Friday, February 24, 2017

Alex Preda's "Noise"

Alex Preda is professor at King’s College London. He is the author of Framing Finance: The Boundaries of Markets and Modern Capitalism, and coeditor of the Oxford Handbook of the Sociology of Finance.

Preda applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Noise: Living and Trading in Electronic Finance, and reported the following:
Noise. Living and Trading in Electronic Finance is an ethnographic book about why ordinary people engage in financial speculation, and about why they are encouraged to do so. This is puzzling, because there is plenty of evidence that these people lose money in the long run. And yet they do it. Why? The book is based on interviews and close observations with traders from the US and the UK, brokers, and operators of electronic trading platforms. It follows the motivations and dreams of these amateurs, but also the rationales of banks and brokerages that encourage them to trade.

The world of amateur traders may seem completely apart from that of professionals. But is that so? Page 99 is about how ordinary people are transformed into professional traders through trading competitions organized by banks. This is part and parcel of the ways in which banks recruit traders. Every year, young amateur traders enter these competitions hoping that at the finish line they will be offered a job by a bank. Why are competitions so important, and why are amateur traders so eager to engage in them? Participants do not compete with real money. Why do banks use them as a recruitment mechanism?
Competitions organized by investment banks can start with thousands of teams, only a few of whom will finish. Many teams will not trade throughout the entire allotted time, or will abandon the game. Nevertheless, what happens in such contests is that participants who make it through the entire game learn how to make decisions as part of a team. Competitive games are thus designed to replicate and anticipate real life organizational situations, where decisions are made in a team while profit is sought.
Learn more about Noise: Living and Trading in Electronic Finance at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Amy Adamczyk's "Cross-National Public Opinion about Homosexuality"

Amy Adamczyk is Professor of Sociology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the Programs of Doctoral Study in Sociology and Criminal Justice at The Graduate Center, City University of New York (CUNY).

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Cross-National Public Opinion about Homosexuality: Examining Attitudes across the Globe, and reported the following:
Public opinion about homosexuality varies substantially across the world. While in some countries, like Saudi Arabia, individuals can be killed for having a same-sex relationship, in other places like, the Netherlands, gay rights have been embraced as human rights. Why are there such big differences in how people across the world view this issue? This is the issue that I sought to examine in Cross-National Public Opinion about Homosexuality.

My research drew on survey data from almost ninety societies, case studies of various countries, content analysis of newspaper articles, and in-depth interviews to examine how country and individual characteristics influence acceptance of homosexuality. I found that many of the same individual-level factors that are important for shaping attitudes within nations like the United States are also important in other countries. Hence, across the world on average older people tend to be less tolerant of homosexuality than younger ones. Likewise, on average more religious people are less accepting than less religious individuals.

Aside from individual characteristics I wanted to see whether there was anything in the larger culture that shaped attitudes over and above individual characteristics. I found that there was. Specifically, using public opinion data from the World Values Surveys, I found that more democratic, richer, and less religious nations tended to have more supportive residents. The interesting thing about these three factors is that they had an effect on the attitudes of everyone living in the country. Hence, regardless of how religious a resident was, if he or she lived in a nation where a high proportion of people thought religion was important, the individual was more disapproving. Likewise, regardless of how rich or poor an individual was, if he or she lived in a country where residents on average had high incomes the person tended to be more tolerant. These findings provide insight into why people across the world vary so substantially in how they view homosexuality.

On the 99th page of Cross-National Public Opinion about Homosexuality I am explaining why people living in mainline Protestant nations, almost all of which are located in Europe, have more liberal residents than those living in nations that include a mixture of mainline and conservative Protestant Christians. This page is representative of the book as I try to make the argument that the national culture, in this case the religious context, can shape individuals’ attitudes.
Visit Amy Adamczyk's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Cathal J. Nolan's "The Allure of Battle"

Cathal J. Nolan is Associate Professor of History and Executive Director of the International History Institute at Boston University. His books include a two volume Concise History of World War II; Wars of the Age of Louis XIV, and a two-volume study of The Age of the Wars of Religion. He consults on military history to the PBS series NOVA and various other films.

Nolan applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Allure of Battle: A History of How Wars Have Been Won and Lost, and reported the following:
From page 99:
...militarily significant in itself, this first check to the great Swedish general’s campaign in Germany scarred his reputation for invincibility.

The effect reverberated through the strategic calculations of Europe. Because this made the Swedish position less secure politically, and therefore ultimately also militarily, Gustavus felt compelled to draw Wallenstein out of his trenches and defeat him in an open battle between the main armies. He thought he could entice Wallenstein from his fortified earthworks by moving south into Bavaria to once more ravage territory allied to the Habsburgs and threaten a dash toward Vienna. To draw Wallenstein out of his fixed position, but also desperate to feed his own army, Gustavus pulled out of the trenches and marched off to threaten Vienna again. The Imperials were now free to come out to forage, too. This was the moment when Wallenstein showed a superior strategic ability. He declined the bait and invitation to battle dangled by Gustavus in the south and instead struck out northward. Rather than follow the Swedish king, Wallenstein marched back into Saxony to again threaten Swedish lines of supply and eat out a southern Protestant state and Swedish ally. The main armies thus separated, hungry herds of armed men marching off in mutual feints and to gnaw at the other’s allies. Gustavus was again halted by a brilliant strategy of maneuver that avoided battle yet twice pulled the Protestant army back north by threatening its strategic rear. The two greatest generals of the Thirty Years’ War were proving their worth as commanders not in battle but in the main warcraft of their era: in campaigns of strategic movement, maneuver and supply.

Wallenstein had partly adopted Swedish tactics when he reformed the Imperial Army after its defeat at Breitenfeld, marginally increasing the flexibility of the tercios and significantly increasing their firepower by multiplying the number of musketeers they presented. Moreover, while the Swedes retained a clear qualitative edge, they were a reduced force in numbers and quality from the crisp professional army that crossed the Baltic two years before. Two years of marching and fighting, of disease and desertion, and Sweden’s limited manpower reserves and small population, meant that its army in Germany by 1632 was actually close to 80% foreign mercenary. However, it was still commanded by Swedish generals and was organized and trained to make war in the Swedish style. Also, its critical field artillery was still predominantly Swedish. It was also the turn of the “Lion of the North” to display his own advanced command skills. Making use of the markedly superior training and maneuverability of his Swedish regiments, joined now by thousands of mercenaries and allies he had trained to make war in the Swedish way, Gustavus took the great mercenary general’s bait and marched...
War is too complex to be reduced to a parlor game of ranking generals, too important to indulge armchair nationalism about a putative genius on horseback who supposedly imposed his superior will on history in a bloody morning or afternoon of “decisive battle.” War is far more than the history of generals or battles, even the very grandest. Cannae, Agincourt, Trafalgar, Waterloo, Midway, Dien Bien Phu, all invoke powerful images with a word, recalling in the name of an obscure village in France or Vietnam decades or centuries of war. Yet, many who won famously lopsided battles went on to lose bigger wars: Hannibal won at Cannae; Napoleon at Marengo and Ulm; Hitler’s panzer armies took 650,000 prisoners at Kiev and tore across the steppe. Yet all three ended in catastrophic defeats, as strategic losses mounted in long attritional wars against enemies who refused to accept that one afternoon’s or summer’s tactical outcome would decide the far greater and deeper conflict of matériel and collective will and resolution we call war.

Page 99 touches on several of these themes: how whenever they could even the two greatest generals in the Thirty Years’ War fought wastage campaigns against each other rather than actively pursuing battle; how armies survived through long wars of attrition by training and reserves and logistics, more than by superior generalship over a day or two or three of combat. In the wider chapter and book it is shown how wars among major powers were shaped by a balance of forces that threw up coalitions against fast aggressors; how those who sought quick victory via a battle or campaign too far suffered short-war delusions born of material weakness, not strength. How retributive passions all major wars arouse ensured that most were 15-round title fights, not knock-outs. The book lays out and illustrates these major themes across time, from Rome to the Middle Ages, the Renaissance to Louis XIV and Napoleon, to the obliteration of “genius” and of battle in two total wars of attrition that remade the 20th century and are still shaping the 21st.
Learn more about The Allure of Battle at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 20, 2017

Shobita Parthasarathy's "Patent Politics"

Shobita Parthasarathy is associate professor of public policy and women’s studies at the University of Michigan.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Patent Politics: Life Forms, Markets, and the Public Interest in the United States and Europe, and reported the following:
On page 99 we find ourselves at the European Patent Office (EPO). It is struggling to contend with citizen opposition to a patent covering the Oncomouse, an animal genetically engineered to contract cancer. At first glance, this episode seems strange. Why are environmentalists, animal rights activists, and farmers doing battle in a technical and objective decisionmaking arena like a patent bureaucracy?

In fact, over the last 40 years patent systems across the world have experienced extraordinary scrutiny and opposition related to patents on life forms, including genetically engineered organisms, stem cells, and human genes. The US and European patent systems have handled these controversies differently, despite their seemingly objective nature and the many political and economic similarities between the two places. Most scholars argue that this is the result of minor legal differences including the ordre public clause, which prohibits patents deemed contrary to public policy or morality, which is found in European patent laws.

Patent Politics argues that the differences between the US and European patent systems run far deeper than that, and are consequential beyond the world of biotechnology patent law. Analyzing the life form patent controversies in historical and comparative perspective, it demonstrates that different political cultures, ideologies, and histories have led the two places to actually think about patents quite differently. And through the life form patent controversies, the United States and Europe began to understand appropriate governance—including the role of the patent system—rather differently too. On page 99 [inset left; click to enlarge], we see the EPO’s Technical Board of Appeal, made up of senior technical examiners, acknowledge the moral concerns regarding animal patents; given the perceived objectivity of this body, this is surprising. And ultimately, this episode triggers the EPO to develop new policies and programs to demonstrate responsiveness to the public. In addition, it began to suggest explicitly that the interests of the inventor and the public were separate, and to acknowledge a responsibility to balance them. Meanwhile, US decisionmakers and stakeholders rejected similar protests as irrelevant and borne of ignorance, arguing that the patent system’s role was to make decisions that are procedurally objective based on science and law. Furthermore, they dismissed the idea that the public and inventor’s interests differed.

Patent Politics takes us inside one of the most vigorous controversies over the role of moral, social, and ecological concerns in science and technology policymaking, providing tools for nuanced analysis of these debates. It also helps us rethink current proposals for reforming intellectual property systems.
Visit Shobita Parthasarathy's website, and learn more about Patent Politics at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Matin Durrani and Liz Kalaugher's "Furry Logic"

Liz Kalaugher is a science and environment writer based in Bristol, UK. Fascinated by animals since a childhood encounter with a squashed frog, she is a particular fan of bats, bees and badgers. After winning journalism fellowships from the World Federation of Science Journalists and the European Geosciences Union, Kalaugher has also reported on beluga whales in the Canadian Arctic and Finnish reindeer. She has a materials science degree from Oxford University and a PhD in thin-film diamond.

Matin Durrani is editor of the international magazine Physics World, where he enjoys telling the stories that underpin physics and showing how it impacts so much of everyday life. Based in Bristol, UK, he first became intrigued by how animals use physics after publishing a special issue of Physics World on the subject in 2012. Durrani has a degree in chemical physics and did a PhD and postdoc squashing food gels at Cambridge University before moving into publishing.

Durrani and Kalaugher applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Furry Logic: The Physics of Animal Life, and reported the following:
“…the gecko must plonk its feet right up close to the surface it’s trying to cling to; the molecules in its skin and the ceiling must be near enough to attract.“

That’s the first sentence on page 99 of Furry Logic: the Physics of Animal Life. And in many ways it represents the whole book. The page is about an animal - a tokay gecko, in this case – and expands on some of the physics behind that animal’s daily life. Geckos use miniscule adhesion forces to run around upside down on the ceiling, reaching the insects that insect-eaters without these powers can’t.

On the other hand, page 99 is part of chapter two, which showcases animals that employ the physics of forces. The other chapters cover different branches of this science that help animals survive – heat, fluids, sound, electricity and magnetism, and light. And we don’t just write about reptiles, although we do cover red-sided garter snakes, loggerhead turtles, Saharan sand vipers and Komodo dragons as well as geckos. There are mammals – dogs, cats, bats, elephants, California ground squirrels, and mice that lift their tiny pink front paws off the ground whilst they shake themselves dry. Invertebrates like giant squid, octopus and California spiny lobster make an appearance, as do birds such as peacocks and a cuckoo from the slopes of Mount Fuji, and plenty of insects – bees and hornets are arguably the top animal physicists since they make it into the chapters on heat, fluids, electricity and magnetism, and light.

The gecko is similar to some other animals featured in Furry Logic in that scientists have used its physics powers as a model for developing their own technology, making “Geckskin” to help us shin up vertical glass walls. Researchers investigating the harlequin mantis shrimp, for example, have copied the structure of its shell to make impact-resistant panels for aircraft, and designers of micro-air-vehicles are scrutinizing insect flight.

But overall the book is not about the technology inspired by animals. Instead, the animals themselves are the stars of the show, exploiting physics – even if they're not aware of it – to eat, drink, stay warm, communicate or move. Sometimes the physics is simply about attracting a mate. Peacocks woo female peahens by shaking their tail feathers and emitting a sound so low in frequency that we humans can't hear it. They're like an even deeper version of soul crooner Barry White.
Visit the Furry Logic website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Traci Mann's "Secrets from the Eating Lab"

Traci Mann is a Professor of Social and Health Psychology at the University of Minnesota. Her research aims to identify and understand the behaviors associated with eating regulation and body image as well as the process of self-control during health behavior changes. Mann is principal investigator of the Health and Eating Laboratory, which uses diverse research methods to study interesting topics such as increasing food consumption in NASA astronauts, increasing vegetable intake in elementary school children, and the ability of foods to reduce social and physical pain.

Mann applied the “Page 99 Test” to her book, Secrets from the Eating Lab: The Science of Weight Loss, the Myth of Willpower, and Why You Should Never Diet Again, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Secrets from the Eating Lab talks about how "high maintenance" vegetables are, and then gives suggestions for removing this barrier (and others) to eating vegetables. This is actually a good representation of the half of the book that gives scientifically-tested strategies for healthy eating. None of the strategies requires dieting or using willpower (because willpower is a terrible strategy for weight loss and everyone is terrible at it!). All of the strategies are meant to help people reach their leanest livable weight -- the weight at the low end of their set weight range. I argue that people should aim for that weight, because if they go much lower than that, their body rebels and makes it very difficult to keep that weight off. But it is fairly easy to get to and stay at the low end of the set weight range, and that is a perfectly healthy place to be.

The other half of the book talks about why diets don't lead to long term weight loss for most people, and provides evidence that it is not about willpower, but instead is about the physical changes to your body that are caused by dieting. Those changes make it incredibly hard to continue sticking to a diet. That is why most people are better off not dieting.
Visit The Mann Lab website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Jessica O'Reilly's "The Technocratic Antarctic"

Jessica O'Reilly is Assistant Professor in the Department of International Studies at Indiana University Bloomington. She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Technocratic Antarctic: An Ethnography of Scientific Expertise and Environmental Governance, and reported the following:
From page 99:
At this New Zealand biosecurity border, it is assumed that the samples are alive and the ministry required them to be rendered not alive. When that takes place, the danger lies in the samples being compromised to the extent that the anticipated scientific knowledge cannot be credibly read from them. Also, officials from the MAF (now the Ministry for Primary Industry) were not the only ones who conducted the government’s work of giving samples clearance to travel around New Zealand. In this case, as an expert scientist, Demelza participated in this work too, refusing certain devitalization techniques and offering suggestions that were more appropriate for the specific scientific possibilities her Antarctic water contained.
Page 99 of The Technocratic Antarctic takes us into the ethnographic weeds of my fieldwork in and about Antarctica. In this case, my friend Demelza, an Antarctic biogeochemist based in Christchurch, New Zealand, was dealing with her bottles of Antarctic pond water that she brought back to New Zealand to analyze. Her samples got stuck repeatedly in national security borders in the interest of environmental security. Demelza’s samples made it out of the airport after some questioning but it took her over a year to fly them up to the North Island, where the analytical equipment she needed was located. We shared an office in Christchurch, and she spent hours on email and the phone with her advisor and New Zealand officials trying to get those bottles of water cleared for transport.

The samples eventually made it to the proper lab after I moved back to the US. What struck me, as I wrote about it in the book, was the negotiations among experts. Scientists and bureaucrats were invested in projects of national interest—security, broadly defined, and the production of new scientific knowledge, which contributes to policy making as well as state power and legitimacy. Neither group of experts was subservient to the other—the scientists especially refused to “devitalize” their samples in a way that rendered them unable to be analyzed (or defended as robust scientific methods). The New Zealand government representatives, mindful to the expensive, government sponsored research that led to the dilemma, worked with Demelza and her team to find a solution.

This case study is one example of what I call epistemic technocracy, systems of governance enabled by knowledge. Antarctica, with its extreme and sublime nature and isolation, is a continent set aside in the 1959 Antarctic Treaty for “peace and science.” The continent is at once both transnational and intensely national, a place requiring military or military-like logistics to get to and stay alive and a strong measure of environmental protection and scientific cooperation to manage. As such, the spectacular Antarctic is a generative site for knowledge-based governance. The ideals are lofty, but the practice often requires collaborations of experts among disciplines, agencies, interests, and nations that can be bumpy, like the example above.

The people who enliven The Technocractic Antarctic are scientists and policy makers mobilizing their expertise and the technocratic skills to manage a continent through and for scientific research. Resilient, smart, and flexible, these people helped me reconsider bureaucracies as potentially generative sites for working through new ideas and solving problems using service-oriented practices of expertise. Antarctica is a place governed by expertise, with no non-expert public. However, these experts at the bottom of the world connect their work to the rest of the planet, through climate research, policy, and international cooperation.
Learn more about The Technocratic Antarctic at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 13, 2017

Kevin R. C. Gutzman's "Thomas Jefferson - Revolutionary"

Kevin R. C. Gutzman is the New York Times best-selling author of five books, including Thomas Jefferson—Revolutionary: A Radical’s Struggle to Remake America. Gutzman is Professor and Chairman in the Department of History at Western Connecticut State University, and he holds a bachelor’s degree, a master of public affairs degree, and a law degree from the University of Texas at Austin, as well as an MA and a PhD in American history from the University of Virginia.

Gutzman applied the “Page 99 Test” to Thomas Jefferson—Revolutionary and reported the following:
Thomas Jefferson—Revolutionary: A Radical’s Struggle to Remake America argues that Thomas Jefferson was the most important statesman in American history. After an introduction laying out some of his one-off reforms, such as relocating Virginia’s capital to Richmond, conceiving the world’s first decimal currency, and abolishing the Old Dominion’s feudal land tenures, each of the book’s five chapters describes a long-term reform effort.

Page 99 is found toward the beginning of the chapter on freedom of conscience. The chief subject on which it touches is the source of Jefferson’s devotion to this idea. The following excerpt, in which quotations retain Jefferson’s punctuation, amounts to nearly all of page 99:
In short, power in the Virginia elite ultimately depended on ownership of land and slaves, which led to places on courts, on vestries, as militia officers, and in the House of Burgesses. How odd, then, that Jefferson should set out to undermine the Virginia elite’s social position by eliminating the religious establishment, thereby putting religion entirely on a voluntary basis.

Here he seems to have been under the influence of the most radical English thinkers, including John Locke, John Milton, and Anthony Ashley Cooper, the third earl of Shaftesbury. We have no evidence to substantiate the idea that Jefferson was ever a Trinitarian—that is, a Christian. Jefferson was seventeen when he went to the College of William & Mary, and though he had a pretty low opinion of the faculty, he did greatly admire and appreciate the sole layman of the group: Professor William Small. Jefferson credited Small with extensive “rational” conversation and with exposing him to “the system of things in which we are placed”—which is Jefferson-speak for Enlightenment teachings concerning, among other things, religion.

We have extensive notes, apparently compiled when he was in his early thirties, from Jefferson’s reading of Locke and Shaftesbury on matters of government and religion. Those notes tend to support the ideas that government involvement in religion is intellectually inconsistent, that it is contrary to Christ’s example, and that it is a usurpation of the duty of every man. In his notes on Locke and his separate “Notes on Episcopacy,” Jefferson also advocates the sola scriptura–based claim of the radical Protestants, in England and abroad, that “Christ ... does not make it essential that a bishop or presbyter [elder] govern them.”

The notes on Locke’s “A Letter Concerning Toleration” (1689), in particular, foreshadow Jefferson’s later writings on the subject. “Our savior,” he says, “chose not to propagate his religion by temporal pun[ish]m[en]ts or civil incapacitation, if he had it was in his almighty power, but he chose to extend it by it’s influence on reason, thereby showing to others how they should proceed.”
Somewhat to my surprise, Ford Madox Ford’s statement that reading page 99 of a book would reveal “the quality of whole” is true in the case of Thomas Jefferson—Revolutionary: A Radical’s Struggle to Remake America.
Visit Kevin R.C. Gutzman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Louis A. Pérez Jr.'s "Intimations of Modernity"

Louis A. Pérez Jr. is J. Carlyle Sitterson Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as well as the Academia de la Historia de Cuba, Perez is author of numerous books on Cuban history and culture, including On Becoming Cuban: Identity, Nationality, and Culture and The Structure of Cuban History: Meanings and Purpose of the Past.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Intimations of Modernity: Civil Culture in Nineteenth-Century Cuba, and reported the following:
It happens that page 99 of Intimations of Modernity is the first page of Chapter Four, taken up mostly with epigrams containing quoted passages from three nineteenth-century books by Edward Sullivan (1852), George Walton (1871), and Maturin Ballou (1885), and bearing witness to far-reaching social change overtaking Cuba. Foreign travelers to Cuba were often shrewd observers and faithful chroniclers of a time and place. Many understood the significance–if perhaps not always the implications–of what they observed. They paid attention to detail and were attentive to nuance and subtlety. They moved freely among Cubans, visited homes and workplaces, walked the city streets and traveled the country roads, they sensed the local mood and observed national developments, they recorded conversations and collected anecdotes.

Each traveler quoted on p. 99 took note of a phenomenon: “I fear you cannot always say [that Cuban ladies] lead an innocent existence, flirting being by far their most engrossing occupation,” wrote Sullivan. Walton wrote that he had observed Cuban women “from early morning till late at night . . . coquetting with their fans.” And Ballou wrote of the evening open-air concerts in Havana where “flirtations are carried on.”

The three travelers discerned what serves as one of the principal themes of the book: far-reaching social change registered in changing gender roles. Sugar had lifted Cuba aloft into the heady swirl of foreign commerce, among the advanced capitalist nations of the world–Cubans exulted–to register a presence in transnational market networks. The book explores the culture of capitalism, the way that market forces insinuated themselves into the multiple facets of the daily lives of the men and women of an emerging urban middle class as moral systems and cultural practices. Page 99 speaks to one of the salient transformations wrought by market forces as changing material circumstances altered moral systems, affected cultural forms, and modified social conduct–all revealed in changing gender relations.
Learn more about Intimations of Modernity at the University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Lindy Grant's "Blanche of Castile, Queen of France"

Lindy Grant is professor of medieval history, University of Reading, and was previously medieval curator at the Courtauld Institute, London.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Blanche of Castile, Queen of France, and reported the following:
Page 99 lands the reader in the thick of Blanche’s first regency, when she ruled France during the eight year minority of her son, St Louis, between 1226 and 1234. Blanche dealt firmly, as all contemporary rulers did, with fractious barons and a church which disliked contributing to the costs of protecting the realm. Page 99 finds her dealing with equal firmness with the newly-constituted University of Paris. In 1229 the students had got drunk, rioted, and trashed a tavern. They had done much the same in 1200, claiming that they were members of the clergy and could not be prosecuted under secular law. The king, Philip Augustus, determined to retain Paris’s reputation as the ‘new Athens’, supported the students against his own police force. But in 1229, Blanche faced the students down. The tavern they had trashed was church property, and Blanche had the support of the bishop of Paris and the papal legate, Romanus Frangipani. The students went on strike. They left Paris, and scattered to other cities in France. King Henry III of England, who was doing his best to get back French lands lost by his father, King John in 1204, wrote to encourage the disaffected students to move their university to England. He wrote from Reading Abbey – I teach at the University of Reading – and rather suggested the Paris students should reconstitute their University there. I always find it a shame that they went a bit further up the Thames and founded the University at Oxford! The students also attacked Blanche in scabrous songs, accusing her of being the mistress of the papal legate, Romanus. Blanche did what even the formidable king Philip had not dared to do. She held her ground against the students, and within a couple of years they came back. Page 99 shows why a contemporary chronicler compared her to the legendary Persian Empress, Semiramis.
Learn more about Blanche of Castile, Queen of France at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue