Apologies for jumping on a bandwagon, but it would be wrong for a History blog not to talk about this, especially as the History teacher who writes this History blog teaches about this historial event in his Year 9 History class every year!
So on this night, 100 years ago, RMS Titanic “the unsinkable” did the unthinkable- it sank. 1523 people died, and only 306 bodies were recovered. It is not an understatement to say that, in terms of tragedy (but not in terms of significance or consequences), this was as shocking as 9-11. Immortalised in television, and of course in film, it’s in nearly everyone’s list of top ten events of the twentieth century.
There’s so much we could talk about here in this blog post- for instance,we could ask ourselves the question of who was to blame for the sinking of the Titanic? Was it Captain Smith, who famously described his forty years at sea as “uneventful” five years before his final voyage, and did not slow the ship despite the warnings of icebergs? Was it the shipbuilders and the supposedly poor quality iron and rivets used that were to blame? Was it the ships designer Thomas Andrews for putting too few lifeboats on board, or Bruce Ismay, the owner of White Star Line, who ordered the design change and supposedly the record pace to New York?
But Year 9 consider this in lessons (another question could be posed to teachers- do you teach Titanic to your students, and if so, how?). Perhaps we should consider how the sinking of the Titanic has been portrayed in films, from “Saved from the Titanic”, filmed in 1912 with a survivor from the disaster, the Nazi portrayal commissioned by Josef Goebbels in 1943, the recent “Downton Abbey” version on ITV, or the “it-makes-me-want-to-vomit-in-my-mouth” version from James Cameron, re-released in 3D just this month. Seriously: I could talk about my hatred for this film, and my refusal to watch it in 3D this week, and it would be a LONG blog! There was room for two on that float Rose- Jack didn’t need to die!!
We could however, focus on some interesting facts about the vessel- like how the veranda cafe contained live palm trees, or how the gymnasium contained an ‘electric horse’! How about the fact that it contained a Turkish bath, was the first boat to hold a heated swimming pool, and that some rooms contained working marble fireplaces? We could focus on the provisions that were provided on board the Titanic- 8,000 cigars, 13,000 grapefruits and 400 asparagus tongs (I didn’t even know that ‘asparagus tongs’ existed!) What about what was claimed to be missing following the sinking? Items such as a marmalade machine, four cases of opium or five grand pianos! Or how the statue created in honour to Captain Smith, from Tamworth in the Midlands, ended up in my wife’s ‘hometown’ of Lichfield after it’s completion because Tamworth no longer wanted a statue to the now late Captain Smith? And who knew that no one ever really claimed that the Titanic was ‘unsinkable’? It was a retrospective myth!
Or perhaps we could analyse what Titanic tells about us about society at the turn of the twentieth century, namely how 94% of 1st class women and children were saved, compared to only 47% of 3rd class equivalents. How perhaps, this was the start of an age where people were more interested in size, speed, technology and power at the expense of safety, security, and even common sense.
Whatever part of the Titanic story interests you, the centenary commemorations is a time to remember a remarkable but tragic story, those who lost their lives and the lessons we (hopefully) learnt. I don’t believe that this event will leave the history textbooks any time soon- just see the reaction of a year 9 student when they discover it’s the topic of the lesson- there is a genuine interest, not just to watch clips from the film, but to learn about what is probably the most famous disaster of all time.