Thursday, July 26, 2007

Anglophile authors of history....

I was reading "The secret voyage of Francis Drake", by Samuel Bawlf, when I went looking for information about it on the internet. The book is about navigator Francis Drake's exploration of the West Coast of the United States in the 16th century. He landed somewhere along the northern part of the coast, maybe in northern California maybe further up, and claimed it is "Nova Albion" or New Albion. Bawlf's book, which states that he actually landed on Vancouver Island in British Columbia and that he explored the entire coast of British Columbia up to present day Alaska, is contended by pretty much every scholar to be a fraud. Moreover, it turns out that Bawlf is a councillor in Victoria, B.C., which is on Vancouver Island.

One commenter points out the anglophilic tone of the book, which starts very early in declarations that Drake's voyage was the most spectacular feat of exploration in the history of navigation. Which brings us to the main topic here: the very curious tendency of English historians, or Canadian historians in this case, to be so centered on English achievements that they lose all perspective on the actual significance of the events. Another example of this deals with the battle of Trafalgar.

The Battle of Trafalgar was a naval battle between the British Navy and Napoleon's forces, who were attempting to take over England. The English won. British historians have given the event world historical significance, saying that the defeat of Napoleon by the British saved Europe. When they get right down to it, what they actually claim is that it cut off trade between England and the part of the continent controlled by Napoleon, creating some kind of economic hardship for Napoleonic Europe. And it saved England! Restricting trade isn't exactly the same as Saving Europe, and it's clear that what they really mean when they say "Saved Europe" is "Saved England". The actual consequences of the lack of trade with England were kind of different than what they say.

What happened was that because of the lack of trade Napoleon had to rely more on what was called the "Continental System", which was basically a system where goods were manufactured by territories controlled by Napoleon for the rest of the territories controlled by Napoleon. So instead of trade in English fabric, fabric making in some country in the Continental system would be sponsored. But it gets better.

I leafed through a book on Napoleon and Napoleon's campaigns in a bookstore where I found a really schmaltzy book on the Battle of Trafalgar and looked for references, looked for what this author thought the significance of the battle was. Turned out that in terms of the significance of it for Napoleon's over all strategy Trafalgar only got a mention in passing. In other words, this great event that's considered to have "Saved Europe" is considered to be way down on the list of essential events relating to Napoleon and his campaigns.

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