Skip to content

OpenLearn Live: 21st August 2015

Updated Friday, 21st August 2015

The fate of the Hitler Oaks, and more free learning across the day.

This page was published over five years ago. Please be aware that due to the passage of time, the information provided on this page may be out of date or otherwise inaccurate, and any views or opinions expressed may no longer be relevant. Some technical elements such as audio-visual and interactive media may no longer work. For more detail, see our Archive and Deletion Policy

OpenLearn Live is an experiment in making connections between your world and online free learning. This page will be updated during the day; you can also sign up for our Twitter feed.

Yesterday: free courses for HR professionals; the clean Thames; plaeo diets and a massive underwater lynx

See the full collection of OpenLearnLive

Today's Posts

Learning about sex in the 18th Century

Finally for this week, we take a look at Aristotle's Masterpiece - sometimes credited as the very first sex ed manual:

Often we suppose that rural people like John Cannon did not need to consult books to learn about sex; they lived “closer to nature”, and could abstract what they saw in the barnyard to the bedroom. The most common euphemism for sexual knowledge, “the birds and the bees”, was first used by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1825, at the very moment at which England’s population became more urban than rural for the first time. But Cannon’s experiences, and those of a host of other readers, show us that for centuries English and American readers turned to this cheap book eager for information that was not, in fact, easily inferred from the natural world.

Read: Learning about sex, a shilling a time

A Labour leadership purge reading list

Michael Chessum: The Labour Party purges

It sounds like a murder mystery. Everyone had a reason for promoting the idea that the Labour leadership ballot was being undermined by Tory infiltrators and ‘entryists’. Anything that could destabilise the ballot and make it look like a mess is good news for the right and much of the press. It suits some groups on the hard left to seem bigger than they are. Once it became clear that Corbyn might win, anything that de-legitimised his victory was music to the ears of the Labour Right. And some knew, deep down, that if enough of a storm was created about infiltration, this would provide cover for the party apparatus to deny more leftwing activists a vote, and that this could, just about, influence a close result.

Read: The Labour Party purges

Peter Bloom: The moderate authoritarians

The so-called “purge” is part of a broader effort by the party, known as “Operation Icepick ”, a project to ensure that all those who are voting hold “Labour values” and are not trying to weaken the party from the inside. As one staffer noted  : “we sell Labour membership as being about values and let people forget that they have to sign up to the aims too.”

These concerns are especially prevalent as fears grow that, if Corbyn wins, the losers will mount a legal challenge to have the result ruled illegitimate.

This is widely seen as a direct assault on Corbyn’s supporters, many of whom are new or returning Labour Party members. By allowing anyone who pays £3 to vote, the Labour party has unwittingly opened the door to a serious challenge. A horde of new joiners attracted by Corbyn’s progressive anti-austerity message are now threatening to dramatically recalibrate the trajectory of the party away from its rightward bent of the past two decades.

Read The Moderate Authoritarians

Preparing to die

The Stanford Medicine 1:2:1 podcast explores the trouble doctors have asking patients how they would like their life to end, and ways to make it easier:

How would you like to die? Asking patients that question is not easy for most doctors. In fact, most of us – doctors and patients alike – prefer to avoid the topic completely. VJ Periyakoil, MD, director of Stanford’s Palliative Care Education and Training, says this needs to change. To get these conversations started far and wide, Dr. Periyakoil launched the Stanford Letter Project – a campaign to empower all adults to take the initiative to talk to their doctor about what matters most to them at life’s end. 

Listen to How Would You Like To Die?

Try our free course living with death and dying

Pythagoras theorem: a simple visual proof

Here's something simple but effective: a really short video which shows how a2=b2+c2:

Read: Ancient mathematics

After Waterloo: How American hopes died at Waterloo

Contiuning our irregular 200 years on celebration of the aftermath of Waterloo. It wasn't only the French who were defeated at Waterloo. As contemporary accounts show, there were some Americans who were hoping a resurgent Bonaparte would distract Britain from her interests in North America. But it was not to be:

On the first conquest of France, the American Government found it impossible to continue the contest with a hope of gaining any advantages, much less such as were absolutely necessary to console the people for the sacrifices to which they were compelled to submit.

Under these circumstances it was thought expedient to abandon all the ridiculous pretensions which they had formerly advanced, and every object for which the war had been advanced was at once given up.

It was hoped, and with some reason, that the experience of both nations had created a mutual indisposition to a state of hostility, and this effect has certainly been produced on every honest heart and rational head on either side of the water.

But unhappily those who stirred up the late contest, chagrined at the termination to which they had been compelled as they thought prematurely to bring it, seized the first opportunity that offered to attempt reviving the differences which had been adjusted at Ghent.

Read: Did Waterloo prevent a fresh Anglo-American war?

Dirty old Thames: Building the first sewer

Yesterday, we heard how the Thames has been cleaned up. But how did it get so dirty in the first place? Ironically, the discovery of the causes of cholera actually hurt the river, as the cesspools which once cluttered London's streets were emptied into the river. By the mid 1850s, Old Father Thames was so unbearable that something had to be done - but the construction of the sewer system to clean it up didn't proceed as quickly as some would have liked:

So, as cesspools have disappeared, and houses have been better drained, the whilome [formerly] silvery Thames has become filthier and filthier, until at last it threatens to produce still deadlier maladies than cesspools in every street would have done.

In fact, in our reforming zeal, we have merely changed a hundred thousand small cesspools for one moster one. We undertook only a part of the necessary work, and that not the most important part.

When the old Board of Health resolved that every house should be drained, they ought alos to have found a sufficient means of carrying off the filth so removed from houses; but the task was too much for them, and, carrying off the honours of originating sanitary reform, they left the heaviest part of the work to parochial delegates.

Read: Building the first Thames sewer


You're busy people. We're busy people. Specifically, we're busy publishing things you may or may not have a chance to read. So here's a quick round-up of items we've published on OpenLearn Live this week you might have missed:

Do tax breaks really help the creative industries?

Today, the EU has confirmed it's happy for tax breaks to continue to be offered to the UK film industry. But are these breaks the best way to nuture a movie business? Animator Charles Kenny thinks not:

Direct government subsidies for animation bring in a lot of work, but do they necessarily incite creativity among the artists who work on them? Sure, American shows are popular abroad as well as at home, but The Simpsons has been animated in South Korea for over 20 years, and I have yet to see anything emanate from that country resembling Springfield’s first family.

Yes, cultural differences can be a sticking point for direct subsidies. What good does it do to local talent if the work all day on something they may not necessarily relate to? Would it not perhaps be better to have them work on something they identify with culturally and socially? Perhaps even something that could improve their cultural identity?

Working on something you identify with is much more likely to spur you to create something yourself. If you work on a film that permits you to put a bit of yourself into it and learn from it, you’re more likely to perhaps take on an independent film, right?

Read: Do tax breaks work well in promoting cultural industries?

The Virtual Arboretum: The Hitler Oaks

This week, our start-up segment has been featuring a noteworthy tree every day. If you've missed one, here's a quick catch-up list of the first four:


The Bolan Tree

Pine tree of hope

The Royal Oak

To round off the week, we're opening up the archive on the Hitler Oaks. This might sound like the worst outlet mall you could imagine, but the tale of the Hitler Oaks is a lot more interesting than the name implies.

Trees ripple through Third Reich imagery - in part, because of the Nazi obsession with Germanic symbols, and the mythic entwining of the fates of an oak known to Goethe and that of the nation. So upon Hitler's rise to power, communities around Germany planted oask to mark the event; trees such as one in Jaslo, Poland were gifted from one part of the Reich to the other in an attempt to bind the occupied nations. Enthusiastic supporters even planted entire forests so that they would resemble swastikas when seen from the air - some which were only discovered long after Hitler had fallen.

All of these stories are fascinating in their own right, but for today, we're going to go back to the 1936 Olympics.

Jesse Owen receives a sapling at the 1936 Olympic Games Creative commons image Icon Deutsches Bundesarchiv under CC-BY-SA licence under Creative-Commons license

The basic plot of the Berlin games was 'man hosts event designed to prove to the world the superiority of the Aryan race; plan falls to pieces when the hero of the games turns out to be a young black man from Alabama'. As part of the well-laid plan, winners of individual events were presented not just with a gold medal, but also with an oak sapling. For many Olympics, a prize like this might have been seen a nice gesture of environmentalism, but with the loading of Nazi imagery onto the boughs of oak trees, these trees have something of a sinister symbolism: literally planting symbols of Third Reich Germany around the nations of the world.

Four came to Britain, of which only one is thought to survive - the oak presented to Christopher Broadman, which he planted in his garden at How Hill. But most of the oaks are lost - either they've died, or been lost, or, in many cases, were dug up or cut down because of their links to Hitler.

The ones which failed to thrive perhaps took on a metaphorical existence of their own - you can't simply plonk a tree down any old where and expect it to thrive.

The lost ones suggest that many athletes failed to imbue the prize sapling with the significance that their German hosts had hoped for - the victorious US basketball team cut cards to decide who would put it in the ground, and more or less promptly forgot with who or where the tree wound up.

And the trees cut down because of their shameful origins perhaps died in vain, because while Hitler tried to impose his meaning on the tree, the very fact that Jesse Owens took home four of the trees shifts their meaning through 180 degrees - these oak trees don't represent the triumph of Hitler's vision, but its failure. What's significant about the picture above of Jesse Owens clutching his sapling is that he's not making the Nazi salute.

Which raises a question: what happened to the four saplings Owens took back to the US, having bested the strongest athletes Germany had to offer?

Two have disappeared - one, planted at Owens' mother's house went when the house was demolished; a second, at the University of Southern California is believed to have died.

Two remain. One is on the campus of Ohio State University, where Owens went to college. For a while this one, too, had been lost, as Owens had mistakenly believed it to be planted on one part of the campus, while it was actually sitting outside the library.

And the fourth tree? It's in the grounds of Rhodes High School in Cleveland, where a young Owens trained. And there, the tree is celebrated as a marker of Owens' extraordinary achievement rather than shunned for its political origins, as the school's athletic coach Tyrone Owens (yes, actually, a distant relative) explained to NPR:

"Several track coaches have sent champions down to the state meet over the last 70, 80 years," he says. "And we always have taken pictures when the kid places down state, underneath this tree."

Inspiring generations of young athletes by recalling the time one of their community sent a powerful message on the track and field of 1930s Berlin. A noble role for a tree from such a murky nursery.

Listen to the 2005 OU Lecture: Hitler's Place In History, by Ian Kershaw





Related content (tags)

Copyright information

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?