Well, at least I know more about history than THESE guys…

You know how, for the last three weeks, I did really badly on the Slate News Quiz but still beat the Slate staff person assigned to compete that week?

Well, half of that happened this week. I only got five right out of 12, for an embarrassing 186. But this time, I got creamed by Technology Editor Jonathan Fischer, who scored a 370.

So let’s not talk about that.

Let’s talk about history. I’m a lifelong student of it, but lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how very, very little I know about it. Even with the small slices in which I’ve taken a particular interest through the years — World War II, the first years of our republic at the end of the 18th century, Rome in the time around Julius Caesar’s assassination — I am constantly shocked at the major things I suddenly learn that I did not know. Happens all the time.

For instance, reading all those Patrick O’Brian novels has made me try to learn more about the Napoleonic Wars, and particularly the Royal Navy during that period.

Well, I was over visiting my Mom the other night, and she always watches “Jeopardy” in the evening. This night, the Final Jeopardy question — or rather answer — was the one you see above, under the category, “The Early 19th Century”: “Admiral Pierre-Charles Villeneuve signaled ‘Engage the enemy’ around noon & surrendered at 1:45 PM during this battle”.

So we know he’s French, and it’s the early 19th century, and one can reasonably assume that this was a battle of some significance — a fleet action, say, as opposed to a meeting between a couple of frigates, where you wouldn’t have an admiral in charge. And Villeneuve’s name was vaguely familiar to me, but I wasn’t sure which significant battle he had lost. As far as I knew, it could have been the Nile, or Algeciras. Although I don’t think those were known for being brief.

So I just went with the biggest one of all, and said “Trafalgar.” The climax (and end) of Nelson’s life, his greatest triumph — the one that got him the column.

But I didn’t know, and I felt bad about that.

Soon, though, I felt better.

The three contestants all answered some variant of “What is Waterloo?”

Seriously, they did. These were three fairly bright people — they did well on plenty of other answers — and all three of them had bet money that an admiral was in command at Waterloo.

Oh, and it was Trafalgar. But I should have known, as a Jack Aubrey fan.

Anyway… if y’all want to take the Slate quiz, here’s the link. If you don’t do any better than I did, you don’t have to share…




10 thoughts on “Well, at least I know more about history than THESE guys…

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    Don’t think I’m bragging here.

    In writing it, I initially said, “As far as I knew, it could have been the Nile, or St. Vincent,” trying to airily rattle off the first other big Napoleonic naval battles I could think of.

    Then I went to look them up to get links. The French weren’t even AT the Battle of Cape St. Vincent. That’s where Old Jarvie defeated the Spanish in 1797. The losing commander was Admiral Don José de Córdoba y Ramos, not Villeneuve.

    So again, I feel like an idiot. With good reason…

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      And I should probably offer a footnote about my headline. I don’t necessarily know more about history, overall, than those three contestants on “Jeopardy.”

      But I think it’s safe to say I know more about naval history than they do. I mean, I know what an “admiral” is…

  2. Doug T

    10 of 12 for a score of 443. Had to guess on a few, but guessed correctly. I missed the female head of the Coast Guard. I saw the teaser headline but didn’t click on the article.

  3. bud

    7 out of 12 for 286. This one was tough. I’m usually at least familiar with the story but for 4 I don’t recall seeing anything.


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