Historian delves into tragic month

Posted: Thursday, November 01, 2007

As Juneau enters another gloomy, rain-swept November, it's almost as if a twinge of foreboding hangs in the early-darkening skies.

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No surprise there, according to University of Alaska Southeast assistant history professor David Noon.

If you examine world history through its brutal and tragic events, he said, November just happens to have an eerie amalgamation of doom-and-gloom anniversaries.

"I'll put it this way: The things that have happened in November hang together in a weird kind of way," Noon said.

Noon, a sixth-year teacher at UAS, will present a multimedia look at these 30 days of horror in "November is the Cruelest Month: A Misanthrope's Historical Almanac," a free Evening at Egan lecture at 7 p.m. Friday at the Egan Lecture Hall.

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Know and go

• What: "November is the Cruelest Month: A Misanthrope's Historical Almanac," an Evening at Egan lecture by David Noon, assistant professor of history,

• When: 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2.

• Where: Egan Lecture Hall.

• Admission: Free.

• Noon's blog: axisofevelknievel.blogspot.com.

The night will include an examination of the birth of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet (Nov. 25, 1915); the mass murder/suicide in Jonestown (Nov. 18, 1978); and the bloody St. Brice's Day Massacre (Nov. 13, 1002).

"There's a lot about nuclear weapons and aerial warfare," Noon said. "There's also a number of things that have to do with the French Revolution.

"I feel like maybe I should bring a (Seasonal Affective Disorder) lamp for the side," he said. "I can't promise this will lift any spirits. My wife is constantly telling me, 'You have to make this funny. There has to be some comic relief in there.' And there is."

Noon is no different than a lot of people out there who have a morbid fascination with horrible and tragic events in world history. But he's passionate enough to keep a daily blog of brutal anniversaries at axisofevelknievel.blogspot.com.

Noon started blogging in the spring of 2005 about politics and current events. Shortly before his daughter was born in April 2006, he began looking at the horrible events in world history that might share an anniversary with her birth date.

His sleuthing drew a small following on the Web, and he was encouraged to continue.

"It's sort of like 'This Day In History,' only longer and more depressing," Noon said.

"I enjoy writing about these things, as perverse as it sounds," he said. "It actually helps me in some ways. I can do these little miniature research projects, and it appeals to my scattered attention span.

"One day I could be writing about 16th-century European martyrs, and tomorrow I'll be writing about the Italian Air Force in World War I," he said.

Noon's blog attracts 150 to 250 readers a day and won a 2006 Cliopatria Award for "Best Individual Blog." The History News Network hands out that award for "the best history writing in the blogosphere." The site used to have an accompanying podcast, but it's currently on hiatus.

On Oct. 8, Noon commemorated the 136th anniversary of a deadly wind-swept prairie fire that killed thousands of people in Peshtigo, Wis., and charred millions of acres in the surrounding bay towns of eastern Wisconsin.

"With nowhere to run, people leapt into rivers where they drowned, wells where they suffocated, and marshes where they were poached by the heat," Noon wrote.

Even more tragically, the fire has become a mere footnote in history. The Great Chicago Fire, a better-known deadly conflagration, began the same day.

"There is a kind of a dark side to studying the past," Noon said. "Almost invariably we're studying people who aren't with us anymore for one reason or another. There is something traumatic about studying the past. No matter how much we study it, we can't bring it back."

• Korry Keeker can be reached at 523-2268 or korry.keeker@juneauempire.com.



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