Indian birdwatching day

This video is called Birds of India – Owls, Raptors.

From ANI news agency in India:

National Bird Watching Day attracts large crowds in Ramnagar

Ramnagar (Uttrakhand), Nov. 12

Nature enthusiasts and students gathered at a barrage on the river Kosi in north India, observing migratory birds on the occasion of National Bird Watching Day, celebrated to mark the 116th birth anniversary of renowned biologist Salim Ali.

Armed with binoculars, notebooks, field guides and cameras, they stood at the edge of the reservoir, making a note of the resident and migratory species present at the site.

The bird watchers said that it was important to educate people about the importance of conserving the country’s diverse fauna.

“We brought a few children who study in a local school, so that they can make themselves aware of bird life. The message for the people of the country and people in the world is that we must keep (these birds) alive, so that we learn about them and protect them,” said a birder, Rohit Sati.

The waters of the reservoir had large numbers of Ruddy Shelducks and cormorants swimming, feeding and sunning themselves.

The reservoir at Ramnagar is close to India’s iconic Jim Corbett National Park, which is home to over 500 species of birds, a sizeable chunk of more than 1200 species found all over the country.

Winter sees many species of birds migrate from north and central Asia and other, colder parts of the world, as the birds breed and live in the more temperate climate of the Indian subcontinent.

The Director of the Rainbow Wildlife Awareness organisation, Rajesh Bhatt said that the reservoir itself played host to over 200 species of resident and migratory birds.

“The important birds here are the Ruddy Shelduck, the Ibisbill, wallcreeper, cormorant, garganey, pintail, Bar-headed Goose, which can be seen easily,” Bhatt said.

Born in 1896, Salim Ali, known as ‘the Bird Man of India’, made his name as one of the first Indian naturalists to conduct systematic surveys on birds. His field guides are used by many birdwatchers when they set out in pursuit of the hobby.

Ali, who died in 1987, is also credited with the creation and recognition of such biodiversity hubs as the Keoladeo National park in Rajasthan and the Silent Valley National park in Kerala.

NATO drone kills three Afghan children

This video is called CIA demands drones despite 80% civilian death rate.

From Pajhwok Afghan News:

NATO Drone Strike Kills Three Afghan Children

November 12, 2012

ISAF drone attack kills 3 boys in Logar

By Abdul Maqsud Azizi

PUL-I-ALAM: Three civilians were killed during an ISAF drone strike in the Baraki Barak district of central Logar province on Monday, residents and the provincial council head said.

The airstrike was conducted at around 1.00 pm in the Shati Qala area of the district, killing three boys, provincial council chief Ghulam Yahiya Ahmadzai told Pajhwok Afghan News.

He said the boys, all aged below 16 years, were working on their farm, and village elders later took their bodies to the governor’s office as a mark of protest.

Resident Haji Habibur Rahman said the boys, working on their carrot farm, had no links to insurgents.

Meanwhile, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) media office in Kabul said it was unaware of the incident. It would look into the issue, a brief statement from the NATO-led said.

US drone strikes more deadly to Afghan civilians than manned aircraft: here.

US troops in Afghanistan post 2014? Here.

Poet Attila the Stockbroker on anarchism and football

This video from Britain is called Attila the Stockbroker, Maggots 1 – Maggie Nil (Live@ Miners Welfare, Whitburn, 12/9/09).

By Attila the Stockbroker from Britain:

Materialism without the dialectics

Monday 12 November 2012

Anyone been to the Anarchist Bookfair? It’s great. I hadn’t until the most recent one and, to be honest, I was half expecting the Bakuninite equivalent of two Trots and a dog – on a string of course.

But the place was heaving with hundreds and hundreds of people and the discussions and stalls were really interesting. Did a gig there with my old acoustic punk mate Patrik Fitzgerald and then we stuffed a ridiculous amount of gear into a hired Ford Galaxy and I set off for my latest tour of Germany and Holland with my band Barnstormer.

We started in Dortmund and as so often while on tour in Germany the subject got round to football and the vast difference in ticket prices over there.

One of the Borussia Rude Boys showed me his season ticket which cost 225 euros – about £180 – and that’s not just for a whole league season watching one of the top teams in Europe but for the home games in the first stages of the Champions League as well.

When I told him that my season ticket for my beloved Brighton & Hove Albion cost more than double that, and you’d pay double that again to watch the elite clubs in England, he and his mates gasped in disbelief.

The key factor of course is that in Germany and most other mainland European countries they still have standing areas and we don’t. Now that the Liverpool fans have been rightly exonerated and the whole police/Thatcher stitch-up at Hillsborough exposed, it’s time we reclaimed our game, got our terraces back and stopped pricing so many people out of watching the game we love.

From Dortmund we drove up for a show at Groningen in Holland where, Belgian beer fans, I had far too much Westmalle Tripel at a delicious 9.5 per cent ABV. Thence to a mad night in Amsterdam and a long drive to east Germany for shows in Halberstadt, Gorlitz and Chemnitz, or Karl-Marx-Stadt as it used to be called in the days of the GDR.

But history has only partly been rewritten because the huge statue of Marx’s head still dominates the Street of Nations by popular demand. Rather more surreally, when the local bank Sparkasse Chemnitz held an online vote so the public could choose between 10 different images for the bank’s new credit card, Marx’s statue won.

I don’t know what he’d make of that. Maybe mumble something about needing to make that kind of materialism a bit more dialectical?

Anyway, greetings from the beautiful Bavarian city of Regensburg. Nine gigs done, 2 to go. Tonight we’re playing for FC Augsburg and Borussia Dortmund fans at a pre-match party at the Tribut Kunstgalerie in Augsburg.

Punks and football fans having a party in an art gallery – now there’s a few stereotypes gone west.

For more info on Attila’s activities, visit

Turkish ants, first checklist

This video says about itself:

Ants in Gulusluk, Turkey

Ants eating a Honey Nut Cheerio.

From Zootaxa journal:

First annotated checklist of the ant fauna of Turkey (Hymenoptera: Formicidae)

Trakya University Faculty of Sciences, Department of Biology, 22030 Edirne-TURKEY.


The first annotated checklist of the ants of Turkey is presented. A total of 306 valid names of species-group taxa (286 species, 20 subspecies) is recorded based on literature records and additional newly collected material carried out since 1998. Synonyms are included. New localities are added for some poorly known species.

Four species (Tapinoma subboreale, Formica georgica, Formica lugubris and Lasius balcanicus) are reported for the first time and thirteen species (Bothriomyrmex atlantis, B. meridionalis, Tapinoma madeirense, Camponotus robustus, Formica fuscocinerea, F. gagatoides, Rossomyrmex minuchae, Messor barbarus, Monomorium glabrum, M. salomonis, Myrmica vandeli, Stenamma westwoodii and Tetramorium forte) are excluded from the list of Turkish ants.

NATO’s ‘new’ Libya’s xenophobic violence

Not only in NATO member state Greece is there xenophobia: by violent nazi gangs, and by the government as well.

It is in the ‘new’ Libya, made by NATO’s 2011 war, as well.

This video says about itself:

Racism of the new Libyan government unveiled

Uploaded by ImazighenLibyaTV

Al Arabya TV (English) 27 November 2011 reports on demonstrations that are taking place on Martyrs square in Tripoli since five days denouncing the ostracism and the blatant discrimination that is being implemented by the self-proclaimed Libyan authorities and the newly formed cabinet of Abdel Rahim Al Kib who is systematically and methodically excluding the Amazigh population (also called “berbers” and who are the indigenous native people of Libya) as well as other non-Arab population of Libya such as the Tebus (living in the South of the country) from ministerial positions and reflecting what a growing number of the Libyan population is seeing as a blatant and institutionalized racism put in place against non-Arab population of Libya living in the country since centuries.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

New regime ‘worse than Gadaffi’ for immigrants

Monday 12 November 2012

by Our Foreign Desk

Amnesty International will warn tomorrow that abuses against foreign residents in Libya now are worse than under former leader Muammar Gadaffi.

The rights group compiled the report We Are Foreigners, We Have No Rights over several visits to the north African country between May and September.

Amnesty said foreign nationals are at risk of “exploitation, arbitrary and indefinite detention and beatings, sometimes amounting to torture.”

Armed militias acting outside the law were guilty of numerous abuses, it said.

In one case a Somali man was “kicked and dragged along the ground, punched in the eye and beaten with rifles and sticks” after he tried to escape from a detention facility in Khoms.

In another incident a woman from Nigeria detained in Tripoli’s Tweisha detention centre reported being beaten and given electric shocks.

“The world needs to know what is happening to us,” she told Amnesty. “For Libyans we are not even human.”

Libya makes no formal distinction between migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers and the government has refused to sign a memorandum of understanding with the UN refugee agency or ratify the UN refugee convention.

This means the thousands arrested for “migration offences” cannot legally challenge their detention.

In some cases those jailed are told to pay the cost of their own deportation and remain in legal limbo if they cannot do so.

Amnesty Middle East and north Africa deputy director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said: “It is shameful that Gadaffi-era abuses have not only continued but worsened.”

You might not expect women’s groups to welcome the posting of a video depicting a rape on You Tube – but Libyan feminists did just that last week: here.

Birds of Africa and art

Bird family: Francolins - Birds of Africa: Volume II; Plate 1

From Wildlife Extra:

Chance to buy the original artwork from the definitive “Birds of Africa

November 2012. Martin Woodcock painted virtually all the colour plates for the seven-volume definitive work The Birds of Africa. Now you can buy some of the original plates from Birds of Africa, and help support some of the African Bird Club‘s conservation fund to support ornithological projects in Africa.

The Birds of Africa is the definitive seven-volume ornithological book of all known African species. It was written by Hilary Fry, Stuart Keith and Emil Urban, and Martin Woodcock painted almost all of the plates, which are now for sale.

You can view the paintings here.

African birds: here.

Robert Lowth’s unknown letters discovered

From Leiden university in the Netherlands:

Leiden student discovers unknown letters by Robert Lowth

Myrte Wouterse, third-year student at Leiden University, has discovered two previously unknown letters by Robert Lowth in the University Library. Lowth was the leading English grammarian of the 18th century.

Letter signed by R. Oxford, or rather Robert Lowth

Letter signed by R. Oxford, or rather Robert Lowth

The letters give important insight into the lives of Lowth (1710-1787) and his correspondent, Leiden orientalist H.A. Schultens (1749-1793). They are also a source of information on informal networks in the 18th century. The letters were written during Schulten’s stay in England from 1772 to 1773 and were hidden away in an appendix to Schulten’s account of his visit. This probably explains how they remained undiscovered and why they are not to be found in the Library catalogue.

Social networks in the 18th century

Schultens is known to have studied in Oxford, where he obtained an MA, but these newly discovered letters tell the real story behind this qualification. It was an honorary title, that in Schultens’ own words was awarded only in rare cases, and certainly not to foreigners. Schultens made good use of his social network to acquire his MA. He wrote to the father of his friend and fellow student Thomas Henry Lowth (1753-1778), Bishop Lowth in other words, asking Lowth to put in a good word for him. Robert Lowth writes in his letters that he often receives such requests, but that he never accedes to them. He advises Schultens to take the official route and at the same time shows that he is prepared to help by promising to write to a number of his friends in Oxford. Which he duly did, as is witnessed by the fact that Schultens did receive his Oxford MA.

We now know that Schultens has Lowth to thank for his MA, and we can see how contemporary informal networks operated: Schultens was a friend of Lowth’s son, a connection that he made good use of for his career. This was how the system of patronage worked at that time: Lowth himself owes his own career within the Anglican church largely to his social contacts.

Another letter signed by R. Oxford, or rather Robert Lowth

Beginner’s luck

Myrte Wouterse discovered the letters by Robert Lowth in the appendix to a trip report by orientalist H.A. Schultens.

Myrte Wouterse discovered the letters by Robert Lowth in the appendix to a trip report by orientalist H.A. Schultens.

This remarkable find was made by Myrte Wouterse, third-year student of English Language and Culture and a student of the Leiden Honours Academy:

‘It was pure chance, beginner’s luck. I was given a tour of the University Library by Thijs Porck, one of my lecturers, on the subject of the special collections, and how we can use them for our research. At the time I was preparing a presentation as part of Professor Tieken’s ‘Introduction to Late Modern English’ course. Actually, we had requested a different letter (from William Jones to Schultens) and to our surprise we received a whole package of letters, including Schulten’s report of his visit to England. When we leafed through the documents we found the name ‘R. Lowth’ (a very familiar name to students of English Language and Culture), but the letters were signed ‘R. Oxford’. I now know that it was common practice for bishops at the time to use the name of their diocese, and Lowth was then bishop of Oxford.’

Not in the catalogue

To her surprise, Myrte was unable to find the letters in the library catalogue, and it was then that she realised that this could be a very special find: ‘In Schulten’s account of his travels, there was only a reference to the original appendix, nothing more. With such an important name as Lowth, I had expected that the letters would be in the catalogue. When I talked to Professor Tieken about my presentation, that should actually have been about an English diary from the 18th century, she was very enthusiastic. She had not been aware that there were letters by Lowth in Leiden. Luckily, she agreed to my changing my presentation to these letters by Lowth, rather than sticking to the diary idea.’

A pleasant – and valuable – surprise

The Bishop’s Grammar, Robert Lowth and the Rise of Prescriptivism

Last year, Professor Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade published a book about Lowth: The Bishop’s Grammar, Robert Lowth and the Rise of Prescriptivism (Oxford University Press, 2011). This book is largely based on Lowth’s letters, and it was a pleasant surprise for her to discover that there were also letters by Lowth in the University Library.

Tieken-Boon van Ostade explains: ‘The Bishop’s Grammar focuses on Lowth’s grammar, about which there are all kinds of preconceptions. I wanted to use my book to put some of these right. An important part of my research consists of examining Lowth’s letters, because I wanted to show that, contrary to expectations, his grammar rules were not taken directly from his own language use, which in itself is another preconception. I have spent several years collecting Lowth’s letters, and now have a total of 330, 250 of them written by him personally. And now there are another two, so close to home! Eventually, I intend to publish an edition of his letters. Putting together a complete collection of letters is always problematic, as the discovery of these letters confirms. If Myrte hadn’t discovered the new letters, aided by Thijs Porck, I would never have known of their existence.’

Lowth as a person

‘Apart from their importance for our knowledge of the way that Schultens obtained his honorary master’s degree at the University of Oxford, this find is also important for our understanding of Lowth as a person. He is very cautious, but is prepared to assist other people and to approach his network contacts about something that he considers a worthy purpose. Just like Lowth’s son Thomas Henry, Hendrik Albert Schultens was a promising young man.’

‘What is also important is that I have discovered another individual who actually met Lowth, and who was even a friend of his son who had died at much too early an age. In my line of research, all my informants are long dead, but you still want to try to build a picture of what motivated people. These letters, as well as Schultens’ diary, that I have now studied more carefully, will make a valuable contribution to my research.’

Further research on language use and social networks

Myrte is now going to devote her presentation for the Late Modern English course to the newly discovered letters by Lowth. Later, she intends to write an essay on them, focusing on the use of language in the period, but also on how social networks were used. After that, the plan is to write a joint article with Ingrid Tieken for publication.

Special collections

Leiden University Library (UB) has sizeable special collections of national and international standing. The Western manuscripts and private archives contain a total of 500,000 letters. More than 300,000 of these are accessible via the UB’s own catalogue and the national Catalogus Epistularum Neerlandicarum (CEN). Besides letters, the special collections of the UB also contain manuscripts, archives, photos, maps and atlases, oriental collections, old editions, prints and drawings. Holders of the LU-Card can view this material in the Special Collections Reading Room. Many of the items can also be viewed via Digital Special Collections.

Read more

Research profile

Global Interaction of Civilizations and Languages is one of the six themes for research at Leiden University.

Caribbean bats, less than in prehistory

This video is called Bats in the Caribbean.

By Annalee Newitz, i09:

What Destroyed the Bats of the Caribbean?

Some 25,000 years ago, bats once dominated the Caribbean. Did rising sea levels drive them away?

Tue Nov 13, 2012 11:26 AM ET

About 25,000 years ago, the Earth was a very different planet. It was deep in the midst of a geological period referred to as the “last glacial maximum,” meaning the last time when the planet was so cold that glaciers reached down from the North Pole into North America, Europe and Asia.

With so much water frozen solid, the ocean levels were much lower. And that was good news for a huge population of bats who ruled the considerably larger Caribbean islands of that age. While there are still many bats in the Caribbean today, the population 25,000 years ago was a lot richer and more diverse.

Some of the islands were many times larger than they are at present, and they teemed with many species of bats. The fossil evidence for these bats surrounds the islands, and scientists have long wondered what [killed] them off.

One theory was human hunting, and another was that the caves these bats loved were inundated with water as sea level rose.

Writing in a new paper published this week in Ecology and Evolution, biologists Liliana M. Dávalos and Amy L. Russell argue that the evidence overwhelmingly points to rising sea levels as the culprit. As the glaciers melted, sea levels rose so rapidly that the island bats couldn’t find a new home quickly enough — and so they died out.

Dávalos and Russell note that this die-off gives us a snapshot of what might happen to wildlife on Earth over the next few centuries as water levels rise rapidly.

While we may not be certain how many inches the ocean will rise as the polar regions melt, we can be sure of one thing. Historical evidence demonstrates that sea level rises lead to extinctions.

The question is only how bad they will be.

Lincoln, new film

This video from the USA is called Lincoln Q&A – Full Interview (2012) – Steven Spielberg, Daniel Day-Lewis.

By Tom Mackaman in the USA:

Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln and the historical drama of the Civil War

12 November 2012

Directed by Steven Spielberg, written by Tony Kushner

Lincoln, which will be released in theaters nationally November 16, is a powerful cinematic treatment of the Lincoln administration’s struggle to pass a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery in 1865, the final year of the American Civil War.

The film centers on the period of the “lame duck” Congress in early 1865, the fourth year of the Civil War, after the electorate had handed Lincoln and the Republicans a crushing victory in the 1864 elections over the Democrats, who opposed emancipation. It follows the political struggle to pass the Thirteenth Amendment through the House of Representatives—it had been passed by the Senate the previous year—amidst deep war-weariness in the North and against the backdrop of a mounting sentiment in favor of a negotiated peace with the South within the Republican Party itself.

The screen is populated by real historic figures, first and foremost Lincoln, played by Daniel Day-Lewis. Also present are First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln (Sally Field), Congressman and radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones), Secretary of State William Seward (David Strathairn), conservative Republican Francis Preston Blair (Hal Holbrook), New York City “Copperhead” Democratic politician Fernando Wood (Lee Pace), Union general Ulysses S. Grant (Jared Harris), Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens (Jackie Earle Haley), and many, many others.

The considerable strength of the film, directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Tony Kushner, rests in its detailed presentation of the extraordinary history surrounding the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment. This took Kushner beyond the work of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Lincoln biography Team of Rivals, upon which the film is partly based.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Kushner acknowledged several important sources, including James McPherson’s magisterial Battle Cry of Freedom, writings on Lincoln by Alan Guelzo, and Lincoln’s own letters. The filmmakers have paid careful attention to historical accuracy, from lighting (the film attempts to recreate the sort of oil-based illumination of the day) to language (much of the dialogue is selected from the historical record, including speeches from the floor of the US House of Representatives.)

The film brings Abraham Lincoln to life in a way that comes close to Karl Marx’s unsurpassed description of the man. Lincoln was a figure, Marx wrote, “neither to be browbeaten by adversity, nor intoxicated by success, inflexibly pressing on to his great goal, never compromising it by blind haste, slowly maturing his steps, never retracing them, carried away by no surge of popular favor, disheartened by no slackening of the popular pulse, tempering stern acts by the gleams of a kind heart, illuminating scenes dark with passion by the smile of humor, doing his titanic work as humbly and homely as Heaven-born rulers do little things with the grandiloquence of pomp and state; in one word, one of the rare men who succeed in becoming great, without ceasing to be good. Such, indeed, was the modesty of this great and good man, that the world only discovered him a hero after he had fallen a martyr.”

Much of the credit for recreating this Lincoln must go to the extraordinary efforts of Irish-born actor Daniel Day-Lewis. In his performance, Lincoln appears to deliberate carefully about every word, always ahead of his interlocutors, thoughtfully assessing the political meaning hidden behind their positions. Lincoln comes across as both a shrewd politician and a leader whose policies were ultimately rooted in principle—above all else, the principle of equality.

“We began with equality, that’s the origin isn’t it? That’s justice,” the film has Lincoln say in an obvious reference to the Declaration of Independence. Day-Lewis manages to fuse the politician—Kearns Goodwin’s rather narrow focus—to the principled man “never compromising … by blind haste, slowly maturing his steps, never retracing them.”

Day-Lewis is facilitated by Kushner, who must be credited for allowing Lincoln’s own words to form much of the script. The film opens with Lincoln near a battlefield meeting Union soldiers, white and black, who together recite to him his already famous Gettysburg address, and its assertion that the war was for “a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

The film closes, in the wake of Lincoln’s assassination, with a flashback to his Second Inaugural address, movingly rendered by Lewis. “Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away,” Lincoln says. “Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’”

In between these bookends the dialogue is interspersed with Lincoln’s yarns, jokes and metaphors. These were not merely illustrations of “downhome” folksy American English. Lincoln’s rhetoric, infused not only with the color and common sense of the American frontier, but with Biblical metaphor and Shakespearean tragedy (which he could recite from memory), provided a language for understanding and acting through politics in the Civil War. In James McPherson’s phrase, Lincoln “won the war with metaphors.”

To cite one example from the film, Lincoln, a self-educated student of mathematics, calls upon Euclid to help determine whether or not to allow a Southern peace delegation to visit the White House. “Euclid’s first common notion is this,” Lincoln tells a young telegraph operator, “things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other. That’s a rule of mathematical reasoning. It’s true because it works. Has done and always will do. In his book, Euclid says this is ‘self-evident.’ You see there it is even in that 2,000-year-old book of mechanical law. It is a self-evident truth that things that are equal to the same thing are equal to each other.” Lincoln determines not to invite the delegation to Washington, strengthening his hand in the House in the bid to push through the Thirteenth Amendment.

The general level of the film’s acting is extraordinary. Beyond Day-Lewis of special note are Jones as radical Republican leader Congressman Thaddeus Stevens of Ohio and Field’s sympathetic portrayal of the mercurial Mary Todd Lincoln. A subplot follows the tragedy and drama within the Lincoln family—a son, Willie, had died in the White House of typhus and Mary desperately feared losing a second, Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who demanded his father allow him to enlist in the Union army.

Jones’ Stevens provides another thread to the story. Vilified for a century in American history textbooks as a monster, Stevens emerges in the film as the most uncompromising advocate of equality—though he himself compromises in order to see the Thirteenth Amendment pass.

The primary plotline, as noted, involves Lincoln’s determination to see through the abolition amendment in the midst of a leftover Congress—a task that would depend upon winning the votes of a number of Democratic Party Congressmen who have opposed emancipation. To its credit, Spielberg’s Lincoln does not shy away from the complexity of the situation.

In an early scene, Lincoln explains to his skeptical cabinet the necessity for the amendment in spite of the Emancipation Proclamation, which had gone into effect January 1, 1863. That measure had been based on the assertion of his wartime powers as commander-in-chief. Lincoln feared it might be reversed in peacetime by the courts, and he also feared that if the new measure were not implemented peace might be made with the South allowing slavery to continue.

Lincoln is weaker in its presentation of the process by which this amendment was passed. It focuses on the activities of three “hustler” lobbyists played by James Spader, John Hawkes and Tim Blake Nelson—a trio clearly set down in the movie for comic relief—as they attempt to cajole and bribe wavering Democrats into supporting the amendment. This process was real—Lincoln preferred to think of it as politicking rather than bribery—but the film tends to minimize the more powerful political trends at play.

The Democrats had been defeated in the 1864 elections by a wave of popular support in the North for Lincoln, the Republicans and, indeed, emancipation. The Democratic Party had made Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation the issue in the 1864 elections, launching vicious race-baiting attacks on the “Black Republican” Party in the North.

Had it not been for a turn of fortunes in the late summer of 1864, and chiefly General William Tecumseh Sherman’s capture of Atlanta, Lincoln and the Republicans might very well have lost the election of 1864 to the Democrats and George McClellan, the former commander of the Union Army of the Potomac. The Democrats, had they won, were prepared to negotiate a peace with the Confederacy that would have recognized its independence and reversed emancipation.

As it turned out, the electorate delivered a crushing blow to the Democrats. The population was moving to the left, attested to by the fact that the Army voted more than 80 percent for Lincoln over McClellan. All of this finds only a faint echo in Lincoln—we see soldiers eagerly awaiting word of the vote on the Thirteenth Amendment as it flashes across the telegraph, we hear repeated references to defeated Democrats, we sense the gravity and momentousness of the final vote on the amendment, and the film has Lincoln, in the beginning, asserting his belief that his Emancipation Proclamation and his use of war powers had been rooted in the popular will, which he found to have been vindicated by the elections of 1864.

Yet the role of the masses in history is minimized; the conception of politics as horse-trading is privileged. This likely reflects the influence of establishment writer Kearns Goodwin, whose emphasis in Team of Rivals is on Lincoln’s cunning as a politician. Whatever the merits of the book, hers is an approach that reflects the complacency and narrowness of politics in contemporary America, characteristics that cloud the understanding of what was a very different time.

It does not detract from the film in the least to point out that Kushner and Spielberg might have focused on several other moments in the long and bloody war. There were several turning points full with drama, including the aforementioned election of 1864, the defeat of the invading Southern armies at the Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania in 1863, and perhaps most importantly of all, the summer and fall of 1862 after Lincoln had drafted the Emancipation Proclamation and awaited some sort of battlefield success so that it could be issued, which ultimately came with the Battle of Antietam on September 17, Constitution Day, that year.

That there will be considerable interest in Lincoln appears likely. It is significant that the film appears when it does, at a time of social crisis and impending upheaval; how it does, from a leading Hollywood filmmaker, Steven Spielberg; and as it does—not as an attack on Lincoln, the abolitionists or the Civil War itself.

All the evidence suggests considerable popular interest in Lincoln, with one publication describing its limited opening weekend as “triumphant.” It is to be hoped that the film will lead to a further engagement with Lincoln the historical figure, with the abolitionists and the Civil War, as well as a deeper appreciation of the motor force of American history: the struggle for equality.

See also here.

Historian Brian Kelly examines how Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln compares to the events that abolished slavery in the United States: here.

In 1860, an 11-year-old girl wrote to Abe Lincoln suggesting he grow a beard. He not only responded, he obliged: here.