The Magna Carta On Tour

Your angry friend visited the New York Historical Society today, something he had been meaning to do for a while now. My reason for choosing now, while I should still be recovering from my final week at Renfaire and preparing for What Comes Next, is because one of the four surviving copies of the 1217 version of the Magna Carta is on display. I had to see it in person.

As an item, the Magna Carta is not particularly impressive. It is a very old sheet of parchment densely hand-written in brown ink, a bit larger than standard printer paper. The Articuli super Cartas displayed next to it (containing instructions for local officials on how the document was to be enforced) is even less impressive– about the size of an index card. Both are written in medieval Latin, and between this and the hand-writing I was therefore unable to read any of it.

As a document, however, the Magna Carta’s importance is monumental. It was to form the basis of the concept of constitutional monarchy in Europe, and was the first attempt at the chipping away of the divine right of kingship. The idea of all people being entitled to fair treatment that was to form the basis of English law and give rise to the English claim of being the first free country had its origin in the Magna Carta, a document signed by a king at the behest of his subjects, in order to limit his powers and guarantee their rights. Five centuries later, another group of Englishmen were to air their grievances with another king, in a document we now refer to as the Declaration of Independence.

Ideologically, the American Revolution was inherently English. Most of the Founding Fathers were of English descent, steeped in English law and customs. Thomas Paine, whose pamphlet Common Sense was to spark the country into organized military opposition, was a recently arrived English immigrant to the colonies. In this way, the American patriots were more English than the Loyalists, who were willing to waive their Magna Carta-given rights as Englishmen in order to show their loyalty to the king and his Parliament.


Change and the Lack Thereof in 1920s Gender Politics

The 1920s are commonly assumed to have been a time of great social change in sexual norms and gender politics in celebration of women’s equality upon gaining the right to vote. As usual with common assumptions about history, the truth is far more complicated. The right to vote was not a cure-all to sexual inequality, and the gender politics of the 1920s were not as significant a departure from the previous age as is commonly supposed. There was, however, a significant increase in the visibility of women’s sexual behavior, and a corresponding normalizing of women’s sexuality in regards to men. It is more accurate therefore to say that while there was a sexual revolution in the 1920s, men were the primary beneficiaries, and it was part of a larger shift toward youth culture and consumerism. Continue reading

The Korean War, and Why Americans Don’t Talk About It

The Korean War has been largely ignored and forgotten by the American public because it was an embarrassing incident with no clear goal. Similar to Vietnam, the Korean War grew directly out of the aftermath of WWII. Japan’s defeat meant the end of its occupation of Korea, and the withdrawal of roughly 700,000 civilians and 270,000 military personnel, these being the majority of Korea’s technical and administrative expertise. The Korean communist party had its origin in the nationalist anti-Japanese resistance, having used the mountainous terrain to obstruct the Japanese occupation with support from communist groups in China and Manchuria.1 As the Japanese withdrew, they warned the UN forces that the Korean nationalists were probably communists and not to be trusted.
Continue reading

A Brief History of Intersectional Feminism and Other 19th Century Reform Movements

When women’s liberation arises, it does so as a companion to industrialization, urbanization, and the rise of the nuclear family, all aspects present in the United States in the period after the War of 1812. It is a response to the increasing requirement that women act as autonomous individuals, while remaining legally and socially dependent on and subordinate to men in accordance with the traditional culture.1 However it cannot simply happen automatically; it requires a precedent. Continue reading