San Martin and Maoland – US Training of Police in the Art of Crushing Protests

Watching the events as they unfold in Egypt and earlier in Tunisia, I have been fascinated by the evolving role of the police. Though also true in the Tunisian case, the Egyptian police has long been particularly infamous for its rampant use of torture, a fact sometimes taken advantage of by the US. These police forces recently revealed their complete incompetence and senseless cruelty to the world as plentiful footage showed its beatings, lethal use of vehicle charges, and its ultimate dissolution in the face of massive protests in major cities across the country. Since then, at least some of its officers appear to have shed their uniforms and re-engaged with hired or sympathetic government supporters.

While we are constantly reminded of US connections to the Egyptian military, these events remind me of the history of US ties to repressive police institutions around the world that would clearly recognize their own behavior on Al Jazeera footage and in countless Youtube clips uploaded in the past week or two. Throughout the Cold War, but especially from 1962 to the mid-1970s, the United States engaged in an intensive effort to train police from allied states on a scale not seen again until the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Run primarily through the Office of Public Safety (OPS) and funded by USAID, this campaign was never primarily a matter of generally developing police efficacy and professionalism, though many OPS police advisors and USAID officials were personally committed to these causes commitments to these causes. From the beginning, this effort was defined as the core of a counter-insurgency strategy designed to thwart “interests inimical to the United States” threatening friendly regimes before they become powerful enough to require full military intervention. The organization was heavily infiltrated by CIA officers who were placed there under the guidance of Byron Engle, the OPS director and a former CIA operative himself.1

One important center of the police training provided by the US during the 1960s and 1970s was the International Police Academy (IPA) which was housed in the “Car Barn,” a building complex which now houses offices for Georgetown University in Washington D.C. Though accusations abound, I have not found any persuasive evidence that torture techniques were taught or tolerated at the academy, and it seems clear that, on the contrary, many US instructors went out of their way to deplore the use of torture and argue that it is inefficient, ineffective, and highly damaging to civil-police relations. It is also clear, as several accounts I have read claim, that many of the students disagreed with their instructors, and openly debated the virtues of torture with each other even while in attendance. There is much more to be said on this, but here I wish to introduce one anecdote I came across about the IPA in A. J. Langguth‘s 1978 book Hidden Terrors which reveals the degree to which US training was explicitly designed to help its allies maintain a lock on power in the face of a protesting opposition.

San Martin and Maoland

The IPA designed a number of exercises to test the ability of police officers to respond to a political threat in the imaginary country of San Martin. Neighboring this state was the diabolical Maoland, which was always trying to spread revolution. In the exercises IPA faculty would play the role of Maoland infiltrators while students were split into those who assisted in plotting revolution, those crushing the uprising, and those who judged between the two.

In one exercise Langguth recounts, an aerial photograph of Baltimore served as a map of San Martin, and demonstrations organized by the Maoland revolutionaries were plotted out on it. One part of the exercise came to mind as journalists and human rights activists were rounded up in Cairo yesterday. As the student police proceeded to execute their plans, if things were too easy, IPA instructors would call in and declare, posing as Prime Minister, “My problem is the reporters on the scene. They’re getting in the way and interfering with our police work.” (p129) If the police stalled, they would call in with this same complaint several times, and a student police chief would finally respond, “All right…arrest them! Bring them in!” This would give the students ten minutes of relief before more demands for specific actions would come over the phone.

Apparently, the students really enjoyed the San Martin and Maoland role-playing opportunities though they complained that the communications and anti-riot equipment deployed in the exercise was rarely available to them at home (130). Senior officers found the exercises nerve wrecking since their actions could be immediately judged by their peers, potentially including younger or less experienced policemen.

Films apparently were often used in training, including one filmed in Panama but claiming to again be in the midst of a politically unstable San Martin. Other movies like The Use of Tear Gas to Preserve Order served as marketing material for the Lake Erie Chemical Company (one wonders if the Combined Systems International of Jamestown Pennsylvania, which supplied tear gas to the Egyptians has similar marketing films provided to its Egyptian customers?). Another movie mentioned both in Langguth’s Hidden Terrors and in a Congressional Report dated February, 1976 is the “Battle of Algiers.” This is a fantastic movie but also a highly complex one from which a whole range of lessons can be drawn. I came away from it horrified by the images of torture used and defended by the French as well the terrorism of the FLN and other non-state actors.

The congressional report, written as the US began to wind down its police training efforts or shift them to function under the guise of anti-narcotics efforts, investigated accusations of torture training being carried out at the IPA. The showing of “Battle of Algiers” in an interrogation class was the closest they came to finding anything controversial, due to the film’s depiction of “questionable techniques of extracting information” but noted that the academy protested that the movie was designed to “bring out how abhorrent inhumane methods of interrogation can be.”2 That could well be true, as my own reaction to the film suggests, but it may also have provided a pretext for students, many of whom had plentiful experience in carrying out the kinds of techniques shown in the movie, to weigh in on their thoughts. It all depends on how the instructors handled it.

Though not connected to the San Martin and Maoland exercises, I mention this movie because it had an ironic connection with the demise of the Office of Public Safety. The script writer for “Battle of Algiers,” Italian Communist Party member Franco Solinas, wrote the script of the 1975 movie which cast unwanted light on the OPS. The film, “State of Siege” was also set in a fictional Latin American country (though based on real events in Uruguay), but this time, instead of depicting brave police efforts to crush a rebellion, it incorporated many of the accusations and rumors of direct US police advisor involvement in torture.3 Though I am not convinced the more sensationalist accusations leveled against the OPS involvement in torture are true, its advisors came into daily contact, as US soldiers and operatives in Iraq and Afghanistan do, with allied security forces who openly discussed and engaged in intolerable acts of brutality.

Today’s San Martin is Egypt, an American ally of critical importance to protecting its interests in the Middle East. The Maoland infiltrators, as Egyptian state television would have its audience believe, are on the streets promoting the subversive interests of foreigners. I hope the United States comes to the crystal clear observation that history will, in this case too, not treat its connection to this brutal regime kindly and more importantly, neither will the Egyptian people.

  1. I am deeply interested in Byron Engle due to his leading role in Japanese police reforms and only recently came across his long career as a Cold Warrior after he left Japan. []
  2. See “Stopping US Assistance to Foreign Police and Prisons” 16. OPS head Byron Engle denied the movie was ever shown at IPA in an interview with Langguth. Hidden Terrors, p324. []
  3. This is discussed in Langguth’s Hidden Terrors, 304-308. []

History Job Market

I dropped in on a history department event for graduate students about the job market for the coming year. I didn’t stay for some of the reports from those who have seen the market and lived to tell the tale but essentially the main message of the opening session was: the market sucks, but you’ll be ok.

It appears that much of the bad news about the job market for history PhDs we heard comes from this article put out by the AHA.

Some of the main points from my notes: The last few years, hirings are very significantly down. However, the number of PhDs being awarded in history continues to rise, thus increasing the gap. The number of applicants for every history job has exploded. Some kind of federal funding that has helped float some departments for a while will run out this year, so next year (when I plan to complete my PhD) might even be worse than this year in terms of the drop in available jobs. Also there is a significant backlog of PhD grads who didn’t find jobs in the last few years who are still on the market for this year and next. There was an attempt to cheer us up with some good news: we “are the best history department in the country” (Comment: Fascinating claim, how exactly does one measure that?) and are “over performing” the market, as well as other departments here such as government, anthropology, English and other languages. Apparently this year we have placed 18 students in some kind of academic employment so far (tenure track jobs, one year lectureships, one year positions, or postdocs – I forgot to ask how many total grads we have this year).

After a few anomalous years when there were actually more positions advertised than PhD students coming out, helping many recent graduates I know get excellent positions at some great schools, things are “going back to the normal pattern” in which most of us will spend 1-3 years in other short-term positions while continuing to compete for the tenure track positions. Our department apparently still has an excellent record with over 90% eventually getting tenure track positions (Comment: I must have misheard that, the number seems really high – surely more than 10% of our department grads decide to do something else?) We were advised to be flexible in terms of location (Australia is doing ok, places like Hong Kong are an option, Canada not doing so well, British market has “crashed”) brush up our teaching portfolios and look for positions outside of our narrowly defined fields that might fit.

Looking at the above linked AHA article, I couldn’t help but notice the significant differences in the market between various regional specialities. Thinking of my own region, for example, job openings related to Asia continues to rise as a percentage of total and the trend for “world/transnational” historians isn’t nearly as bad as for European history. Also, the number of applicants per job opening is fairly low for Asian history compared to the average.

My best wishes go out to my friends who are on the job market now and to the rest of us who have to face what comes in the 2010-2011 academic year.

The Power of the Ellipsis

Anyone who has written for or about media, politics, or in fields like history know the power of the ellipsis to shave away important context. I came across this today when assembling some quotes on Churchill’s evolving views on employing terror as a matter of military strategic policy. Among them, one in particular is yet another demonstration of this.

I started with this quote, condemning terror polices, taken from a speech of his in parliament, as Secretary of State for War in the aftermath of the Amritsar Massacre in British colonial India:

“There is surely one general prohibition which we can make. I mean a prohibition against what is called ‘frightfulness.’ What I mean by frightfulness is the inflicting of great slaughter or massacre upon a particular crowd of people, with the intention of terrorising not merely the rest of the crowd, but the whole district or the whole country.” (1920)

I skipped his 1940 “and now set Europe ablaze” directive when establishing the British wartime SOE since it is a more complex case and made note of his often quoted 1942 statement:

“All the same, it would be a mistake to cast aside our original thought which, it may be mentioned, is also strong in American minds, namely, that the severe, ruthless bombing of Germany on an ever-increasing scale will not only cripple her war effort, including U-boat and aircraft production, but will create conditions intolerable to the mass of the German population.” (1942)

I then moved on to his famous post-Dresden 1945 statement in a draft letter he wrote:

“It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, though under other pretexts, should be reviewed. … The destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing.” (1945)

Now, almost every version of this quote I have seen online or in books, places an ellipsis before “The destruction of Dresden” and thus leaves us with the impression that Churchill was shocked at the scale of terror and that this is what lies at the heart of the justification for the “serious query” against terror bombing.

Now, let us fill in that quote with what has been removed:

“It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, though under other pretexts, should be reviewed. Otherwise we shall come into control of an utterly ruined land. We shall not, for instance, be able to get housing materials out of Germany for our own needs because of some temporary provisions would have to be made for the Germans themselves. The destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing.” (1945)

I would argue that this radically changes our interpretation of this quote. Churchill here points to the practical difficulties of running an occupation in a “ruined land” and the need to devote much needed provisions for the Germans – not an ounce of sympathy is shown in this full quote for the suffering of civilians or doubt shown for the moral underpinnings of terror bombing.

On a side note: am I missing other important quotes by Churchill for this little collection (related, for example, to 1920s Iraq, India, or during WWII with respect to bombing etc.?).

Comments on Katyn

I watched the Polish movie Katyń (2007) on the Katyn massacre of thousands of Polish military officers in 1940.

I felt the acting was mediocre, the “shaky camera” technique used annoying at times, and the background music rather primitive, but there were also many strengths to the movie. It had some excellent scenes that capture the Polish dilemma with remembering this pivotal event of 1940 or—as the Soviets would have them believe until official admission to the crime in 1990— 1941.

One thing that particularly impressed me was the portrayal of the process of the massacre itself. Most of us are familiar, desensitized even, to portrayals of massacre in the many films on the Holocaust or World War II in general. There are certain aspects of these scenes that seem almost required: images of angry shouting soldiers herding a crowd of helpless victims, the evil officer given ample chance to fully personify the diabolical, and so on.

Katyń initially passes the point of the massacre without any depiction of it whatsoever, letting it instead hang over all the scenes to follow and allowing the audience to only imagine what has transpired. We then return to the actual scene of killing at the close of the film.

I thought the depiction of the killing was done wonderfully, if one can use such a word to comment on the cinematography of massacre. With the exception of Soviet officers confirming the identity of some high-ranking officers, the perpetrators hardly speak and are generally without expression. Instead, the soldiers simply carry out their terrible task in a quiet and methodical fashion. The killings proceed smoothly and as part of a highly mechanical procedure. Instead of sacrificing an opportunity to vilify the Soviets who carried out Stalin’s orders, this approach, I believe, adds to the horror felt by the viewer, and reminds us of how this process may have been seen by soldiers for whom executions of reactionary elements were thought a natural and necessary component of the revolution.

One after another, we are shown the Polish officers taken to the killing grounds in a truck, individually unloaded, tied, shot, and finally covered with others in the mass grave. In the case of some officers killed separately, the rapid procession of killings in an abandoned forest house is interrupted only by the splash of a bucket of water upon the blood covered concrete basement floor, the expulsion of the corpse through a shoot into a waiting truck outside, and a newly loaded gun being handed to the executioner.

I’ll close these comments by sharing one of the fragments of dialogue which describes the dilemma of collaboration in the postwar Soviet dominated Poland and in so many other places seen, as it was at the time, as a stark choice between silent acquiescence and open resistance. It takes place in a graveyard between the wife and a sister of the slain. Magdalena has a gravestone for her brother made with the forbidden 1940 death year carved on the stone, while the other, Róża, the wife of a dead general, keeps her mourning to herself, finds work as an art teacher, and tries to plead reason with Magdalena:

Magdalena: You’ve found a place in this new world of yours, whereas I am whole in that where Piotr is. If I must choose, I stay with him.

Róża: You choose the dead, which is morbid.

Magdalena: No. I choose the murdered, not the murderers.

Well Written History

The majority of the research is done. The sources have been found. The books and documents have been photographed or photocopied. Some of them have even been read.

I’ve got ideas. I’ve got outlines. I’ve got hundreds of pages of notes.

I have years of training in the destruction and dismissal of other people’s arguments. They call it grad school.

Now the time has come when I too must write – and not one of those research papers churned out in the day or two before the deadline arrives. I must write the dissertation. I am to write chapters that connect to each other in some logical fashion. Chapters. Even the word itself sounds like so many heavy links of metal to be hung around the necks of PhD students back from those green pastures they call “the field.”

I have seen them. They wander the campus with a pale look; the clank and rattle of their invisible burden almost audible as they walk. Nearby a third year history grad student might be seen skipping away, “I’m off to the archives!”

I forge my first link this fall. Getting a summer head start on my procrastination, this week I sat down to read a few books on the craft of writing, including a simple but handy book of “writing tools” aimed mostly at journalists and fiction writers. Reading through the short examples of good writing, I realized that I didn’t really know what good writing looked like in history.

Don’t get me wrong. In historiography classes, I have read plenty of “classic” works, from a full range of “schools” of historical inquiry and their most radical theoretical rivals. A year spent mostly reading in preparation for oral examinations brought me in close contact – “reading” wasn’t always the best description of what that contact consisted of – with hundreds of history books, but in all cases my eyes were trained on the content, not the form. The only times I really paid much attention to form was when some theoretically ambitious works were so frustratingly obtuse that one wondered how these historians who claim sensitivity to the subtleties of discourse could have nurtured such talent for linguistic slaughter.

I can think of plenty of works of history that took an approach I liked, had an argument that persuaded me, or simply benefited me in my own research. However, I am embarrassed to admit, I can’t name any history books that I thought were well written. That is to say, I have apparently paid so little attention to the writing of history at the level of phrase, sentence, and paragraph, and so much to the arguments and their support instead, that I now feel particularly naked as I go forward in my own writing.

Of course, I suspect good writing in history resembles good writing everywhere else. Surely many of the lessons of good writing taught in a journalism class, at a college writing center, or in Mrs. Gould’s seventh grade English class back in Aberdeen, Scotland are applicable to the writing of one’s history dissertation. I am also doubtlessly influenced by the rhetorical strategies and sentence structures of at least some of the hundreds of works that I have read in the past few years. Hopefully that influence is partly born of an intuitive recognition of quality. Even if that assumption is flawed, it is too late for me to revisit those blissful days of wide secondary source reading now. But if I get a chance to speak to incoming grad students in my last two years in the program, perhaps in the form of a wailing spirit in the night, I think I will advise them to pay closer attention to the language of historical works; to occasionally wield the eyeglass, and not merely the sword when they confront the works both in their own fields and the broader historiography. Voyage Record Images Project

I have already had occasion to mention my mother’s online historical project but I wanted to write a short post to congratulate her on the completion of a remarkable achievement.

My mother’s ship lists contains detailed information on hundreds of Norwegian merchant marine vessels from World War II that played a key role in supplying the allies in Britain and elsewhere during the war. She also contains information on many of the ships in the home fleet under German control.

In addition to reference information about the ships such as the years they were built, tonnage, and their fate during or after the war, she has assembled an incredible collection of anecdotes, crew lists, prisoner of war information, and other valuable information about the ships that are useful not only to historians but also the thousands of descendants of sailors who served and in many cases died on these ships.

The primary task she has dedicated herself over the past months is to organize, process, and upload thousands of images of voyage lists of these vessels taken from the Norwegian national archives and post the images as links from the various ships where they can be viewed directly and compared to similar voyage records compiled and already available online by an Arnold Hague for fact checking purposes.

I have picked a ship completely at random, M/T Dageid, which shows you the kind of pages that have grown out of her years of work. I’m sure she has other ship entries that she is particularly proud of, but this random entry is already impressive. The ships now contain up to a dozen or so links to pages of the voyage records so, for example, descendants can determine where their merchant marine, or at least his ship, was at a given time during the war.

Although the links to these images are small and may go unnoticed, they represent many hundreds of hours of work by my mother. She now returns to her previous task of meticulously assembling and organizing information about the hundreds of convoys these ships sailed in. You can see her considerable progress so far on her convoys page.

When Archive Digitization Goes Wrong

Last week I paid a visit to a wonderful archive in a medium sized city of Shandong province, China. There I looked up various documents from the 1940s for my dissertation research that are a bit more local in scope than those I have been looking at in the Shandong Provincial Archives here in Jinan.

The archivists were incredibly friendly, and warned me in advanced that they didn’t think they would have too much from the period I was looking at. After providing the letters of introduction that are required at most archives in China and having the way paved for me thanks to a phone call from a contact I made in Jinan, I was allowed to search for documents using their digital database. They even gave me a free lunch from their cafeteria on the first day and a free copy of a book they had published that I was interested in getting containing documents from the wartime period.

Unlike the provincial archives, this archive found their collection manageable enough to scan and store digitally copies of all the files and make them available for viewing by visitors in place of the originals. Unfortunately, I was not given the option of looking at the originals instead. Also unlike the provincial archives, the online search of their database seems to return results from a much larger proportion of materials that are found by searching for the same on their internal database.1 They did not allow me to save any of the digital TIF image collections of individual documents onto a USB drive2 but I was allowed to print documents and, after their contents was checked over by the archivist3, to make off with these environmentally less friendly non-digital printouts.

Unfortunately, almost everything that could have been done wrong with this digitization program and its presentation to the visitor did. So let me list of the issues as a warning to other, especially smaller archives, that might consider going the digital route. I have listed them from the least worrisome to most serious:

1) Environment: The computer designated for viewing of documents had a cheap monitor with little screen brightness (even when set to full) which faced a window where sunlight beamed into the room (even when I convinced them to partially lower shades), providing a horrible viewing experience and harm to the eyes. An uncomfortable mini-mouse, horrible chair, and a table with almost no spare room for visitors to put a notebook or their laptop made this a nightmare to spend any length of time looking at documents.

2) Software: The custom built database software had an advanced query system which is useful for advanced users and archivists but requires multiple stages to search and although I quickly got used to it, I think it would confuse users not used to such systems. Also, when it shows images of archive files, a lot of vertical screen space is wasted on software options and interface components, which leads to a great deal of scrolling at any zoom level that makes reading possible.

3) Page Numbers: At the archive in question I requested a lot of documents where essentially local versions of other documents that I had seen before from other districts. Having seen many originals of this kind I know most of them are one small A5ish sized sheets of very thin paper that are held together with string. Despite the age of these documents, surprisingly I have never run into paging issues at the provincial archives, mostly because I’m seeing them still stringed together. By contrast, pages were all over the place in these documents in their digital form. While it is possible they were already unstringed and in messed up order when the contractors got the documents, I suspect that they got messed up through negligence when the originals were unstringed in order to be scanned.

4) Indexing: This is a very serious problem I found with all but two of the 70 or so documents I looked up during the two days I was at the archive. Before coming to the archive, I used the online database I made a list of file names and file numbers for documents I was interested in. I brought these to the archive and looked up the same numbers in the internal database. Each file number, unfortunately, corresponds to a packet of multiple files ranging, at least judging by what I saw, from 15-50 or so in number. I could then easily locate the appropriate document by its file name and open the images directly in the system. To my horror, in all but two of the cases, the documents in the file images did not correspond to the file name. For each document I would have to hunt through the other dozen or several dozen documents in the same general area to find the images for the file I was looking for. Sometimes I was never able to locate the file, suggesting that those images are probably found in other file groups, if at all. Now, what am I supposed to do as a historian when I cite the documents I did find? I’ll record the correct file numbers, found in the database, but any other historian wishing to confirm the information I am citing will look them up and find a completely different document unless the archivists have gone in and fixed all the indexing issues throughout their scanned collection.

I asked two of the archivists about this issue and I essentially got a, “That is funny. Well, just hunt through the rest of them and find your document. It’s probably like that for this whole collection. We paid a contractor to have it done and didn’t have the resources to check all their work.”

5) Quality: The documents I’m looking at are Communist public security bureau reports and Communist party internal reports. Some of them are hand written or are characters carved onto a special surface that allows a sort of reproduction process frequently used in the 1940s (any printing history buffs know what this ancient photocopying method is called?). In either case, they are very difficult to read, faded with time, on surfaces that are themselves often in poor condition, and most importantly, written in tiny sizes. If you are going to digitize these kinds of documents, then, you need to digitize them with a much higher quality. As I mentioned in my posting on triage in the archives, I have had to sometimes completely skip some of the more hopelessly unreadable documents or those for which the pages per hour drops to a rate that makes the investment of time not worth it. I would say that this happens in perhaps 1/10 documents I look at here.

Now, take these same kinds of documents and scan them. If you scan them well, at high resolution and with color, then you can actually make those difficult to read but important sections more readable thanks to the power of zooming in on parts of the image. However, that is not what happened here.

The contractors here decided to take these extremely difficult to read originals and scan them in black and white (not even in greyscale!). Now I know the evidence seems to suggest that if you are going to run a massive scale OCR program on historical newspapers, for example, then black and white is not significantly worse than greyscale. However, OCR is not even worth trying on these hard documents, unless there are some major breakthroughs in artificial intelligence. If, however, you are trying to use human eyes to read difficult to read handwritten or carved Chinese characters on poorly preserved mediums, you need to preserve as much of the quality of the originals as possible. The cost benefit analysis done in this case resulted, in the case of many documents, in completely unreadable digital copies.

This really left me depressed. In the case of the completely botched indexing described in number four above, an archivist or the hired contractor can go back and meticulously re-index the documents so that they point to the correct images. Since some of the documents have visible page numbers, messed up page numbers might also be fixed in those cases. However, I suspect it is harder to go back and explain to the budget committee, “Ya, our contractor blew the scanning job and made thousands of once barely readable documents in our collection now completely unreadable to visitors. Can we pay to do the scanning all over again?”

I came back to Jinan yesterday morning and felt incredibly happy to go back to reading similar documents in my own hands.4 Digitization can do amazing things for improving access and preservation. When the Japanese national library set about digitizing all Meiji and now Taisho period publications I found myself complaining mostly about the slower speed at which I could browse or skim through the books. I didn’t find that readability itself suffered too much during the process. In a case like these far more difficult to read wartime Communist documents, however, sloppy digitization of these documents, only gradually opening up to researchers and historians, actually reduces rather than increases access.

  1. When I asked one of the archivists at the provincial archives why they did not provide full online access to the database, rather than a very small sampler of the full internal database so that visitors could come prepared with a list of documents to request, I got a bewildered and serious look, “Do you want to put me out of a job?” This answer only makes sense if you realize that one of the primary duties of two of the archivists is to sit at the database search engine and help first time visitors search for documents. Given the fact many of the, especially older, visitors are completely computer illiterate, however, I still believe their services would continue to be required to help elderly comrades who come to search for their records. []
  2. though, as was the case with the Korean national archive, it would have been simple enough for a less scrupulous person to do this given the access to the “Save As…” option in the file menu and apparent lack of any security on the machine I was given access to. In fact, in the case of the Korean national archive at Daejeon, web browser access was restricted but I was able to confirm, at least as of 2008, the DOS command line still gave me FTP access to my server where I could have uploaded hundreds of pages of Korean archive documents they were requiring me to wastefully print and pay for, had I been so inclined to disregard their rules. []
  3. A bizarre and surely unnecessary step, since the documents have been screened once when they were added to the database for classified information. I could easily note down in my notes anything I read in the documents before printing them so not letting me keep the print outs hardly serves to prevent sensitive or privacy violating information from leaking out. If privacy issues are primary there should be a system, like the one at the Korean national archive, which charges the visitor to process accessed documents to redact out the names of people mentioned. At the Pusan branch of the Korean National Archive I paid about $50 and waited three days to get access to some old police logs. It took that much time because they had to go through and erase the names and provide me copies. However, I’m still grateful I got access at all. Although this is an important issue that deserves consideration, I generally feel that the privacy laws of Korea and Japan are far too strict and that they seriously inhibit serious historical work from the 19th through the period I’m working on in the mid-20th century []
  4. Note to super friendly archivists: if you encourage a visiting PhD student to eat while looking at the documents by suddenly (and generously) giving him a handful of juicy baby tomatoes, you might end up with a bit of tomato juice on one of the pages of part two of the 1946 treason elimination report from the Donghai public security bureau of the Jiaodong district. []

An “Englishman” Visits the Cabin

I spent some time going through entries in a “hyttebok” (literally cabin bok) or “dagbok” (diary) for a small cabin owned by the family of my great-grandfather some two hours hike into the forest from my mother’s hometown Hegra. These cabin guestbooks are a wonderfully fun source to read through as well as being of special interest to my family since some of the entries are written by my grandfather, great-grandfather and other relatives.

Like many such cabins in the region, anyone passing through the forest was free to stay (one entry shows four men, probably loggers, stayed for three months) as long as they cut wood to replace what they used, cleaned the floors, made the beds, and any money visitors left in the cabin was used for upkeep. Some of the entries are simply hilarious. Some contain poems, some have drawings, and others scold previous visitors for not chopping up wood to leave for the next visitor. Some reveal interesting customs from decades past or talk about the activities of the inhabitants. August entries almost all refer to picking tyttebær, and in one 1932 entry we learn that my great-grandfather and grandfather had a father and son stay in the cabin that involved the recreational, “firing of revolvers.”

One entry I came across from 1935 was, alone among all the entries, written in English. The entry was signed, “From an Englishman” but I think some careful textual analysis might furnish some reasons to doubt the nationality of the writer:

Trönderheimen 17/4-35

We was coming here about one o’clock, and we like this småll hous very good. Åsta is gon and fiks the bed now, and she want me to go too and I hope she will get an good bed friend. Olav and Marie shall altso go to bed, but I think they do something rong, because Olav is like an young horse. Marie says kiss me but I don’t want it because Olav don’t want it.

The best wishes to every body.
From an Englishman

Jinan Used Book Market

I have just gotten settled in here in Jinan, in Shandong province, China. Except for a few weeks in Shanghai and Nanjing, I’ll be here until the end of next April doing my dissertation research affiliated with Shandong University.

A young history masters student who has been helping me out since I got here and showing me around the libraries of the university invited me to join him for a trip to the used book market here. He told me he makes the trip down there every two or three weeks to look for good deals on academic history books on his period.

The used book market is open on weekends from around 8am until noon in Sun Yatsen park (中山公园). There are perhaps close to a hundred bookstore stalls and open-air table-based vendors. The selection varies widely of course, with some stores specializing in books on Chinese medicine, others on test prep books, others on Chinese literature, but most have a wide selection of what appear to be left over stock from bookstores. I’m guessing this since many books are cut partly on the spine to distinguish them from new books. I was surprised to see such a large selection of academic and especially history books, including collections of historical materials, obscure reference books, and historical journals. Amazingly, and thanks to the good eyes of my friend, one of the 18 books I bought today for just over $10 was a very useful pamphlet put out by the office of the Shandong provincial historical society that I had noted down for future copying only a few days earlier in the library of Shandong University’s history department. It has an index of periodicals published in Shandong from before 1949, with list of extant issues and which library or archive in the province still has those issues (建国前山东旧期刊目录1903-1949).

The price of the academic books on history I was looking at currently seem to average around 5 RMB (less than $1) but many books go for 1, 1.5, or 3 RMB. Sometimes, and I have no idea what market forces are at work here since it really seemed quite arbitrary, prices could go as high as 10 or 30 RMB. Perhaps a bookseller catches a glint in the eye of the purchaser indicating that he desperately wants a copy? Regardless, considering that many of the books in question go for 30-50 RMB new, these books are quite heavily discounted, in contrast with the Japanese used book market for academic works.

The used book market clearly draws a lot of students and there was an excellent showing from the department I’m affiliated with. I was told there are currently 13 graduate students in the history department of Shandong University, mostly masters students. A good half dozen of these were in the book market today prowling for good deals. These students would often keep an eye out for books each of them might have particular interest in and sometimes made cellphone calls to friends absent who might appreciate them snapping up some bargains. They would also compare prices with each other and use it in their efforts to bargain. One student found a Chinese translation of a volume of the Cambridge History of China for just over $1, while another who heard about this was frustrated in his efforts to bargain down a separate copy found elsewhere to under its $5 price. I was also interested to hear that students had been directed to snap up available copies of one of their professor’s books to give them. While the professors can buy somewhat discounted copies of their own books from the publisher, it is even cheaper to get them, or have their students get them from the used book market, perhaps for use as gifts to friends.

I’m really impressed at how much some of these graduate students seem to know about Chinese history works coming out the US and with their excellent critical skills and strong curiosity for new approaches to history. One student invited me to some kind of history reading club in the afternoon and said he wanted me to share with them what good stuff was being published in the US academic field on Chinese history. I explained that I had been out of the country for a while and had been reading mostly Korean and Japanese history of late so that I wasn’t really up to date on trends in English language scholarship on China, but that I was willing to pass on a few orals lists used by graduate students in the US. I was surprised to be assured that this wasn’t necessary since all they really needed were Chinese history books newly published in English in 2007 and 2008!




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Charles Tilly

I just heard from Sayaka that Charles Tilly passed away. He was an amazing scholar whose work has had a powerful impact in the fields of sociology, political science, and my own field of history. I have learnt much from reading his work and attended several of his talks. I have always been impressed by his truly wide range of knowledge and have immense respect for his careful and modest attempts at synthesis across regions and centuries of time; something he manages to do without losing sensitivity to the complexities of context.

I only met Professor Tilly once, but the experience left me even more impressed. I was working tech support for professors at Columbia University about 6 years ago and was called into his office to revive Windows on a recently upgraded machine he was working off of. He was incredibly friendly and instead of going on with some reading as he waited for me to tinker away at his computer, he pulled up a chair and asked me about my own studies, posing sharp questions about anything I said that sparked his interest, all as we waited for things to install and the computer to go through several restarts. I remember asking him about the relationship between the disciplines of sociology and history, and though the substance of his comments now escape me, I remember he went on for some time about it even when I had finished setting things up for him. I only wish all my customers while working for Faculty Desktop Support were as willing to chat with their visiting technician.