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“The Hunley” movie

Posted in American, Film, War by Alex L. on February 16, 2013

Close up of Mort Kunstler's painting, The Final Mission

Having moved back from New York City, I discovered  that my familiar public library in northwest Chicagoland got a facelift. The wall between the children and adult sections has been torn down, creating a pleasant sense of open space. While browsing there last week, I chanced upon a movie I had never heard about before: “The Hunley.”

A TNT movie from 1999, it didn’t win any awards for acting (though it did win an Emmy for sound editing). I enjoyed watching “The Hunley” because it recreates what it may have been like to serve aboard the first effective combat submarine in history. Starring Armand Assante, it has a bit of an action movie feel to it. For a film taking place inside of a weapons platform propelled by the underwhelming power of half a dozen men cranking away at the propeller shaft by hand, the high-intensity aesthetic is a bit of a mismatch. (more…)

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Biographies of Paul the Apostle

Posted in Bible, Books, Christianity by Alex L. on February 8, 2013

Close-up of a painting by Etienne Parrocel of the Apostle PaulA few days ago, I started reading a book that I bought about a year ago in a bookstore’s bargain aisle. The book is Paul by E.P. Sanders from the “A Brief Insight” series. The letters of the Apostle Paul form a big chunk of the New Testament. In those letters, his unique way of addressing problems in religious communities have had an enormous influence on the development of Christianity.

But Sanders’s 200-page work is the first book I’ve ever read focused specifically on Paul. Before I even finished reading the first chapter, I already started thinking about what the next book would be that I would read about Paul. I do this often: whenever I get interested in a new topic, I go on Amazon.com and try to find the most authoritative book on that subject. It’s handy information. Sometimes I even make a short bibliography of what the first books would be that I would read if I were to study the topic more closely.

It’s always satisfying to find the one definitive book on a subject: a recently-published and comprehensive resource you can turn to that will bring you up to speed on a subject in one fell swoop. Interested in Johannes Brahms? A quick search on Amazon.com will reveal that Jan Swafford’s biography, a 752-page tome decorated with 33 reviews averaging 4.5/5 stars, is beyond a shadow of a doubt the place to turn for all your Brahms needs. (more…)

Aircraft and submarine restoration near Chicago

Posted in Museums, War by Alex L. on February 6, 2013

USS Drum submarine

I really like the kind of reality shows where you get to watch experts performing complex jobs with great skill. I enjoy it all: from Ice Pilots NWT, where aviators brave extreme winter conditions to fly in northern Canada, to Big Shrimpin’, a show about fishermen plying their trade off of the southern coast of the United States.

These past couple of weeks I’ve been interested in a show called Tank Overhaul. Each episode features a crew of a few men restoring rusty and battle-damaged tanks (from the World War II era and later) to like-new condition. There’s just something about sand-blasting decades-old rust from a tank chassis to reveal a brilliant metallic surface underneath that gets me going. With a wave  of a wand (literally) time is reversed and these half-decayed battle tanks come to life again.

Truth be told, though, I’m not a big tank enthusiast. But this show got me thinking about the restoration and preservation of two types of machines that I do have a passion for: (no surprise here to anyone who reads this blog) submarines and airplanes. So I got to imagining: is there anywhere in the Chicago area where I can see or even volunteer in the restoration of these historical artifacts?

A simple search revealed a few interesting leads. (more…)

Plans for 2013

Posted in Podcasts by Alex L. on February 2, 2013

I’ve been mulling over two new ideas for 2013. First, I want to try posting more informal articles charting my day-to-day thoughts about history and the material I read about. I often put in a lot of time into preparing each blog post and have strayed from my original intention of making this blog more of a semi-daily journal of intellectual impressions. I still hope to keep the quality of writing and ideas as high as I can, and hopefully this more casual style will even help with that.

On to the second idea. It’s difficult for me to keep up a habit of research outside an academic community like a university. Nevertheless, I miss the challenge of sustaining a focused examination of a single topic like when I wrote my senior thesis in college. At first, I considered the idea of creating a history-themed website like uboat.net or The Aerodrome. I then thought that sites such as those are like a topic-specific data warehouse. I am more interested in telling the stories of the past through narratives rather than catalogs of data. But I also realize that conducting original research in the military history topics that I’m interested in would take up more time than I would like. So currently I’m toying with the idea of making a history podcast along the lines of the History of Rome Podcast or the History of WWII Podcast. The level of detail in these podcasts — in especially the latter example — gives listeners a sense of immersion in the time period and events being discussed. Making a podcast would encourage me to do a good amount of research about a single subject without the need for a comprehensive mastery of the sources. I’ve already started doing background reading on my first topic of interest: U.S. submarine operations against Japan, 1941-1945. I’ll write more about what I’ve read so far and what I will read in the future.

The next post will be about the new history books for January. I’ll also be reviewing Adam Makos’s A Higher Call, which I just finished reading. Will write again soon!

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