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Wikimedia Commons

Franz Ferdinand Opposes War with Serbia

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Wikimedia Commons

The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that killed millions and set the continent of Europe on the path to further calamity two decades later. But it didn’t come out of nowhere. With the centennial of the outbreak of hostilities coming up in 2014, Erik Sass will be looking back at the lead-up to the war, when seemingly minor moments of friction accumulated until the situation was ready to explode. He'll be covering those events 100 years after they occurred. This is the 87th installment in the series. 

September 29, 1913: Franz Ferdinand Opposes War with Serbia

After months of arguing, cajoling, pestering, and pleading, by September 1913 Austrian chief of staff Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf had finally won over foreign minister Count Leopold von Berchtold to his point of view: The upstart kingdom of Serbia, burning with ambition to liberate its ethnic kinsmen in Austria-Hungary’s neighboring Balkan provinces, represented an implacable existential threat to the Dual Monarchy which could only be eliminated by war.

Conrad was helped in his campaign by the events of the Balkan Wars, when Serbia and its allies carved up the European territories of the Ottoman Empire, then fought each other over the spoils; informed opinion held that the Serbs would next try to fulfill their national destiny by dismembering Austria-Hungary. The Austro-Hungarian Empire’s southern Slavic populations in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia already complained of oppression (resentment which was hardly allayed by Bosnian governor Oskar Potiorek’s decision to decree a state of emergency in the province in May 1913). The sense of looming disintegration was only heightened by a rash of assassination attempts against Imperial officials by Slavic nationalists and anarchists.

In short, Conrad’s fears were no paranoid fantasy: the Empire really was coming apart at the seams, and Slavic nationalism seemed to be the main (though certainly not the only) culprit. Thus when Serbian troops invaded Albania in September 1913, threatening to undo all Berchtold’s work creating the new nation, the foreign minister didn’t need to be persuaded that the time had come for a decisive military response.

But one key figure still stood in the way: Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne, who remained focused on Italy as Austria-Hungary’s real long-term enemy. Never shy about sharing his opinions, Franz Ferdinand shrugged off Berchtold’s warnings about the Serbian threat—“all such Serb horror stories leave me cold”—and made no secret of his opposition to war, predicting (correctly) that it would lead to war with Serbia’s patron Russia as well. In February 1913 he gave an unusual toast at a public event: “To peace! What would we get out of war with Serbia? We’d lose the lives of young men and we’d spend money better used elsewhere. And what would we gain, for heaven’s sake? Some plum trees and goat pastures full of droppings, and a bunch of rebellious killers. Long live restraint!” 

In fact the Archduke had a falling out with Conrad over this issue, repeatedly chastising the chief of staff for urging Emperor Franz Josef to attack Serbia. In the summer of 1913 he wrote to Berchtold: “Excellency! Don’t let yourself be influenced by Conrad—ever! Not an iota of support for any of his yappings at the Emperor! Naturally he wants every kind of war, every kind of hooray! rashness that will conquer Serbia and God knows what else… It’s be unforgivable, insane, to start something that would pit us against Russia.”

Now, as different factions vied for the Emperor’s ear amidst another Albanian crisis, Franz Ferdinand’s attitude was yet again the decisive factor. On September 29, 1913, Conrad told Berchtold “Now would be the opportunity to put things in order down there. An ultimatum, and if Albania is not evacuated in twenty-four hours, then mobilization.” Berchtold replied that he personally supported military measures, but “felt no confidence that authoritative quarters would stand firm.” Conrad, ever hopeful, pointed out that “On peace and war the decision lies solely with the Emperor”—but there was no escaping the fact that the elderly monarch felt obliged to heed the vehemently expressed views of his nephew the Archduke. Once again the foreign minister and chief of staff found their plans frustrated by the heir to the throne.

Franz Ferdinand wasn’t totally oblivious to the threat posed by Serbia, but he hoped to resolve things with a (somewhat vague) plan to reform Austria-Hungary by adding a third monarchy representing the Slavs, or perhaps even remaking the Empire as a federal state, which might then absorb Serbia peacefully. Unsurprisingly his plan was bitterly opposed by Serbian nationalists, who aspired to become the nucleus of a new “Yugoslav” state, not a mere appendage of a decadent multinational empire.

Nevertheless, Franz Ferdinand—recently appointed inspector general of the armed forces—pressed ahead with his plans to attend the upcoming annual maneuvers in Bosnia in June 1914, followed by a visit to the provincial capital of Sarajevo; while the Archduke hoped to avoid war with Serbia and conciliate the Empire’s own Slavs, he also understood that a little saber-rattling could help keep the peace. On September 29, 1913, Conrad met with Potiorek, the provincial governor, to begin making arrangements for Franz Ferdinand’s visit, including provisions for security (which in the event proved sadly lacking).

Inevitably, word of the Archduke’s impending visit started to spread. The Serbian ambassador to Vienna, Jovan Jovanović, later recalled: “From the month of December [1913] onwards the maneuvers in Bosnia were spoken of in Vienna. The Inspector General of the Austro-Hungarian army was to take part both as future Emperor and Commander-in-Chief. It was to be, as was said towards the end of 1913, a lesson and warning to the Serbs both of Bosnia and Serbia.” Among those certain to hear of the Archduke’s planned visit was Dragutin Dimitrijević (“Apis”), the chief of Serbian military intelligence and head of the ultra-nationalist secret society known as the “Black Hand.”

See the previous installment or all entries.

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20th Century Fox
James Cameron is Making a Documentary to Reassess the Accuracy of Titanic
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20th Century Fox

While making the 1997 blockbuster Titanic, James Cameron was a stickler for the details. The writer-director wanted his homage to the tragic ocean liner to be as historically accurate as possible, so he organized dives to the site, solicited experts to analyze his script, and modeled the set off photographs and plans from the Titanic's builders. He even recreated the ocean liner’s original furnishings, right down to the light fixtures. Now, 20 years after the film’s release, E! News reports that Cameron will scrutinize the film’s authenticity in an upcoming National Geographic documentary.

Titanic: 20th Anniversary is slated to air in December 2017. It will feature Cameron and a team of experts who, together, will evaluate the film's accuracy using new historical and scientific insights about the ship's fateful sinking on April 15, 1912.

"When I wrote the film, and when I set out to direct it, I wanted every detail to be as accurate as I could make it, and every harrowing moment of the ship's final hours accounted for," Cameron said in a statement. "I was creating a living history; I had to get it right out of respect for the many who died and for their legacy. But did I really get it right? Now, with National Geographic and with the latest research, science, and technology, I'm going to reassess."

It's not the first time Cameron has revisited his Oscar-winning epic; in 2012, the director made some tweaks to the film for its 3-D re-release after receiving some criticism from renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.

“Neil deGrasse Tyson sent me quite a snarky email saying that, at that time of year, in that position in the Atlantic in 1912, when Rose is lying on the piece of driftwood and staring up at the stars, that is not the star field she would have seen," Cameron explained. “And with my reputation as a perfectionist, I should have known that and I should have put the right star field in." So he changed it.

In the case of Titanic: 20th Anniversary, Cameron and his team will give viewers an updated interpretation of the Titanic’s sinking, and reexamine the wreck using new underwater footage, computer-generated simulation, and research. They’ll also scrutinize some of the film’s most famous scenes, and provide biographical context about the filming process.

We’re sure fans, historians, and, of course, Kate and Leo, will approve.

[h/t Mashable]

6 Eponyms Named After the Wrong Person
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Salmonella species growing on agar.

Having something named after you is the ultimate accomplishment for any inventor, mathematician, scientist, or researcher. Unfortunately, the credit for an invention or discovery does not always go to the correct person—senior colleagues sometimes snatch the glory, fakers pull the wool over people's eyes, or the fickle general public just latches onto the wrong name.


In 1885, while investigating common livestock diseases at the Bureau of Animal Industry in Washington, D.C., pathologist Theobald Smith first isolated the salmonella bacteria in pigs suffering from hog cholera. Smith’s research finally identified the bacteria responsible for one of the most common causes of food poisoning in humans. Unfortunately, Smith’s limelight-grabbing supervisor, Daniel E. Salmon, insisted on taking sole credit for the discovery. As a result, the bacteria was named after him. Don’t feel too sorry for Theobald Smith, though: He soon emerged from Salmon’s shadow, going on to make the important discovery that ticks could be a vector in the spread of disease, among other achievements.


An etching of Amerigo Vespucci
Henry Guttmann/Getty Images

Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci (1451–1512) claimed to have made numerous voyages to the New World, the first in 1497, before Columbus. Textual evidence suggests Vespucci did take part in a number of expeditions across the Atlantic, but generally does not support the idea that he set eyes on the New World before Columbus. Nevertheless, Vespucci’s accounts of his voyages—which today read as far-fetched—were hugely popular and translated into many languages. As a result, when German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller was drawing his map of the Novus Mundi (or New World) in 1507 he marked it with the name "America" in Vespucci’s honor. He later regretted the choice, omitting the name from future maps, but it was too late, and the name stuck.


A black and white image of young women wearing bloomers
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Dress reform became a big issue in mid-19th century America, when women were restricted by long, heavy skirts that dragged in the mud and made any sort of physical activity difficult. Women’s rights activist Elizabeth Smith Miller was inspired by traditional Turkish dress to begin wearing loose trousers gathered at the ankle underneath a shorter skirt. Miller’s new outfit immediately caused a splash, with some decrying it as scandalous and others inspired to adopt the garb.

Amelia Jenks Bloomer was editor of the women’s temperance journal The Lily, and she took to copying Miller’s style of dress. She was so impressed with the new freedom it gave her that she began promoting the “reform dress” in her magazine, printing patterns so others might make their own. Bloomer sported the dress when she spoke at events and soon the press began to associate the outfit with her, dubbing it “Bloomer’s costume.” The name stuck.


Execution machines had been known prior to the French Revolution, but they were refined after Paris physician and politician Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin suggested they might be a more humane form of execution than the usual methods (hanging, burning alive, etc.). The first guillotine was actually designed by Dr. Antoine Louis, Secretary of the Academy of Surgery, and was known as a louisette. The quick and efficient machine was quickly adopted as the main method of execution in revolutionary France, and as the bodies piled up the public began to refer to it as la guillotine, for the man who first suggested its use. Guillotin was very distressed at the association, and when he died in 1814 his family asked the French government to change the name of the hated machine. The government refused and so the family changed their name instead to escape the dreadful association.


Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel
Steve Jennings/Getty Images

The Bechdel Test is a tool to highlight gender inequality in film, television, and fiction. The idea is that in order to pass the test, the movie, show, or book in question must include at least one scene in which two women have a conversation that isn’t about a man. The test was popularized by the cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985 in her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For,” and has since become known by her name. However, Bechdel asserts that the idea originated with her friend Lisa Wallace (and was also inspired by the writer Virginia Woolf), and she would prefer for it to be known as the Bechdel-Wallace test.


Influential sociologist Robert K. Merton suggested the idea of the “Matthew Effect” in a 1968 paper noting that senior colleagues who are already famous tend to get the credit for their junior colleagues’ discoveries. (Merton named his phenomenon [PDF] after the parable of talents in the Gospel of Matthew, in which wise servants invest money their master has given them.)

Merton was a well-respected academic, and when he was due to retire in 1979, a book of essays celebrating his work was proposed. One person who contributed an essay was University of Chicago professor of statistics Stephen Stigler, who had corresponded with Merton about his ideas. Stigler decided to pen an essay that celebrated and proved Merton’s theory. As a result, he took Merton’s idea and created Stigler’s Law of Eponymy, which states that “No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer”—the joke being that Stigler himself was taking Merton’s own theory and naming it after himself. To further prove the rule, the “new” law has been adopted by the academic community, and a number of papers and articles have since been written on "Stigler’s Law."


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