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Analyzing Historical Documents

Info: 2393 words (10 pages) Essay
Published: 17th Aug 2018 in History

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The document is an account of the Allied defeat in Norway, owing to what is known as the “Phony War” phase of World War II (WWII) wherein Britain and France went on the defense instead of engaging the Germans on the Western front. The document also outlines the now-reviled outcome of the European policy of German appeasement in the skirmishes leading up to the war. It details the failure of the infamous British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in curbing German aggression, especially after the Allied loss of Scandinavia in the 1940s. The voice of the document’s author is one that was far too muted in the onset of the war; it laments Europe and Britain’s underestimation of German capabilities and the situation on the ground.

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Following the invasion of Poland on September 1st, 1939, most of the Allied forces were slow to react. Britain and France were the only two nations in Western Europe to attack Germany right away; the Soviets had actually gone as far as to sign a treaty of non-aggression with the Nazis, welcomed by Hitler as a means of consolidating the war into a single European front. European general appeasement of Germany was shocking; even the Scandinavians who would later fall under the flag of the swastika did not venture to defend themselves. With the exception of what would become the dominated Norwegian armies, Scandinavia fell despite British and French aide. European inaction and failure to mobilize cost the Allies dearly, with Germany easily able to repel the French and send the Allied forces reeling. The reluctance of Europeans to answer the call to war was lamented by scholars throughout the continent, but was accentuated by the fact that none of the countries attempted to stop Germany until the Nazis came within striking distance. The British were especially awed by German military prowess as most of the German conquests were by land and air, avoiding the powerful British navy.

The document’s speaker is harshly critical of what it perceived as European self-obstruction, pointing towards the British Prime Minister’s attempts to control the damage done to his reputation. Defending the outcome of the German sacking of Scandinavia, the British Prime Minister “gave a reasoned argumentative case for failure,” citing heavy German losses as a sort of ironic victory in defeat. The speaker first chides the Prime Minister as wars are not “won by explanation of an event” but rather decisive “and swift action.” Lamenting the talks in which Europe took part, the speaker’s voice is harshly critical of the Prime Minister’s touting of a victory that was not, in his/her eyes, significant in the least. The Scandinavian front was the last in which Britain could effectively make significant use of its Navy, its most powerful military branch. The document continues to call for a swift change in government as “wartime leaders” are not good in peace and vice versa. The speaker claims that the “duty of the government” is to exhibit the kind of leadership necessary to “win a war” rather than simply deconstruct why it failed. While the speaker is assured that “procrastination” is a “virtue” in politics, he argues that peacetime lawmakers do not understand its damning effect in war.

The document is a remarkably reliable historical source as it goes into the foreign policy aspect of WWII, which is largely ignored in most historical accounts of the war that involve significant military victories or successful rebellions. The disgust the speaker has for the appeasement policies of his own government, in addition to the inability exhibited by the Prime Minister once he actually assumed a military state was an insurmountable affront to the war effort and the desire of peace throughout the land. Document A is also important is it predicates the ascension of Churchill to a combination of both military and political failures.

The document is perhaps the more important to the student of history than the other two, for the specific reason that it touches on so many different dimensions of history, from the military to that of the political and the greater good. Not only does document deconstruct the military inefficacies in the first part of the war, but it also shows the pivotal point of British victory to the instatement of a more hawkish administration than that of the appeasement-endorsing Chamberlain leadership.


The document is a British song about the escalating events in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877, which found Britain in an unconventional allegiance with the Ottoman Turkish Empire. The song is one of nationalism, as is to be expected in wartime arts such as poetry and music. Though the song describes the Turks on neutral terms, it does not go so far as to fully demonize the Russians or paint the Ottoman Empire in a purely positive light. What is most remarkable about the song, however, is that it portrays an Islamic empire on equal terms with a Christian nation.

“Macdermott’s War Song” describes a military struggle that encompassed the collision of two very different worlds. On the one side were the Ottoman Turks, an Islamic Empire that stretched from North Africa through the Arabian peninsula and through the Balkan states. On the other were the Russians, who sought to liberate Bulgaria and other Slavic, Orthodox Christian nations from the clutches of Islamic dhimmitude. The real politic on the part of the Russians was of course to establish a line of satellite states so as to get access to the trade-rich Mediterranean, a course of action which did not easily fool Russia’s Western European counterparts. Concerned also with the Turks’ brutal suppression of Slavic rebellions, European nations soundly denounced Ottoman military conduct, which also helped gain Russia several allies in its campaign against the Turks. Despite the familiar call to “liberate” Christianity from the dominance of imperial Islam, other states such as France and Great Britain were not quick to heed the call to a unified European (or Christian) front, as trade relations warranted a departure from traditional conclusions of Muslim-Christian relations. The Russo-Turkish War marked one of the only times in European history that one Christian nation allied itself with a Muslim nation in order to stave off the growth and expansion of another Christian sovereignty. Longtime trading partners with the Ottomans, the British Empire wasted little time in establishing a protectorate role of the Ottoman state, a position which obviously did not set well with London’s one-time Russian ally. The war, however, did not escalate in the terms of the World War (WWI) as the alliances which were followed were largely extemporaneous, as was the actual military campaign which resulted in Ottoman recognition of the liberty of the Balkan states.

“Macdermott’s war song” depicts the Russian Empire as “the rugged Russian bear,” strategically describing Moscow as “bent on blood and robbery”. Alluding to the Anglo-Russian war of 1807, the song laments having to wage war but insists that “a thrashing now and again” was not enough “to tame that brute” whose aggression against Turkey was not out of compassion for the Balkans but a part of Moscow’s “same old game” of plundering and territorial gain. Cognizant of Britons’ reluctance to side with Muslim Turks, “Macdermott’s War Song” capitalizes on a sense of competition; fighting with the Turks was not to defend the Ottoman possessions such as Constantinople, Bulgaria, or the Balkan states, but rather a means of stifling Russian imperial competition. The song assures the British people by insisting that Britain had “the ships, the men, and the money” to wage a successful war against Moscow.

The song cleverly diverts attention to Turkish atrocities by conceding that while “misdeeds of the Turks [had] been spouted through all lands”, the Russians were surely not innocent of atrocities themselves. By pointing to historic massacres on Russian sovereignty, the British made morally defensible the Turkish position by showing that while they were a foreign force, their brutality would be no different than that of the Russians. In proving Russia’s inability to show “spotless hands,” the song illustrated the fact that Turks were different, but their “quarrel [was] just” and they should therefore be “thrice armed” against the specter of Russian aggression.

The song is a reliable historic source, as it shows how British culture had evolved from one of religious affiliation to nationalist interests. Simple actions such as contemplating and making an argument for the support of Turkey reflects a huge shift in British international policy; though the song is not specific in its historical content regarding dates and events, it is historically indispensable as a measure of British national interests. While the student of the history of Britain and the 19th century world would find the song useful, its substance is not substantial enough to determine whether the song is a reflection of a singular frame of mind or if the song is indicative of a cohesive national conscience.


The document is part of a newspaper article dating to 1842. It served as almost a technological update for the greater community, describing the latest in sewage disposal.

The article introduces the new system in a favorable light, as funding for it almost certainly would have cost the local population. Consequently, its purpose and specifications were presented as universally applicable, its functionality and efficiency available for all to take advantage. The document presented is one that exemplifies the massive effects of the Industrial Revolution and their reach throughout all aspects of society. The article is not only historically valuable, but it also serves as a reliable historical source for the student of the Industrial Revolution.

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From a historical perspective, the article came at just as the British Industrial Revolution began to grow in magnitude and pace. 1842 marked a time when the British Empire began to escalate its operations, using its colonies and territories to expand and evolve its domestic economy. With industrialization came the expansion of the middle class to include not only those between lower and upper classes, but also to accommodate an explosion in population. The economy was compartmentalized, changing the face of cities across the nation as technology both industrial and medical technologies broadened in scope and availability. From an ecological (not to mention hygienic) perspective, Britain could not support the burgeoning population explosion that occurred between the 19th and 20th century. With memories of the Black Plague instilled in the public conscience, the impetus of technological application and advancement would rarely be felt as urgently as in other areas of the Industrial Revolution. With the population exploding and birth fatalities reducing each year, sewage systems were a vital part in the sustenance of sanitation in the expanding population of British urban hubs. Sewage systems not only alleviated the concern of many for the facilitation of industrialization, it also reassured the people that they had equal footing in a newly-egalitarian society where class was increasingly diminished in importance. New advancements were usually only available to the upper class, and the sewage system represented a unifying force in the road to industrialization.

Several references in the text signify the process of industrialization and the advancement of technology. The “200 water closets and similar places” gives the impression of a society implementing modern plumbing, a reflection of advancement and population expansion. The allusion to the “common drains” reflects the mass expansion of residences as well as the population explosion, suggesting a population that grows faster than commercial construction can accommodate. Common drains also were present in factories, agricultural collectives, and mills in which the growing middle class worked. That they shared common drains also suggests that the amount of people living in close proximity to each other increased. The sewage system mentioned also serves several different venues, ranging from “the infirmary” to “slaughter houses” and “manufactories,” reflecting a great diversity of industry in one area in a short span of time. Most notable of the service areas mentioned is the infirmary, a non-industrial compound itself but one whose sewage output warranted use of a significant sewage duct or system. If the sewage output from an infirmary could rival that of “pig manure, dung-hills, slaughterhouses, and manufactories,” there would have to be a huge growth in population and thus an increase in patient input to the hospital in question. Of the industrialized sources mentioned, the slaughterhouses and pig manure makes note of industrialization’s spread to the agricultural domain as well as the centralization of industries in urban hubs as opposed to the rural section of the country.

The document proves to be reliable as an historical source in the depth of the areas it mentions. However, most of the useful facts one may draw from the article are purely speculative without academic resources or prior knowledge of industrialization to corroborate conclusions. The specific numbers listed—the “200 water closets” and “30,000,000 gallons per annum of the mass filth”—are indicative of mass expansion both technologically and from a population consensus standpoint. However, the article serves less as a historical account as it does a representative literature focused on the transition between the feudal age (with reference to the medical leeches) and the Industrial Era.

The document is valuable to the student of the Industrial Revolution; however, it should be taken as a reflection of one aspect of a transitive period more than a description of the Industrial Revolution as a monolithic whole.


More, Charles. (2000) Understanding the Industrial Revolution. London: Routledge.


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