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How to use Podcasts in the classroom

Why Use Podcasts?

Podcasts are amazing! I can’t remember a day in the last 4 years where I haven’t listened to a podcast. In fact, I love them so much that I created my own: History Detective.

There is so much content out there, so why should teachers be harnessing the amazing power of podcasts?

Literacy.

Listening comprehension is a key literacy skill. As teachers, we often focus on the literacy skills of reading, writing, speaking and viewing, and apart from talking to the class and giving instruction, we don’t often do targeted listening comprehension activities. Let’s be honest, part of being a great communicator in life is being a great listener. So improving listening comprehension is an incredibly important skill for life.

Differentiation

Often students struggle with the demands of reading and decoding difficult written texts, especially in history, which may often have difficult or archaic vocabulary that students with limited reading experience may get bogged down in. For students with learning difficulties such as dyslexia, listening to content can be a way of ensuring that your content delivery is accessible. Yes, I am aware that there are programs that are designed to read out difficult text, but it is more inclusive to have everyone listening to the same task and even a little more interesting and dynamic than having a computer read to you.

Read and Listen

Many podcasts come with transcripts, so students are able to listen and read along at the same time. If you have a LMS (Learning Management System) you can make the transcript, or a link to the transcript available to the students so they can improve their reading and listening skills simultaneously.

Research Starting Point

Often in history, students will have to choose their own topic to research. If you have a library of podcast episodes on a particular topic that you study, you can direct individual students to specific episodes that are related to their topic. This can be used as inspiration or a launching point for their own academic research. Podcasts can also be used as a source to support their argument on a topic. I am a history teacher, but this same concept can be applied to any other subject. English, Science, Geography, you name it, there is probably a podcast on it.

Experts in the Classroom

Not every school can afford to go on an excursion to visit an expert, or perhaps if you are in a rural school, having an expert come to your school is just not viable. Podcasts are a way of having the voices of experts and authorities in the classroom without having to organise and pay for an excursion or incursion. If you as the teacher curates wisely, you know exactly what information will be imparted and how to cement the concepts that are discussed in the podcast. Most podcasts are FREE! So as long as you have an internet connection, you have access to experts from anywhere in the world.

Cover Lesson

Maybe you are away due to illness or attending a meeting or cover lesson. If you have a repertoire of podcasts that are on your topic, you can pop the link in your LMS, ensure that you have some comprehension questions or further research activities and you know that your students will have access to a high quality lesson, rather than worrying that the substitute teacher does not deliver the content that you need them to.

Online Learning

Lets face it, COVID-19 made us all rethink how we could deliver content in an online capacity. While teaching in lockdown, every school had different lesson requirements. Some schools required teachers to be online for the whole lesson, some emailed out set work, some logged in at the beginning of the lesson to check in and set work, some teachers taught from home, some had to go in to school but had no students, some had some students in front of them and some online. There were so many different options. Podcasts can be a way that teachers can ensure that students are receiving learning content in an engaging manner and embedding curated podcast episodes into an LMS, can be a way for students to access great content from home and school.

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8 Tips For Using Podcasts in the Classroom

1. ALWAYS listen to the podcast before you set it for the class!

This is very important! Some podcasts have swearing in them. Many in fact. I have found some fantastic history podcasts on really interesting topics, but they are peppered with swear words and just not appropriate for a classroom. Not all podcasts have a language warning at the beginning, so you will have to be the first line of defence. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind the occasional swear, but it is not my place to introduce my students to bad language.

2. Make a list of pre-listening vocabulary

Many students are living in a vocabulary deficit. You would be surprised at some of the words that they just don’t know. This could be attributed to the decline in reading amongst students. Because of the prevalence of smart phones and social media, they are just not getting to exposure to a rich bank of vocabulary that good old reading exposes you to. So, having a pre-listening vocabulary list is vital.

If the podcast has a transcript, you can scan trough and identify words that you think would be beneficial to review before listening. A simple class discussion to see if students know these words or can guess their meaning can be beneficial. Otherwise having a list or a glossary for the students to add to can be a great tool to enrich student’s vocabulary.

All of the Episodes of History Detective, have transcripts that have vocabulary in bold for teachers to use in their pre-listening activities.

I am a huge advocate for explicit vocabulary instruction in improving education outcomes. Quite simply, the more vocabulary you know, the more complex texts you are able to comprehend.

3. Don’t just listen, have engaging activities

If you are using podcasts, this is not a set and forget lesson. You want to plan activities to complement the podcast. This can be be comprehension questions, reflection questions or further research activities.

All of the episodes of History Detective have 5-8 reflection questions in the show notes so this work has been done for you. However, if you want ready made worksheets and PowerPoint presentations (editable), they are available from Amped Up Learning. That way you have a ready made worksheet, presentation and no further preparation is required.

Click HERE to get ready made resources for every episode of History Detective Podcast.

4. Stimulate Debate

A snippet from a podcast can be an excellent starting point for a class discussion or a debate. Once you have listened to a podcast or podcast extract, you can get students to discuss in pairs, small groups or even as a whole class, their opinion on a particular topic.

5. Demonstrate Note Taking Techniques

Note taking is not often a skill that comes naturally to students, they need to be explicitly taught how to take effective notes. No matter what method of note taking you use, whether it be Cornell Note Taking, mind mapping or sketchnoting, you can demonstrate to students how to actively listen to content whist taking effective notes. Don’t forget the power of the pause button. You do not have to rush, you can stop the episode at any time to have a discussion with the students or write down notes.

6. Headings and listening cues

Before listening with the class, you can listen through and create headings or listening cues that the students need to listen out for. Or you can even set a 3-2-1 activity, venn diagram or table to fill in. It all depends on the content that is in the podcast.

7. You don’t have to listen to it all!

Remember that you do not have to listen to the entire podcast. Many podcasts are long. Way too long to listen to in a lesson. Find a snippet that suits your teaching needs.

8. Curate your own lists

You can use a platform like Podchaser to curate your lists of podcasts or podcast episodes related to your topic. These lists are organic and you can continually update them. They are also a bit of a service to the rest of the teaching community, who may not have the time to hunt down episodes. Creating curated lists is a great way you can share ideas and resources with other teachers and make life that little bit easier for teachers all over the world.

Here is a list that I have created: Podcasts for the High School Classroom. Obviously, I am a history teacher, so there are more history based podcasts, but I am happy to add more if you have suggestions.

Top Podcast Episodes for Teaching History: Civil Rights Edition and Top Podcast Episodes for Teaching History: World War I Edition are two lists that I have created and I do have plans to make more on other topics and will update this page as that happens.

Listen to the trailer for History Detective here

Click HERE to get ready made resources for every episode of History Detective Podcast.

How to use a digital archive for research: History Detective Podcast

If you are a long-time listener, you would have heard me talk about falling down numerous Trove rabbit holes. In the bicycle face case, the nuclear testing case and more recently the black death in Australia case where I found many a ratchatcher’s obituary. I even remember one wild Friday night where I went on to YouTube and watched Trove tutorials, and that evening ended with me staying up past 9pm and making corrections on the scanned newspaper articles. Yep, I warned you it was wild.

If you do not know what Trove is, it is a digital archive that is run by the National Library of Australia and it has a massive online database of newspapers, magazines, pictures, books, letters, diaries, video, audio and much more. Sometimes the records are on the site and sometimes there might be a link to another state library where the record can be found digitally.

Today, I am going to tell you about how a Trove deep dive helped me to solve the mystery of Chernobyl and case of the missing cheese.

If you don’t know about the Chernobyl disaster, it was an accident in a nuclear power plant in 1986 and is considered the worst nuclear disaster in history. For some context 1986 was the same year that Top Gun, Crocodile Dundee and Ferris Bueller’s Day off were released at the cinema.

If you want to read about it further, I recommend a book by Adam Higginbotham Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster.

When I first watched the gripping HBO Television series Chernobyl, I had this flash back to when the disaster happened, and I distinctly remember that as a direct result of the nuclear explosion, we could not buy my favourite cheese from the health food store. In my defence, I was 11 years old and a very fussy eater, so clearly not being able to get my favourite cheese must have really done a number on me. Just for the record the cheese was a very mild Swiss cheese with those air bubbles in it. It was so creamy and delicious, and I would go to the fridge after school and just cut chunks off it to snack on. 

Anyway, I was perplexed as to why the beautifully filmed, incredibly emotive Television series about a nuclear disaster that had tragic consequences on the people of Chernobyl, had me thinking about cheese.

So, where does one go to solve a Chernobyl cheese mystery from 1986? The Trove digital archives.

One of my favourite features of the search function is being able to select a decade and then a specific year. For example, if I type in “Chernobyl”, there are almost 1000 entries in the Newspapers section. The best thing to do is click on “See all newspapers and gazette results”. Why? Because, this gets you to the “refine your results” section on the right-hand side of the page. This is where the real magic happens!

You can choose the state the newspaper was published, the name of the newspaper, even the type, if it is an Article, an ad or a weather notice and then to the pièce de résistance, the date range. It is divided into decades, so I could see that the 1980s had the bulk of the articles about Chernobyl with more than 500. Once you select the decade, you can then narrow it down to the year of publication. My cheese loss was a short term effect so it seemed only natural to choose 1986. And that narrowed my search down to 284 articles.

Another sneaky little tip, especially if you know the date that something happened on, is to then sort the articles into “Earliest First”. This is a really great way to get a sense of the timeline of how events unfolded. Even through the disaster happened on the 26th of April 1986, the very first report in the Canberra Times about Chernobyl was not until the 30th of April and it mentions that there was a fire at the Nuclear powerplant that damaged one of the reactors. Also that high levels of radiation had been recorded in Finland and Sweden. It was not until the next day that the Media firestorm broke out. One article referred to the Chernobyl disaster it as “The China Syndrome”. This was a reference to a 1979 Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas movie about a journalist who exposes a cover up at a nuclear power plant.

I feel like I have lost focus, back to the missing cheese. I came across, an article from the 4th of May 1986, 9 days after the disaster that explained everything. The article was titled, “Australia to seize food.” And here is what it said.

“Food from areas which might be affected by the Soviet nuclear reactor disaster would be impounded by the Australian Customs Service… All food consignments leaving affected countries on or after April 25 would be impounded under Customs regulations.” The Minister for Health Dr Blewett then explains that it would be some months before potentially affected processed foods such as, dairy products, smallgoods and preserves, would be arriving in Australia.

There you have it! Because of the nuclear fallout, European countries, had potentially tainted dairy products, ban and this 11- year old Swiss cheese fiend, was unable to get her fix. And that is why I have a strange association with Chernobyl and cheese.

This Kelly Chase, on the Case.

I would love to hear any suggestions for future episodes, so please get in contact. You can follow me on Twitter @HistoryDetect,  Instagram @HistoryDetective9 or if you have any burning questions that you would like me to answer in a future bonus episode email me at historydetective9@gmail.com

If you like hearing Aussie voices talking about history, I have a podcast recommendation for you. How did it come to this? Podcast, takes a current news item and traces its origins back through history to answer the question, “How did it come to this?” One of my favourites was Episode 7: Our Pod is girt by anthems. For my overseas listeners, if you are confused by my use of the word “girt”, it is one of the archaic lyrics of the Australian national anthem it means “surrounded by”. We don’t use it in our everyday vernacular, but I suppose I could. I have four adopted pets and I am constantly girt by pet fur. I don’t know, I’ll keep trying. But check out the podcast How did it come to this? If you want to find out more about how the past and the present  are connected.

History Detective is a completely independent podcast, so if you would like to support me so I can continue to make episodes, I have ready-made classroom resources available to purchase for all of the season one episodes. I have just released the History Detective cover lessons bundle which includes editable worksheets for every Season One Episode. So if you need to leave a cover lesson for when you are sick or have to attend a meeting, pop the worksheet in your LMS and know that the students will be able to access a self-paced lesson and engage in historical thinking skills. You can find it my Amped Up Learning store, which is linked in the show notes.

Click here to find resources for every episode of Season One

The next episode of History Detective will be a Christmas Day treat and I will uncover the controversies surrounding the lunches of Christmas pasts. 

If you liked what you heard and know someone who might enjoy History Detective too, please share and subscribe and because I am a teacher, you know I love gold stars feel free to rate, review. See you next time.

Bibliography

1986 ‘Australia to seize food’, The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995), 3 May, p. 4. , viewed 17 Oct 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article131701747

How to evaluate for reliability. Podcast for History Students

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Click HERE to get ready made resources for every episode of History Detective Podcast.

Today I will be discussing the historical evaluation skill of reliability. But I don’t think this skill should be sidelined to just the study of history, I think it can be used in every aspect of your life, especially when we get most of our information from the internet, which is quite frankly swirling cesspit of misinformation.

While trying to find a snappy quote to start off this bonus episode, I found one attributed to the Chinese philosopher Confucius. “A man who lacks reliability is utterly useless.” Firstly, um… what about women? Secondly, this quote is in English, I am pretty sure that 2500 years ago in China, English was not the language of choice, so who knows what might have been lost in translation. Thirdly, just because you have found a Google image with a black background and an authoritative looking portrait set to the left, with a decorative boarder and a wise font, doesn’t mean it’s really true. Even four-year-olds can use Canva. The irony of this Confucius quote about reliability is that, I don’t think that this quote can be reliably attributed to Confucius.  Yes, that’s right I just fell down a confusing Confucius rabbit hole.

Most of the sayings that are attributed to Confucius were from an ancient text that was compiled after his death called the Analects, this book was supposedly written over a time period of 50 years. Now think about it. If you are trying to remember word-for-word a conversation that you had last week, it is total struggle street, imagine trying to write a book of quotes from someone 50 years after they died. Yeah sure, maybe you might get the essence of someone’s philosophical beliefs, but I don’t think you could reliably say that any of the sayings attributed to Confucius are 100% accurate.

Part of checking the reliability of a source is to see if other scholars corroborate, so let’s see what other people have to say about these writings.

Firstly, Marc Csikszentmihalyi, who is the Chinese program professor at the University of California in Berkley, he has a PhD in Asian Language Studies and is the editor of the Journal of Chinese religions. He has translated and edited at least 3 books on Chinese philosophical though. I found the following information in an article he wrote for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, last updated in 2020 and which has 23 academic citations. So, I am going to assess the reliability of this article as being well researched and written by a credible expert. He says, “The many sources of quotations and dialogues of Confucius, both transmitted and recently excavated, provide a wealth of materials about the philosophy of Confucius, but an incomplete sense of which materials are authoritative.” So our expert scholar, is unsure about the reliability of the Confucian writings.

Now to find some corroborating evidence. In a Washington Post Article by Angela E. Couloumbis, she writes, “the words … from … the…Analects of Confucius, [were] compiled by his disciples after his death.” I want to make some observations about the reliability of this article. The author is not a Chinese scholar, but a journalist. She holds a Master’s Degree in Journalism and has worked at the Philadelphia Inquirer since 1996. She is listed as winning the Vigoda Award for journalism. Not to downplay the achievement, but when I looked into the award, it is only for writing staff at the Philadelphia Inquirer. Additionally, the article does not have any citations, the role of a journalist writing for a popular newspaper is fundamentally different from that of scholar writing for an Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Although, it has a similar sentiment, journalism has many functions and I would categorise this as more of a “think piece” about Confucianism rather than from years of translation and scholarly research on a topic. So that is an example of how you might assess the reliability of sources.

When looking up the credibility of the authors, I used a concept called “Lateral Reading”. It means instead of just reading what is on the page, you take side-step and try and find out as much information about the author or organisation as you can. There are 2 excellent YouTube videos I would recommend from both Crash Course and Stanford History Education Group, that go into more depth about the skill. I will link them in the show notes.

And just on a side note, please don’t use the expression “Confucius Say” before launching into your Confucius misquotes. It is racist saying that originated in the late 1930s to stereotype Chinese Americans as being “other” and having a poor grasp of English grammar, but the “Confucius Say” comics were also incredibly sexist, and they normalised both the physical and sexual assault of women. I will not share any here as they are not appropriate for my PG rating.

Instead, I will leave you with the wise words of the great philosophical thinker Winnie the Pooh for you to carry with you as you wade through the information on the internet. “Always watch where you are going. Otherwise you may step on a piece of forest that was left out by mistake.”

I would love to hear any suggestions for future episodes, so please get in contact. You can follow me on Twitter @HistoryDetect,  Instagram @HistoryDetective9, FaceBook https://www.facebook.com/historydetectivepodcast or if you have any burning questions that you would like me to answer in a future bonus episode email me at historydetective9@gmail.com

This Kelly Chase, on the Case.

History Detective is a completely independent podcast, so if you would like to support me so I can continue to make episodes, I have ready-made classroom resources available to purchase for all of the season one episodes. I have just released the History Detective cover lessons bundle which includes editable worksheets for every Season One Episode. So if you need to leave a cover lesson for when you are sick or have to attend a meeting, pop the worksheet in your LMS and know that the students will be able to access a self-paced lesson and engage in historical thinking skills. You can find it my Amped Up Learning store, which is linked below.

Click HERE to get ready made resources for every episode of History Detective Podcast.

Bibliography

Couloumbis, A, E. 1995, Words of Wisdom: Who Was Confucius? What Did He Say? The Washington Post, Access Date 26 September 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/1995/12/13/words-of-wisdom-who-was-confucius-what-did-he-say/2b6a527b-41be-40a4-a732-5589ac87917b/

Csikszentmihalyi, Mark, “Confucius”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2020 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2020/entries/confucius  .

Edelstein, S, 2015, Wise Man Say: Politically Incorrect Comic No Funny, Envisioning The American Dream

Bibliography

Couloumbis, A, E. 1995, Words of Wisdom: Who Was Confucius? What Did He Say? The Washington Post, Access Date 26 September 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/1995/12/13/words-of-wisdom-who-was-confucius-what-did-he-say/2b6a527b-41be-40a4-a732-5589ac87917b/

Csikszentmihalyi, Mark, “Confucius”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2020 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2020/entries/confucius  .

Edelstein, S, 2015, Wise Man Say: Politically Incorrect Comic No Funny, Envisioning The American Dream

How to evaluate for usefulness? Podcast For History Students

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Click HERE to get ready made resources for every episode of History Detective Podcast.

I am going to be talking about the historical evaluation skill of usefulness. If you are an avid listener of History Detective, you may have noticed, that every now and then, I mention how a newspaper article may or may not be useful to my historical investigation, or the reflection questions in the show notes ask about the usefulness of a source.

Develop a Clear Research Focus

So, when you are researching for history or even geography for that matter, you will come across a mountain of information on the Internet or in books or archives, wherever you are looking, and one of the most important skills you need to develop is to be a little judgemental about the sources you come across. But you can’t really do that unless you have a focus.

Usually when you are researching, you will have developed a clear inquiry question that you are trying to find the answer to. If you don’t have a clear focus, you will get lost down the vortex of rabbit holes on the Internet.

So, a clear focus is first step. The next step is to find sources, both primary (from the time) and secondary (produced after the time), but like I said, once you start looking, you will probably find yourself drowning an infinite sea of resources, so you need to be a little discerning about what information you select. This is where the afore mentioned evaluation skill of usefulness comes in. Remember that the same source may be useful to answer your question about a topic, but completely useless to someone else who has a different question about the topic.

For example, in Case 4 of History Detective which was about the nuclear testing in Australia during the 1950s, I mentioned a newspaper article that described the nuclear explosion as “a ‘cabbage’ shape… before rearing upwards into the more familiar ‘mushroom’ shape.” I also remarked that it was not particularly useful for a historian exploring the effects of the nuclear testing. But what it might be useful for is someone who is studying the casual attitudes of the general public about nuclear testing, or even as an example of selective journalism or censorship during the experiments.

Another example is in Case 5 which was about Bicycle Face. A Sydney doctor had warned that because of the fear of collision with the many obstacles that the city presents women cyclists such as, trams and pedestrians, “it does not take long for her to develop bicycle face.” This is extremely useful when understanding patriarchal attitudes toward women in the 1890s. The doctor specifically refers only to “women cyclists”. The comment implies that women are physically incapable of mastering skills such as balance and spatial awareness, with reflexes so slow that they could not even navigate around a pedestrian without causing strain on their delicate constitution. The gendered vocabulary has an implication of female physical ineptitude so it made it a very useful source for my investigation.

According to my favourite dictionary, “Collin”, a judgement is an opinion that you have after carefully thinking about something. Therefore, you can’t just make a judgement about the usefulness of a source without backing yourself up with a well thought through evaluation. You need to be able to justify why a source is useful to your inquiry.

Yes, I know it is technically Collins Dictionary, but we hang out often enough to be on a nickname basis. I hope that today’s bonus episode lived up to be its promise of being more useful than a chocolate teapot.

I would love to hear any suggestions for future episodes, so please get in contact. You can follow me on Twitter @HistoryDetect,  Instagram @HistoryDetective9 or if you have any burning questions that you would like me to answer in a future bonus episode email me at historydetective9@gmail.com

This Kelly Chase, on the Case.

History Detective is a completely independent podcast, so if you would like to support me so I can continue to make episodes, I have ready-made classroom resource packs available to purchase for all of the season one episodes. You can find them on my Amped Up Learning store, which is linked in the show notes.

Click HERE to get ready made resources for every episode of History Detective Podcast.

Case 8: The Black Plague Comes to Australia, Podcast for Middle Schoolers

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Click HERE to find a fully resourced lesson plan at Amped Up Learning

The first time I heard of the plague coming to Australia was in a cute children’s historical novel called “The Ratcatcher’s Daughter” by Pamela Rushby which is set in Brisbane during the plague in the 1900s. I love a good kid’s book and this one has some great themes like wealth, class and women’s rights. I also found mention in a newspaper of an old Irish dance called the Ratcatcher’s Daughter, sadly I couldn’t find any footage of the actual dance, so it may not have survived the test of time, but I imagine it includes a lot of hopping and thwacking. Feel free to film yourself doing the “Ratcatcher’s daughter” and put it on TikTok.

Now if I was teaching the Black Death in 2019 or before, I would usually have to explain what the word ‘pandemic’ meant, but the Coronavirus, has improved everyone’s vocabulary by at least one word, so instead I will dive into some etymology. Pan- comes from Greek origins meaning all and demos meaning people. So, in this case a pandemic endangers all of the people. As opposed to the word pandemonium which means all of the evil spirits or demons or panorama, all that can be seen or even pancreas which translates as all of the flesh- kinda gross. But this is not a linguistics podcast, this is a history podcast, so let’s get cracking.

Like any pandemic worth its salt, the Black Plague travelled to Australia by boat.

In 1895 a Tasmanian newspaper published one line under the heading Plague, “The Bubonic plague is raging at Hong Kong, and the mortality is very large.” I guess this tells us they were aware, but it is a bit vague, and clearly not enough of a threat to report on in any depth.

By the 1st of January 1900 news reports were getting a little more specific, and the fear of the arrival of the pandemic on Australian shores was becoming more intense.

“The Board [of health] have accepted the Press telegrams as to presence of the plague atHawaii as being correct, and their executive officers have been instructed to be on the alert in regard to vessels which may have touched any port in the Hawaiian group, so that they may be promptly quarantined on arrival here.”

The newspapers on New Year’s Day of 1900 were chock full of reports of cases in the Pacific Islands including Noumea, Hawaii and Polynesia- which is a group of about 1000 islands that includes Samoa, Tonga and the Christmas Islands and there were urgent calls for an anti-plague vaccine.

In an article headlining, “Sydney Passengers Still at Large” a journalist reports “No further Information has been received with reference to the whereabouts of the eleven passengers from New Caledonia who landed in Sydney from the steamers Pacifique and Maroc.” Just to compare, this was a by-line from a March 2020 news article, “At least 440 passengers from the liner have fallen ill since being allowed to disembark without checks in Sydney.” Oh history, Shirley Bassey was right! You do have a habit of repeating yourself.

Another Sydney newspaper article gives us a real insight into the living conditions, race and class distinctions that existed in Sydney in the 1900s. This was just one year before Australia became federated and introduced the Immigration Restriction Act which limited non-white immigrants to Australia and remained in place for 70 years. The article says, “If the plague comes to Sydney … It [will] invariably visit the tenements of the slovenly, dirty, and poor. The reason is that it is propagated by uncleanliness. It has been aptly called the poor man’s plague.” The journalist then goes on to visit the Chinese quarters of Sydney and states, “All of the Chinese whose establishments face George-street are dirty in habits and environment.” So, although in this case, the Chinese were not being blamed for starting the outbreak, this journalist seemed to be ready to throw them under the bus in the case of an impending outbreak.

By February 1900 there were 2 reported cases in NSW and also a report that a Sydney town clerk was denying that any cases existed in the colony. But by April, private schools were being hit hard by the plague panic, because parents were pulling their children out of schools so they could be home schooled from their country estates.

Two years later, newspapers were getting more specific in their case number reporting, “The outbreak of plague has become more serious…and for the past couple of weeks scarcely a day has passed without providing one patient…No less than eight suspicious cases were reported to the health authorities, and of this number seven were definitely decided to be bubonic plague in its worst form…At present there are about a dozen patients at the… Hospital, the largest number ever in the place at one time.”

(Transition music🎼)

So far, we have uncovered apathy toward the plague, denial that it existed, class and race blame for the spread, ships bringing it to Australian shores, schooling from home, a race for a vaccine, economic ramifications, quarantines and overloaded hospitals. I could easily be talking about 2020, but no, it was 120 years ago.

But two things are different; panic buying and toilet paper. Although there was panic, people were not rushing out to stockpile, probably because they were a bit more self-sufficient, back then and didn’t have the unfettered access to credit cards that we do now. In fact, many people were actively avoiding the markets. You know, fear of rats and all that!

Another marked difference is the lack of toilet paper hoarding. Toilet paper wasn’t actually a household staple back then. It had been invented, but it wasn’t common. There are a couple of references in the imports section of the paper about a few cases of toilet paper coming into Australia, but general use didn’t seem to pick up until the end of the of the decade.

In case you need to know the symptoms of the plague, they are as listed by W. J Simpson M.D in a newspaper of the time, “The general symptoms of a typical case are shivering, high fever, nausea, vomiting, intense general or frontal headache, painful and tender bubo, staggering gait, …congested eyes, anxious expression, coated tongue, except on tip and edges, and restlessness, with uncontrollable desire to wander aimless to some distant locality.” I have looked at the plague a bit, but that is the first time I’ve heard of wanderlust being a symptom.

So, what does a government do in a pandemic, they create a “plague department”, and their job was to clean and disinfect premises and drains and destroy any articles that may be infected. By April of 1900 they had visited more than 11 000 properties and handed out 1500 notices in Sydney. Cases of imported fruit, over 1000 rabbits, 1400 barrels of fish, quarters of beef and sides of bacon were all destroyed in the cleansing. People were also ordered to remove rubbish, filth and manure and replace defective toilets.

But it wouldn’t be a bubonic plague without a few rat stories.

In Bendigo, the council was offering 3 pence per dead rat. I am not great at understanding ye-oldie money, but it was not a lot. A Brisbane newspaper even printed a recipe for killing rats and the journo bragged about his recipe killing 600 rats in 3 nights. If you can kill 600 rats in 3-nights, they must have been absolutely everywhere. The recipe only had 3 ingredients: flour, oatmeal and plaster of Paris. Apparently, when the rat eats it, the fluid from their gastrointestinal system, mixes with the plaster of Paris and then hardens and sets in their stomach killing them. The instructions do warn you not to use it if small children are around.

When you look up “rat-catcher and plague” on Trove, there are quite a few stories of local rat-catchers who had contracted the plague and obituaries of those who had died from the plague, so not only was is not a well-paid job, there was the very real danger of ending up infected. Looking at some historic photos of rat-catchers it seems a prerequisite was to have a dashing moustache and a jaunty hat, an added bonus was a Jack Russell terrier who are apparently boss at catching rats.

Photo Attributions: State Library of Queensland

Another similarity between the past and present, which can be seen in the historic photos on the State Library of Queensland website, is the PPE (or Personal Protective Equipment) of the medical staff. There’s a fascinating photo of some doctors and nurses from Maryborough wearing their specially designed overalls, which are more of a floor length dress cape with a hood and a respirator. There is also of shot of two nurses delivering meals to some patients in isolation. The building is a tiny brick structure with two doors that have massive bolts on the outside, a barred window above the door and a slot for delivering food. You can see a poor person peeking out through the food delivery hole in the door. Maryborough also houses a memorial fountain that is dedicated to two nurses who died after volunteering to nurse some children who had contracted the pneumonic plague. From what I could see of recent photos, I am not sure that the fountain flows any more, but I could be wrong. I suppose I could find out by taking an 8-hour return trip to Maryborough, but I might let that remain a mystery for now.

To put the numbers into perspective, in the 10-year period that the plague was in Australia, there were only 1371 reported cases and 535 people died. In comparison, at the time of recording this episode, to give you a little history timestamp, in the 9 months that the Coronavirus has been circulating in Australia there have been more than 27 000 cases and 870 deaths.

Just a brief note on the song Ring a-ring a-Rosie, from which I use a sample in my composition. Some people have said that it hails from the black death and that the “a-tissue, a-tissue”, is referring to the symptoms, the pocket full of posies is to ward off the foul stench, or flowers to put on a grave, the “rosies” are the buboes and “ashes we all fall down” is the excessive death toll and cremations. But other historians argue, that sneezing is not a symptom and buboes are black not a rosy red colour, and it did not appear print until 1881. So the origins are contestable, but today I will be taking some artistic licence. 

(Rabbit Hole Music 2🎼)

I would love to hear any suggestions for future episodes, so please get in contact. You can follow me on Twitter @HistoryDetect or Instagram @HistoryDetective9. Also as season one draws to a close I am going to take a break from the usual format and drop a couple of bonus episodes, so if you have any burning questions, email me at historydetective9@gmail.com and I will do my best to answer them.

With this episode, as with many of my songs, I came up with the idea when I was on the spin bike, and I thought that the Australian plague would be an interesting topic, but I put off writing the episode for ages, because I worried that there wouldn’t be much information. But once again the National Library’s Trove website came to the rescue and sent me down a warren of rabbit holes.

 Now I would like to play you a song that I wrote which was inspired by both the plague of 1900 and our current situation. It is called Roses are Black.

This Kelly Chase, on the Case.

Click HERE to find a fully resourced lesson plan at Amped Up Learning

(Play full song🎼)

Song Lyrics

Roses are Black

Roses are black

Hearts are blue

Nightmares for me

Lilies for you

Invisible monster

Devil you can’t see

Invisible monster

Hidden enemy

Roses are wilting

Fear is true

Reaper is here

Coming for you

Invisible monster

Devil you can’t see

Invisible monster

Hidden enemy

Roses are red

Blood is blue

No-one is safe

Not me not you

Invisible monster

Devil you can’t see

Invisible monster

Hidden enemy

(Transition music🎼)

Reflection Questions

  1. What were three pandemics so far have arrived in Australia by boat since the 1900s? (Bubonic plague 1900, Spanish Flu 1919, Coronavirus 2020.)
  2.  List the similarities between the 1900 bubonic plague and the 2020 coronavirus.
  3. What is your opinion on learning from the past? Should politicians be looking at past pandemics to inform their decisions about policies now? Why or why not?
  4. What are the pros and cons of looking at the past to learn about current events?
  5. Reflect on some of the changes that you have personally witnessed during the coronavirus pandemic. Have you had to make minor or major changes? Do you behave differently in public now? Has anyone you know been impacted?
  6. What was your personal experience during the panic buying? Did your family run out of things that you would usually have around the house?
  7. What long term changes have you seen as a result of the coronavirus?
  8. What industries do you think have been impacted economically? (You can discus both negative and positive economic impacts.)

If you are a teacher or student, you will find reflection questions in the show notes. A link to the transcript, the song lyrics and a list of references are linked in the show notes.

However, if you would like ready-made classroom resources for this or any of my previous episodes, you can head on over to my Amped Up Learning Store, where you can buy supporting resource packs including an editable student worksheet and PowerPoint. You will find a link in the show notes. As this is a completely independent podcast, your support helps me to keep producing episodes.

 (Transition music🎼)

Next season on History Detective, I will look at the Russian Women’s Death Battalion of World War I, dip my toes into the French Revolution, uncover some truths of the Native Mounted Police, meet the Viking mother of kings, and see what it was like to be the only woman in parliament.

Season 2 will be back in January 2021, but I have a few bonus episodes planned and the first one will be out in a fortnight and is called More Useful than a Chocolate Teapot. If you liked what you heard and know someone who might enjoy History Detective, please share and subscribe. And because I am a teacher, you know I love gold stars feel free to rate, review. See you next time.

Bibliography

1900 ‘BUBONIC PLAGUE.’, The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 – 1939), 28 April, p. 812. (The Queenslander), viewed 23 Sep 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article18546183

1900 ‘CLEANING THE CITY.’, The Australian Star (Sydney, NSW : 1887 – 1909), 21 April, p. 5. , viewed 23 Sep 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article229366500

1900 ‘COST OF THE PLAGUE PANIC.’, The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 – 1946), 7 April, p. 43. , viewed 24 Sep 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article139777928

1900 ‘IF THE PLAGUE CAME TO SYDNEY.’, The Australian Star (Sydney, NSW : 1887 – 1909), 1 January, p. 5. (LATE SPORTS), viewed 23 Sep 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article229362101

1902 ‘PLAGUE.’, Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), 25 March, p. 3. , viewed 23 Sep 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article135343319 

1903 ‘PLAGUE.’, The Gundagai Times and Tumut, Adelong and Murrumbidgee District Advertiser (NSW : 1868 – 1931), 1 May, p. 2. , viewed 10 Oct 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article123544452

1895 ‘PLAGUE.’, Zeehan and Dundas Herald (Tas. : 1890 – 1922), 29 March, p. 2. , viewed 23 Sep 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article79697009

1900 ‘THE BUBONIC PLAGUE.’, The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 9 August, p. 5. , viewed 23 Sep 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article9551146  (RATS)

1900 ‘THE BUBONIC PLAGUE.’, South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900), 1 January, p. 5. , viewed 23 Sep 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article54415976

1900 ‘THE PLAGUE IN THE PACIFIC.’, The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 – 1931), 1 January, p. 5. , viewed 23 Sep 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article29525508

1900 ‘THE BUBONIC PLAGUE.’, The Bendigo Independent (Vic. : 1891 – 1918), 26 May, p. 5. , viewed 24 Sep 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article179166667

John Oxley Library, 2008, Black Death in Queensland, State Library of Queensland, viewed 23 Sep 2020 https://www.slq.qld.gov.au/blog/black-death-queensland

McNally, G, 2015, Bubonic plague Sydney: How a city survived the black death in 1900, The Daily Telegraph, viewed 23 Sep 2020 https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/bubonic-plague-sydney-how-a-city-survived-the-black-death-in-1900/news-story/f36b9184eba49c72ae9791c574f7b826?nk=cea80366f0eca59624e34075657b4633-1596108303

Mikkelson, D, 2000, Is ‘Ring Around the Rosie’ About the Black Plague? Snopes, viewed 23 Sep 2020 https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/ring-around-rosie/

National Museum of Australia, 2020, DEFINING MOMENTS Bubonic plague, Acton Peninsula, Canberra, viewed 23 Sep 2020 https://www.nma.gov.au/defining-moments/resources/bubonic-plague

Queensland State Archives, c.1905, Maryborough Outbreak (Primary Pneumonic Plague)

Photo of Dr Burnett Ham and his Medical and Nursing staff, June 1905, viewed 23 Sep 2020

Maryborough Outbreak (Primary Pneumonic Plague)

Rees, Glenn (1995). Fountain in memory of nurses who died of bubonic plague in 1905 after epidemic, Lennox Street, Maryborough.

University of Sydney, 2020, Bubonic Plague Comes to Sydney In 1900, The University of Sydney School of Medicine Online Museum, viewed 23 Sep 2020

https://www.sydney.edu.au/medicine/museum/mwmuseum/index.php/Bubonic_Plague_comes_to_Sydney_in_1900

State Library of QLD, c. 1905, Nurses tending to isolated Plague cases, Maryborough, 1905, viewed 23 Sep 2020, https://digital.slq.qld.gov.au/delivery/DeliveryManagerServlet?change_lng=en&dps_pid=IE132678

State Library of Queensland, N.D. Destroyed rats during the bubonic plague in Brisbane, Queensland, 1900-1902, viewed 24 Sep 2020, https://digital.slq.qld.gov.au/delivery/DeliveryManagerServlet?change_lng=en&dps_pid=IE16069

State Library of Queensland, N.D. Rat dogs pictured with their handlers, ca. 1905, viewed 24 Sep 2020 https://digital.slq.qld.gov.au/delivery/DeliveryManagerServlet?change_lng=en&dps_pid=IE1198270

Zhou, N, 2020, More than 400 coronavirus cases – 10% of Australia’s total – are from Ruby Princess cruise ship, The Guardian Australian Edition, viewed 23 Sep 2020 https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/mar/31/more-than-400-coronavirus-cases-australia-total-ruby-princess-cruise-ship

Click HERE to find a fully resourced lesson plan at Amped Up Learning

Case 7: Rosa Parks, I’m Not Tired, Podcast for Civil Rights History Students

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Click HERE to find a fully resourced lesson plan at Amped Up Learning

We have all heard the saying, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” And if there is one woman in history who embodied that sentiment, it was Mrs Rosa Parks, a woman who lived through unjust segregation and took a stand, by taking a seat.  

The actions of Rosa Parks in 1955 (yes, the same year that Marty McFly travelled to in Back to the Future) were a catalyst for the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and it would be easy to say she was a tired old lady who just needed to sit down whilst riding a bus and that sparked the chain of civil rights events. But there are a few things wrong with that narrative. Firstly, she was not old, I mean at the time of her arrest, she was three years younger than I currently am. I will begrudgingly accept the expression middle aged.

The other misconception is that this was a seemingly spontaneous event, but the real story is much richer. Rosa Parks was a civil rights activist and the Montgomery Bus Boycott had been proposed for a long time before the actions of Rosa Parks kick-started the plan into action. Also, there was an entire civil rights movement bubbling under the surface, training, organising and planning this non-violent mass protest.

But before we get into that pivotal day, it is important to understand the unjust segregated conditions that black Americans were forced to endure. Segregation is the official practice keeping different races apart. Montgomery, where Rosa Parks lived, is in the state of Alabama, which is the south of America and there were a set of rules – called the Jim Crow Laws – that were put into place after slavery was abolished. These laws kept black and white people socially separated. There were laws about black people living in white neighbourhoods, having separate restaurants, toilets and theatres just to name a few.

I want to circle back to Jim Crow, the person for whom these segregation laws were named. Jim Crow was a fictional character. He was invented by a white man who dressed up as a minstrel in black face. If you were wondering why black face was and still is so bad, is because these historical origins. The purpose of black face comedy was to dehumanise, mock and portray African Americans as inferior. Black face has its roots in systemic racism and comes from a time where lynching was commonplace in the south. Lynching is where a mob of people come together to murder someone publicly without a trial in a court of law. Just to give you some context, the bus boycott happened in 1955 and there was a lynching as late as 1953. The thought of standing up for your rights, or in this case sitting down for your rights, would have been an incredibly daunting idea in that climate of systemic racism and fear.

The Jim Crow laws varied in different states, but some of the laws specific to Alabama included whites and blacks could not eat in the same room, unless there was a partition, employers who hired black employees had to provide a separate toilet for them, a white nurse was not allowed to attend to a black man in a hospital, and in terms of transport, bus stations had to have a separate waiting room for black customers and on buses there was a partition that black customers had to sit behind, but not before they had to pay the fare to the driver at the front of the bus, then get off and re-enter the bus from the back door. They were not even allowed to walk through the white section.

Additionally, even though the buses had a majority of black customers, the buses stopped on every corner for white communities, but not in black communities, so black people had to walk several blocks to get home.

And that is why the president of the Women’s Political Council sent a letter to the Mayor about the unfair conditions on the buses. So, this boycott was definitely not an afterthought, this had been in the making for a long time, they just needed the right injustice to occur. And that injustice came in the shape of a cruel bus driver insisting on the arrest of a 42 year old woman. Rosa Parks.

Going back a bit further than the boycott, in 1943- 12 years before the arrest on the bus, Rosa joined the NAACP. The NAACP was, and still is, a civil rights organisation that began in 1909 and whose mission it is to eliminate discrimination based on race. So, at the age of 30, she joined the Montgomery branch of the NAACP and became the secretary. As part of her role she investigated cases of police brutality, rape, murder and discrimination. She tried to get justice for black women who had been raped by white men and to protect black men who had been falsely accused of crimes and were in danger of lynching.

At this time, Rosa was also attempting to register to vote. African American people in Montgomery could not just enrol to vote, they were forced to undertake a literacy test before they were granted the right. You can find examples of these tests online and they are crazy confusing and almost impossible to complete in the timeframe given.

The first time Rosa Parks attempted the test, she was told she passed, but was never sent her voting card, the second time she was told she failed, but they refused to show her the results, and the third time she passed again and this time copied out her answers as proof and was finally sent her voting card. But when she went to vote, the poll workers forced her to pay a poll tax, for not only that year but for every year since she had reached legal voting age. For a young, black seamstress, that was an exorbitant amount of money, but she paid and voted in every election thereafter.

In 1953- two years before the boycott, the Women’s Political Council of Montgomery, had enough of the bus segregation, and they approached the city commissioners about the situation on the buses, in particular having to pay at the front, alight the bus and then get back on the bus through the back door. Then in May 1954, 18 months before the boycott, the WPC, wrote a letter outlining the inequalities on the buses, including not stopping frequently enough in black neighbourhoods, and they warned of a bus boycott. The President of the WPC Jo Robinson forewarned the  commission, that 3/4s of the bus patrons were African American and that without their patronage the buses could not operate, she goes on to say, “There has been talk from twenty-five or more local organizations of planning a city-wide boycott of busses.”

This is clear evidence that the boycott was not a spontaneous event, but came about after great deliberation and forethought.

In mid 1955, four months before the bus arrest, Rosa Parks received a scholarship to attend a leadership training course for civil rights activists at the Highlander Folk School. The school was in Tennessee and was about a 6 hour bus ride from Montgomery- for which she also received a reimbursement as part of the scholarship. While there Rosa was mentored by civil rights educator Septima Clarke who encouraged empowerment in black communities.

It was not long after this training that the bus incident took place. But this wasn’t her first run in with this particular driver. She had an encounter with him, 12 years before. She had gotten on the front to pay, then she refused to get off the bus to get on again from the back. The bus driver kicked her off the bus, and she vowed not to ride on his bus again. But on December 1st, 1955, she was on the way home from work and not paying 100% attention to the bus driver and she did happen to get on his bus. She was not sitting in the white’s only section, but the middle section of the bus, and when the “whites only” section was filled, black customers were expected to get up from the middle section and move back.

“I was not tired physically,” she later wrote “or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”

She was not even the first woman to be arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat in Montgomery, in March of that same year a 15 Year old Claudette Colvin, who had just been studying Harriette Tubman and Sojourner Truth for Black History Month at her school, was inspired to fight for her rights and she refused to give up her seat on a bus. She was arrested and put in jail. I have heard several reasons as to why she wasn’t chosen to be a face of the boycott. One source said she was pregnant, but she didn’t have her baby until March 1956, 12 months after her arrest, so that math doesn’t really add up. Colvin herself said she thought that Rosa Parks had a more acceptable look and skin colour to be the face of the boycott. However, the arrest report of Colvin says that, “she struggled to get off the bus all the way to the police car… and she kicked and scratched me on the hand, also kicked me in the stomach.” In contrast to this, the arresting officer said of Rosa Parks that she “acted like a lady during that time, and she didn’t give us no problems.”

I would suggest that Rosa was chosen as the face of the boycott, because of both her non-violent civil disobedience, that she would have been trained to do in her years at the NAACP and at the Highlander Folk School, and also because of the societal expectations of how a woman in society should behave and kicking and scratching was not acceptable, especially when they wanted a pillar of society to be the face of a movement. In fact, in Martin Luther King’s memoir of the event he wrote, “Mrs. Parks was ideal for the role assigned to her by history…her character was impeccable and her dedication deep-rooted” and she was one of the most respected people in the community.

Four days after Rosa Parks’ arrest, the bus boycott began in earnest and lasted 1 year and 15 days. Ministers announced the boycott in churches, a newspaper published an article announcing the action and African American people began to find alternate means of transportation. Walking, carpooling, hitch-hiking, and the police began penalising black taxi drivers who were aiding the boycott and Martin Luther King Jr and another prominent leader E.D Nixon had their houses bombed by segregationists.

In mid- 1956 the federal court ruled that segregation was a violation of the constitution, the city of course didn’t want this to be true and appealed to the supreme court who agreed that bus segregation was unconstitutional, and buses became officially integrated, but it wasn’t that clear cut. Bus stops remained segregated and some people were not happy about desegregation, one evening, 9 days after the buses were officially integrated, a sniper fired shots into a bus injuring a black woman who was 8 months pregnant. This shooting into the buses happened a few more times before the city suspended all bus services after 5pm for another year.

Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks did have something else in common, they both were forced to move away from Montgomery because of their civil rights actions. Colvin was branded a trouble-maker and had difficulty finding a job, I imagine in the 1950s, being an unwed 16 year old mother may have also tarnished her reputation. She moved to New York.

Rosa Parks also struggled to find employment as did her husband, because of her prominence in the boycott she received hate mail and death threats. They ended up moving to Detroit and struggled with health issues and financially for about a decade before she secured employment as a secretary for a member of Congress.

Now, if you look up Rosa Parks, you will find phrases such as, civil rights activist, pivotal, and the “mother of the modern Civil rights movement” but on that day on the way home from work, there was one thing she was not…and that was tired.

I would love to hear any suggestions for future episodes, so please get in contact. You can follow me on Twitter @HistoryDetect or Instagram @HistoryDetective9. Also as season one draws to a close I am going to take a break from the usual format and drop a couple of bonus episodes, so if you have any burning questions, email me at historydetective9@gmail.com and I will do my best to answer them.

There are so many great resources on Rosa Parks, but I highly recommend the double episode in the back catalogue of the “Stuff you missed in History Class” Podcast and the Read Like a Historian lesson on the Bus Boycott by the Stanford History Education Group.

Now I would like to play you a song that I wrote which was inspired by the story of Rosa Parks, in fact in writing this song, I read through selected writings that are in the Library of Congress and many of the lyrics are adapted from her words. The song is called I’m Not Tired.

This Kelly Chase, on the Case.

Click HERE to find a fully resourced lesson plan at Amped Up Learning

Song Lyrics

I am nothing, I belong nowhere

That’s what you made me think

This fountain of liberty

I’m not allowed to drink

They tell me it’s the law

There’s one thing that I’m sure

I’m not tired, but these flawed laws exhaust me

I’ve been pushed around, and my spirit has been beat

But I stood my ground when I took my seat

The line between reason and madness

Grows thinner every day

There’s only so much disappointment

One can take

They tell me it’s the law

There’s one thing that I’m sure

I’m not tired, but these flawed laws exhaust me

I’ve been pushed around, and my spirit has been beat

But I stood my ground when I took my seat

This skin has always served as

A cloak of invisibility

Seven zero five three

Is what it takes for you to see me

They tell me it’s the law

There’s one thing that I’m sure

I’m not tired, but these flawed laws exhaust me

I’ve been pushed around, and my spirit has been beat

But I stood my ground when I took my seat

Reflection Questions

If you are a teacher or student, you will find reflection questions in the show notes. A link to the transcript, song lyrics and references are also there.

However, if you would like ready-made classroom on line learning ready resources for this or any of the History Detective episodes, you can head on over to my Amped Up Learning store, where you can buy supporting resources including a student worksheet and a presentation that focuses on vocabulary, historical analysis and evaluation skills as well as further research activities. This is a completely independent podcast, so your support helps me to keep producing episodes. You’ll find a link to my Amped Up Learning Store in the show notes.

Reflection Questions

  1. Describe your understanding of the depth of segregation in America in the 1950s.
  2. Explain the different perspectives that are presented as to why Rosa Parks was chosen to be the face of the bus boycott over Claudette Colvin.
  3. What other civil rights work did Rosa Parks do before her defiant act on the bus?
  4. Make a judgement on the usefulness on the letter from the Women’s Political Council in supporting the historical argument that the boycott was not a spontaneous event.
  5. Explain why you think that Rosa Parks would have struggled to find employment after her role in the Montgomery bus boycott.
  6. Why do you think the bus boycott would have been an effective way to bring attention to segregation and finally have the law changed?
  7. After the law was changed, there was still partial segregation and shots fired into the buses. What motivation would someone have for these kinds of acts?

Bibliography

An African-American Woman Describes Segregated Buses in Montgomery, Alabama,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed September 12, 2020, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/1831

Biography.com Editors, 2014, Claudette Colvin Biography, The Biography.com website, accessed September 12, 2020, https://www.biography.com/activist/claudette-colvin

Biography.com Editors, 2014, Septima Poinsette Clark Biography, The Biography.com website, accessed September 12, 2020, https://www.biography.com/activist/septima-poinsette-clark

Bredhoff, Stacey, Wynell Schamel, and Lee Ann Potter. “The Arrest Records of Rosa Parks.” Social Education 63, 4 (May/June 1999): 207-211

Desmond-Harris, J, 2014, Don’t get what’s wrong with blackface? Here’s why it’s so offensive. Vox Media, accessed September 12, 2020, https://www.vox.com/2014/10/29/7089591/why-is-blackface-offensive-halloween-costume

Equal Justice Initiative, 1956, After Boycott Ends, Pregnant Black Woman Shot on Montgomery Bus, A History of Racial Injustice, accessed September 12, 2020, https://calendar.eji.org/racial-injustice/dec/28

Ferris State University, N.D. Examples of Jim Crow Laws – Oct. 1960 – Civil Rights, Jim Crow Museum, accessed September 12, 2020, https://www.ferris.edu/htmls/news/jimcrow/links/misclink/examples.htm

Fox, C. 2019, Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat 64 years ago — here are 15 surprising facts about her, Insider, accessed September 12, 2020,

https://www.insider.com/15-surprising-facts-about-rosa-parks#the-bus-driver-who-called-the-police-and-arrested-her-had-actually-given-her-a-hard-time-more-than-10-years-earlier-5

History.com Editors, 2010, Montgomery Bus Boycott, History.com, accessed September 12, 2020, https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/montgomery-bus-boycott

Klein, C, 2013, 10 Things You May Not Know About Rosa Parks, History, accessed September 12, 2020, https://www.history.com/news/10-things-you-may-not-know-about-rosa-parks#:~:text=3.,her%20fare%20at%20the%20front

Library of Congress, 1947, Rosa & Raymond Parks, seated at a banquet table, left side, third and fourth chair, likely at an NAACP branch meeting, Montgomery, Alabama,  A. ?. , ca. 1947. Montgomery, Alabama Photograph, accessed September 12, 2020,  

https://www.loc.gov/item/2015645702

Mattimore, R, 2017, Before the Bus, Rosa Parks Was a Sexual Assault Investigator, History, accessed September 12, 2020, https://www.history.com/news/before-the-bus-rosa-parks-was-a-sexual-assault-investigator

Parks, R, 1956, Rosa Parks Papers: Writings, Notes, and Statements, 1956-1998; Drafts of early writings; Accounts of her arrest and the subsequent boycott, as well as general reflections on race relations in the South, 1956-circa 1958, Library of Congress, accessed September 12, 2020 https://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationsandactivities/presentations/rosa-parks-gallery/

Rathod, N, 2005, Honoring Rosa Parks: Moving from Symbolism to Action, Center for American Congress, accessed September 12, 2020, https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/courts/news/2005/12/01/1743/honoring-rosa-parks-moving-from-symbolism-to-action/

Robinson, J.A, 1954, “African-American Women Threaten a Bus Boycott in Montgomery,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed September 12, 2020, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/693

Rustin, B, 1956, “Bayard Rustin Explains Car Pools in the Montgomery Bus Boycott,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed September 12, 2020, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/1829

Stanford University, N.D, Montgomery Bus Boycott, The Martin Luther King, Jr.

Research and Education Institute, accessed September 12, 2020, https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/montgomery-bus-boycott

Stanford University, N.D, Women’s Political Council (WPC) of Montgomery, The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute, accessed September 12, 2020, https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/womens-political-council-wpc-montgomery

City of Montgomery Police Department, 1955, Arrest Report for Claudette Colvin, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Ala. The Martin Luther King, Jr.

Research and Education Institute, Stanford, accessed September 12, 2020, https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/arrest-report-claudette-colvin

Yawn, A, 2018, First officer to scene of Rosa Parks arrest: Her arrest changed the world, Montgomery Advertiser, accessed September 12, 2020, https://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/story/news/2018/12/05/rosa-parks-arrest-first-officer-arrive-scene-recalls-her-arrest-changed-world/2203221002/

Click HERE to find a fully resourced lesson plan at Amped Up Learning

Case 6: Women of the Viet Cong, Podcast for High School Students

Click HERE to find a fully resourced lesson plan at Amped Up Learning

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We are so used to the narrative of the Vietnam War being told through a masculine lens; male politicians, sending male soldiers to Vietnam, movies about male soldiers and male historians writing all the textbooks. But there is a group whose perspective we don’t hear from very often, and that is the Vietnamese women who fought for the Viet Cong. Hanoi Hannah and the Perfume River Squad, it is time to hear to hear your stories.

This episode is dedicated to all of the Queensland Year 12 students who are just about to experience external exams for the first time after navigating their senior year through a pandemic. Class of Covid, you got this! Although I’m pretty sure this content will not be on the exam, it is topic adjacent and a reminder that history is not about exams but fostering a life-long curiosity for learning and a love of getting lost in history rabbit holes.

About 3 years ago, I was at a history conference in a session about the Vietnam War and one of the slides shown was a propaganda picture of a young Vietnamese woman nursing a baby with a gun slung over her shoulder. This was a perspective that I had never considered before, and three years later, I still have this image seared in my memory. I urge you to do a Google image search of Propaganda of Vietcong women, it has fascinating results.

For those who need a quick refresher on the origins of the Vietnam War, I will try to do a somewhat simple and brief recap now.

The Cold War between the US and USSR was in full swing and the fear of the spread of communism was palpable. Vietnam had a long and oppressed history of being occupied and controlled by other countries including China, France, Japan and then France again. Ho Chi Minh formed the Communist Party and began to lead an Independence movement against the colonial oppression that Vietnam had been under for years. After WWII, Ho Chi Minh managed to fight off the French and the country was divided into North and South Vietnam.  The North were communist, and the South were not, but the South were allied with the USA. Both the North and South wanted a unified Vietnam but had different political ideologies.

Now because the North were communist the USA were freaking out. They had this concept called the “Domino Theory”, where they believed that if one country fell to communism, then all of the surrounding countries would then be taken over- falling like dominos- so they decided to “help” South Vietnam by sending advisors and troops… and bombs.

This is where Australia gets on board, Prime Minister Menzies, obviously feeling Australia was a bit vulnerable after WWII, not to mention being staunchly anti-communist- he had in fact held a referendum to try and change the constitution and have the communist party banned,- well Menzies thought that we needed all the friends we could get and promised the US military advisors to help train the South Vietnamese soldiers. After Menzies retired, Prime Minister Harold Holt, yes, the same one who disappeared into the ocean never to be seen again, continued trying to be besties with the US-ties, so much so that he bellowed the catch cry to show his support for President Lyndon B Johnson :“All the way with LBJ!” and by the end of 1966 he had sent 6000 Australian troops to Vietnam including the National Servicemen who were conscripted.

Thanks to pop culture, you are probably pretty familiar with the combat style of a US or Australian army, but the Vietcong, which is the common name of the North Vietnamese Communist army, were fighting guerrilla style. No uniforms, secret tunnels, booby traps and only picking battles that they knew they would win. And part of these tactics, was having women fight in the war.

While researching for this episode, I popped into the library and borrowed 7 books about the Vietnam War, thinking I could get some great information to share about the women who fought in the conflict. Out of 7 textbooks dedicated to the Indochina war, do you know how much information on women I found. 6 sentences. One of those sentences said that it had been suggested that women’s participation made the difference between defeat and victory. This begs the question, if they are so significant, why have the other 6 textbook authors writing about Vietnam not included their perspective. Do a Google image search of Women in the Vietcong and tell me those fierce gun slinging gals don’t deserve at least one chapter in a high school textbook. It is time to tell her-story.

Ho Chi Minh, the Vietnamese communist leader said “Women make up half of the population. If women are not liberated, then society is not free.” And so, women were invited to play a role in fighting for their nation. Not just invited, encouraged. One of the methods to encourage women was propaganda.

The Vietnam Courier, which was an English language publication in Hanoi, the now capital of Vietnam, would publish statements such as; “A woman cannot be equal if she is shut out from social productive labor and restricted to private domestic labor.” This Hanoi newspaper would go on to publish propaganda pictures and stories of the courageous feats of women who were fighting for their country.

Speaking of Hanoi, one of the most famous Vietnamese women during the war was a radio personality who the American soldiers dubbed Hanoi Hannah. If you have seen the 2020 Spike Lee film on Netflix Da Five Bloods, she is depicted in that. A few of the more commercial articles about her describe her as silken voiced, and you can search for some footage on YouTube if you want to have a listen. Her broadcasts, would pose questions to the “Intelligent American GIs” such as, “why have you come to Vietnam?” and “Do you miss your families and homes? They are questioning why you are here. In America there is no unity, there is violence, there are protests against you.” These announcements would be interspersed with playing American music like “We gotta get out of this place” and the announcement of the US soldiers’ deaths and their hometowns. She also gave news from both within Vietnam and the US, namely the My Lai massacres, and she would comment on the racial inequities that the African American soldiers experienced.

Hannoi Hannah grew up with a penchant for Hollywood Movies and she had a particular love for “Gone with the Wind.” And that is what spurred her on to learn English. It would be easy to just say that the North Vietnamese Defense Ministry’s propaganda department wrote her scripts and just got her to translate and read them, but “Frankly my dear, she did give damn.”

In a 1992 television interview, 17 years after the war was over, she spoke about her feelings toward the American soldiers in Vietnam, “I just wanted the GIs to resist this fighting… Of course, it is difficult for them because they are sent by the government, but our work is to make them believe that the war they are fighting is not just. It is against the Vietnamese people.”

Hanoi Hannah was a nickname given to her by the American soldiers, but she actually had a pseudonym, of which I will not butcher with my Australian pronunciation, but it translates to Autumn Fragrance. Speaking of fragrance, now would be a perfect time to meet the Perfume River Squad. Yes, that’s right, BEST NAME EVER!

The Perfume River is actually the name of a river that runs through the city of Hué. It is named that, because in Autumn, when the flowers from the upriver orchards fall into the water, floral fragrance is carried down the river. However, due to industrialisation it apparently does not smell as aromatic as it once did. Coincidental how Hanoi Hannah had an Autumn themed name too. Being a Queenslander where our seasons are as complicated as hot and then cold with about a week of mild transition in between, I do get a little envious of those places that experience distinct seasons.

Back to the Perfume River Squad, they were a top secret, all female combat unit whose job it was to gather covert information and deliver it to the communist leaders. The squad was mostly made up of young women in their late teens and early 20s. By day they were selling conical hats and by night they were funnelling intel that helped to launch the Tet Offensive. Working as street traders enabled the squad to secretly gather details about the movement of enemy troops. A former member explains why she joined the war effort, “I wanted to liberate myself, liberate my homeland, and liberate other women.”

When the Tet Offensive happened, their role shifted from underground information gathering, to combat. They were called in to fight and fight they did. Hurling grenades, shooting AK-47s and battling for their survival. A survivor explains, “We just kept shooting… if we didn’t shoot, they would have shot us, so we just kept fighting,” In this battle, four of the 11-member squad died.

The Tet Offensive, the event for which the Perfume River Squad were gathering info, is named after the Lunar New Year Holiday- Tet, which is when the North Vietnamese attacks occurred. It is said to be a major turning point in the war and the event that triggered the slow withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam. So why was it such a shock?

A couple of reasons, firstly Tet was a holiday, and for the North to plan an attack on their own holiday, was completely unexpected. Tet is traditionally a time of feasting, family and friends, and there was meant to be a cease fire, so a full-on offensive was a total sneak attack. Additionally, up until this point, most of the warfare had been guerrilla style- not the primate- but the underground resistance type of fighting. Think tunnels, jungles, booby traps and secret trails.

But Tet, was a departure from this, simultaneously more than 30 cities were attacked and one of those cities was Hue, where our Perfume River Squad was stationed and a 3week battle for control of the city ensued. “My comrades died… and our anger mounted, as did our determination to fight to get revenge for our sisters.” This quote from a surviving member of the Perfume River Squad, shows her loyalty to both the cause and her sister squad of spies. Many of the surviving Vietnamese women and their offspring, suffered from the ill effects of Agent Orange, which was the chemical defoliant that the US used to eliminate the forest to give them an advantage over the jungle tactics being used.

I just cannot get to all of the stories about the Vietnamese women who fought in the war during my 15-minute episode. But that makes me happy, because there are definitely many more stories of women in Vietnam that still need to be told, and hopefully one day I will scan the index of a textbook and be able to locate a section that is dedicated to Hanoi Hannah, the Perfume River Squad, or any of the other long haired warriors who fought for their country.

If you do want to read a translated diary of a young female Vietnamese doctor during the War, I cannot recommend highly enough, “Last Night I Dreamed of Peace”. It is a fascinating primary source about a female surgeon’s experience during the war. The author died at 28 years old and here is brief extract.

“A person’s most valuable possession is life. We only live once; we must live so as not to sorely regret the months and years lived wastefully, not to be ashamed of the months and years lived wastefully, so that when we die we can say, “All my life and all my strength have been dedicated to the most noble goal in life, the struggle to liberate the human race.”

A few years ago, when I was trying to get some Australian female perspectives on the Vietnam War, I read a book about the nurses who served in Vietnam, called Our Vietnam Nurses, I highly recommend it.

I would love to hear any suggestions for future episodes, so please get in contact. You can follow me on Twitter @HistoryDetect or Instagram @HistoryDetective9. Also as season one draws to a close I am going to take a break from the usual format and drop a couple of bonus episodes, so if you have any burning questions, email me at historydetective9@gmail.com and I will do my best to answer them.

Now I would like to play you a song that I wrote which was inspired by righteous babes who fought for their beliefs during the Vietnam War. It is called Shadow of a Shark.

This Kelly Chase, on the Case.

Click HERE to find a fully resourced lesson plan at Amped Up Learning

Song Lyrics

Can you smell the blood that spilled by the ones who came before?

Red sky as the sun tries to rise

I recognise the warning signs from the ones who came before

Promises, handshakes and lies

Fighting surviving its time you recognise

Our rivers flow with perfume and tears

Fighting surviving its time you realise

We won’t stop till rivers run clear

Face of an angel

Shadow of a shark

Promises of light

Deliverance of dark

Face of an angel

Shadow of a shark

Promises of day

Deliverance of night

Gallery of open wounds from the ones who came before

Some scars won’t wash away

Time and time again I dream of doves who fly away

Taking you and leaving us alone

Reflection Questions

If you would like ready-made classroom resources for this or any of the History Detective episodes, you can head on over to my Amped Up Learning store, where you can buy supporting resources including a student worksheet and a presentation that focuses on vocabulary, historical analysis and evaluation skills as well as further research activities. This is a completely independent podcast, so your support helps me to keep producing episodes.

  1. Research the context of the 1960, what rights did women in your country not have at this time?
  2. Why do you think that women have not been allowed in combat roles in the armed forces for such a long time? What is the thinking behind these kinds of restrictions?
  3. Can you think of a reason why western textbooks do not generally include the role that women played in the Vietnam War?
  4. 50 years later, the former Perfume Rive Squad member explains “I wanted to liberate myself, liberate my homeland, and liberate other women.”  Explain her perspective on the Vietnam War and her motive for making the statement.
  5. What is the implicit and explicit meaning behind Hanoi Hannah’s announcement, “Do you miss your families and homes? They are questioning why you are here. In America there is no unity, there is violence, there are protests against you.”

Bibliography

Agence France-Presse in Hanoi, 2016, Hanoi Hannah, Vietnam war propaganda radio presenter, dies aged 87, Vietnam, The Guardian, Access date: 13/8/2020

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/04/hanoi-hannah-vietnam-war-propaganda-radio-presenter-dies-aged-87

Dinh, H, 2018, Vietnam veterans recall Tet offensive, The Newcastle Herald, Access date, 13/8/2020 https://www.newcastleherald.com.au/story/5204391/vietnam-veterans-recall-tet-offensive/?cs=7579

Dinh, H, 2018, Vietnam veterans recall all-female Tet Offensive squad, Taiwan News, Access date, 13/8/2020https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/3355168

Editors Encyclopedia Britannica, 2020, Tet Offensive, Vietnam War 1968, Britannica,  Access date, 13/8/2020  https://www.britannica.com/topic/Tet-Offensive

Ford, M and Blunden, R, 2015, Timeline: Key milestones for women in the Australian Defence Force, ABC News, access date, 13/8/2020https://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-04-21/timeline-of-women-in-the-australian-defence-force/6398388

Garrett, T, 2015, Hanoi Hannah, Online video, YouTube, Viewed on 13/8/2020 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VrlDYPA7xnI

Greene, D, 2016, ‘Hanoi Hannah,’ Whose Broadcasts Taunted And Entertained American GIs, Dies, The Two Way, NPR, Access date, 13/8/2020 https://www.npr.org/transcripts/496662815

Herman, E. 2017, The Women Who Fought for Hanoi, The New York Time, Access date 13/8/2020 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/06/opinion/vietnam-war-women-soldiers.html?auth=login-google

Hue, 2020, Hue: Perfume River, Hue by Hotels.com, Access date, 13/8/2020 http://www.vietnam-guide.com/hue/attractions/perfume-river.htm

Irvine, D, 2017, Propaganda posters: Life during war in Vietnam, CNN Travel, Destination Vietnam, access date 13/8/2020 https://edition.cnn.com/travel/article/cnngo-travel-vietnam-propaganda-poster-art/index.html

National Museum of Australia, N.D. Prime Minister from 26 January 1966 to 19 December 1967, National Museum of Australia, Access date, 13/8/2020 https://www.nma.gov.au/explore/features/prime-ministers/harold-holt

Ngo, T.T, 1970, A BROADCAST BY “HANOI HANNAH” 1970, Alpha History, Access date, 13/8/2020 https://alphahistory.com/vietnamwar/hanoi-hannah-1970/

North, D, 2018, The Mystery of Hanoi Hannah, 67 Vietnam, Opinion, The New York Times, Access date, 13/8/2020 https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/08/opinion/hanoi-hannah-vietnam-propaganda.html

Office of the Historian, 2017, U.S. Involvement in the Vietnam War: The Tet Offensive, 1968, United Stated Department of State, Access date, 13/8/2020 https://history.state.gov/milestones/1961-1968/tet#:~:text=In%20late%20January%2C%201968%2C%20during,of%20targets%20in%20South%20Vietnam.&text=The%20Tet%20Offensive%20played%20an,for%20the%20war%20in%20Vietnam.

Pothier, C.M., 2003. Propagandist representation of Vietnamese women: a comparative study. Review of Vietnamese Studies3(1), pp.1-20.

Star Media Group, 2018, Vietnam’s female spies who helped change the war, The Star, Access date, 13/8/2020 https://www.thestar.com.my/news/regional/2018/01/25/vietnam-female-spies-who-helped-change-the-war

Windschuttle, Elizabeth, Women in the Vietnam War, Australian Left Review, 1(53), 1976, 17-25. https://ro.uow.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1798&context=alr

Click HERE to find a fully resourced lesson plan at Amped Up Learning

Case 5: The Women’s Movement, Bicycle Face and Dress Reform, Podcast for History Students

Click HERE to find a fully resourced lesson at Amped Up Learning

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If you are an Australian of a certain age, as a child, you would have been drip fed a steady diet of the Australian poet Banjo Patterson and at the very least you can quote, “T’was Mulga Bill from Eagle Hawk who caught the cycling craze.” But it wasn’t just men who caught the cycling craze, women of 1896 also discovered the joy of cycling and hence doctors of the time warned women that if they rode bicycles, they were in very real danger of developing an affliction. So today we will be exploring one of the original fake new items of the late 19th Century, a made-up disease that affected women (and some men) called “Bicycle Face”.

Story Time

Before we launch into the fictitious symptoms of bicycle face, we need to explore what life was like for women at the time. What I like to call very important context. In my clicking and scrolling though newspapers and magazines on Trove, I kept seeing references to a woman called Mrs Grundy, or Mother Grundy. I thought to myself, who on earth is this Mrs Grundy, she seemed to very judgmental of this scandalous cycling behaviour.

It turns out that she too made up. I guess journalists of the time could evoke her name to show they disagreed with some new-fangled pastime or other. Like in the case of, “What would Mrs Grundy say?” In one article she is   to have said, “that fashionable sensations do not last as long as granite.” And let’s face it, she’s kind of right.

However, in many cases her name was used to show a kind of edgy journalism, showing the perspective of the modern thinking society who laughed in the face of the old fuss pot Mrs Grundy. The opening line of an article called “Bicycling for Women” written by “A doctor’s wife” asks, “Is Mrs Grundy dead? Or has she gone to some far-off planet, where they still enjoy the “good old days” …of long ago? … she could never live happily in this …world, which the present bicycle craze is turning topsy-turvy to such an alarming extent that members of the “gentler” sex, ride in “bloomers.” The article goes on to discuss how healthy bike riding is and how it makes life easier. I do want to point out that this writer does not have her name published and is only referred to by her relation to her husband and his occupation. But I guess they are trying to get the audience to trust her because, after all, she was only a woman, and women were not even worthy of voting at this time. Another article’s author in signing off, uses Italics and says simply Lady. (Full stop.) This is now my new favourite way of ending a letter.  I may adopt this in my email correspondence. I think Mrs Grundy would approve.

Confession time, sometimes I have to curtail my inner Mrs Grundy, but only because I can barely keep up with the latest technological trends.

The doctor’s wife made mention of bloomers. If you look it up on Trove, there are 122 thousand newspaper articles that reference bloomers in the decade of 1880-1889. And many of these articles also mention cyclists or cycling. For those who are too young to have owned a pair, bloomers are a kind of loose ¾ pant that are gathered in at the knees and you might see them on an old-fashioned doll. You see fashion up until this point, was very restrictive in terms of movement for women, it consisted corsets and of long heavy skirts that were completely impractical for doing any kind of activity that involved more than minimal movement of the legs. So, the introduction of bicycles, also opened up a conversation about fashion reform. The very fact that I can pop down to my spin class in my active wear is all thanks to the brave ladies of the 80s, 1880s that is, boldly donning their bloomers to ride carefree through the streets on their infernal machines. Scandalous!

Digging Deeper

But let’s get down to the nitty gritty of “Bicycle Face”. A few years ago, I was listening to an audiobook about the women’s suffrage movement called “You Daughters of Freedom” by Dr Clare Wright- I highly recommend it by the way. And in chapter 24, there was a one-line reference to “Bicycle Face”. This stopped me in my tracks, and I immediately ran to the Trove website and fell into a very deep and amusing rabbit hole. The first article I read was a double whammy about restrictions on women, it was called, “Do you Tipple? A chat on Various topics.” Tippling is drinking alcohol. The writer asserts, “Whenever I see a young lady lifting the champagne glass to her lips I am taken with a cold shiver.” And then goes on to say, “Once women get a love for wine and spirits, they are doomed.” Luckily this author is no longer with us to shudder at the doomed lasses who go clubbing in Surfers Paradise on a Friday night.

The article then goes on to discuss how a well-known Sydney doctor is warning of the perils of bicycle riding. Because of the fear of collision with the many obstacles that the city presents women cyclists such as, trams and pedestrians, “it does not take long for her to develop bicycle face.” This article is the perfect example of how a source can be not particularly reliable, but very useful in demonstrating the attitudes and beliefs about women at the time. His evidence for this diagnosis is “you only have to observe a woman riding through any street to see how her legs are going and her eyes are fixed.” The afore mentioned Lady. (full stop) agrees, “If not corrected in time, the face gradually settles into a haunted, drawn look, the brows become contracted, and there is a rigid appearance about the eyes.” Adding further, “I never think a woman looks her best on a bicycle.”

But don’t think that this malady was confined to the face, no, the more you rode, the more likely that other parts of your body would become afflicted. Your hands could become infected. This description paints a particularly vivid picture, “the bicycle hand is a thing of ugliness and a horror for ever.” The distinctive features of this hand are stated to be that “it becomes flattened, bulges out at the sides, gets lumpy and out of shape, and the fingers all become crooked.”

You also had to take care that your feet didn’t become afflicted. One article managing to be both sexist and racist explains, baby girls often walk like Indians, with their feet pointing together in a V and proclaims that although this can be overcome, if a girl takes up riding a bicycle, this condition will reassert itself. It ends with the advice “watch one next time she dismounts, you will see her pigeon-toeing and leaving crow tracks upon the dust of the road.” 

Of course, not all of the articles were against women riding a bike. Many were written tongue in cheek and recognised the ridiculousness of these claims. Several were touting the health benefits of riding a bike. “Let women cultivate health (says a high medical authority), …, and men will value them more.” This statement is of course still framed to highlight women’s value to men, but at least it is support. He does go on to worry that they will lose their graceful outlines. However, my favourite is the following description, “the bicycle girl flits by him, her trim ankles glancing in the sunlight and her fine figure poised in graceful equilibrium.” Nothing like a glance of a trim ankle in the sunlight.

Now we have heard about the detractors and the supporters, what was the big deal about girls on bikes? Bicycles represented freedom for women, and that in turn represented feminist ideals. Before bicycles became popular if you were a woman and wanted to travel, your options were very limited, walking, a carriage, on horseback. If an upper-class woman was to go outside, they would probably be chaperoned. But the bicycle enabled women to get out into the world and experience a measure of freedom. Not only that, it was a catalyst for women’s dress reform.

An 1899 Australian supporter of dress reform says, “the bicycle may be regarded as the chief dress reformer of the day… Within two years it has given to all American womankind the liberty of dress for which the reformers have been fighting for generations.” The writer does boldly state, “The bicycle has not put many women in trousers—nothing will do that, in this country.” Oh, how wrong you are sir.  121 years later, and us skirt wearers are few and far between, it is trousers all the way for many female folk.

There is a wonderful cartoon in the American Library of Congress that backs up this point titled “The bicycle – the great dress reformer of the nineteenth century!” In the background it shows women and men dressed in all manner of ridiculously exaggerated impractical fashion, and in the foreground a man and woman are wearing their cycling bloomers and boots standing beside a bicycle and shaking hands triumphantly.

To this day, in some countries in Africa, and India, there are programs that give bikes to young women so they can overcome barriers in getting to school and work towards gender equality in education.

So maybe Mulga Bill caught the cycling craze, but it was the women who embraced the bicycle and continue to use it as a vehicle of equality and empowerment.

I would love to hear any suggestions for future episodes, so please get in contact. You can follow me on Twitter @HistoryDetect, Instagram @HistoryDetective9 or email me at historydetective9@gmail.com

A special shout out to my RPM instructors Dave and Ellie, who put up with my bicycle face every week. And a big thank you to the National Library of Australia Trove website, whose digitised newspapers have been instrumental in this episode- they even make putting together a bibliography easy.

Now I would like to play you a song that I wrote called Poetry in Motion which was inspired by bicycle face.

This is Kelly Chase on the case.

Click HERE to find a fully resourced lesson at Amped Up Learning

(Song Lyrics🎼)

Poetry in motion

Verse C, Am

Chorus Dm Am C Am

Verse

An open letter

To a medical man

I’ve upset the balance

Please understand

These dark shadows

Were cast by you

This fixed expression

Is nothing new

Chorus

Change is coming

wheels are moving

Poetry in Motion

Revolution is here

Verse

I‘m drawn to

This infernal machine

It’s given me a taste of

What freedom means

Chorus

Change is coming

wheels are moving

Poetry in Motion

Revolution is here

Look into my wild eyes

What do you see?

 a glint of hope

our daughters will be free

Chorus

Change is coming

wheels are moving

Poetry in Motion

Revolution is here

Verse

an open letter

To a medical man

I’m just a woman

Please understand

(Transition music🎼)

Reflection Questions

If you are a teacher or student, you will find reflection questions in the show notes. A link to the transcript, the song lyrics and a list of references are linked in the show notes.

  1. What comparable fake news do we still have in our society? Can you think of any examples of made up health issues?
  2. Consider that women could not vote in many parts of the world. Explain why women riding bicycles could be a threat to a patriarchal society.
  3. Visit the Trove website and research an aspect related to this episode; bloomers, bicycle face, Mrs Grundy, fashion, enfranchisement. (Be sure to select t he decade 1890-1899.) Find 3 quotes that demonstrate the attitudes and values toward women at this time.
  4. Find the cartoon in the Library of Congress, “The bicycle – the great dress reformer of the nineteenth century.” How reliable and useful is this source in depicting fashion from this era?
  5. Find the cartoon in the Library of Congress, “The bicycle – the great dress reformer of the nineteenth century.” What is the perspective of the artist who drew the cartoon?
  6. What is the implicit meaning behind the statement, “the bicycle hand is a thing of ugliness and a horror for ever”?

(Transition music🎼)

Next time on History Detective, we will meet the Perfume River Squad, the female combat fighters and spies who fought in the Vietnam War.

Episodes are released every fortnight, and if you liked what you heard and know someone who might enjoy History Detective too, please share it and don’t forget to subscribe.

Bibliography

1895 ‘A Lady’s Bicycle Ride.’, Weekly Times (Melbourne, Vic. : 1869 – 1954), 23 February, p. 15. , viewed 31 Jul 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article220542136

1895, The Bulletin, Vol. 16 No. 820 (2 Nov 1895), Sydney, N.S.W.: John Haynes and J.F. Archibald,  viewed 31 Jul 2020

1896 ‘BICYCLING FOR WOMEN.’, The Kyneton Observer (Vic. : 1856 – 1900), 10 October, p. 3., viewed 31 Jul 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article240666335

1896 ‘Pigeon Toes.’, National Advocate (Bathurst, NSW : 1889 – 1954), 18 February, p. 2. , viewed 31 Jul 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article156719650

1897 ‘THE BICYCLE AND DRESS.’, The Sunbury News and Bulla and Melton Advertiser (Vic. : 1892 – 1900), 28 August, p. 3. , viewed 31 Jul 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article66883484

1897 ‘THE BICYCLE FACE.’, Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 – 1904), 28 August, p. 32. , viewed 31 Jul 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article162380174

1896 ‘THE BICYCLE “HAND.”‘, Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), 9 November, p. 4. , viewed 31 Jul 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article135769784

1896 ‘WOMEN’S VIEWS.’, Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW : 1895 – 1930), 25 October, p. 8. , Access Date 31 Jul 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article130401002

1898 ‘CYCLING AND CYCLISTS.’, South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900), 22 October, p. 4. , viewed 31 Jul 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article56546749

1899 ‘A DRESS REFORMER.’, The Armidale Express and New England General Advertiser (NSW : 1856 – 1861; 1863 – 1889; 1891 – 1954), 13 June, p. 2. , viewed 31 Jul 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article193358559

Abrahams, J, 2015, Freewheeling to equality: how cycling helped women on the road to rights, The Guardian, Access Date 31 July 2020 https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/womens-blog/2015/jun/18/freewheeling-equality-cycling-women-rights-yemen-bicycle-liberation

Ehrhart, S.J,1895, The bicycle – the great dress reformer of the nineteenth century! Illus. from Puck, v. 37, no. 961, (1895 August 7), centerfold. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA, Access date, 31 July 2020, http://loc.gov/pictures/resource/ppmsca.29031/

Stromberg, J, 2015, “Bicycle face”: a 19th-century health problem made up to scare women away from biking, Vox Media, Access Date 30 July 2020,

https://www.vox.com/2014/7/8/5880931/the-19th-century-health-scare-that-told-women-to-worry-about-bicycle

Thorpe, JR, 2017, The Feminist History Of Bicycles, Bustle Digital Group, Access Date 30 July 2020,  https://www.bustle.com/p/the-feminist-history-of-bicycles-57455

Click HERE to find a fully resourced lesson at Amped Up Learning

Case 4: Nuclear Testing in Maralinga, The Cold War Arms Race, Podcast for History Students

Case 4: Children of the Dust Maralinga

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This is episode we will be investigating the nuclear testing that the British government performed on Australian soil in the 1950s and 60s and the impact that had on both the people involved and the environment.

I would like to acknowledge the Yugumbeh people, the traditional owners of the land from which this podcast is being recorded today.

Before we get into the testing in Australia, we have to go back in time to the end of World War II, so we can find out why the British felt the need to set off nuclear explosions in the Australian desert. And why the Australian government said, “Yeah sure mate, you can blow up your bombs in our back yard!”

Britain, the USA and the USSR- were in a grand alliance during WWII and they were having conferences to work out how they were going to conquer their common enemies Germany and of course Japan. This alliance has been referred to as a marriage of convenience and the relationship deteriorated shortly after the war ended. At these conferences, the allies struggled to agree on a bunch of issues related to resolving problems created by the war. At the final conference, on the 24th July 1945, the US President Harry S Truman, casually mentioned to the Soviet Leader Joseph Stalin, that the US had ‘a new weapon of unusual destructive force’. In Truman’s account of this conversation he says, “The Russian Premier showed no special interest. All he said was that he was glad to hear it and hoped we would make ‘good use of it against the Japanese.’” According to Stalin’s defence minister, in private, Stalin knew he was talking about an atomic weapon and was noted to have said, “We’ll have to speed things up.” Some historians argue that this apparently nonchalant exchange marks the beginning of the Nuclear Arms Race.

Others say that the race began with the Manhattan Project, which was the top-secret atomic bomb development program funded by the US government. In a culture of clandestine spies, and confidential communications, I imagine that it would be very hard to pinpoint the exact beginning of the arms race as reliable sources are probably few and far between. 

Less than 2 weeks after Truman and Stalin’s water cooler exchange at the Potsdam Conference, America dropped the world’s first atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima in Japan immediately killing an estimated 80 000 people. 3 days later a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.  

One of the physicists working on project was J. Robert Oppenheimer- often called the “Father of the Nuclear Bomb”. If you get an opportunity to look it up on YouTube, there’s some footage of him reflecting on the destructive force of the nuclear bomb. He looks almost haunted as he quotes Hindu scripture from the Bhagavad-Gita and says, ‘“Now I am become death, destroyer of worlds” I suppose we all thought that one way or another.’

As you can imagine the use of nuclear weapons, and fear of their destructive power created a political climate of anxiety and the race was on for countries to create their own nuclear weapons. And so, a frenzy of nuclear testing spread across the globe.

The US was testing bombs in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean and in Nevada. In 1949, the Soviet Union set off its first nuclear test and then went on to do hundreds more both above and below ground. In the 1960s both France and China joined in the testing race. However, today we will be looking at the United Kingdom’s Nuclear testing program that was conducted on Australian land, the gross misconduct of the tests and the shroud of secrecy that engulfed this testing program.

Digging Deeper

I was 10 years old when the Royal Commission into British Nuclear Testing in Australia occurred, and although in that very same year, I read a book which my first apocalyptic  nuclear fiction called “Children of the Dust”, I actually had no clue as to what had gone on in the real world in my country. As an Australian, I have caught the name Maralinga in my peripheral hearing, but it wasn’t until many years later, when I read Judy Nunn’s historical fiction “Maralinga”, that I realised the real life dystopia that that the Aboriginal people and the guinea pig soldiers lived through during the Cold War arms race.

In the early 1950s, the Prime Minister of Australia, Robert Menzies, received a request from the Prime Minister of England, Clement Attlee, requesting if Britain could conduct their nuclear weapons testing in Australia. Without so much as talking to the politicians in his cabinet or requesting any information or reports on the possible health or environmental risks, Menzies said yes, and even committed Australian servicemen to help the British carry out their tests. Thus, began the testing in Monte Bello Islands off the coast of Western Australia, and the 2 sites in South Australia, Emu Field and Maralinga.

Clearly, not a scientist, in a 1953 statement to the press, Menzies said “No conceivable injury to life, limb or property could emerge from the tests that have been made in Australia.” Hmmm. Not exactly sure how to respond to that one with my historical and scientific hindsight. But this is not the first nor the last time an Australian Prime Minister has said something dumbfoundingly uninformed.

Back to Maralinga, for thousands upon thousands of years the Ooldea Well had served as a sustainable water source for the Aboriginal people of the Nullarbor Plains, (The Nullarbor Plains is about the same size as Great Britain.) However, when a train was built to cross the Nullarbor in 1917, this thirsty piece of Industrial Revolution technology, managed to suck the water source dry in a matter of 20 years. Around this same time the government began to create missions or reserves to accommodate Aboriginal people who had been displaced from their land. 

In 1951, about 470 Aboriginal people were forcibly removed from their country around Maralinga and were taken to a mission at Ooldea.  Then in 1955 an area of about 3000 square kilometres, that’s about 7 times the size of my city the Gold Coast, was “secured” as a government atomic testing site. I use the word “secured” in the loosest of contexts. It was known by the government that Aboriginal people may be still living in the area, there was initially only one man appointed as patrol officer, and then later a second to secure this entire area, twice the size of the city of Hobart.  To have only two people patrolling an area that size and searching for a people who were familiar with the land and had been using this area as throughway for generations, was seemingly an arbitrary attempt at ensuring the safety of the local Aboriginal people.

There is even an account of a family who camped near the bomb crater for 7 months after the detonation and suffered still births, brain tumours and premature death. Many other Aboriginal people suffered sickness from coming into contact with the contaminated fallout in the area. But seriously, if a family can camp in a nuclear bomb crater for seven months without being noticed, then this demonstrates the ineffective level of care that was being taken to ensure human safety.

Frank Walker, investigative journalist and author of the book Maralinga: The Chilling Expose of Our Secret Nuclear Shame and Betrayal of Our Troops and Country says that there were many reports of the soldiers who were working at Maralinga, finding the corpses of Aboriginal people in the bush, but at the time these claims were denied vigorously by the Government. The troops were ordered, that they had never seen the corpses. Even though they had to bury them.

The Aboriginal people who did survive, have had a long history of health issues like cancer, lung and liver problems, and of course many of them died young.

The First Australians were not the only ones whose lives and health were disregarded in these nuclear experiments. Imagine being a soldier in the army present at a nuclear test, wearing just a uniform of shorts, a shirt and a hat and being told, “turn your back to the blast and push your palms into your eyes sockets”. Some RAAF airmen were ordered to fly through the mushroom cloud without protective clothing to conduct sampling. This was the experience of many of the 8000 personnel who worked at Maralinga during the testing.

Although, the Minister for Supply assured the newspapers of the time that the precautions guaranteed the safety of everyone in the village. Testimony of the soldiers present report that many soldiers were ordered into radioactive areas, before being taken back to camp to be hosed down and monitored. 

The press at the time seemed to take an almost whimsical air about the testing. One very short article accompanying a picture of an explosion states, “The device exploded at Maralinga assumes a ‘cabbage’ shape… before rearing upwards into the more familiar ‘mushroom’ shape.” Not exactly exemplar journalism and also not a super useful source for a historian exploring the effects of the nuclear testing.

Many of the decedents of the veterans who were exposed to radiation at Maralinga, were born illnesses including but not exclusively: tumours, d own syndrome, cleft palates, cerebral palsy, missing bones and heart disease. I did want to go into the Royal Commissions and court cases that have come about because of the 7 atomic bombs that were set off at Maralinga, but I like to keep this podcast snappier than this episode currently is, so that could be a rabbit hole for you to fall down.

The clean-up of Maralinga was dubbed, “Operation Brumby”. A Brumby- for those non-horsey people- is a breed of wild, free roaming Australian horses. It is kind of apt that they named the clean up after a wild horse, because it certainly was a haphazard and somewhat half-hearted clean-up operation. Some of the contaminated debris was buried in trenches and then covered with concrete. Other efforts included ploughing the nuclear contaminated soil back into the ground. Total dodgy brothers!

There has since been a $108million dollar rehabilitation program implemented and the test site was returned to the traditional owners in 2009.

The way that these tests eventually came to a stop was through the signing of the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty which prohibited the testing of nuclear weapons in outer space, the atmosphere or underwater. And so, the Doomsday Clock was able to move away from midnight that year and rest at a comfortable 12 minutes from midnight. For comparison, in 2020 the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists have the clock at 100 seconds to midnight, the closest it has ever been.

In terms of further viewing, I highly recommend the documentary on ABC iView Maralinga Tjarutja which goes further into the treatment and land rights of the Aboriginal people. And also the 6-part series Operation Buffalo which is a historical drama set at the testing site. However, it is rated M as there are a handful of saucy scenes and a bit of bloodshed. Oh, and search YouTube for some historical propaganda video footage of Operation Buffalo, you’ll see what a jolly old time was had by all.  Additionally, there is also an episode of Dark Tourist on Netflix called “The Stans” that I encourage you to track down, as it looks at the nuclear tests in Kazakhstan.

I would love to hear any suggestions for future episodes, so please get in contact. You can follow me on Twitter @HistoryDetect, Instagram @HistoryDetective9 or email me at historydetective9@gmail.com

Now I would like to play you a song that I wrote called Children of the Dust, a name inspired by the first post-apocalyptic nuclear fiction I read as a kid.

This Kelly Chase, on the Case.

Click HERE to find a fully resourced lesson at Amped Up Learning

Song Lyrics

Children of the Dust

F                      Dm      Am

My first breath was your legacy

your dust in my lungs

You left your signs behind telling me

You, you shall, shall not pass

Danger, keep out, this is ground zero

Danger fall out, we all fall down

F                                              Gm                  Am C

We are the children of the dust generation radioactive

F                                                                      Gm                  Am                               C

We are the one you left behind we are the ones you found to late we are the ones you never looked for

These scars were left to heal themselves

From the secrets you tried to hide

Your line of fire was drawn straight through me

Your legacy lingers still

Danger, keep out, this is ground zero

Danger fall out, we all fall down

F                                              Gm                  Am C

We are the children of the dust generation radioactive

F                                                                      Gm                  Am                   C

We are the one you left behind we are the ones you found to late we are the ones you never looked for

Danger, keep out, this is ground zero

Danger fall out, we all fall down

Reflection Questions

If you are a teacher or student, you will find reflection questions in the show notes. Additionally, a link to the website with the transcript, song lyrics and a list of references is also in the show notes.

  1. Although newspapers of the time are not particularly reliable, could they be considered as useful. Explain why or why not.
  2. Hypothesise why do you think the newspaper coverage was so superficial.
  3. Research the Royal Commission into British Nuclear Testing in Australia and summarise the findings.
  4. The Doomsday clock moved away from midnight after the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty. Explain what events have occurred since then to make the hands move closer to midnight, to the point that it is closer than ever now.
  5. What do you think was the motive of the Prime Minister in agreeing to nuclear testing in Australia without consultation with his cabinet?
  6. Research methods of nuclear debris disposal.
  7. In reference to Stalin and Truman’s conversation at the Potsdam conference. Explain the two perspectives of this same conversation.

Next time on History Detective, I know you have been waiting for it, I certainly have, we will look at the frightful malady afflicting free spirited female cyclists, bicycle face.

Episodes are released every fortnight, and if you liked what you heard and know someone who might enjoy History Detective too, please share it and don’t forget to subscribe.

Bibliography

1956 ‘Second Atomic Explosion at Maralinga’, The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995), 6 October, p. 3. , viewed 02 Aug 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article91224669

Browning D, and Behrendt, L, 2020, Surviving the fallout, Awaye!, Radio National, ABC, Access date, 17/7/2020, https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/awaye/surviving-the-fallout/12253564

CTBTO Preparatory Commission, 2012, The United Kingdom’s Nuclear Nesting Programme, Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Organization, Access date 17/7/2020,  https://www.ctbto.org/nuclear-testing/the-effects-of-nuclear-testing/the-united-kingdomsnuclear-testing-programme/

Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, 2003, Rehabilitation of former nuclear test sites at Emu and Maralinga (Australia) 2013, Australian Government, Access date, 17/7/2020, https://www.industry.gov.au/data-and-publications/rehabilitation-of-former-nuclear-test-sites-at-emu-and-maralinga-australia-2013

Donnison, J, 2014, Lingering impact of British nuclear tests in the Australian outback, BBC News, Access Date 17/7/2020https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-30640338

Editors of History.com, 2009, Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, A&E Television Networks, Access date 17/7/2020  https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/bombing-of-hiroshima-and-nagasaki

Grant, M. E, 1999, Aboriginal housing in remote South Australia : an overview of housing at Oak Valley, Maralinga Tjarutja, Mawson Graduate Centre for Environmental Studies , University of Adelaide, Access Date  17/7/2020, https://digital.library.adelaide.edu.au/dspace/handle/2440/39624

Green, H, 2013, The Manhattan Project, The SciShow on YouTube, Access Date, 17/7/2020  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4IqKdf6In_k

Green, J, 2001, Human guinea-pigs in the British N-tests in Australia, Nuclear Free Campaign, Friends of the Earth Australia, Access Date  17/7/2020, https://nuclear.foe.org.au/human-guinea-pigs-in-the-british-n-tests-in-australia/

Jansohn, U, F. 2015, President Truman And (The Challenge Of) The Potsdam Conference 1945, Lucknow Books.

National Archives of Australia, N.D. British nuclear tests at Maralinga, The Australian Government National Archives of Australia, Access date 17/7/2020 https://www.naa.gov.au/explore-collection/first-australians/publications-and-other-resources-about-first-australians/british-nuclear-tests-maralinga

National Museum of Australia, 2020, Maralinga, The National Museum of Australia is an Australian Government Agency, Access date, 17/7/2020, https://www.nma.gov.au/defining-moments/resources/maralinga#:~:text=Eight%20years%20later%2C%20in%20December,for%20contamination%20of%20the%20land.

Openheimer, J.R, 2011 J. Robert Oppenheimer: “I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” PlenilunePictures, Access Date  17/7/2020 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lb13ynu3Iac

Palin, M, 2016, GENERATIONS of Australians have suffered tumours, missing bones and early deaths. New documents reveals the full horror, News Pty Limited, Access date, 17/7/2020, https://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/health/health-problems/new-generations-of-australian-families-suffering-deformities-and-early-deaths-because-of-genetic-transfer/news-story/5a74b7eab2f433402aa00bc2fcbcbea4

Palmer, K., 1990. Dealing with the legacy of the past: Aborigines and atomic testing in South Australia. Aboriginal History, pp.197-207.http://press-files.anu.edu.au/downloads/press/p72191/pdf/article106.pdf

The Canberra Times, 1956, Maralinga Precautions Adequate, Australian Community Media, Access Date 17/7/2020, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/91222680?searchTerm=maralinga

The Daily Mercury, 1953, A-test Safe, The Mackay Printing and Publishing Company Pty Ltd, Access date, 17/7/2020, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/169661125?searchTerm=%22No%20conceivable%20injury%20to%20life%22#

Truman, H.S, 1945, Conversation on the Existence of the Bomb, Foreign Relations of the United States: Conference of Berlin (Potsdam), vol. 1, 378, Access date, 17/7/2020,

http://www.nuclearfiles.org/menu/library/correspondence/truman-harry/corr_truman_1945-07-24.htm

Walker F, 2017, Aboriginal Maralinga nuclear test victims healthcare measures ‘long overdue and totally inadequate’, The World Today, ABC, Access date, 17/7/2020, http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2016/s4665857.htm

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Case 3: Hōjō Masako the Nun Shogun, Podcast for History Students

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Case 3: Behind Every Warrior

Before there was the Warrior Nun on Netflix, there was Hōjō Masako, “Shogun Nun”, who was the wife of the very first shogun of Japan and a formidable political activist. After her hubby died, she shaved her head, and became a nun, but she continued to hold political sway until her death at 69 years of age, outliving her husband and 4 children.

Story time

The reason I selected Masako as a topic, was because I was teaching a unit on Shogunate Japan and found a resource online where the students were to do an assignment about a significant person of the time, and they provided a list to choose from. But then I realised, that none of the options on the list were women, surely there was at least one woman in this almost 700-year period who rated a mention. I checked the textbooks available and nothing. Just like a Japanese Cormorant bird diving in to catch a fish, I dove into Google and came up with Hōjō Masako and today I will regurgitate my findings to you.

If you are wondering why I am using such an odd metaphor. Cormorant fishing is a traditional Japanese practice where fishermen train birds to dive into the river to catch fish, they have a necklace on so they can’t swallow the fish and when the bird comes to the surface, the fisherman collects the fish from the bird’s throat.  When I was living in Gifu, Japan, I went on a cormorant fishing dinner cruise where we watched the traditional fishermen and then a chef on board our boat cooked up a feast from their catch. I was a bit perturbed and felt sad for the birds, but my local friends were very proud to show me this tradition that had been around for 1300 years.

Back to our shogun nun. Hōjō Masako, the wife of the first Japanese shogun, was an incredibly significant woman, who helped fight against the imperial family to keep the shogun government in a position of power.

Before we get into Masako’s story, we need to understand the system of government. I know that politics doesn’t light everyone’s world on fire, but these politicians had samurai swords, so it makes it a little bit cooler.

Just before the period we are looking at, Japan was divided into clans, and every good clan leader needed some samurai to make sure they could keep control of their lands. Samurai means “one who serves” and over time they developed a code of ethics, the bushido code, and became warriors highly skilled in martial arts and their everyday carry was quite a lethal cache of high-quality swords.

There were emperors in power, and they were believed to be descended from the gods, the Sun goddess in fact. The royals would hang out in their luxurious court and leave the day to day running of the country to advisors and minsters. While the emperor was writing poetry and doing calligraphy in his fancy palace in Kyoto, outside there were civil wars breaking out between clans.

And this is where our heroine’s hubby comes in. It was the year 1185 and there was a new made up job that popped up, Shogun, and that just means military leader or general. Masako’s husband, or Minamoto no Yoritomo became the first shogun and introduced a new system of government. This system was meant to be temporary, but it hung around for about 700 years. Yoritomo set his government up in a place called Kamakura, which is why the first shogunate is called the Kamakura shogunate. He then set up military leaders in the different provinces all over Japan and implemented a feudal system of government.

But enough about Yoritomo, he gets enough press, let’s meet Hōjō Masako the shadow shogunate leader.

Digging Deeper

As a young girl Masako was a tomboy, enjoying horse riding, hunting and fishing. I know I am getting off track early, but I just learned the etymology of the word tomboy which originally meant a rude and boisterous boy. The word later made the shift to meaning a wild girl who acts like a boy. See how my brain works, sometimes I can barely write a sentence without following a word down a rabbit hole.

Masako’s mother died when she was in her late teens and she had to take on the household duties. Her dad went to Kyoto for 3 years to work on guard duty for the emperor and while he was there, he remarried a woman who was the same age as his daughter Masako. Awkward.

Also, while he was away, this was when Masako started canoodling with her future husband. Yoritomo was living in exile in the province since his family had been killed by a rival clan leader. When her dad came back and found out about this relationship, he was livid- he wanted her to marry another guy who would strengthen the family’s position. But Masako knew what she wanted on the evening of her arranged wedding to this other guy, she crept away in the middle of the night and hid in a mountain temple with her boyfriend Yoritomo and was guarded by warrior monks until her dad begrudgingly gave his consent for their union. That’s the stuff rom coms are made of.

There were a bunch of civil clan wars going on at the time, and eventually Masako, her dad and husband banded together to become victorious by wiping out a rival clan. This was about the time that the new shogun feudal system that I mentioned earlier was being set up.

In 1199, her husband died, it was traditional at the time for widowed women to shave their head and become a nun. She did shave her head and wear a habit. However, she did not live in the nunnery, instead she kept her finger in the political pie.

When the first shogun Yoritomo died, as this job was set up to be an inherited position, her eldest son Yoriie was in line to be the next shogun. The thing is, he was not quite old enough- he was only 17. Masako formed a council of elders to rule on his behalf this included her father, Yoriie’s grandfather. Her son a now powerless hormonal teenage shogun, was peeved and started running his mouth off about killing his grandfather. Alarm bells rang about Yoriie’s competence as a shogun and after only a year, she kicked him out of the job, put him into exile and placed her 11year old second son, Sanetomo in the position of the shogun. Being only 11, of course Masako, our nun shogun was again ruling as regent.

After 2 years of this, her dad, remember how he married a woman the same age as Masako, well they had a son and, her dad had hatched a plan to replace the shogun with his own son. Masako was not having a bar of this and sent her dad into exile to live in a monastery. Phew, so much political and family intrigue.

It doesn’t stop there, remember how Masako had exiled her first son, before he died, he bore 4 children and one of those boys grew up to become a Buddhist monk with a grudge. One day, after Shogun Sanetomo was on his way back from a ceremony, Yoriie’s angry monk son, assassinated his shogun uncle. One source says that he sprung out from behind a ginko tree to do the deed. That means that Masako’s grandson from her first son, murdered her second son. And that marked the end of the Minamoto line, but not the end of Masako’s political influence.

After her son’s death, Masako travelled to Kyoto and appointed the 4th shogun, a one year old relative of her husband. The Emperor thought this might be a good time to try and get back control of the country, but Masako and the Hōjō clan managed to rally warriors and she continued to rule in the capacity of a regent until her death.

I would love to hear any suggestions for future episodes, so please get in contact. You can follow me on Twitter @HistoryDetect, Instagram @HistoryDetective9 or email me at historydetective9@gmail.com

Now I would like to play you a song that I wrote which was inspired by our nun shogun. Please note that in the lyrics I use the word, warrior instead of general or shogun. To be honest it just had a nicer ring to it, and that is why songs aren’t always the most reliable of sources, but they are fun to write.

This Kelly Chase, on the Case.

Click HERE to find a fully resourced lesson at Amped Up Learning

Song Lyrics

Behind every warrior (Dropped D Tuning)

D A7 Bm7 A7

D A7 D5 D

Behind every warrior

Is the best laid plans

Behind every warrior

A woman stands

Just try and make me, marry that man

I’ll take my destiny into my own hands

Behind every warrior

Is the best laid plans

Behind every warrior

A woman stands

I won’t let this family lose its place

I won’t let this name lose face

Behind every warrior

Is the best laid plans

Behind every warrior

A woman stands

If you try to do anything to my clan

You’ll find wolf dressed up like a lamb

Behind every warrior

Is the best laid plans

Behind every warrior

A woman stands

You can dress me down and cut of all my hair

But I am strong enough I’ll rule from back there

Behind every warrior

Is the best laid plans

Behind every warrior

A woman stands

Reflection Questions

If you are a teacher or student, you will find reflection questions in the show notes. Additionally, a link to the website with the transcript, song lyrics and a list of references is also in the show notes.

(Find transcript here) https://history-detective.simplecast.com/

  1. Have you ever studied a topic where there have been very few stories about the women present?
  2. Considering women generally make up 50% of the population, should we be sharing more stories about women?
  3. How have ideas about women in leadership changed over time?
  4. Are their ideas about women in leadership from the past that are still carried on today?
  5. What is your opinion on hereditary leadership positions? Should these positions be inherited or earned? Justify your point of view.
  6. What are the ethical issues surrounding seeking revenge for wrongs done to another family member? Can you think of instances of this behaviour in modern society?
  7. Can songs and films be a reliable source of historical information? How would you corroborate the information presented in a creative interpretation?

Next time on History Detective

Next time on History Detective, we will investigate the impact of the nuclear testing that occurred in Australian desert during the Cold War arms race.

Episodes are released every fortnight, and if you liked what you heard and know someone who might enjoy History Detective, please share it and don’t forget to subscribe, you will find me on Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

Bibliography

Cengage, 2020, Hōjo Masako (1157–1225), Encyclopedia.com, Access Date 8 July 2020,

https://www.encyclopedia.com/women/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hojo-masako-1157-1225

Deal, W, 2006, Handbook to Life in Medieval and Early Modern Japan, Oxford University Press, New York.

King, E, 2017, A Short History of the Tomboy, The Atlantic, Access Date 8 July 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/01/tomboy/512258/#:~:text=When%20the%20term%20%E2%80%9Ctomboy%E2%80%9D%20first,acts%20like%20a%20spirited%20boy.%E2%80%9D

Mowry-Robins, D. 2019, The Hidden Sun: Women Of Modern Japan, Routledge, New York

Mulhern, C, Ed. 1991, Heroic with Grace, Legendary Women of Japan, Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, London and New York.

National Geographic, 2020, Aug 21, 1192 CE: First Shogunate in Japan, Resource Library, This Day In Geographic History, Access Date 8 July 2020, https://www.nationalgeographic.org/thisday/aug21/first-shogunate-japan/

New World Encyclopedia, N.D, Hojo Masako, New World Encyclopedia, Access Date 8 July 2020,https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Hojo_Masako#Death.2C_Corruption.2C_and_Familial_Strife_.281199-1205.29

New World Encyclopedia, N.D, Minamoto no Yoritomo, New World Encyclopedia, Access Date 8 July 2020, https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Minamoto_no_Yoritomo

Ong, R, 2020, Cormorant Fishing (Ukai), Japan Guide, Access Date 8 July 2020 https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2426.html

Reece, L, 2019, Samurai Sisters: Early Feudal Japan, Women in World History
Curriculum Showcase, Access Date 8 July 2020 http://www.womeninworldhistory.com/sample-08.html

Seal, F,W. N.D. Hōjō Masako 1156-1225, The Samurai Archives Japanese History Page, Access Date 8 July 2020, https://www.samurai-archives.com/masako.html

Seal, F,W. 2019, Minamoto no Sanetomo, The Samurai Archives Wiki, Access Date 8 July 2020, http://wiki.samurai-archives.com/index.php?title=Minamoto_no_Sanetomo

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Case 2: The Ethics of Archaeology, Mungo Man, Podcast for History Students

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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander listeners are warned that the following podcast transcript contains descriptions of deceased Indigenous persons. AndI would like to acknowledge the Yugumbeh people, the traditional owners of the land from which this podcast is being recorded today.

For a few hundred years, historians had a vague idea of how long Aboriginal people had lived in Australia. Estimations of a few thousand years were generally accepted, but then the discovery of one body, forever changed the way that we thought about Australian history. That body belonged to none other than Mungo Man.

I assume he had another name, but as we will never know his true name and because I love alliteration, today we will refer to him as Mungo Man.

Lake Mungo is located in New South Wales, and according to Google Maps it’s about an 11-hour drive West from Sydney, or 46 hours if you wanted to ride a bike, that would be sure to give you a serious case of bicycle face, but that is a story for another episode.

In 1974, a geologist Dr Jim Bowler discovered the bones of Mungo Man. This wasn’t the first time that he had found bones in this area. In fact, 6 years before, he had found some bones protruding from lunette– which is a kind of sand dune that has hardened into clay.

One year after finding the original bones, he decided to enlist the help of some professional archaeologists and they excavated the bones and tested them to determine that they belonged to a female who had been cremated.

The very fact that this was identified as a cremation was significant because it became the oldest known cremation in the world.

So, in 1974, after some particularly heavy rainfall, our afore mentioned geologist, Jim Bowler, was riding on his motorbike when he saw part of a white skull poking out from the soil. He had found another skeleton… but this time it was a male.  

How do you know the difference between a male and a female skeleton? Well usually, the main way archaeologists can tell is by is the pelvis. Quite simply, a female pelvis must be wide enough to fit a baby’s head through during childbirth. If you are brave enough, do a Google image search and you will see a clear difference.

There are a few other factors such as skull shape, height- that can be estimated from the length of the other bones, bone density and finger length. Unfortunately, due to deterioration, the skull and pelvis were not in great shape, after all the skeleton was more than 40 000 years old and scientists had to use postcranial measurements to determine the sex.

FYI, postcranial just means all the bones other than the skull. Mungo Man clocked in at about 170cm tall or 5 ft 6, and he was about 50 years old. I know that doesn’t seem too tall to be a woman in our modern society, but 40 000 year ago, women just simply didn’t get that tall, in fact, at 157cm, I probably would have been a giant lady.

Back to our motorbike riding 70s geologist, now that the bones had been discovered, the question was what to do with them?  

This is where we get into some moral and ethical questions about what to do with human remains that are dug up in archaeological excavations and this particular case creates a conundrum. The scientific carbon dating on these human remains was able to date Australian Aboriginal culture back more than 40 000 years at the time.  This was a hugely significant discovery.

There is a plethora of articles that refer to this scientific discovery as re-writing history. However, what I have found particularly difficult to find out in researching this episode is, exactly how old historians thought Aboriginal culture was before this point. And that is exactly why I love history, because the deeper you fall down the rabbit hole, the more mysteries there are to uncover.

My current hypothesis is that to historians and scientists, it possibly wasn’t even an area that was being studied in any great depth. To Australian academics, history would have been Ancient Egypt and Ancient Rome, and not their own back yard.

Additionally, because in the 1960s, Aboriginal children were still being taken from their families by the government, and Aboriginal people were only just counted as citizens in the census and fighting the right to vote, the issue of equality was a much more pressing concern.

See how easy it is to fall into the information vortex! Back to the moral and ethical dilemmas. At the time there was some opposition by Aboriginal groups, not wanting scientists to take the bones away from their resting place and the bones were taken without the permission of the local elders. However, the discoveries from both Mungo Man and his distant relative Mungo Lady changed both the scientific and historical perspectives on the extent of Aboriginal culture in Australia.

 With this discovery, the door of Australian history was flung open to reveal one of the oldest continuing cultures on earth. So, wow! As the articles say, history was rewritten, and the academic field of Ancient Australian Aboriginal History was kickstarted.

The only problem was that after studying the bones, they were kept in a storeroom at the university, much to the distress of the traditional owners of the land. On the one hand, science had opened the window and allowed Aboriginal Australia to be recognised, but on the other hand, human remains were not being treated respectfully.

For a long time, archaeologists and anthropologists have a very dark history of looting and there are many stories of museums refusing to return stolen human remains and other artefacts to their rightful owners.

This story does have a resolution, in 2017 Mungo Man’s bones were returned to his decedents on his country in a ceremony -in other words repatriated. But because of erosion they were unable to be reburied. They are now kept safely back on country.

However, these were just one set of human bones that have been repatriated.

Mungo Man’s remains were discovered accidentally and have been able to go home, but there is a much darker side to the repatriation story.

A Dark Turn

Many of the bones of the First Peoples that are housed in museums, not generally on display, but in a storage room, are the spoils of the very gruesome and violent pastime of bone collecting and trade for the sake of anthropology. In order for early museums to acquire the bones, unscrupulous men would rob graves, some doctors would take bodies from mortuaries, prisons, hospitals and asylums; wherever they could get their hands-on human remains. Journalist Paul Daley wrote of the practice, he says “Their bodies were cut up for parts that became sought-after antiquities in colonial homesteads across Australia and in cultural, medical and educational institutions.”

I found a newspaper report on the Trove website from 1903 about a Dr Ramsay Smith who was suspended from his job and went on trial for his shocking corpse related crimes. The newspaper says, “the accusations deal with the alleged mutilations of dead bodies and clandestine exhumations.” I can’t even fathom the idea.

I remember in my early travels in the UK, and a travel guide was touting the eccentricities of the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, they discussed the shrunken heads on display. I am ashamed to say, that I didn’t even think about the ethics of having human heads in a display case, or the stories behind how these remains came to be on display.

 I didn’t think about what might be hidden in the back rooms or who the remains might rightly belong to. To be honest I knew nothing about the atrocities of Australian history, I was taught in the era of “Three Cheers for Australia”. Needless to say, I have come a long way since then. In fact, it was on that very plane ride back home, I was reading a travelogue about Australia by an American author when I first read about the massacres that had been inflicted on the Aboriginal people and I started to think, I have some very real gaps in my education. But that a story for future episode.

One of the articles I read while researching, said that in the Indigenous Repatriation Program, more than 1200 of the remains that have been returned to country have come from the UK and I am sure there are many more in gruesome hidden stockpiles that have yet to be returned. But the positive    news is that as of November 2019 more than 1600 Aboriginal ancestors have come home.

This Kelly Chase, on the Case.

Click HERE to find a fully resourced lesson at Amped Up Learning

Song Lyrics

These Old Bones

Capo 1- C, G, D, Am…Chorus + C, G

I lay alone here,

for what seemed like 40 000 years

Now my story has been told

These old bones are getting cold

Chorus

These old bones, just wanna go home

These old bones, shouldn’t be alone

These old bones, just wanna go home

Time has passed

The lake is now bone dry

All the people

Have long since said goodbye

15 million times I’ve seen the sunrise

I don’t want to compromise

Now my story has been told

These old bones are getting cold

Chorus

These old bones, just wanna go home

These old bones, shouldn’t be alone

These old bones, just wanna go home

Your microscope has told you

Everything you need to know

Maybe my flesh has gone away

But my soul is still here

In this country

Even after all of these years

Chorus

These old bones, just wanna go home

These old bones, shouldn’t be alone

These old bones, just wanna go home

(Transition music🎼)

Reflection Questions

  1. In what cases would it be acceptable to keep human remains in a museum, either on display or in storage?
  2. What should scientists do with human bones once they have studied them?
  3. Thinking about your own life, if someone dug up the bones of your ancestors, would you like them to be returned to where they come from, or would you prefer them to help scientists discover more about your past?
  4. Research the methods that scientists use to date bones.
  5. Explain the significance of the discovery of Mungo Man?
  6. Have you learned something about history that has changed the way you think?

Bibliography

Bugos, C, 2019, Website Provides Blueprint for Repatriating Aboriginal Remains, Smithsonian Magazine, Access Date 5 July 2020, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/website-provides-blueprint-repatriating-aboriginal-remains-1-180973323/

Burden, G, 2018, The violent collectors who gathered Indigenous artefacts for the Queensland Museum, NITV, Access Date 4 July 2020https://www.sbs.com.au/nitv/nitv-news/article/2018/05/29/violent-collectors-who-gathered-indigenous-artefacts-queensland-museum

1903 ‘DR. RAMSAY SMITH’S SUSPENSION.’, Port Pirie Recorder and North Western Mail (SA : 1898 – 1918), 15 August, p. 3. , Access Date 05 Jul 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article95302567

Daley, P, (2017), Finding Mungo Man: the moment Australia’s story suddenly changed, The Guardian,Access Date 18/5/2020  https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/nov/14/finding-mungo-man-the-moment-australias-story-suddenly-changed

Daley, P, 2014, The bone collectors: a brutal chapter in Australia’s past, The Guardian: Australian Edition, Access Date 4/7/2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/14/aboriginal-bones-being-returned-australia

Durband, A,  Rayner, D, Westaway, M, 2009, A new test of the sex of the Lake Mungo 3 skeleton, Archaeology in Oceania, Volume 44, Number 2 / July 2009 Oceania Publications, Access date 6/7/2020 https://archive.is/20120711162814/http://oceania.metapress.com/content/40431866327877q0/

Hawley, S, (2019) London’s Natural History Museum returns Aboriginal remains to elders, ABC News, Access Date 5 July 2020, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-03-27/aboriginal-ancestral-remains-handed-over-by-london-museum/10943254

Lawless, J et al. (2008) Unlocking the past: preliminary studies in the ancient world, 2nd ed. Nelson, South Melbourne

McGregor, L. (2018) Mungo Man: What to do next with Australia’s oldest human remains? Australian Story, ABC News, Access Date 18/5/2020 https://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2018-02-12/mungo-man-what-to-do-next-with-australias-oldest-remains/9371038?pfmredir=sm

Perrottet, T.  2019 A 42,000-year-old man finally goes home, Smithsonian Magazine, Access Date, 18/5/2020 https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/mungo-man-finally-goes-home-180972835/

Russell-Cook, M and Russel, L, 2016, Museums are returning indigenous human remains but progress on repatriating objects is slow, The Conversation: Australian Edition,Access Date 5 July 2020 https://theconversation.com/museums-are-returning-indigenous-human-remains-but-progress-on-repatriating-objects-is-slow-67378

Stockwell, S, 2018, The quest to remove Aboriginal remains from museums, Triple J Hack, ABC, Access Date 5 July 2020, https://www.abc.net.au/triplej/programs/hack/the-quest-to-remove-aboriginal-remains-from-museums/10497952

Webb, S,(N.D) Mungo Man and Lady, Visit Mungo National Park, Access Date, 18/5/2020 http://www.visitmungo.com.au/who-was-mungo-man,

Click HERE to find a fully resourced lesson at Amped Up Learning

Case 1: The Sepoy Rebellion: Lakshmi Bai Queen of Jhansi, Podcast for High School Students

Listen to the full podcast episode here:

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If you do a Google image search of Lakshmibai you will see a fierce Indian woman dressed in a man’s uniform, with her son strapped to her back, holding a sword and leading a charge against British soldiers. This was Lakshmibai, Queen of Jhansi and what I want to investigate today is what happened to cause this dramatic turn of events.

To understand how this happened, we have to go back to the very first globalised company, before Google, before Coca Cola there was the British East India Company. This company started as a group of merchants joining together to create a trading monopoly in the East Indies. They eventually expanded their trade to many countries including China and India.

Look there is probably about 20 hours of history and backstory contained in those last 2 sentences, but our story starts a little later down the track.

So, the British East India Company became a morally corrupt ruling powerhouse within India. Europe was in the midst of an Industrial Revolution and the resources that India could contribute to these burgeoning industries were helping to line the pockets of the East India traders with silk and gems.

The main way that they were able to begin to control India was through the use of private security forces which later formed into private armies. Remember, an army is generally used by countries for protection, not by private companies. Imagine, if KFC just decided to start an army- well, he is a Colonel so I suppose that might be legit. Anyway, these armies were not made up of British soldiers, they hired Indian soldiers who were of different faiths including Muslim and Hindu.

This brings us to the matter of religion. The British East India company brought their Christianity with them and missionaries attempt to converted and civilise the Hindu and Muslim soldiers and the wider population.

Another policy that the British had introduced was the Doctrine of Lapse. A doctrine is an official government policy and the British East India Company thought they were the government. If an Indian ruler died and did not have a male heir, then the British could swoop in and annex or take possession of that state. And this is where Rani of Jhansi comes in, but before we meet her, let’s do a brief introduction on the what is known as Sepoy Rebellion, the Indian Mutiny or the First Indian War of Independence.

The trigger that is said to have sparked the rebellion is the introduction by the British East India Company Army of a new Enfield rifle that required a special cartridge (which is the bullet packaging). In order to load the cartridge into the gun, the soldiers were required to go through a process that involved biting the top of the paper cartridge. I am not a rifle expert, but I am sure if you want to get more specific details on the rifle and the cartridge loading, there will be somewhere on the internet you can find out the finer points.

The problem developed, when rumours arose that the cartridges were greased with the fat of pigs and cows.

In a predominantly Hindu and Muslim culture, where cows are sacred and pigs are forbidden to be eaten, this is a big problem. I say rumour, but in some sources, it is stated as fact, that is why it is important to find out from what perspective a source is written from.

The “biting of the bullet” was seen as an affront to the religious beliefs of the soldiers, coupled with the Christian missionaries trying to convert the population, the soldiers refused to use the cartridge, feeling that Christianity was being shoved down their throats.

 Some of the soldiers were punished and the Sepoy Rebellion against the British Imperialists began to spread across the country. This was a large-scale uprising and there was much violence and bloodshed that occurred on both sides. But let’s get back to our heroine Lakshmibai, Rani of Jhansi.

Rani means queen in Hindi and Jhansi is a historic Indian city of which Lakshmibai was the Queen. Let me begin with a terrible spoiler, Lakshmibai died at the tender age of 29. However, she left such an impression, that in India there are statues, songs, films and TV shows about her. In contrast, in many modern Western texts about the Sepoy Rebellion, she barely rates a mention.

Lakshmibai was born in 1828    – with a different name, she was renamed after she got married- and when she was 4 years old her mother died and she was raised by her father and learned horse riding, martial arts, sword fighting and archery. This was apparently unusual for girls at the time and in the Brahaman caste. She was married in 1842 to the Maharaja of Jhansi. She was 14 years old at the time and the Maharaja was in his mid-40s. It is easy to look at back at the past with a modern lens, but fourteen was the accepted age of marriage for the time. In fact, in Australia in 1892-which is 50 years later, a feminist called Rose Scott, tried to have the age of consent in Australia raised from 14 to 16 and the idea was laughed out of parliament.

Back to our heroine Lakshmibai. In 1851, when she was 23 years old, she gave birth to a son, but sadly he only lived for 4 months. 2 years later, her husband and her decided to adopt an heir- the maharaja’s cousin’s son. One day later her husband died. And this is where the afore mentioned Doctrine of Lapse comes into play. To remind you, if an Indian ruler died and didn’t have an heir the British would claim ownership of the state.

Although it was the custom of Indian rulers to adopt a son if they did not have a male heir, there was a special clause written into the doctrine by the British Governor-General of India, that said adopted sons could not become rulers, only inherit the property. This challenged a long tradition of Indian rulers and completely dismissed their authority over their own state.

In 1857, the Sepoy Rebellion had broken out and in 1858 the British forces attacked, and Lakshmibai, Rani of Jhansi formed an army of men and women to defend against the British.

The British soldiers eventually overpowered the defenders, but not before Lakshmibai made a final charge. This is the charge from which the famous image of her on horseback wearing men’s clothing, with her son strapped to her back and wielding a sword is said to be drawn from. Some sources depict him as a baby, and some texts refer to him as an infant, but digging a little deeper he was born in 1851, which would make him about 7 or 8 years old.

She escaped that night and fled to a neighbouring town where she continued to help in the resistance against the British. A few days later, while fighting on horseback, she was mortally wounded. She did not want the British to capture her body, so she asked a local hermit to cremate her body after she died.

My favourite description of her is by Vishnubhat Godse a poor Brahmin priest who stayed at the Jhansi court during the Sepoy Rebellion. He says, “Her two qualities worth mentioning are her bravery and her generosity.

 Mostly, she was dressed in male attire. She used to wear a pajama with a vest of dark purple colour. On her head she wore a turban like cap. On her waist would be a cloth in which she tucked her sword. Ever since her husband died, she had given up wearing the nath (which is nose ring worn by married women) and other such ornaments except gold bangles on her wrists…

She was very fond of physical exercises. At the break of dawn, she would get up and exercise on a Mallakhamb pole for 45 minutes. After that she would take a round or two on her elephant.

I suggest you do a YouTube search of a Mallakhamb pole, it is kind of like yoga on a pole. 45 minutes of pole yoga every morning, she must have been incredibly fit. I love this description, it paints such a vivid image of what she wore and I especially love the elephant riding at the end.

I went down a bit of a rabbit hole in researching this episode. I came across a text called The Rani of Jhansi: Gender, History, and Fable in India, and the author Harleen Singh mentions four early British novels that depict Lakshmibai as a shameless jezebel, a temptress who sexually coerced the British colonials. Interesting how this early British perspective on her is vastly different to how she is represented today.

In India, she is remembered as a symbol of resistance against the British, a warrior and fighter, and a woman who stood up to the oppressors and fought to save her people.

I would love to hear any suggestions for future episodes, so please get in contact. You can follow me on Twitter @HistoryDetect, Instagram @HistoryDetective9 or email me at historydetective9@gmail.com

Now I would like to play you a song that I wrote which was inspired by Lakshmibai, Rani of Jhansi. It is called “Bite the Bullet”.

A bit of a side note, the expression “Bite the Bullet”, which means to do something difficult regardless, was first used in print by the author of The Jungle Book, Rudyard Kipling in an 1891 novel. Kipling was born in India, educated in England and later returned to India. There are some theories about the etymology or origin of the phrase, but I like the hypothesis that it originated from the Sepoy Rebellion.

This Kelly Chase, on the Case.

Click HERE to find a fully resourced lesson at Amped Up Learning

Reflection Questions:

  1. What is the difference between the words mutiny and rebellion?
  2. Why would the British textbooks refer to it as the Indian Mutiny and Indian perspectives the Sepoy Rebellion or the First War of Independence?
  3. Why do you think that Lakshmibai is celebrated in Indian culture, but barely mentioned in the modern Western History books about the Sepoy Rebellion?
  4. Why would early Western novels depict her as a seductress and jezebel?
  5. Why do you think paintings depict her son as an infant?
  6. How useful are songs in telling stories of the past?
  7. From whose perspective is the song written?
  8. How might you check the reliability of a song?

Bite the Bullet Song Lyrics

I bite the bullet for my son

You sit there sipping your tea

Looking like you rule the world

Yeah you expect it all for free

My revenge will soon be unfurled

You say civilise

I say oppression

You say mutiny

I say rebellion

You say jezebel

I say heroine

You’ve taken everything I love

And forced me to swallow your divinity

Now I’m taking off my gloves

I will reveal my masculinity

You say civilise

I say oppression

You say mutiny

I say rebellion

You say jezebel

I say heroine

I bite the bullet for my son

I bite the bullet for my people

I bite the bullet for the cause

I bite the bullet for me

Reference List

BBC, 2006, The Origins of the Indian Mutiny, Episode 49, The Sceptred Isle: Empire a 90 part history of the British Empire, BBC Radio 4, Access Date 5 July 2020,

https://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/history/empire/episodes/episode_49.shtml

Blakemore, E, 2019, How the East India Company became the world’s most powerful business, National Geographic, Access Date 5 July 2020, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/culture/topics/reference/british-east-india-trading-company-most-powerful-business/

Byju’s: The Learning App, 2020, Doctrine of Lapse – NCERT Notes for UPSC Modern Indian History, Access Date 5 July 2020, https://byjus.com/free-ias-prep/ncert-notes-doctrine-of-lapse/

Daily Hunt, 2019, How Rani Lakshmi Bai Died? Daily Hunt, Bengaluru https://m.dailyhunt.in/news/india/english/lifeberrys+english-epaper-lifebeen/how+rani+lakshmi+bai+died-newsid-76633183

Dash, M, 2012, Pass it on: The Secret that Preceded the Indian Rebellion of 1857, The Smithsonian Magazine, Access Date 5 July 2020, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/pass-it-on-the-secret-that-preceded-the-indian-rebellion-of-1857-105066360/

Gould, W, 2016, Five-pound history lesson: animal fat and the British empire’s biggest revolt, The Conversation: Australian Edition, Access Date 5 July 2020,https://theconversation.com/five-pound-history-lesson-animal-fat-and-the-british-empires-biggest-revolt-70004

National Army Museum, N.D. Why did the Indian Mutiny happen? National Army Museum, Chelsea, Access Date 5 July 2020, https://www.nam.ac.uk/explore/why-did-indian-mutiny-happen

Potholm, C, 2015, War Wisdom: A Cross-Cultural Sampling, University Press of America, UK

Singh, H, 2014, The Rani of Jhansi: Gender, History, and Fable in India, Cambridge University Press, India

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2020, Lakshmi Bai, Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Access Date 5 July 2020, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Lakshmi-Bai

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2020, Indian Mutiny, Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Access Date 5 July 2020, https://www.britannica.com/event/Indian-Mutiny

Click HERE to find a fully resourced lesson at Amped Up Learning