another 12 years as slaves, before being freed. This obviously wasn’t acceptable for the slaves, and they revolted. As a direct result of the revolts, acting governor general Peter von Scholten 3 July 1848, emancipating all slaves in the Danish West Indian Islands. Something which more or less ended slavery in the Danish territories, though any Danish slaves outside the islands, would still have to serve another 11 years before being free, according to the law.

Book review: The Patient Assassin

On 13 March 1940, Udham Singh shot and killed Michael O’Dwyer, the former lieutenant governor of the Punjab in India. This was done in revenge of the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre.

Anita Anand’s The Patient Assassin, A True Tale of Massacre, Revenge and the Raj from 2019 tells the tale of what happened during the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre, and how it led to Udham Singh’s life mission of taking revenge on the men responsible for the massacre.

Anita Anand not only covers the massacre and the assassination, but also explains the environment that allowed the massacre to happen in the first place, gives us a glimpse into the thoughts and feelings of the men responsible, while walking the tightrope of not dismissing their monstrous actions, but at the same time allowing us to understand how they could have acted the way they did. The majority of the book, however, is dedicated to Udham Singh and his life, both before the massacre, and after the massacre, tracing his movement across the globe, until that fateful day in 1940. It also covers the trial after the assassination.

The book paints a nuanced and as detailed a picture of Udham Singh as is possible. Udham Singh was in many ways a deeply flawed man, who did a lot of harm to a lot of people on his way to his revenge. This is covered, as is his work towards an independent India, and even his interactions with local Indian populations in England and the US. It gives us a glimpse into the man, and not just the assassin that the English saw, nor just the martyr-hero, honored in his home country after his death, and especially after their independence.

I highly recommend this book, as an introduction to how the British Raj treated the Indians, and how the Indian independence movement became a geo-political tool for the different countries (including Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union) in their political maneuvering, as well as a historical account of both the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre and the life of Udham Singh. It also gives a glimpse into how Indians were treated in England and the US in the twenties and thirties.

I first became aware of the book through the HistoryExtra podcasts episode about the book.

 

 

A piece of skeptic history on sale – the Cottingley Fairies hoax pictures

Hoaxes have been around forever, and most of the historic hoaxes have been forgotten by now – one historic hoax which is still remembered, however, is the Cottingley Fairies. One major reason for this, is probably because Sir Arthur Conan Doyle got taken in, and defended the pictures.

Now it is possible to buy the historic hoax pictures. Or it is, if you have enought money.

Cottingley Fairies hoax pictures expected to fetch £2,000 at auction

Photographs of what is considered to be one of the greatest hoaxes of the 20th century are expected to fetch more than £2,000 when they are sold at auction.

The two images of the Cottingley Fairies were taken in July and September 1917 by 16-year-old Elsie Wright and her nine-year-old cousin Frances Griffiths, in the village of Cottingley, near Bingley in Yorkshire.

I would think that £2,000 is on the low end – I could easily see skeptics, Sherlock Holmes/Arthur Conan Doyle fans, and others go into a bidding war.

Remembering the past – skudsmaalsbog

I was looking through some personal papers recently, and came across these two small books

Skudsmaalsbog

The skudsmaalsbog of my great-grandparents

They belonged to my Danish great-grandparents, and each is a skudsmaalsbog, which contained information about their employment history.

Title page of skudsmaalbog

Title page of the skudsmaalsbog

Until 1921, servants and other workers had to have a skudsmaalsbog, which had to be signed by employers when they left the job. Without such a signature, you couldn’t get a new job. You also had to present it to officials if you moved from one parish to another. If someone lost their skudsmaalsbog, they had to report it to the police immediately, or face a fine. After it was reported lost, an investigation would take place, and if it was found to be lost intentionally, they would get fined.

§3. Forkommer en Skudsmaalsbog, skal Tyendet under Bøder af indtil 5 Rdl. Ufortøvet anmelde det for Politiet, som derpaa bar et undersøge, hvorledes Bogen er forkommen. Er dette skeet forsætligen af Tyendet bør det bøde fra 5 til 20 Rdl. Derhos bør Tyendet anskaffe sig en ny Skudsmaalbog, hvilken i dette Tilfælde saavel paa Landet som i Kjøbstæderne udleveres af Politiøvrigheden. Den nye Skudsmaalsbog bør paa Landet inden 4 Dage forevises Sognepræsten under Bøder af indtil 10 Rdl.

Above is the lawtext (in Danish) explaining how much you’d get fined if you loose the book intentionally or without reporting it.

Until 1867, the employer was supposed to write the dates of employment and the wage, and could write an evaluation of the employee If an employer lied about the employee, either by praising them or criticizing them falsely, they faced a fine.

§5. Enhver Huusbond skal, forinden et Tyende forlader hans Tjeneste, indføre i dets Skudsmaalsbog, fra og til hvilken Tid Tyendet har tjent ham, samt i hvilken Egenskab.

Det beroer paa huusbonden, om han vil tilføie noget Vidnesbyrd om Tyendets Forhold i Tjenestetiden.

Den Huusbond, som mod bedre Vidende giver Tyendet et fordeelagtigt Skudsmaal, hvorved tredje Mand kan skuffes, skal ifølge Lovgigningens almindelige Grundsætninger staae den Skadelidende til Ansvar, og kan efter Omstændighederne dømmes i Bøder indtil 20 Rdl.

Giver Huusbonden i Skudsmaalsbogen Tyendet et ufordeelagtigt Vidnesbyrd, som kan være det hinderligt i at faae nye Tjenester, og han ikke kan tilveiebringe saadanne Oplysninger, som give antagelig Formodning for, at han har haft tilstrækkelig Grund dertil, skal han erstatte Tyendet den foraarsagede Skade og ansees med Straf, der bestemmes, hvis fornærmelige Beskyldninger ere fremførte, efter Lovene om Fornærmelser i Ord, og ellers til Bøder af Beløb indtil 20 Rdl.

After 1867, the employer was only allowed to write the dates of employment, the type of employment and the wage. 1867 was also the year where employers were no longer allowed to beat their servants and other employees. Employers were required to write the dates of employment, and would be punished with a fine if they didn’t. Since it wasn’t possible to get a new job without documentation of having ended the last one, this was not a trifling matter.

When a person moved between cities or parishes, they had to present it either to the police (in cities) or to the priest (in parishes), in the place they left, and in the place they move to. The police/priest would then update the rolls of the place, either removing or adding the person. They would also note in the book that they had been informed. When moving between cities and parishes, you only a short while to inform about the move – either 24 hours (in the cities) or 4 days (countyside) after arrival.

Tearing out pages, or making the entries unreadable in other ways, was punished by heavy fines and jail time.

Page in skudsmaalsbog

Page in skudsmaalsbog, showing the entries, including the city stamp, when moving between cities.

Open skudsmaalsbog

Page in skudsmaalsbog showing entires

The practice of people having to have a skudsmaalsbog continued until 1921, six years after the Danish constitution was changed, allowing women and people without a household to vote.

The last entry of my great-grandfather’s book was in 1901, and the last entry of my great-grandmother’s book was in 1903. This is probably when he got his own business, and when they got married – since my grandfather was born in 1904, the timing would be right.

For the Jazz lovers

It might come as a surprise for many people, but Copenhagen used to be one of the Jazz capitals in the world, with many major jazz musicians living or at least frequently playing in the city. Much of this was due to Jazzhouse Montmatre.

Dexter Gordon was probably the musician who played most frequently in Copenhagen among the Jazz giants of the time – usually he played for several weeks during summers in the late sixties.

One of those concerts was filmed, and I thought I’d share it.

Remembering

Came across this tweet, and thought I’d I share it

Wikipedia has a fairly good article on the 1973 student uprising.