Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Learning History Where it Happened: History Major Harrison Leone and the Defenestration(s) of Prague

In the summer after seventh grade, I fell through a second story window at my house, glass, frame and all. After my stitches healed, my dad began gleefully joking that I had been trying to re-enact the Defenestration of Prague. Now, I had no idea what the “Defenestration of Prague” was, and for a while I was convinced he had made it up. Defenestration? Come on, dad, that’s not a real word. Prague? Where was that, Russia?

Obviously, thirteen year old me was frightfully mistaken. Defenestration is a real word; Prague is not in Russia; and the Defenestration of Prague of 1618 played a pivotal role in modern European history. Throwing opponents out of windows is a peculiarly Czech solution to intractable political debates and, though the most significant from a historical standpoint, the Defenestration of 1618 was only one of three such events in Bohemian history.

Before understanding the defenestrations, readers should know that the Czechs have a long tradition of questioning authority and combating oppression, specifically when that oppression came via religious persecution. Prague itself was one of the first places to question the growing decadence of the medieval Catholic Church.

The fiery and passionate preacher Jan Hus decried the opulence of the church during his time. Hus would eventually be tied to a stake and set ablaze for the troubles he created. His teachings and grisly demise ignited the Hussite Wars, a proto-Protestant movement that lasted for several decades and left Bohemia a devastated, backwards province, removed from power, and without any capacity for self-government. The Hussite Wars were set off with the First Defenestration of Prague in 1419, when town council members were thrown to their death from the New Town Hall.
 
The Second, and most famous, Defenstration of Prague was once again provoked by religious conflict. By this time, the Protestant Reformation was in full swing and threatening to upend the social order of Europe. The Czechs, now under the rule of the devoutly Catholic Hapsburgs, were once again at the forefront of the religious fissures developing across the continent. The Protestant Bohemian nobility had enjoyed freedom of worship and equitable legal status under Emperor Rudolf II after he issued the Letter of Majesty in the early 1600s. Now, Rudolf’s successor, Emperor Matthias, revoked the letter, leaving the powerful Czech Protestants enraged at their disenfranchisement. In May of 1618, Catholic ministers were hurled from a three story window at the Prague Castle. According to the Catholics present at the scene, their lives were spared by intervening angels; according to the Protestants, they fell in manure. In either case, this spark ignited the powder keg, and Europe descended into the Thirty Year’s War, a horrendous conflict that was the deadliest the continent had ever seen.

The Third Defenestration, which is little known or publicized outside of the Czech Republic, had nothing to do with religion but everything to do with power. In 1948, Czechoslovakia had just undergone a bloodless and widely supported Communist coup. Foreign Minister Jan Masaryk, son of one of the greatest Czech heroes Tomáš Masaryk, was found dead below his bathroom window, with the official report stating suicide. Masaryk was an ardent nationalist and no fan of the increased Soviet influence in his country, and suspicion abounded that either Czech communist thugs or Soviet secret agents sent the unfortunate minister to his death. In 2004, after further investigation, the Prague police officially stated that Masaryk had in fact been murdered.

The story of the Czech people’s struggle is often tragic. Surrounded by powerful neighbors, placed in the middle of the most historically mercurial continent on earth, the Czechs have sought for centuries to assert their national character on their own lands. The Czechs seem to have been the victims of every historical villain of the past 500 years, whether this villainy came in the form of corrupt priests, power-hungry Austrians, Lebensraum-seeking Nazis, or the Warsaw Pact. Troubled past aside, my experiences with the Czechs have been absolutely peaceful and pleasant, although I have made it a point to avoid standing near windows.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

History Major Victoria Glanowski Writes from London

“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford."
-Samuel Johnson

Well, I must say that there is always something to do in London even if you have lived here your whole life. Unlike Dublin, which is compact and small, London is spread out. There are six zones in the Greater London area and three other zones in the North West of London. Luckily, there are many modes of transportations such as buses, bikes, cars, trains, and the London Underground, also known as the Tube. On a rainy day in London, which sometimes happens, the Tube is your best mode of transport.
 
Besides the presence of the London Eye, there are plenty of historical places on virtually every street corner. A few weeks ago, I had a great meal at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Pub located on Fleet Street in London. The pub was rebuilt back in 1667 during the reign of King Charles II. Inside, the pub is a labyrinth of rooms that draws in tourists and locals. Outside the pub, in the passageway, there is a list of all the royals who have been served.

Not a far distance from the pub is the iconic St. Paul’s Cathedral. Besides the marvelous mosaic walls, the other amazing part of the cathedral is the three galleries. We came upon the Whispering Gallery after walking up 257 steps and going through the smallest door that was hobbit size. After the Whispering Gallery, our group went up another 376 steep steps to the Stone Gallery and then another 528 steps to the Golden Gallery. The best view of London was the Golden Gallery and not the Stone Gallery. The Golden Gallery even had a peep hole where you could see the inside of the Cathedral!

So far the adventure has been amazing and there are still plenty of things to see in London!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

History Students in Action on GIS Cemetery project



Last Monday we saw a hint of spring, so the class took the opportunity to go the cemetery to work on our map.  We also met with a local genealogist who has been volunteering in online commemorating for years.  After an excellent presentation students set out to find the remaining graves they are researching and secure their coordinates.


Friday, March 28, 2014

My Time as a History Major at Bonaventure by Max Schneller

My decision to choose history as my major in college was a relatively easy one. I grew up in Hurley, New York, a town that was established by the Dutch in 1662. Many of the old stone houses of the Dutch colony still exist along Main Street. This historic site along with many others is where I grew up and, ever since I was young, my parents told me about my area's history. Because of this constant exposure to history I quickly grew to love it.

My decision to choose Saint Bonaventure was also in large part because of young exposure. My grandfather and uncle both went to Bonas and so throughout my childhood and high school career I heard stories of Bonaventure. I truly knew that Bonaventure was where I was going to spend my college career, however, when I first visited the school and saw the history section of Friedsam Library. As a high school senior, I had never seen so many books devoted to history in one place. Even now, in my senior year at Bonaventure, I enjoy going down to the History section and simply skimming through the books.

Perhaps my favorite part of being a history major at Saint Bonaventure has been the way that I have expanded my knowledge of the histories of many regions and countries that previously I had no exposure to. These regions include the Middle East, Latin America, and East Asia. Before coming to Saint Bonaventure, I took many classes on European and American history, both of which I have learned a lot about at Bonaventure. However, once at Bonaventure, I immediately decided to take classes on Asian and Latin American history to broaden my historical knowledge. By my sophomore year, I was also taking Middle Eastern history classes. These classes offered a new challenge and were particularly interesting because of the way that all of the information was new. For truly expanding my knowledge in history and changing the way I look at the world I have to thank Dr. Horowitz, Dr. Zabad from the Political Science Department, Dr. Robbins and many other professors throughout this wonderful school.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

History 494: History of the Future

I've been getting some questions about the Fall semester schedule. In particular, I've been asked about the special topic course "History of the Future." What the heck is that? One way to answer is with the course subtitle, which is too long to fit onto the schedule, "Science Fiction, Then, Now, and Things to Come." Yep. It is a history course about science fiction course that I'm team teaching with Paul Spaeth. We're going to start with the greats, Vern, Wells, Shelly, who created the genre and work our way to the present looking at the development of the genre in its historical context. We'll be looking at different mediums, including but not limited to novels, pulps, radio, movies, and, yes, comic books. This is the second time we've taught the class. Last time it was a lot of fun, and we learned a lot.

Friday, March 21, 2014

My Time as a History Major at Bonaventure by Christina Zoppi

Photo courtesy of Chelsea O'Connor-Rosiek
I love history! I think I will always be fascinated by learning about the past. My decision to declare history as my major was strongly influenced by the movie, “National Treasure.” All Nicolas Cage jokes aside, I thought (and still think) it was so cool that his character was able to recount historical facts off the top of his head. In fact, even today when people ask me what I plan on doing with my history degree I jokingly, and somewhat seriously, say that I am going to find the National Treasure. The truth is that no matter how cool it would be to find a lost map on the back of the Declaration of Independence, I do not plan to pursue a career in history.

During my junior year, as I seriously considered a career in Speech and Language Pathology, I began to tell people that I would not be using my history degree. I know plenty of people who majored in history as an undergraduate and are not presently working in the historical field: my dad works in hospitality, his college roommate is a podiatrist, some guy I sat next to on a plane once helps develop companies. I used to think none of these people were really using their degrees in history. I was sorely mistaken. While these careers may not directly reflect characteristics of history, they do incorporate the skills of a historian.

There is a very slight connection between a speech therapist and a historian; however, I am determined to incorporate the skills I have learned as a history student at St. Bonaventure University into my future career endeavors no matter what they may be. After taking many classes with Dr. Horowitz, I have learned to read large amounts of material while still being able to understand and discuss what I have read. Dr. Payne has taught me to be flexible and to have an open mind when dealing with new material. He has also taught me that there may actually be a zombie apocalypse and to be prepared for it. All of my history professors have taught me to be innovative in ways that are outside of the box. 

The skills that I have learned from studying history are irrefutable. Even if my career may not involve history in a direct way, I will be able to use the insights I have gained through being a history major in many aspects of my life. History will always be my first love, and I do not regret choosing to major in it. Who knows, maybe someday I will find the National Treasure, and I will be sure to thank all of my history professors in my recognition speech.

Monday, March 17, 2014

History Club Meeting on St. Patrick's Day!

The History Club will meet at 5:30 p.m. today in the Plassmann Lounge. This semester's trip will be discussed, among other topics. You need not be a history major to join!