Saturday, December 29, 2007

Which woman is history's most famous seductress?

The latest World History Blog Poll question has closed. It was, "Which of these women is history's most famous seductress?" The choices were Helen of Troy, Cleopatra, Mae West, and Wallis Windsor.

The winner was easily Cleopatra with over 60% of the vote. Helen of Troy got slightly over 20%. Mae West and Wallis Windsor both finished in single digits.

What do you think? Here are some more information on each of the choices.

Helen of Troy is normally reported to have been seduced by Paris. She did not seduce him. Some feminist scholars are claiming she was raped. It is hard to determine if she even ever existed.

Betsy Prioleau, author of Seductress: Women Who Ravished the World and Their Lost Art of Love, said of Cleopatra, "The way Cleopatra got Julius Caesar is totally amazing. Here is a guy -- you can imagine Mick Jagger -- he was surrounded by groupies. All the women wanted this guy. Men went into battle singing this little ditty about all the women he'd had. Not only that, he was bisexual -- he had all the beautiful boys too. He had everybody. He was a jaded ladies' man. Here's a guy maybe 56 when Cleopatra saw him. When she rolled out of that rug, she was about 18 and not beautiful at all. Plutarch is clear about that. She rolled out and barraged Caesar with such a stream of charming conversation -- a 'charm offensive' through language. She addressed him in perfect Latin. Then perfect Greek. She told him jokes. Stories. Displayed her magnificent erudition. She was a brilliant women. She wrote a tract on weights and measurements, of all things. She was happiest in a library. It was said she had a 'voluptuous' love of learning. Caesar had never encountered a woman like this. He was so charmed he made her his mistress that night."

Mae West was mostly a seductress on the screen. Kendahl Cruver wrote, "When vaudeville became less lucrative, Mae wrote her first play, under the pen name Jane Mast, and starred herself. From the moment it opened, Sex was notorious. The critics despised it, but ticket sales were good enough to threaten the deputy mayor. A year into its run, he had the production raided for indecency. Along with the principal cast and producers, Mae was sentenced to ten days in jail. She served eight, with two days off for good behavior. She spent a comfortable conviction, even convincing the warden to let her wear silk underwear instead of the scratchy prison issue variety. Mae continued to write plays. With salacious titles such as The Wicked Age, Pleasure Man, and The Constant Sinner, they were plagued by controversy and production difficulties. If indecency didn't shut down a play, slow ticket sales would."

Wallis Windsor did not start a war like Helen of Troy. But she did bring down a king. From the Royal Scribe, "The question became, How could a woman like her get a man like him; so handsome and promising; to give up the British Empire? The most obvious answer became that she was a seductress who had tempted him from his duty. With two husbands behind her, she must have some strange sexual hold over men. And, with witnesses claiming that she ordered the King about and treated him like a wayward child, the popular theory came about that she must be some sort of dominatrix. Rumors abounded that, while in China, Wallis had frequented notorious brothels where she had learned special sexual techniques that no man could resist. Not only that, this information was said to be gathered, as it were, by British Intelligence."

Of course, my short list may have left off the most famous historical seductress. Feel free to comment on any other historical figure you feel belongs on this list.

Friday, December 28, 2007

History and Politics Out Loud

This is a searchable archive of historically important speeches and other audio materials. It is called History and Politics Out Loud. It has been operated by Northwestern University since 1999 with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and Michigan State University.

The site about page notes, "HPOL is a collection of invaluable audio materials some available for the first time on this website capturing significant political and historical events and personalities of the twentieth century. The materials range from formal addresses delivered in public settings to private telephone conversations conducted from the innermost recesses of the White House. Our aim is to provide an accessible source of audio information to enliven instruction and scholarship in history and politics and to enable easy access for all persons to the rich audio archives of American history and politics."

This is a great site full of primary source material. Although the site is limited in scope, what is here is good. The site could use more material but it appears it stopped growing in 2002. I guess we will have to just enjoy what is here.

A few samples:

George C. Marshall, Commencement address, Harvard University (1947)

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. sermon explaining his start in the movement for civil rights

Winston Churchill, The sinews of peace (1946)

Chief Justice Earl Warren eulogizes President John F. Kennedy (1963)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Democracy in Hawaii

Scott Crawford has an interesting post about democracy in Hawaii in Response to Twigg-Smith - Thurston and "Republic" = anti-democratic. In it, he deplores how the Hawaiian Kingdom ended without a democratic vote.

Crawford writes, "The truth is that the provisional government, the so-called republic, and the U.S. occupation were forced upon the people of Hawaii against their will and without their consent."

Crawford's view of Hawaiian history is one-sided. It ignores primary sources which do not support his views. It ignores that fact that the Hawaiian Kingdom was imposed upon the majority of Hawaii without the consent of Hawaiians by King Kamehameha. (I guess that means the Hawaiian Kingdom was never valid...) It ignores democracy in the 20th century because the "wrong" people voted.

Thurston Twigg-Smith, whom Crawford is attempting to rebut, notes this. If Kamehameha's conquest by non-democratic means was legitimate, why was not the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom? Twigg-Smith wrote, "The test is how things progressed from the date of illegitimacy. The 18th-century residents of Oahu and the other islands he conquered accepted Kamehameha as their new king, and the residents of 19th-century Hawaii accepted the Republic of Hawaii as their new government."

Crawford appears to miss this point entirely. Are only non-democratic events in history you retrospectively like legit? Despite this, I believe Mr. Crawford is actually speaking up for democracy and would respect a democratic vote today.

I believe in democracy as well. Governments should not be imposed upon a people without their consent. I also believe that people should not have a southern style "grandfather clause" placed upon them to determine whether or not they are "really" a citizen of a locality.

If any changes in the status of Hawaii are to ever be enacted, they must also be enacted with the consent and the will of the people of Hawaii. Any defect in how things were changed in the 19th century does not justify denying citizens their rights in the 21st century. The citizens of Hawaii have a right to determine their own fate regardless of what happened between people who lived and died long before they were born. Beware anyone who seeks to deny anyone their suffrage by trying to determine the status of their ancestors in the 19th century.

Let's not impose a government on the people of Hawaii without "their will and without their consent." Democracy can indeed work. But only if everyone votes. Excluding people based on 19th century events would assure a non-democratic process and sow the seeds of chaos and probable violence.

History is indeed informative to today. Mistakes in the democratic process in the past (as evidenced by Kamehameha and later by the rebel forces in Hawaii in 1893), need not be repeated in the future in Hawaii. Let us hope the lessons have been learned.