atlantic world history


“Skellig Michael (Irish: Sceilig Mhichíl), or Great Skellig (Irish: Sceilig Mhór), is an island (the larger of the two Skellig Islands) in the Atlantic Ocean, 11.6 km west of the Iveragh Peninsula in County Kerry, Ireland. A Christian monastery was founded on the island at some point between the 6th and 8th century, and was continuously occupied until its abandonment in the late 12th century. The remains of the monastery, along with most of the island itself, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

Skellig Michael was uninhabited prior to the foundation of its monastery. Folklore holds that Ir, son of Míl Espáine, was buried on the island, and a text from the 8th or 9th century states that Duagh, King of West Munster, fled to “Scellecc” after a feud with the Kings of Cashel, although it is not known whether these events actually took place.

The monastic site on the island is located on a terraced shelf 600 feet above sea-level, and developed between the sixth and eighth century. It contains six beehive cells, two oratories as well as a number of stone crosses and slabs. It also contains a later medieval church. The cells and oratories are all of dry-built corbel construction. A carefully designed system for collecting and purifying water in cisterns was developed. It has been estimated that no more than twelve monks and an abbot lived here at any one time. A hermitage is located on the south peak.”


The Non-German defenders of the Atlantic Wall,

In 1942 Germany began construction of the Atlantic Wall in order to defends its World War II territorial conquests from a possible Allied amphibious invasion.  The wall consisted of various fortifications, mines, tank barriers, mortars, artillery pieces, machine gun nests, pillboxes, and bunkers, and was designed to fend off any beach landing. On June 6th, 1944 Allied forces landed on the beaches of Normandy and quickly overran these defenses.  Thousands of German soldiers were captured, but surprisingly still many of those capture were not German at all.

At the very beginning of the war Germany upheld its Nazi belief in pure Arianism. However as the war dragged, that sentiment quickly gave way as casualties grew and manpower shortages worsened. Both the Wehrmacht and the SS began to accept foreign volunteers.  Many of these foreign troops were sent to man the defenses of the Atlantic Wall.  These soldiers came from all over Europe, and even the Middle East and Asia.  One notable extreme was the Indian Legion, also known as the Azad Regiment, which consisted of volunteers from India who believed that a German victory would secure India’s independence from the British Empire. 

The reasons for volunteering were varied, some political, many as a necessity for survival.  By far the most numerous foreign volunteers were those from the Soviet Union. Some volunteered because they were disgruntled with Soviet rule, for example the Russian Liberation Army, which joined the Wehrmacht to oppose communism in Russia. However most volunteered as an alternative to spending the rest of the war as a POW.  Soviet POW’s were treated terribly during the war, with 3.3 to 3.5 million dying of starvation, disease, exhaustion, and overall maltreatment. For many Soviet POW’s, service with the German Army was the only way to avoid such a horrible fate. Typically, these troops were often not very reliable in combat. Understandably, they were not very motivated to sacrifice life and limb for their conquerors. In some cases they proved to by a grave liability, such as the case of a battalion of soldiers from Georgia which manned the Atlantic Wall defenses on the Dutch island of Texel, who in 1945 openly rebelled against the Germans.

As well as many thousand foreign volunteers, there were also many thousand foreign conscripts who were forcibly made to serve in the German Army. By far the most interesting extreme in this instance were a group of Koreans who were captured by American forces during the D-Day invasion. For three decades Japan had occupied Korea, and the men were forcibly conscripted into the Japanese Imperial Army. In 1939 Japan attempted to invade the Soviet Union through Mongolia, but were badly beaten at the Battle of Khalkhin Gol. The Koreans were captured and sent to the gulags, but with the German invasion of the Soviet Union, were then forced to join the Red Army and fight on the Eastern Front.  They were then captured by the Germans, conscripted into the German Army, and forced to man the defenses of the Atlantic Wall at Normandy.

By far the most numerous conscripts were Polish.  Before World War I many parts of Poland had been a part of Prussia, and later the German Empire. When Germany re-conquered these territories they considered many of the people living there to be ethnic Germans.  As such, they were considered full citizens of the Reich and thus were subject to German draft laws.  Many still believed themselves to be German and thus were willing to fight for the German cause, however many spoke Polish, had adopted Polish customs, and believed themselves to be Poles. Regardless, refusing to obey the draft laws could result in serious consequences, not only for the individual but his family as well. Some 500,000 Poles were conscripted into the Wehrmacht, with many serving on the Atlantic Wall. Like the Soviets, the Polish also were not the best soldiers as they were often unwilling to fight for their taskmasters. Around 85,000 would defect to the Free Polish Forces in France. In addition to Polish Troops, a number of Czechs considered ethnic Germans would be conscripted as well.

Overall, one in six defenders of the Atlantic Wall were not German. Nothing demonstrates the diversity of these defenders more than the photo below of a group Wehrmacht soldiers captured during D-Day

Front Row (from left to right):  a Yugoslav; an Italian; a Turk; a Pole

Back Row (from left to right): a German; a Czech; a Russian who was forced into the army when the Nazis occupied his town; and a Mongolian.

I was really excited to start reading Lynne Olson’s new book, Last Hope Island: Britain, Occupied Europe, and the Brotherhood That Helped Turn the Tide of War (BOOK | KINDLE), which was released last week by @randomhouse. The book tells the stories of many of the governments and leaders of Nazi-occupied countries in Europe that were forced to flee to Britain where they set up their governments-in-exile with London as their de facto capital and made significant contributions to the war effort that ultimately helped defeat Hitler’s Germany and free their home nations.

What really attracted me to Last Hope Island was the story of King Haakon VII of Norway who is really one of the unsung heroes of World War II but whose role is largely unknown outside of his country. It’s difficult to find good books about King Haakon that aren’t written in Norwegian, so I was really pleased to find that he is one of the main characters that Lynne Olson writes about in Last Hope Island, alongside fascinating figures such as Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, Charles de Gaulle, Jan Masaryk of Czechoslovakia, the Earl of Suffolk, Belgian King Leopold III, and many other men and women – largely from the occupied countries overrun in the Blitzkrieg – whose roles in the resistance and ultimate Allied victory have long been overlooked. There aren’t enough great books that explore the integral contributions to the Allied war effort by Europeans from the occupied countries, but Last Hope Island tells those stories and shares some really surprising information such as the fact that 20% of the Royal Air Force pilots flying during the Battle of Britain weren’t British or that the Norwegian shipping fleet, which was the fourth-largest in the world at the time and the most technologically-advanced, was largely responsible for replenishing the British shipping losses incurred during the devastating unrestricted submarine warfare by German U-boats in the Battle of the Atlantic.

Lynne Olson has written some top-notch books about World War II – I’d especially suggest checking out Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America’s Fight Over World War II, 1939-1941 (BOOK | KINDLE) and Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour (BOOK | KINDLE) – and I believe Last Hope Island is her very best yet. I’m a huge fan of Olson’s style which is reminiscent of Erik Larson’s (The Devil in the White City) ability to simultaneously tell multiple stories about forgotten people or overlooked subjects while seemingly making whatever topic she’s writing about it at that very moment feel like the only topic you ever want to focus on. Lynne Olson’s Last Hope Island: Britain, Occupied Europe, and the Brotherhood That Helped Turn the Tide of War (BOOK | KINDLE) is one of the best books I’ve read so far in 2017, it is available right now from @randomhouse, and I can’t recommend it enough so go get it now.

Winston Churchill on the stern of the British battleship HMS Duke of York in August 1941. On the 9th of that month Duke of York had pulled into Placentia Bay on the southeast coast of Newfoundland, Canada. There the ship in the background, USS Augusta, was waiting with U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In America the press and public were told he was on a ten day fishing trip. This was the first of eleven wartime meetings between Churchill and Roosevelt.

As Duke of York had crossed through a vicious Atlantic storm Churchill passed the time drafting the Atlantic Charter. It detailed the goals and aims of the Allied powers concerning the war (which America had not yet joined) and the post-war world. It’s an interesting thing that in those bleak days Churchill had already grown sure of eventual victory. The Atlantic Charter became the basis of the United Nations, with Britain and America effectively vowing to succeed where the League of Nations had so clearly failed. Roosevelt warmed to Churchill, becoming far less opportunistic in his aid to Britain and evermore an ally.


SMS Rheinland- 1914

SMS Rheinland was one of four Nassau-class battleships, the first dreadnoughts built for the German Imperial Navy (Kaiserliche Marine). Rheinland mounted twelve 28 cm (11 in) main guns in six twin turrets in an unusual hexagonal arrangement. 

The navy built Rheinland and her sister ships in response to the revolutionary British HMS Dreadnought, which had been launched in 1906. Rheinland was laid down in June 1907, launched the following year in October, and commissioned in April 1910.

On Monday, Maureen Corrigan spoke to Fresh Air about her book, So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came To Be and Why It Endures.  When Gatsby was published in 1925 it was a flop, but World War II turned that around. In fact, the Atlantic just published an article about the Armed Services Editions–books that were given to soldiers to keep in their uniform pockets so they had something to read to take their mind off of the death and destruction.

Here’s what Yoni Appelbaum of Atlantic says: 

Some of the selections [for the Armed Services Editions] were idiosyncratic. In 1945, Council picked out an older novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald that had never achieved popular success. It sold just 120 copies the previous year, and another 33 in 1945 before going out of print. The 155,000 copies of The Great Gatsby that they shipped out to the troops dwarfed all its previous print runs combined. Buoyed by that exposure, it would go on to become one of the great publishing successes of the 20th century.

Learn more about Gatsby’s incredible revival here


The USS Barb, Gato-class submarine, and her battleflag. The Barb was one of the most successful American subs of the war, ranking third in tonnage sunk (96,628 tons), from 17 ships including an aircraft carrier. She served in both the Atlantic and the Pacific over her twelve patrols, and carried the unique distinction of landing a raiding party on the island of Sakhalin to blow up a Japanese train, the only combat carried out on the Japanese home islands.

(US Navy)


In Focus: World War I In Photos, an Introduction

A century ago, an assassin, a Serbian nationalist, killed the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary as he visited Sarajevo. This act was the catalyst for a massive conflict that lasted four years. More than 65 million soldiers were mobilized by more than 30 nations, with battles taking place around the world. Industrialization brought modern weapons, machinery, and tactics to warfare, vastly increasing the killing power of armies. Battlefield conditions were horrific, typified by the chaotic, cratered hellscape of the Western Front, where soldiers in muddy trenches faced bullets, bombs, gas, bayonet charges, and more. On this 100-year anniversary, I’ve gathered photographs of the Great War from dozens of collections, some digitized for the first time, to try to tell the story of the conflict, those caught up in it, and how much it affected the world. Come back next week for part 2.

Read more.


11/100 days of productivity

Today was a super productive day after a v emotional past week so I’m proud of myself!

-I finished a take home geometry honours test and I got an A- on it which in really happy with.
-I made 3 pages of bio revision for a test on Thursday
-I started prepping for an essay exam for Atlantic world history & did the HW
-wrote an observation piece and a creative piece about a spoon for English
-reviewed all types of present tense verbs for my French test tomorrow
-planned out the rest of the week

It’s currently 10:34PM and I’m going to get ahead on some French assignments til 11:00, clean out my desk and bedside table (bc I’m getting a new IKEA desk and bed tmrw!!! I’m so excited), and start sketching out some ideas for a painting. Feeling p relaxed and light after dropping a lot of negativity from my life.
Hope all of u have a super relaxed and great day/noon/eve/night ✨<3

On the term "Atlantic World History"

Among historians, there is some drama about the usage of the term “Atlantic World History” in the place of such terms as “Age of Exploration,” “New World History,” “Columbian Exchange Period,” etc. And, to be clear, historians have drama about everything because whenever someone in a field thinks there is something wrong with the accepted methodology, nomenclature, and/or dominant narratives, a lot of other people in the field or subfield flip their shit and it all gets hashed out over like, ten years worth of pissy journal articles and conference presentations. Think the great Ron/Hermione vs. Harry/Hermione ship wars of about 2003-2008, but with academics, journals, and conferences instead of livejournal, fandomwank,and fansite forums.

The term “Atlantic World History” is still kind of like that. Some historians think it is too trendy, that it is too based in geography, that it is way too broad to present a clear meaning, etc etc. Now, some of those complaints are valid, but I think that the use of the term “Atlantic World History” in the stead of the previous terms is necessary because by framing it in terms of geography, the primary agency is removed from the Europeans; in academic terms, “Atlantic World History” decolonizes our perception of the period.

The thing about terms like “Age of Exploration” et al is that they implicitly value the actions of the Europeans over everyone else, removing the agency of African peoples and indigenous American peoples before true inquiry can even begin. “Atlantic World History” isn’t that different from “Age of Exploration” in terms of scope or chronology; the difference lies in that it is taking away the agency and implicit glorification of the men who destroyed entire peoples and civilizations in the name of god, gold, and glory.

My definition of Atlantic World History is: the study of the interactions of the peoples from European, African, and American civilizations within the Atlantic stage between about 1415 and 1890; 1415 marks the year Portugal began their empire building in West Africa, and 1890 marks the passage of the Brussels Act. I must note that there is no agreement amongst historians about the beginning and end dates of this period; I chose those dates because they make the most sense (again, in my opinion) in relation to the period.

I suppose that the detractors who complain about the huge amount of material denoted by the term have a point. I mean, you have Portugal, Spain, France, Great Britain, The Netherlands, and Russia, from time to time. You have the Aztecs and the Mayas and the Incas and the Hurons and the Iroquois and thousands of other autonomous nations inhabiting the North and South American continents. In Western, Southern, and Central Africa you had such a vast amount of peoples and empires and nations that I cannot even begin to make a list.*

Even before these people came into contact with each other they had more cultures, political theories, religious systems, understandings of gender, etc than could fit into 10 volumes of thick, heavy encyclopedias. And then, when these four continents and their peoples were forced into contact with each other, there was a massive explosion of syncretism, of disease, of rape, of genocide, of language, of shifting power sources, of slavery, of religious change, of shifting gender conceptions, of economy, of trade, of war, of self-understanding, of political philosophy, of conceptions of freedom.

Perhaps to say that the term is too broad is an understatement. However, I personally prefer a massive, de-colonized umbrella term with a crapton of overlapping subfields to a massive umbrella term which glorifies the people who took it upon themselves to destroy and enslave entire continents worth of nations.

*You can see the implicit perpetuation of the oppression of these peoples in the fact that I can sit down and list the European actors without having to think, while it takes me much longer to find and remember the names of the North American, South American, and African actors.

ask historicity-was-already-taken a question


In Focus: World War I In Photos - Technology

When Europe’s armies first marched to war in 1914, some were still carrying lances on horseback. By the end of the war, rapid-fire guns, aerial bombardment, armored vehicle attacks, and chemical weapon deployments were commonplace. Any romantic notion of warfare was bluntly shoved aside by the advent of chlorine gas, massive explosive shells that could have been fired from more than 20 miles away, and machine guns that spat out bullets like firehoses. Each side did its best to build on existing technology, or invent new methods, hoping to gain any advantage over the enemy. Massive listening devices gave them ears in the sky, armored vehicles made them impervious to small arms fire, tanks could (most of the time) cruise right over barbed wire and trenches, telephones and heliographs let them speak across vast distances, and airplanes gave them new platforms to rain death on each other from above. New scientific work resulted in more lethal explosives, new tactics made old offensive methods obsolete, and mass-produced killing machines made soldiers both more powerful and more vulnerable. On this 100-year anniversary, I’ve gathered photographs of the Great War from dozens of collections, some digitized for the first time, to try to tell the story of the conflict, those caught up in it, and how much it affected the world. Today’s entry is part 3 of a 10-part series on World War I, which will be posted every Sunday until June 29.

Read more.