This section of the website will be dedicated to British and American Culture for the duration of the CNU Spring semester 2017. The regular podcast posts and pages will continue as they were while this page is used to provide material for my topics course. The two will not be connected other than the simple fact that they are hosted in the same domain. Students continue onward and follow the instructions that are given; everyone else, feel free to browse the content as you do the Korean Heroes Podcast pages.
It was reported that when the tragedy of the Titanic unfolded, Captain Edward Smith stoically remained on board while she sank, advising his crew to “Be British boys, be British!“ It was later uncovered that a newspaper had added these famous words to further dramatize the story, but let us consider his words nonetheless. What does it mean to be British? What symbols are most effective in conveying Britishness? In light of the recent Brexit vote, are the British more fragmented then they once were, or more so? Consider these questions as you look at the collage below. Choose a symbol, either from the pictures on the page, or anywhere else you find an image that represents Great Britain.Write about how the symbol of your choice represents the idea of “Britishness” by connecting it to people, places, events and historical moments in British culture. Try to keep in mind the purpose, the perspective and the use of the symbol you choose. Is it a positive or negative image of Britain? Does it represent all British culture or just a part of it? These are all questions to consider as we examine the United Kingdom of Great Britain as it was, as it is and how it came to be that way. Click on the link below to listen to a classic British patriotic song which is based on the poem by James Thomson and put to music by the composer Thomas Arne in 1740:
As well as the official National Anthem of the United Kingdom of Great Britain adopted in 1745:
All the slides that are used in class in PPT format have been compiled in a .pdf. There are 320 of them, but not all of them will be covered in class, so it is up to each student to attend each week’s lecture to see which slides are emphasized, which are included and which are not included.
To download the slides simply click on the link below:
Review of Class Material:
In class we discussed a method of breaking down the symbols that we went over, using historical, cultural and social contexts, so let us clarify the categorical headings here. Due to technical difficulties the information provided on the board in class was incomplete. In particular, the word “milieu” derived from the French word for middle was used to describe the cultural context, but it is more appropriate to use it in the social context. There is also a term called “cultural milieu,” but the social milieu provides a clearer definition and a connection to the environment and surroundings. The representative cultural thing is physically somewhere and interacts with its surroundings. That is social context. For example, Barack Obama and Queen Elizabeth II.
Cultural context is more about ideology, traditions and values. The cultural milieu describes the relationship between these cultural forces and the symbol. These contexts are not limited to people only, many of them are objects or places. For example, The Union Jack and The Star-spangled banner.
Historical context is connected to the events that occurred during the period the symbol existed, whether it be a person, place or object. It may, in fact, no longer exist in reality, but still be remembered as an important symbol with strong residual meaning. It is related to the “big picture” and takes into account national or international effects. A perfect example of this is any deceased person. For example, George Washington or Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson.
Visit the following website for a short summary similar to my description of the method:
These images are maps and people that are a part of myths, legends and history. The first map depicts Romain Britain (Britannia). The second shows the raids that lead to the Roman withdrawal from the isles. The third is a map of what Britain looked like shortly after 900 AD during the Viking era. The fourth shows the distribution of light coloured eyes (blue and green), which happens to correspond with light coloured hair and roughly matches the area the vikings controlled one thousand years ago. Following the maps are a tapestry of King Arthur and a painting of Robin Hood:
As we discussed in class, the British isles went through waves of invasions, occupations and colonization over the roughly one thousand year period from the Roman conquest to the Norman conquest. The Romans came and left first, leaving behind a cultural imprint. They were followed by the Angles and Saxons, the progenitors of the Anglo-saxon race. Then the vikings, namely the Danes, took their turn at ruling over “Great Britain,” again leaving behind a cultural and ethnic legacy. Finally the Normans, a settled group of vikings from northern France, succeeded in taking over “England” and establishing a dynasty (in 1066). They would be the last people to do so. Throughout it all, Caledonia; the Picts, the Scots and the settled vikings of the Hebrides and the Highlands would remain fiercely independent. The following link to a documentary by BBC Scotland details the first confrontation and preservation of Scottish territory by the northern tribes when the Romans attempted to expand north of Britannia into Caledonia (modern day Scotland):
Make sure you watch the following documentary in particular as it details the entire period (0 AD- 1066 AD) that was summarized in class. Content from both videos that was emphasized in class will be included in tests.
Click on the link below to see the text about the 14th century conditions in general, as well as a short description of two important cultural figures: Geoffrey Chaucer and John Wycliffe.
The Dynasty that began in 1066 and has persists to this day. The Bayeux Tapestry:
Medieval Life and Times: Revolving Around Religion
Remember that to really understand what British culture was like in the Middle Ages, from the Norman Invasion to the Early Modern Period, you have to “walk a mile in their shoes.” In other words, you have to imagine what is was like to live in a society where violence was prevalent and religion was the reason for everything. Society was organized into the great chain of being, where you stayed in your place as it was divinely pre-determined. God had made men kings and peasants, and they were to stay that way. Belief in God was widespread and expected. Christianity permeated society at all levels and was used by those in power to justify everything from political decisions to morals and education. Religion was also the explanation for how the world work, the science and philosophy of its day. The Roman Empire had been replaced by the institution of Catholicism and England and Scotland would continue to lean on it until Henry VIII severed that connection on the back of the continental Protestant movement started by Martin Luther. However, long before religion began to fragment and lay bare the contradictions and stresses in English and Scottish society, the Black Death would come along and upset everything for generations, including the ubiquity of religion and Faith in God.
Power-sharing with the People
The Magna Carta was significant because it represents the first attempt at limiting the powers of the King and forcing him to follow the law, rather than considering himself above it. Of course the main benefactors of the documents were the Barons, who were the landed aristocracy of the day, and King John almost immediately rescinded on his commitments, but the seeds of power sharing had been sown. Kings would continue to rule by divine right for centuries, but slowly but surely more of the population would have influence on the decisions and laws issued by the English (and then British) government.
The Magna Carta:
The Black Death was devastating to Europe and the British Isles was no exception. The death toll may have been as high as 50% of the total population of the continent, but in some of the cities in was even higher than that. The plague was indiscriminate and left people, regardless of their class or status, dead wherever it went. The natural inclination of the population was to seek religious assistance, guidance, explanation and salvation. However, the Church was unable to provide these services and many people were left looking at a world without order. The great chain of being had become unhinged. Though this event was a disaster unparalleled in the history of western civilization it has some surprisingly positive consequences, for the majority of the population. The sheer number of people that were left dead in the wake of the plague meant that labour was no longer cheap. In fact, human life itself was no longer cheap. Perhaps half the population of England died over five years, which crippled the economy, but made each man’s contribution that much more valuable. Some scholars have theorized that this social upheaval and questioning of the order of the universe was a huge factor in the development of the Early Modern (Renaissance) society. Whether this is true or not, the immediate and long term cultural effects of the plague are undeniable as the population of England would not recover until the early 17th century, a period of over 250 years.
Consequences of the Black Death:
The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381
In the Peasants’ Revolt the social changes that had benefited the lower classes were being prevented by laws put forth by the King of England, because of pressure from the landed aristocracy . These restrictions and the taxes that were levied to support the war on the continent triggered protest, then violence then a spectacular march of the capital and a confrontation with the King. The end result though, unfortunately for the peasants, was a rejection of their demands. armed reprisals and suppression of the resistance to the King’s edicts.
Below is a link to the first episode of the series on the Kings and Queens of England to supplement what is studied in class.
The 16th Century
In many ways the 16th century represents the era of in which the British begin to rise from a regional power to a super power. They had always had an influence on the affairs of the continent, but now the other great states; France, Spain, Portugal, The Holy Roman Empire, would be forced to take notice. The flowering of English philosophy, arts, writing and other aspects of culture would begin to take off. The Scottish reformation would lead to the Scottish Enlightenment and from there the unification of Great Britain would propel the new state into the industrial revolution. 16th century British Culture was characterized by tumultuous religious change and conflict, the authoritarian rule of Henry VIII, and ultimately the succession of Queen Elizabeth in the latter part of the 1600s. Beyond the Tudor Kings and Queens, the age was marked by great men who contributed to many different fields; Sir Thomas More, Sir Francis Drake and William Shakespeare, just to name a few. Also of great importance was the effort to construct a navy out of private investment and public subsidies as the British began to take control of the high seas!
Below is a link to Simon Schama’s History of Britain Episode 6: Burning Convictions, which should remind you of the dramatic shift in religion, politics and society.
The Bubbling Pot of Discontent Overfloweth
In the 17th century the tension between the crown and the people became too great. King James inherited the crown of both the kingdom of Scotland and England, but the two states were not yet unified. He made an effort to continue the popular rule of his predecessor Queen Elizabeth, but when his son Charles became King, the religious, political and cultural differences across the island caused resistance to his rule. He attempted to force the Scots to accept the book of common prayer, an Anglican religious text, and this caused outrage across Scotland. Gradually the king lost the support of the people as he fought against the English Parliament and the Presbyterians in Scotland. Never willing to compromise, and often trying to play one faction against the other, King Charles’ Royalist army was eventually defeated and he was cornered, multiple times. Defiant to the end, King Charles was finally executed for his stubbornness and Lord Oliver Cromwell became Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England. This marked the only time in over one thousand years that England has been without a monarch.
The end of the 17th century saw the real end of absolute monarchy with the Glorious Revolution of 1688 (exactly 100 years after England was spared from the Spanish Armada by stormy seas). As the 18th century began, the Scottish Enlightenment, the constitutional monarchy and corresponding rises in literacy (especially in Scotland) began to produce technological advancement. The population in Great Britain (from the Act of Union in 1707) saw innovation and invention transform the new nation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain. Primarily driven by the textile (cloth) industry, the British development machines that gave them a production advantage over other states in Europe. Soon they were applying the iron-working technology and steam power to their transportation system as well. The British were rapidly expanding across the world, no longer dependent on simple human labour, basic elements and animals for power, they literally steamed their way to a global empire, eclipsing all other powers industrially and economically by the 19th century. As the French Revolution ran its course and Napoleon rose to power and was subsequently defeat, a new age dawned. The United Kingdom was building towards its peak as the undisputed master of the world’s oceans. Pax Britannica (the British Peace) would largely prevent large scale European conflict from breaking out for nearly a century – from 1815 to the outbreak of the Great War (World War I) in 1914.
We covered the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381, English Civil War, the American Revolutionary War, and the Industrial Revolution in class. The lectures gave an overview of the events and a working definition of what constitutes a revolution. As you study for the quizzes and for the final exam, consider how the events we covered fit the definition we used, what caused the people to start a revolution (or attempt to start one). More images, videos and links will be forthcoming later this week, but here is a link to a website with multiple short video clips that should supplement what we discussed in class visually.
The English Civil War
It all comes down to taxes at a certain point and King Charles refused to work with the English parliament to pass legislation approving “fair” new taxes for government revenue streams. The resulting stand off came to a head when the King tried to use his authority to force the country to support him. England then divided into Royalists and Parliamentarians and fought across England and Scotland. The King was defeated, captured, tried and executed. Below is a picture of Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England after the King’s death. However, this revolution was short-lived as after Cromwell’s death the English monarchy was restored, but it was a monarchy with reduced power as the time of the English absolute monarch was over.
Midterm Examination Details:
Format: 30 Multiple choice and 2 short answer questions. 1 point per multiple choice question and 5 points per short answer for a total of 40 points. (30×1+2×5)
Value: 20% of your final grade
Content: From the introduction to the end of Chapter 3 in the textbook. All cyber lectures from Week 1-7 and any material covered in class lectures.
The Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution propelled countries into the Modern Age, but at what cost? The costs and benefits of the process, not just in Great Britain and the United States, but all around the world, have long been debated. Often we are focused on the economics and technological changes that it brought about, but consider the two iconic pictures below and measure the effect on society and the environment as well.
THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
What does it mean to be American? This is a question that has been difficult to answer since the nation was conceived. In some ways the United States of America was the first modern nation state and the first modern democratic nation. It earned its freedom through a difficult and contentious war with the British Empire and then went on to grow into the greatest super power in the history of the world. What do Americans feel represent them the most and how does the world attempt to describe America? Obviously this perception has changed over time, but some symbols have endured, others have fallen away, while still others have appeared more recently. When attempting to get a grip on the incredibly diverse global-spanning American culture, what images come to the fore, whether invited, accepted or decried? Unifying the states and protectorates of the United States has always been problematic, just look at the graphic below and consider its implications for national unity:
As you can see from the map, each state carries its own symbols as well as the national symbols such as the stars and stripes. The interesting thing is that these geographic or state-line symbols have begun to erode because of transportation and communication systems, while at the same time some people are still fiercely attached to their own region. As we did when we examined British symbols, focus on a symbol that has a connection to American culture overall, or one that is a specific symbol that exemplifies a certain type of Americanism. Old or new, concentrated or diffuse, it does not matter.
Week 9: The American Revolutionary War
Three of the most significant people that drove the revolution forward were George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. There were many more powerful, intelligent, courageous and driven people to be sure, but we only had time to cover these three Founding Fathers. George Washington is the most iconic of three and he was the general in charge of the continental forces. Without his charisma, strategy and vision the war would have been lost in the first few years. He became the President of the new republic of the United States of America when the war was concluded. He strongly advocated American neutrality. Benjamin Franklin was something of a genius. He is known for his scientific and business ventures as well as his political contributions. Undoubtedly talented, he was a polymath who lent his expertise and reputation to the cause of American independence, but also mediated the conflict with the British and French. Thomas Jefferson is most well-known for penning the document itself. He worked tirelessly to come with a draft of the Declaration of Independence that all the thirteen colonies’ representatives could agree on. Surprisingly few corrections and alterations were made. He was strongly in favour of liberties and the rights of citizens. He believed that governments needed limitations (which would come in the form of systemic checks and balances as well as the constitution) to maintain a just society. He would later become President of the United States and was a strong advocate of maintaining diplomatic ties with France after the war (as opposed to Washington’s neutral position). Below are some classic portraits of the three men and an image of the Declaration of Independence.
Week 10: American Myths, The American Civil War and the Wild West
Even though the United States of America is a relatively new country, if we are to date it from the American Revolutionary War’s conclusion ins 1783, its mythology stretches back much further than the 18th century. As other nations and cultures have done, the Americans have attempted to root themselves in a mythological past. The legends, whether exaggerated, partially true or complete fiction, have come down to us through the centuries and informed our understanding of American culture, just as it has informed the understanding of Americans themselves. The project of cultural, social and political unification was particularly challenging in the United States and contradictions often arose which had to be resolved or ignored. Let’s examine how popular American legends and myths influenced the development of American culture.
Two famous examples are Paul Bunyan and Davy Crockett. The former is the main character in a series of Tall Tales about the expansion of American territory, whereas the latter was a real man whose legend grew and whose exploits were exaggerated.
Week 11: The Frontier
One of the most re-imagined and glorified periods in history in the American Wild West. Perhaps no other period in history has been reproduced on the silver screen the way the American expansion westward has been. One of the key things to understand about this period is that it was tumultuous and uncertain. Looking backward we can easily say that it was the destiny of the American people to rule an entire continent from its east to west coast, but in reality its growth came in abrupt spurts interrupted by serious setbacks. The most important of these setbacks was the American Civil War. This conflict, which was set into motion by the modification and dispute over the original constitution at the conclusion of the American Revolutionary War, came to a head when the Southern slave states declared they were seceding from the United States and forming their own state, the Confederacy. When this new state was not accepted and no peaceful resolution could be found, the northern states went to war with the southern states, resulting in the bloodiest war in American history. The end result was a union victory and the re-unification of the United States, but the damage and scars would remain across all the states involved, but especially in the South. Many events helped in overcoming the fissure between the states, foremost among them being the rapid resumption of westward expansion, the subjugation of remaining native tribes, the appropriation of unclaimed native territory and the idea the manifest destiny had driven the formation of the United States to begin with. The lawlessness, crudeness and hardship experienced by the people populating the new states being formed on the American western frontier stands in stark contrast to the content portrayed during the era of Hollywood Westerns that included movies filled with fantasies of rugged, handsome, honourable cowboys confronting settlers, pioneers, thieves and Indians in dramatic suspenseful scenes that demonstrated the integrity and heroism inherent in the American man.
Week 12: Americanization: Inheriting the Empire
Observe the two maps of the world below. One is of the British Empire at its peak in 1900 and the other is a map of the United States of America’s power projection in 2000. As we discussed in class, there are many ways that English culture, both American and British, spread all over the globe, but perhaps the biggest overall influence is military presence. The United States has always been a republic, but in many ways it has behaved more and more like an empire since it became the lone global superpower after World War II.
Originally, America was able to justify its global expansion by being the “saviours of the world” and the “protectors of the free world.” Of course, there was a measure of truth to these ideas in the 1940s, 1950s and even into the Cold War, but this perspective has begun to sour and it is harder to sell to the public. The election of Donald Trump as president and his promises to scale back America’s overseas military presence are an indicator that there may be changes in America’s aggressive foreign policy. Although there are signs that American culture is receding, it continues to be incredibly dominant, just as British culture was from the post Napoleonic era to the late 19th century. Evidence of Americanization is all around us and, even if its power is diminishing, it will continue to affect global culture for a long time to come. Just look in the mirror at the clothes you wear, or look out the window at McDonald’s golden arches for a quick reminder that Americanization is all around us.
The British Empire at its peak c. 1900
American Military Presence c. 2000
Hollywood and the American Century; The Real Great Britain
For the purposes of our general understanding of American symbols that are either officially or unofficially adopted by the American government, we will focus on over-arching representations of America, such as:
Click here to download the notes on Hollywood:
The American Century
Though it was not until the post World War II era that Time Magazine founder coined the term “The American Century” to describe the 20th century, the idea stuck. If one is to take an America-centric view (and we are), the American Century can be divided into three parts with two crisis periods separating them. The earlier period is marked by the rise of American influence and the outbreak of World War I (The Great War) and a general optimism on the part of American people as the economy comes out of a deep recession in the 1890s and gathers steam right through to the 1920s. This optimism is shattered by the great stock market crash and the onset of the Great Depression in the 1930s (the first crisis period). World War II marks the end of the crisis and the true emergence of the USA as an international superpower. This second period of growth and optimism is known for the liberal consensus and such programs as the Marshall Plan, as the world rebuilds and recovers from the damage of a second World War. The 1960s bring another crisis to America centered around Civil Rights. The unpopularity of the Vietnamese War and the powerful movements headed by Martin Luther King Jr. among others changes American society. The late 1970s and 1980s ushers in a new political era which extends to the present: domination by the neo-conservatives. The interventionist, power projecting economic powerhouse of the United States has been driven by conservative politicians who advocate aggressive foreign policy, but who often have not served the armed forces in any meaningful way themselves. That brings us up to Donald Trump.
The American Political System
Week 15: Notes on Culture and Exam Review
One way to define anything cultural is to relate them to their popularity and effect. Culture that is mainstream, that has the most powerful influence and popularity is referred to as dominant. Cultures that exist in relation to the dominant one are called subcultures or countercultures, depending on their relationship.
Subcultures have distinct values or shared interests that aren’t popular among the majority of people in the larger culture. However, they share in their interests in a way that doesn’t violate or contradict what the majority values. Musical interest is a common factor in the formation of a subculture. Glam rock, punk rock and grunge music were associated with subcultures that also shared in fashion styles and attitudes. Other examples of subcultures include biker groups, jocks and role-playing gamers.
A counterculture is often viewed as deviant by society because the values and behaviors of group members rebel against what cultural values dictate. One of the largest counterculture groups in American history was the “hippies.” It consisted of people who spoke and acted out against the Vietnam War. In addition, hippies took on certain fashion styles and behavioral choices. The Ku Klux Klan is one of the most notorious and controversial counterculture groups. People who homeschool are considered countercultural, although their choice has become more socially accepted as of 2014.